The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Concerts on the Square begin this Wednesday night – and half of the six concerts feature classical music

June 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 36th annual FREE summer series of six Concerts on the Square, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and guest soloists, will begin this Wednesday night, June 26, at 7 p.m. on the King Street Corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Each concert draws an average of 30,000 people.

But if you think it is largely a pops concert event, think again.

One of the many outstanding achievements that WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has brought to the event – billed as “the Biggest Picnic of Summer” — over the past 20 years is an increased emphasis on classical music, perhaps to help build new audiences for the WCO’s winter Masterworks concerts.

The opening concert, for example, has become a tradition, a chance to introduce to the public the latest winner of the WCO’s young people’s concerto competition – and this year is no different.

Three of the six concerts will be also all-classical – and that’s not counting Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that will be featured on the Fourth of July program on July 3.

There will also be pops music of course, including a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic album “Abbey Road”; patriotic fare for Independence Day; and an evening of movie scores, most composed by John Williams, with concertmaster Suzanne Beia as violin soloist in the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

All concerts are on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 28 through July 31. Performances begin at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. They usually last about two hours.

To find out more, including the programs and biographies of performers for each program, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Once there, if you click on a specific date, on the right hand side you will also find information about concert etiquette, seating on the Capitol lawn, weather cancellations, catering menus, food vendor sales and other information, including details about volunteering and donating. Here is a link to general guidelines:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/attending-the-concert/ 

Here are the three classical concerts:

JUNE 26

“East Meets West” features the WCO’s concerto competition winner pianist Sakurako Eriksen (below) – a Madison native now living in Milwaukee — in the popular and virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev.

Also on the program are “Francesca da Rimini” by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “Noble and Sentimental Waltzes” by French composer by Maurice Ravel; and an unnamed work by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.

JULY 10

“Finlandia” features the Russian-born and Moscow Conservatory-trained accordion virtuoso Sergei Belkin (below).

On the program are unnamed works by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and Alexander Glazunov; “Oblivion” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla; the “Sabre Dance” by Russian composer Aram Khachaturian; and “Finlandia” by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

JULY 31

“Rockin’ Rachmaninov” features Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), a frequent WCO guest artist who teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

The program includes the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninov; the Overture to the opera “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the 1944 “Cornish Rhapsody” piano concerto score, composed by English composer Hubert Bath for the World War II film “Love Story”; and a Suite from “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky.


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Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players will play music by Russian, British, Canadian and American composers this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

March 1, 2019
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ALERT: If you attend the concert by the Cuarteto Casals tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, you night want to read local writer and amateur cellist Paul Baker’s interview with the Chicago-born violist who analyzes the interpretation of each piece on the program. Here is a link to Baker’s blog “Only Strings” where you can find the interview: https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/author/pbaker/  

For more information about the group and the concert, go to yesterday’s post:  https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/classical-music-this-friday-night-the-wisconsin-union-theater-presents-a-world-class-spanish-string-quartet-and-will-also-announce-the-special-programs-for-its-centennial-anniversary-next-season/

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their season theme of Vignettes with compositions that depict concepts and stories.

The program includes dances from Panama, a string quartet from Russia and interpretation of the natural world woven into a composition by an American composer.

Performances will take place Saturday night, March 2, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, March 3, at 2 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side not far from West Towne Mall.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors, and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316 for more information.

Five Novelettes for string quartet by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (below) showcase the composer’s imagination and romantic writing. From the opening elegance in the Spanish style to the spirited Hungarian character in the finale, each of the five contrasting movements is graceful and captivating.

Red Hills Black Birds was composed by American composer Libby Larsen (below) for clarinet, viola and piano after she viewed contrasting paintings of New Mexico by Georgia O’Keeffe. Many of O’Keeffe’s works embody a sense of perspective, color and horizon. Larsen’s music uses her impressions of O’Keeffe’s art as her compositional focus. She reimagines six paintings of the southwest and shapes her composition to concepts of breadth and timelessness.

