The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs two concerts this weekend that honor choral conductor Robert Fountain. Then founder and director Scott MacPherson steps down

August 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even 21 years after his death at 79 in 1996, the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s legendary choral conductor Robert Fountain (below) is spoken of with reverence and awe.

And with good reason, according to many singers and musicians.

The story goes that Fountain was offered a professional performing career, much like his friend Dale Warland enjoyed, but he chose instead to go into academia and teaching.

Fountain’s legacy will be celebrated this weekend with two performances by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below).

IVE is a summer-only group that has performed for the past 16 years under its founder and artistic director Scott MacPherson (below), who worked at the UW-Madison with Fountain and now directs choral activities at Kent State University.

Performances are this Friday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the High Point Church on the far west side, 7702 Old Sauk Road, and on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. at Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. (Cash or check only will be accepted at Mills Hall.)

Here are some comments that The Ear received from MacPherson:

“These are my final concerts as artistic director with IVE. I am stepping down after 16 years. The IVE Board is in the process of finding a new artistic director and should be able to announce the new person in the coming week or so.

“It is the centennial of my mentor and former UW colleague Robert Fountain’s birth, so I have chosen to honor him with a tribute for my final concerts with IVE.

“Robert Fountain: A Choral Legacy” is a concert programmed as he would have programmed with his UW Concert Choir.

“Music from the Renaissance to living composers and everything in between will be featured. Many of my singers sang under his direction at one time or another. Some are even travelling from out of state to participate.”

“The composers represented include Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Randall Thompson, Pavel Chesnokov, Gyorgy Ligeti, Andrew Rindfleisch and a spiritual arranged by Fountain.”

(IVE will perform Chesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created,” which you can hear sung by the Dale Warland Singers in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For the complete program, plus links to ticket information and purchases, go to:

https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/upcoming-performances

For more information about the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and about Scott MacPherson, go to:

https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

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Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will mark its 15th anniversary this Friday night and Sunday afternoon with the “German Requiem” by Brahms and the world premiere of a new work commissioned from Andrew Rindfleisch

August 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) will mark its 15th anniversary with two performances this coming weekend of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms and the world premiere of a work by the contemporary American composer Andrew Rindfleisch.

These performances mark the first time the vocal group will be joined by an orchestra.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble 2015

Performances are in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus this Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.

Soloists are soprano Sarah Brailey (below top) and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom).

Sarah Brailey headshot

Paul Rowe headshot

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 with a student ID. Children under 6 under should not attend. More information can be found at www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

The Ear asked Scott P MacPherson (below), formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now the director of choral activities at Kent State University in Ohio, to talk about the anniversary and concert. MacPherson is the founder and artistic director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Scott MacPherson headshot BW 2016

MacPherson writes:

“We are excited to announce that the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary with two performances of Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) with soloists and professional musicians for the 45-piece orchestra.

“Additionally, IVE marks this significant milestone by presenting the world premiere of the Song of Jubilation, by Andrew Rindfliesch, the native Wisconsin composer’s first choral-orchestral piece.

“Started in 2002, the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is Madison’s “temporary” choir—it gathers some of the region’s finest singers every summer for two intensive weeks of rehearsal (below) culminating in two performances on the first weekend of August.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing 2016

“IVE started up as a summer group of dedicated singers who wanted to perform great choral music together. Many charter members sang under the direction of Robert Fountain in the Concert Choir or with me and the UW Madrigal Singers or Chamber Singers when I was on the UW faculty in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The group has grown from about 35 in its first year to averaging over 60 singers each year. This summer, I have expanded the choir to 115 singers in order to meet the musical and vocal demands of the Brahms German Requiem. (You can hear one of the most popular movements, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place,” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the beginning, IVE has served the Madison choral community with excellent performances of a varied and demanding repertoire, from Renaissance and Baroque motets to part songs and motets of the 19th century to choral works either unaccompanied or with piano or organ accompaniment in the 20th century to music by living composers of our time.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and Scott MacPherson rehearsing

“A few years ago, I suggested to the IVE board that we commemorate our 15th anniversary in 2016 by performing a completely different repertoire than our usual fare.

“The Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem immediately came to mind—there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this would be the right piece to commemorate this milestone. A favorite for the singers and audiences alike, the music of Brahms has frequently been highlighted on IVE’s programs over the years.

“Also, IVE has never before collaborated with an orchestra for an entire concert, although in 2008 we prepared Coronation Anthem No. 2 by George Frideric Handel for Concerts on the Square with Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra). Performing the German Requiem, arguably Brahms’s finest work, symbolizes the “pinnacle achievement” for many choirs.

