The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Saturday night brings both the Escher String Quartet to the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra to the Hamel Music Center

January 22, 2020
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CORRECTION: The Ear received the following correction to the story he posted yesterday about the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and apologizes for the error:

 “There was a change to our rollout in Brookfield. We are only repeating the fifth Masterworks concert on Saturday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts. We are NOT repeating this Friday’s concert in Brookfield.

“We will perform a Family Series concert of “Beethoven Lives Next Door” on Sunday, March 29, at 3 p.m. at the same Brookfield venue.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The upcoming weekend is a busy one for classical music.

The busiest night is Saturday night when two major concerts will take place: a performance by the Escher String Quartet and the postponed concert by the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra with soloists.

Here are details:

ESCHER STRING QUARTET and DAVID FINCKEL

The concert by the Escher String Quartet (below) with cellist David Finckel (below bottom. formerly of the critically acclaimed Emerson String Quartet) takes place on this Saturday night, Jan. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater.


The performance is part of the special season celebrating the centennial anniversary of the Concert Series.

The program includes the sublime Quintet in C Major, D. 956, with two cellos, by Franz Schubert and the String Quartet in A minor by the great early 20th-century Viennese violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler (below).

Tickets are $30-$50. For more information and to reserve tickets, go to: https://artsticketing.wisc.edu/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=CFC3765F-5F1D-4663-BCA0-985BE3049CF5

For more information about the Escher String Quartet, including a video performance and detailed background, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/escher-string-quartet-with-david-finckel/

UW CHORAL UNION

Also on this Saturday night at 8 p.m., in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the new Hamel Music Center at 740 University Avenue, the UW Choral Union  and UW Symphony Orchestra (below top), along with two vocal soloists – soprano Chelsie Propst (below middle) and baritone James Harrington (below bottom) — will perform a concert originally scheduled for Dec. 7 and then postponed.

The program, without intermission, is one 80-minute work: the epic and influential “A Sea Symphony” by the great 20th-century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (below).

General admission tickets are $18 for the general public and faculty or staff; and $10 for UW students. To reserve tickets, go to Campus Arts Ticketing at: https://artsticketing.wisc.edu/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=412623A4-4FB9-40D6-BC23-A425360713EA

Beverly Taylor (below), the longtime director of choral activities at the UW who will retire this spring, sent the following note:

“The text by American poet Walt Whitman presents four symphonic scenes of great breadth and imagination, with lush harmonies and constantly varying tempos and dynamics.” (You can hear the Waves section, or third movement, from “A Sea Symphony” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

 


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Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival gets more national attention as it marks 15 years. The festival kicks off on Saturday and focuses on Italian early music and art from 1300 to 1600. Part 1 of 2.

July 7, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?

Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Toronto Consort

Leonardo da Vinci

In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals.

MEMF was again the only Wisconsin music festival listed on May 14, 2014 in the The New York Times story “Birds Aren’t The Only Music Amid Nature.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/arts/music/birds-arent-the-only-music-amid-nature.html

Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.

Boston Early Music Festival boston early music festival overview hall

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?

Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.

There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.

Bob Wiemken

MEMF 14 2013 Piffaro instruments

We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.

monteverdi

Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.

The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different?  What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?

 

 


Classical music: Why is Brahms’ “German” Requiem so great? Ask the American poet Emily Dickinson.

December 10, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Great musical works, like great poems, get analyzed and  eventually overanalyzed. Yet they still stand and endure and continue to speak to us and to move us and make us think. That is why they are masterpieces.

So just maybe we can use one masterpiece to discuss another – counterparts in beauty, as it were, or “correspondences” to use French poet Charles Baudelaire’s term. After all, poets and musicians seem to have a lot in common.

Let me be specific. I have in mind the “German” Requiem, Op. 45, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897, below).

Johannes_Brahms

I could talk about the two outstanding performances of the 75-minute “German” Requiem that I heard this past weekend. I could mention how robustly and, at the same time,  subtly the University of Wisconsin  Symphony Orchestra played under conductor Beverly Taylor (below left).

Beverly Taylor and Choral Union and UW Symphony Brahms German 12-7-12

I could praise how the choral parts, as performed by the campus and community UW Choral Union (below top), brought so many degrees of shading and dynamics to convey the mood and meaning of the text. I could single out how the undergraduate soloists, baritone Benjamin Li (below middle) and soprano Olivia Pogodzinski (below bottom), stood out for their full, strong voices.

Choral Union Brahms 2012

Benjamin Li, baritone Brahms German 12-7-12

Olivia Pogodzinski soprano Choral Union Brahms 12-7-12

But something deeper and more elusive haunts one about this music. And if it didn’t, would I perceive the music as so great?

We have a long history together, the Brahms “German” Requiem and me.

I first sang it when I was 14 or 15.

Since then it has remained for is one of the greatest pieces of music. I see it as the greatest choral work ever in part because it is more a secular humanist work rather than a religious one, and because the Scriptural texts seem so universal. Plus, the work feels so perfect in how carefully it is composed and written, for both voices and instruments. It feels so spontaneous and heart-felt, yet it is also so crafted and well thought-out. It is a perfect blending of the heart-felt and the analytical, the personal and the objective.

For a long time I have played the “German” Requiem to privately mourn the deaths of family members, friends and even the sadness of world events. This year too it once again holds special meaning for me. (And for others too, since these performances were dedicated to UW Professor Emeritus David Schrieber, who sang with the UW Choral Union for more than 40 years and recently died.)

But what words could really do justice to this great work with its sweeping melodies; its alternating drama and lyricism; its mix of Classicism and Romanticism; with its using  counterpoint and fugues both to offset and to enhance its soaring melodic lines and rich harmonies? (At bottom is Movement 6 with baritone soloist Dietrich Fischer Dieskau.)

I wondered.

Then I found the right words – not from me but from a great artist who lived closer in time to Brahms and who seems to share his sensibility and whose work even follows the same as the “German” Requiem.

The words come from one of those short and sometimes cryptic, but deeply moving poems by the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886, below, in a daguerreotype photograph from 1846) –- and it is absolutely worthy of Johannes Brahms and his “German” Requiem:

emily dickinson BW photo daguerrotype 1846

AFTER GREAT PAIN, A FORMAL FEELING COMES

By Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’

And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –

A Wooden way

Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –

Regardless grown,

A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –

Remembered, if outlived,

As Freezing persons recollect the Snow –

First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

As Brahms’ text , drawn from  “Revelations,” says in the last movement: “Their works live on after them.”

Do you also think the poem captures some or even much of the Brahms?

Do other poems or passages of literature come to mind when you think of the Brahms?

And what did you think of the performances this past weekend?

The Ear wants to hear.


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