Dash for flute, clarinet and piano by American composer Jennifer Higdon (below) is a riotous musical chase. The composer chose these three instruments specifically for their capability of velocity. The unrelenting pulse creates a breath-taking technical sprint for the players.

O Albion by British composer Thomas Adès (below) is excerpted from his string quartet Arcadiana. The music has an ethereal quality and mesmerizes with its slow beauty and simplicity. (You can hear “O Albion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon is an upbeat piece written by Canadian composer, bassoonist and jazz pianist Bill Douglas. His writing brings together both classical and jazz influences.

The concert concludes with Danzas de Panama by William Grant Still (below) for string quintet and flute. A noted 20th century African-American composer, Still based this piece on Panamanian folk tunes collected in the 1920s. He used the lushness of the songs and compelling rhythms with great success. He was a talented orchestrator and it is hard to resist the panache and charm of the four movements: Taborita, Mejorana, Punto and Cumbia y Conga.

Oakwood Chamber Players members are Marilyn Chohaney, flute; Nancy Mackenzie, clarinet; Amanda Szyczs, bassoon; and Maggie Townsend, cello. They will be joined by guest artists Elspeth Stalter-Clouse, violin; Ariel Garcia, viola; Brad Townsend, bass; and Satoko Hayami, piano.

This is the fourth of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2018-2019 season series entitled Vignettes. Remaining concerts will take place on May 18 and 19.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. They have also played in other local groups, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and solo flutist Iva Ugrcic turn in polished performances of a fun program to kick off the new season

October 12, 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 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 photo.

By John W. Barker

The opening concert on Wednesday night by the largely amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below top), under the baton of Steve Kurr (below bottom), was a relatively brief but pithy one, with only three short works on the program.

The opener was Autumn, the most frequently played section of the ballet The Seasons, Op. 67 (1899), by Alexander Glazunov (below) and one of the composer’s most frequently heard pieces. It is a rondo-like sequence of varied dance movements, full of lyricism and bright colors. The Middleton players dug into it with gusto.

Second came the Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, by the prolific 19th-century German composer Carl Reinecke (1824-1910, below). He was conservative as a teacher and as a prolific composer.

Among his concertos, this one was his last, written just two years before his death. It is an engaging work, not notable for great ideas, but amiable, with a good virtuosic workout for the soloist.

The soloist was the Serbian-born flutist Iva Ugrcic, an absolute whiz of a player, and, among other things, a product of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music doctoral program.  She played with super-precision and confidence, giving her instrument great personality.

Without intermission, the concert ended with the Symphony No. 100, known as the “Military,” by Franz Joseph Haydn (below). It was first played in 1794 among the composer’s “London” Symphonies during his second visit to England. But it may well have been begun while he was in Vienna, for it reflects a particular fad popular there.

This was the use in orchestral writing of an adaptation of the sounds of the Turkish Janissary band. In the second movement, whose tune was taken from an earlier chamber work of his, Haydn introduced recurrently the “Turkish” instruments (two clarinets, triangle, cymbals, bass drums) with startling effect.

At the movement’s end, a trumpet call brings these novelties back for a crashing conclusion. And then, in the fourth movement’s ending, the “Janissary” instruments return for another razzle-dazzle finish. (You can hear the fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It’s all great fun, and the orchestra players seemed to find their own enjoyment in it.

The MCO continues its steady growth as a polished and reliable ensemble — all 98 players!


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Classical music: Why are the Willy Street Chamber Players so successful at presenting neglected and new music?

July 12, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many individuals and groups, large and small, like to program neglected works and new music.

But no one does it better than the Willy Street Chamber Players, who are now in the middle of their fourth annual summer season.

So what is the secret of the Willys?