I also approached my dear friend composer Andrew Rindflebisch (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as professor of music and heads the composition program at Cleveland State University, about sharing in our celebration by writing a choral-orchestral piece especially for IVE.

I asked Andy for a brief piece to serve as an opener for the Brahms. Song of Jubilation is a fanfare, a short celebratory anthem of power and beauty. Since it specifically introduces the Brahms, Rindfleisch uses nearly the same instrumentation and even selected one of the texts from the Requiem for his new composition. We are honored and privileged to present the world premiere of this fine work.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

Brahms (below) was likely inspired to write his Requiem by the death of his mother in 1865 and possibly also by losing his dear friend Robert Schumann a decade earlier.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Requiem or Mass for the Dead, which places a great deal of emphasis on the hoped-for salvation of the deceased, Brahms chose a path unheard of in his time: he selected biblical texts in his native German language mostly with themes of consoling the living, comfort in the time of loss, hope, and even a sense of joy for the bereaved for his Requiem.

brahms3

The resulting 7-movement work quickly became an enduring statement of universal consolation, a “Human” Requiem as Brahms once called it. We hope that not only our dedicated audience members over the years will come and be moved by this incredible music, but that many more new audience members will be there as well.


Classical music: Madison Youth Choir’s sixth annual Boychoir Festival is this Saturday. Plus, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet performs this Sunday at the Chazen Museum of Art

January 29, 2016
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ALERT: This month’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, to start at 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, features the Wisconsin Brass Quintet from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music

The program includes music by  Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.

Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-feb.-7-with-the-wisconsin-brass-quintet

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:

“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m. 

(Below is a photo of middle school singers, conducted by Margaret Jenks, from last year’s festival. You can also hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Boychoir Festival 2015 Elem School Choir

“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”

“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”

The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:

COMBINED CHOIRS

Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum

YOUTH CHOIR

Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion

Banaha — Congolese folk song

MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR

Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum

“Riflemen of Bennington  Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum

 HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR

Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano

Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler

THE MADISON BOYCHOIR

Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors

Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)

COMBINED CHOIRS

Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason

“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)

Boychoir Festival 2014 Middle School Choir

“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”

About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC)

“Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

“Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self -confidence, personal responsibility and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.”

For further information, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: Five alumni composers return to UW-Madison for two FREE concerts of their work this Thursday and Friday nights. On Tuesday night, UW trombonist Mark Hetzler and friends premiere four new works.

November 2, 2015
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ALERT: On Tuesday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall, UW-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler with be joined by Anthony DiSanza, drums/percussion; Vincent Fuh, piano; Ben Ferris, bass; Tom Ross-percussion; Garrett Mendelow, percussion.

Mark Hetzler and friends present a FREE concert titled “Mile of Ledges” with the premiere of four new works. Two new compositions (Falling and Mile of Ledges) by Mark Hetzler will feature lyrical and technical trombone passages, soulful and spirited piano writing, complex percussion playing and a heavy dose of electronics. In addition, the group will showcase new music by UW-Madison alum Ben Davis (his $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ for quartet and electronics) and Seattle composer David P. Jones (a chamber work for trombone, piano, bass and two percussionists).

Read a Wisconsin State Journal about Mark Hetzler. Download PDF here.

By Jacob Stockinger

If The Ear recalls correctly, alumni who return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are generally performers or scholars.

All the more reason, then, to celebrate this week’s major UW event, which was organized by UW-Madison composer and teacher Stephen Dembski (below). It features five composers who trained at the UW-Madison and who are now out in the world practicing their art and teaching it to others.

Steve Dembski's class

Steve Dembski’s class

Dembski writes:

This week, the UW-Madison School of Music will welcome back five graduates of the composition studio who have developed creative, multi-dimensional careers in a range of fields: acoustic and electronic composition, musicology, theory, audio production, conducting, education, concert management and administration, performance, and other fields as well.

The two-day event is intended to show the breadth of talent at UW-Madison as well as demonstrating that music students focus on much more than performance as a way to shape successful careers.

The composers include: Jeffrey Stadelman (below), who is now associate professor of music composition at the University at Buffalo.

jefffey stadelman

Paula Matthusen (below, BM, 2001), who is assistant professor of music at Wesleyan University.

paula matthusen

William Rhoads (below, BM, 1996), who is vice-president of marketing and communications for Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City.