Some clues were given at the outstanding and thoroughly successful opening concert last Friday night, when the Willys, with guest mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil (below), played new music by Caroline Shaw, Colin Jacobsen and Michael Kelley – all to a very enthusiastic reception from the large audience.

More chances to experience such success and figure out the reasons behind it are coming up.

Tonight from 4 to 7 p.m. – and again on next Thursday, July 19, at the same time and place — at the Art and Literature Laboratory, 2021 Winnebago Street, the Willys will hold an open rehearsal. Admission is FREE, and you can bring something to eat and have a drink, including beer ($5 donation), as you listen and wander around to explore the space.

Then on Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m., during the Community Connect Concert for the whole family at the Goodman Community Center (below top) at 149 Waubesa Street, the Willys will perform “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” by the contemporary American composer Gabriela Lena Frank (below bottom) and  the rarely performed “Procession of the Military Night Watch in Madrid” by the Classical-era composer Luigi Boccherini. (Starting at 11 a.m. there is also an instrument “petting zoo.”)

(You can hear an excerpt from the work by Gabriela Lena Frank in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

On this Sunday from 5 to 6 p.m., the Willys will perform the same program — which also features some string quartet selections by Romantic composer Robert Schumann — for FREE on the Union Terrace (below).

Other regular series concerts include the rarely heard String Quintet in A Major by Alexander Glazunov on July 20 and “Light Screens” (2002) by Andrew Norman (below) on July 27.

For times, place and details about series and special concerts, and for other information, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

Anyway, the way The Ear sees it there are several reasons to explain the Willys’ success with new and neglected music.

One can start with the basics: The impressive musicianship of all the Willys, who are remarkable for both technique and interpretation.

Another reason is the players’ unflagging ability to project energy and enthusiasm, suggested by upbeat and exciting tempi and by even such a small gesture as the two violinists and two violists playing while standing up, as was the custom in the Baroque era, rather than seated.

The Willys also introduce the pieces, providing not only information but also some humor, often self-deprecating. They prepare you for liking the music, not just for listening to it.

They often choose shorter and easily digestible pieces, so it is never an ordeal that overwhelms you. Sometimes you want a musical short story, not a musical novel.

But most of all the Willys do what more proponents of new music should do: They seem to keep their listeners in mind when they choose the pieces they will play.

Never do you get the feeling that listening to new or neglected music is some sort of aesthetic obligation imposed on you. It is there to be enjoyed, and you are there to be pleased, not just instructed or preached to.

Too often new music seems chosen as a gesture of R&D – research and development – that feels more important to the performers rather than to the audiences.

Maybe there is more to say? What do others think? The Ear looks forward to hearing what you think.

In the meantime, The Ear suggests you take in as much as you can of the superlative music-making of both classics and new music by the Willy Street Chamber Players.

He doubts you will be disappointed and is pretty sure you will be as pleased and impressed as he is.


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra reveals a leaner Sibelius and violin soloist Tim Kamps proves masterful in a rarely heard concerto by Alexander Glazunov

March 2, 2018
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CORRECTION: The performances by the Madison Symphony Chorus that were incorrectly listed for this coming Sunday in yesterday’s post took place last Sunday. The Ear apologizes and regrets the error.

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. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

Under maestro Steve Kurr, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) again showed its capacities for offering surprisingly excellent concerts with its latest one on Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center.

The guest soloist was a fine young local violinist, Tim Kamps (below). His vehicle was an interesting venture off the beaten path. How often do we hear the Violin Concerto in A minor by Alexander Glazunov? Well, we were given a chance this time.

This is not your typical Romantic concerto. It is not long, and is essentially an entity in four sections—not distinct movements, but a steady continuity, with interconnecting thematic material. Glazunov did not always do the best by his themes, somewhat burying them in the total texture. Still, this is very listenable music, with a solo part that is full of virtuosic demands but avoids overstatements.

Kamps (below) did full justice to the florid parts, but used his sweet and suave tone to emphasize the lyrical side of the writing as much as he could. In all, he provided a worthwhile encounter with an underplayed work of individual quality. Kamps is an experienced member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, but he deserves more solo exposure like this.

The program opened with Rossini’s overture to his comic opera La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie). There is a lot of good fun in this piece, but a corrupt edition was used which reinforced the brass section to coarse effect. Moreover, Kurr gave the music a somewhat leisurely pace, rather diminishing its vitality and thrust. (You can hear the familiar Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The big work of the program was the Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius. Here again, as so often before, conductor Kurr and his players bravely took on a workhorse piece of challenging familiarity. There were a few rough moments, especially some slight slurring here and there by the violin sections.

But Kurr (below) wisely chose not to seek polished sound for its own sake. Rather, he drove the orchestra to convey constant tension and drama, with a fine ear for the frequent exchanges and dialogues between instrumental groups, notably in the long and high-powered second movement.

By such means, we were able to hear less of the Late Romantic bombast usually stressed and more of the lean textures that Sibelius was to perfect in his subsequent symphonic and orchestral writing.

The orchestra played with steady devotion, once again demonstrating what an “amateur” orchestra could work itself up to achieving.


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and violin soloist Tim Kamps will perform works by Rossini, Glazunov and Sibelius this coming Wednesday night

February 24, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform its Winter Concert this coming Wednesday night, Feb. 28.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below top and bottom) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street. The box office opens at 6:30 pm.. and the auditorium doors open at 7.

The program features the Overture to “La Gazza Ladra” (The Thieving Magpie) by Rossini (below top) and the popular late Romantic Symphony No. 2 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (below bottom).

MCO violinist Tim Kamps (below  top), who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, will be the soloist in the Violin Concerto by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (below bottom).

You can hear the first movement of the Glazunov concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom

Admission is $15 for general admission. All students are admitted free of charge.

Tickets are available at the Willy Street Coop West and at the door.

A free informal meet-and-greet reception (below) will follow the performance.


Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

September 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.

It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.

It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.

(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”

The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.

It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.

But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.

And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.

Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.

Here is a link:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/ncole78/20169/19726/

The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.

In the meantime, The Ears asks:

Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?

Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?

Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Pro Arte Quartet in Belgium –- Day 4, Part 2. The quartet performs in the town of Dolhain-Limbourg.

May 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people on tour with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches. updates and photos are possible — from iPads, computers, cameras and smart phones — so that they can to keep the fans back here at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.

By now it has become apparent that the Pro Arte Quartet’s tour of Belgium is as big an event to the Belgians and to local residents there as it is to Madisonians, Wisconsinites and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Just before taking a day’s rest, Sarah Schaffer, who manages the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, sent this text and this photo essay. They cover the trip from Brussels to Dolhain Limbourg, the hometown of founding violinist Alphonse Onnou, and the official greetings and events that awaited the quartet. (Current members are violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.)

Today’s Part 2 covers the concert at Dolhain-Limbourg.

Here are links to Day 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-lands-in-belgium-gets-detained-at-customs-and-is-rescued-in-time-for-practicing-and-playing-concerts/

To Day 2:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/classical-music-on-day-2-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-is-offered-rehearsal-time-in-a-bar-meets-descendants-of-the-original-members-of-the-quartet-and-performs-its-first-concert-to/

To Day 3:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/classical-music-on-day-3-in-belgium-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-plays-at-the-royal-library-gives-a-gift-to-king-philippe-and-keeps-performing-a-lot-of-hard-and-varied-music/

And to Day 4, Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/classical-music-here-is-a-photo-essay-of-the-pro-arte-quartets-day-long-homage-stop-at-the-belgian-hometown-of-dolhain-linburg-of-the-groups-founding-violinist-alphonse-onnou/

Schaffer’s latest installment once again shows the hard work of undertaking such a concert tour, which involves a lot more than playing and performing music. In this case, it also involves being cultural ambassadors.