William Rhoads

Andrew Rindfleisch (below, BM, 1987), who is a full-time composer living in Ohio. (You can hear his introspective and microtonal work “For Clarinet Alone” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

Kevin Ernste (below, BM, 1997), who is professor of composition at Cornell University.

kevin ernste

The UW-Madison School of Music will present two FREE concerts of their music, performed by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Anderson), the UW Wind Ensemble, and other faculty members and students.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2013 Michael Anderson

The FREE concerts are on this Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall; and on this Friday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. There will be workshops and colloquia yet to be announced.

For complete composer biographies, along with comments about their works, and more information about the two-day event, visit this site:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/10/08/uw-madison-composers-return/


Classical music: The Wisconsin Brass Quintet performs a FREE concert Thursday night on the UW-Madison campus.

October 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet, which is marking its 43rd anniversary this season, will give a FREE and PUBLIC performance this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.

The program includes: the Canzona per sonare No. 2 by the Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1554-1612); “In the Zone” by UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch (b. 1963); the Brass Quintet by Ira Taxin (b. 1950); and Rounds and Dances for Brass Quintet by Jan Bach (b. 1937)

Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet are (below in a photo by Michael R. Anderson, left to right): Mark Hetzler, trombone; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Curry, tuba; John Aley, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn. 

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Here is some background about the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

Founded in 1972, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is a faculty ensemble-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The quintet’s musical expertise has been acknowledged by Verne Reynolds, Jan Bach, Karel Husa, John Harbison, Daron Hagen and many other composers.

In addition to performing with the WBQ, the players have also been members of the American Brass Quintet, Empire Brass Quintet and Meridian Arts Ensemble. Quintet members John Stevens and Daniel Grabois and former member Douglas Hill have also composed many works for the group.

With extensive performances throughout the Midwest and nationally, including appearances at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall, the quintet’s educational programs and master classes have been presented in such prestigious settings as The Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music.

The quintet performs annual live radio broadcast concerts on Wisconsin Public Radio. Its three CD recordings, on the Summit, Mark and Crystal labels, feature music by John Stevens, Douglas Hill, Verne Reynolds, Daron Hagen, John Harbison and Enrique Crespo.

An earlier LP recording features the only recording of Jan Bach’s “Rounds and Dances” and Hilmar Luckhardt’s “Brass Quintet.” Each of these works was composed for the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, in keeping with the WBQ’s commitment to commissioning and performing new music of the 20th and 21st centuries. (You can hear the Wisconsin Brass Quintet perform a commissioned work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Barry Kilpatrick writes for the American Record Guide: “I’ve reviewed over 250 brass recordings in the past five years, and this is one of the very best. The WBQ is a remarkable ensemble that plays with more reckless abandon, warmth, stylistic variety and interpretive interest than almost any quintet in memory.”


Classical music: The acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs its annual summer concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

July 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble write:

When conductor Scott MacPherson convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions.

Known as “Madison’s most temporary choir,” the ensemble – a semi-professional choir of approximately 60 singers – brings new life to over 500 years of choral music within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular remarkable experience, year after year. (You can hear the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sing the “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Josef Rheinberger in 2012 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This summer, Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2015 program.

The traditional Friday night concert takes place on at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, July 31, at Christ Presbyterian Church (below), located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 2, at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ (below), located at 110 North Gammon Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Lutheran Church of the Living Christ

General admission tickets are available online at isthmusvocalensemble.org or at the door. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. 

The program, “Unconventional Images” is a tapestry of unexpected beauty, including works spanning from the 1500s up to brand new compositions, featuring a world premiere from composer Corey Rubin (below) entitled “The Snow Man.”

Corey Rubin

Director Scott MacPherson writes: “For these concerts, prepare your ears and mind to be led down an unconventional path, where you will ponder such images as the nativity, snow in the summer, sensual beauty, the desert, glory, mortality and divine renewal.”

Other featured works include “Three Nativity Carols” by the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below top); “Beati quorum via” and “Coelos ascendit hodie” by Charles Villiers Stanford; “Du bist aller Dinge schön” and “Fahet uns die Füchse” by Melchoir Franck; “Schaffe in mir Gott” by Johannes Brahms; the Gloria by Dominick Argento; and several newly composed pieces, including “Desert Rose” by Frank Wiley, as well as “I Sing to Use the Waiting” and “An Irish Blessing” by University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom).

stephen paulus

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Its members include professional singers, choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two professional CDs.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson


Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will use its 13th annual summer concerts to explore expressions of LOSS on this Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, you can check Day 6 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 30, 2014
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ALERT: For the latest news from the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), here is a link to Day 6:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the many summer musical events that have become institutions to look forward to are the two concerts by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Here are the details, from a press release, for this weekend’s sets of two concerts:

ISTHMUS VOCAL ENSEMBLE RETURNS FOR ITS LUCKY 13TH SEASON

MADISON – When conductor Scott MacPherson –- a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions. (You can hear a stirring sample at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.)