Sarah Schaffer mug

After such an already full day, there is still the evening concert!

By evening the Kursaal (below) has warmed up and is now much more welcoming.

PAQ essay 5 Le Kursaal exterior Sarah Schaffer

We learn, as we wait through the sound check/rehearsal that the local television crew is on hand! They hope to interview a quartet member, but are so busy down the street at the Onnou house that they barely make it in time to film the concert.

PAQ essay 6 chekcing our stage at Le Kursaal David, Sally Parry Sarah Schaffer

Anne van Malderen opens the evening with a touching tribute to Onnou, and them outlines the concert program because there are, surprisingly, no printed versions on hand this evening:

Franz Joseph Haydn: Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, N. 4

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Adagio & Fugue, K. 546

Alexander Glazunov: Five Novelettes

Intermission

Igor Stravinsky: Elegy for Solo Viola

Cesar Franck: Quartet

It’s hard to imagine a program more strongly evocative of the original Quatuor Pro Arte (below, in 1928)!

Pro Arte Quartet in 1928 Onnou far left

Haydn represents their recorded legacy. Mozart is included because, well, it’s Mozart. The Glazunov was one of original violinist Alphonse Onnou’s favorite pieces, here in Onnou’s hometown, in the Kursaal, which he likely performed in himself.

Mozart old 1782

The Stravinsky Elegy for Solo Viola (below, Sally Chisholm playing the Stravinsky Elegy at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2012) was commissioned by founding violist Germaine Prevost as a memorial to Onnou, who died in Madison just months after the quartet was stranded there, before ever playing a first concert with the newly artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Sally Chisholm solo

And of course the tour-de-force quartet by Cesar Franck (below) is by one of Belgium’s most celebrated composers.

Cesar Franck photo

It’s very touching, this entire program, this small town.

And such an audience — rapt, attentive, knowledgeable, appreciative with the applause long and sustained, much whistling, many “bravos!” shouted out. An incredibly warm reception.

Those of us who have been with David and Suzanne and Sally and Parry this whole long day, coming after the past few days so full and dramatic, can hardly believe the intensity and concentration they’ve brought to this performance.

Once again, we hear a ravishing performance by this amazing quartet. (below, playing the same Haydn String Quartet at the concert on March 2, 2012.)

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

Sunday is Election Day in Belgium -– and will bring a well-deserved day off for everyone.

Then on Monday, we go to the Conservatoire Royale, where the Quatuor Pro Arte originated — just students who, like music students everywhere, formed a pick-up group.

Sometimes they last a semester or two, sometimes they make a real go of it during and beyond school, and in one extraordinary case they made it to . . . 100! (Below is the Pro Arte Quartet in 1940.)

Pro Arte Quartet 1940 Brosa-Halleux-Prevost-Evans 1940

AN INTERMEZZO AND A PRELUDE

Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below) writes of her latest adventure that occurred when there group arrived back in Brussels. It has no pictures but, trust me, it is well worth the read:

Sally Chisholm

“Last night a few steps from our hotel, in the center of the square, or rather Place, is the area normally occupied by touring jazz/rock groups during the multi-week jazz festival here in Brussels.

It was 8:30 p.m., and I was strolling for the last time of the day.

Mozart. “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik.” (The familiar opening movement is at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has over 8 million hits.)

Hmm … and there they were: 3 young musicians, 2 violinists and a cellist, playing beautifully in front of a rapt audience of locals and tourists from many countries.

The open violin case was filling up with euros as listeners quickly tiptoed up to lay in their offering, then tiptoe away all smiles.

One violinist saw me, and the “fiddlers rose” (that red discoloration that comes from years of gripping the instrument) on my neck, immediately elbowing her partner.

When they finished, and started packing up, I went over to congratulate them.  

You play?

Yes, I said. Alto.

(That’s French for the viola.)

Are you students here?

Yes, at the Conservatoire.

Oh, I will be there tomorrow!

Pro Arte, Pro Arte! Yes, we are coming to hear you!

So I will see my new friends again tomorrow.

Mozart is very alive here in Brussels, with beautifully trained young musicians representing him well to an enthusiastic and grateful audience.

 

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: Day 4 — the UW Pro Arte Quartet goes to Dolhain-Limbourg, Part 1 of 2: Prelude to the concert. Here is a photo essay of the Pro Arte Quartet’s day-long homage stop at the Belgian hometown of the group’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou.

May 27, 2014
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people on tour with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches. updates and photos are possible — from iPads, computers, cameras and smart phones — so that they can to keep the fans back here at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.

By now it has become apparent that the Pro Arte Quartet’s tour of Belgium is as big an event to the Belgians and to local residents there as it is to Madisonians, Wisconsinites and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Just before taking a day’s rest, Sarah Schaffer, who manages the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, sent this text and this photo essay. They cover the trip from Brussels to Dolhain Limbourg, the hometown of founding violinist Alphonse Onnou, and the official greetings and events that awaited the quartet. (Current members are violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.) Part 2 will cover the concert at Dolhain-Limbourg.

Here are links to Day 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-lands-in-belgium-gets-detained-at-customs-and-is-rescued-in-time-for-practicing-and-playing-concerts/

To Day 2:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/classical-music-on-day-2-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-is-offered-rehearsal-time-in-a-bar-meets-descendants-of-the-original-members-of-the-quartet-and-performs-its-first-concert-to/

And to Day 3:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/classical-music-on-day-3-in-belgium-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-plays-at-the-royal-library-gives-a-gift-to-king-philippe-and-keeps-performing-a-lot-of-hard-and-varied-music/

Schaffer’s latest installment also shows the hard work of undertaking such a concert tour, which involves a lot more than playing and performing music. In this case, it also involves being cultural ambassadors.

PAQ-8BIT03

 SATURDAY, MAY 24

We have to catch to train to Verviers to get to Dolhain Limbourg, the hometown of the quartet’s original founding violinist Alphonse Onnou. (Below, from left, are Parry Karp, John Schaffer, Sally Chisholm and David Perry. Below, hometown fans Linda and Bob Graebner of Madison come along.) 

So the day began with a peaceful, dozy train trip through verdant farm country southwest out of Brussels, gradually giving way to steep lush hillsides crisscrossed by many streams.

Trains passed more and more frequently, passing through the long tunnels the closer we got to Verviers, where we were advised not to take the connection to Dolhain but were instead met by a large and eager delegation, jabbering excitedly in, to us, yet another dialect of specifically Belgian French.

PAQ essay 1 Train to Vervier Parry, John Schaffer, Sally David CR Sarah Schaffer

PAQ essay 2 Linda and Bob Graebner on train platform Sarah Schaffer

PAQ essay 3 train platform Sally, David, Parry.

PAQ essay 4 train ticket to Verviers Sarah SchafferJPG

As we find out, the town is charming and the residents go out of their way to host and honor the quartet, which they clearly welcome with open arms.

They divvied us up into waiting cars and off we sped the 10K or so to Dolhain, birthplace of the quartet’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou. Our hosts, it turned out, were all members of a local historical society club and were very excited about our visit.

First stop: Le Kursaal, the concert hall, which on initial glimpse appeared somewhat disheartening and unpromising. Much negotiating over the placement — high stage off flat floor, or on the floor, and lighting. A poster announces our appearance.

No notes were tried. We hoped on this cool damp day that it might be warmer when we returned, and that lighting and seating questions would be solved then.

PAQ essay 5 Le Kursaal exterior Sarah Schaffer

PAQ essay 6 chekcing our stage at Le Kursaal David, Sally Parry Sarah Schaffer

PAQ essay 7 audience seats at Le Kursaal Sarah Schaffer

PAQ essay 8 poster for Le Kursssal concert

Next stop: Old Dolhain Limbourg (not the cheese!), the ancient town with castle and military lookouts on top of the hill. Very charming!

PAQ essay 9 old dolhain 1 SS

PAQ essay 10 old Dolhain 2 SS

PAQ essay 11 old Dolhain 3 SS

PAQ essay 12 Old Dolhain 4 SS

PAQ essay 13 Old Dolhain 5 SS

PAQ essay 14 Old Dolhain 6 SS

Here we were joined by more club members and treated to a  “typical” lunch at the cafe. About 18 of us in all by now. (From left are Sally Chisholm, Parry Karp, Linda Graebner, David Perry and Suzanne Beia.)

PAQ essay 15 Lunch in Dolhain 1 SS

PAQ essay 16 Lunch in Dolhain 2 SS

We take part in a municipal ceremony at 4 p.m.

Genealogical charts of the Onnou family were shared, as well as a thick sheaf of papers describing — mostly in French, a few things translated to English — the historical sites of the village, which we experienced in person on the guided walking your after the meal.

The Mayor of Dolhain Limbourg is the woman on the left dressed in white. The interpreter-translator Alain Boucart is in red. The bald head belongs to the head of the Historical Society of Dolhain Limbourg. Then comes the head of the Alphonse Onnou celebration and exhibit, with tour organizer and quartet documentarian Anne van Malderen dressed in the turquoise sleeveless top and wearing eyeglasses.

PAQ essay 17 Municipal Ceremony 1 SS

PAQ essay 18 Municipal ceremony 2 SS

PAQ essay 19 Municipal essay 3 SS

Elections being on everyone’s minds — political posters everywhere, no concerts scheduled for Sunday because of elections in Belgium, the same reason the royals are sequestered — perhaps this explains Bob Graebner’s enthusiastic comment on meeting the Mayor of Dolhain: “I’d vote for her!”

Many speeches followed: the mayor, president of the historical society, and Onnou and Quatuor Pro Arte expert Anne Von Malderen (below left), all presented in French and then in translation (for our sakes) by an increasingly fatigued interpretor Alain Boucart (below right), who gave briefer and briefer summaries as the proceedings wore on, finally promising a written translation by email after the event.

Pro Arte in Belgium Anne vcan Malderen, translator Alain Boucart

At the reception that followed we were treated to excellent performances by the municipal band, made all the more enjoyable accompanied by chocolates and local cognac! (Below top and, below bottom in photo by Sally Chisholm of the band’s youngest member.) They sounded terrific and in our honor played “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

PAQ in Belgium Dolhain city band 1 SS

PAQ Belgium city band 2 youngest member Sally

And after another glass of wine, the grandniece of Alphonse Onnou autographed the first violin part of the score to composer Alexander Glazunov’s “Five Novelettes,” a favorite of Onnou that the quartet is to perform there, for violinist David Perry.

PAQ essay 20 Onnou grandniece with David SS

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Classical music: It’s final and official — the University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet will tour to Belgium this week.

May 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison, Wis. -– After much worrying, nail-biting and hectic phone calls, the final and official word is in: The Pro Arte Quartet tour to Belgium is on!

And not a minute too soon, since the tour concerts start at the end of this week and the musicians leave for Belgium on Tuesday.

Here is an update from Sarah Schaffer (below), who manages the Pro Arte String Quartet for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Sarah Schaffer mug

The University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet will be returning to its roots this week with a concert tour of Belgium, where the group was first formed in 1912. Current musicians in the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) include violinist David Perry, violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp. (The current Pro Arte Quartet can be heard at the bottom in a YouTube video playing the Prelude for String Quartet by Ernest Bloch at one of its centennial concerts.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The trip is occurring thanks largely to efforts by Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin who helped the UW-Madison ensemble-in-residence overcome government restrictions that prohibit traveling across international borders with anything containing elephant ivory and other endangered flora and fauna.

The Brussels concert series — the capstone of the Pro Arte’s centennial year as the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet — returns the ensemble to its roots for the first time since World War II.

The concert series highlight will be the European premiere of the quartet’s latest commission, the String Quartet No. 3 by contemporary Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below, in a photo by Lise Mernier). The composition had its world premiere March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the George Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus.

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world.

The current tour to Belgium, which occurs May 20-28, almost didn’t happen thanks to renewed efforts by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service’s International Affairs division, which since February has been actively enforcing a 1976 law prohibiting the importation of any items or materials containing elephant ivory, tortoise-shell, Brazilian rosewood and other materials.

Three of Pro Arte’s four musicians have ivory on the tips of their bows. The fourth, Sally Chisholm, has an antique viola heavily inlaid with either ivory or bone on the face of the instrument.

ivory on 2 bows

Chisholm’s viola was manufactured in Cremona, Italy, in 1680. It is her primary instrument and has a unique voice that has become central to the Pro Arte’s sound. “Violas have not been standardized, and to find a replacement instrument for the trip would have been difficult and have changed the sound of the entire group,” said Chisholm (below).

Sally Chisholm

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does issue permits enabling musicians with instruments containing prohibited products to travel with them, but it was unlikely that the permits would have been issued in time for the Pro Arte’s May 20 departure.

The UW-Madison Chancellor’s office worked with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (below), who helped facilitate more rapid processing of the permits, which arrived just prior to the ensemble’s departure.

Tammy Baldwin official portrait

The trip to Belgium will feature a variety of concerts in Brussels and elsewhere.

The Pro Arte will kick off the week-long tour on Thursday, May 22, with a performance in Studio 1 of the Flagey Building (below top with its handsome concert hall studio at below bottom), home to Belgium’s broadcast industry.

Flagey Building Brussels

Flagey building concert hall, studio

The program includes compositions by the “Dissonant” Quartet in C Major, K. 465, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top), the Quartet in D Major by Belgian composer César Franck (below bottom), “The Wind in the Willows” by American composer Randall Thompson and the “Elegy” for solo viola by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who wrote it for a member of the Pro Arte Quartet. Studio 1 has historic significance for the Pro Arte. An earlier iteration of the quartet recorded a complete cycle of the 16 Quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven there in 1938.

Mozart old 1782

Cesar Franck photo

On Friday, May 23, the Pro Arte will perform in the Arthur de Greef Auditorium of the Royal Library of Belgium (below top) in Brussels with a program featuring works by String Quartet No. 1 by Bela Bartok (below middle) and Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No, 4 by Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom).

Royal Library of Belgium

bartok

Haydn

On Saturday, May 24, the Pro Arte travels to Dolhain Limburg, birthplace of the quartet’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou for a reception, dinner and performance at Kursaal Dolhain. The evening program will include previously listed compositions by Mozart, Franck and Haydn plus “Waltz from Five Novelettes” by Alexander Glazunov (below).

glazunov

The Mernier European premiere at the Royal Brussels Conservatory (its exterior is below top, the grand concert hall is below bottom) follows on Monday, May 26.

Royal Conservatory Brussels exterior

Royal Conservatory Grand Hall Brussells

The program features the Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, by Mozart, the work by Randall Thompson (below top) and the slow movement or “Adagio for Strings” (premiered in Rome in 1938 by the Pro Arte) from the  String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11, by American composer Samuel Barber (below bottom).

Randall Thompson

barber 1

The final performance of the tour on Tuesday, May 27, will take place at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (below).

Catholic University of Lovain

In addition to the Mernier work, the performance will include works by Mozart and Barber. In addition, the audience will view a 1975 documentary film about the Pro Arte by Pierre Bartholomée that includes interviews with composers Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky and others. Denise Bauer (below), the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium will be present.

Denise Bauer

 

 

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