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Now in its 13th year, the ensemble -– a professional-level choir of approximately 60 singers –- brings new life to over 500 years of choral music. Amazingly, the choir continues to do it all within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular and remarkable experience, year after year.

Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2014 program.

The traditional Friday night concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, August 1, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; children 12 or under get in for free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802712

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, August 3, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road. General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Children under 13 get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802714

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

This year, the singers will tackle texts in Latin, French (medieval and modern), Russian, German, English and even a form of nonsense language, notated loosely in Finnish, inspired by both Scandinavian folk dance and the Muppets’ Swedish Chef (below).

Swedish Chef

This year’s performance includes introspective choral masterworks by Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and others, exploring the labyrinth of emotions begat by LOSS.

Also featured are contemporary works by Andrew Rindfleisch and Lionel Daunais, and a rousing conclusion with spirituals arranged by Moses Hogan.

The French chanson “Mille regretz” by the 15th century composer Josquin des Prez (below top) is matched by a modern setting by Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom). Here is a link top the home website for the Prix de Rome-winning composer Andrew Rindfliesch, who did his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison:

www.andrewrindfleisch.com

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The choir’s renowned low basses will be on display in Russian works including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Tebé poyém (We Hymn Thee)” and Alexander Gretchaninoff’s stunning “Ñe rïdáy Meñé, Máti (Do not lament me, O Mother).”

Rachmaninoffold

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

From the German tradition, Johannes Brahms’ Two Motets, Op. 74 (beginning with “Warum ist das Licht gegeben”), join Anton Bruckner’s classic “Virga Jesse.”

brahms3

Anton Bruckner 2

Other composers represented include Jaako Mäntyjärvi, Lionel Daunais, Henry Purcell (below), Imant Raminsh and the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan.

purcell

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, who trained at the UW-Madison.

Scott MacPherson older BW

The IVE’s members include professional singers and choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two albums.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

For more information, visit www.isthmusvocalensemble.org or the choir’s page on Facebook.

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Scott MacPherson, founder and conductor of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and a UW-Madison alumnus, talks about the two performances of Mahler, Bach, Brahms and other composers coming up this weekend on Friday, Aug. 2, and Sunday, Aug. 4.

July 29, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Call it The Rite of Summer.

Every August for the past 11 years, University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus Scott MacPherson travels from his job and home in Ohio, where he teaches at Kent State University, to come to Madison to direct and conduct intensive rehearsals and two concerts by the virtuosic Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below in a photo by Jim Pippitt).

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This summer’s concerts, mostly a cappella although some pieces have organ accompaniment, are coming up this weekend on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Especially noteworthy is how the group emphasizes talent with local and regional ties -– the singers, the conductor, even the instrumentals and the composers. Many are alumni of the University of Wisconsin-School of Music.

For more information, visit the home website of the IVE:

http://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

Scott MacPherson (below, in a photo by Beate Gersch; unless otherwise noted, photos of the choir are by Portrait Independence Photography) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Scott MacPherson older BW

What do you want to tell the public about the isthmus Vocal Ensemble in general? How has it evolved and changed over its history and since its founding?

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble was founded in 2002 as a chamber choir of about 35 voices. It was originally intended to perform one concert in Madison each August, but our audience following has grown such that we now give two performances each year, both on the first weekend August.

The concerts this summer will take place at Luther Memorial Church (below top) at 1021 University Ave. on Friday night, August 2, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday afternoon, August 4, at 3 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church (below bottom) on Segoe Road and Mineral Point Road.

luther memorial church madison

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

The choir grew over its first decade to about 55-60 singers and is made up singers from all walks of life, from career musicians and home makers, to professionals in various disciplines and everything in between; all with the same goal—to perform choral music at the highest level.

A community choir of great flexibility with singers from Madison and surrounding areas, the choir specializes in music of all epochs and genres, from Renaissance madrigals and motets, to cutting edge works by living composers.  We gather in Madison for a couple weeks of intense rehearsals and two concerts.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

What is the program this summer and what do you want to say about individual works and composers? I understand there is a special Mahler arrangement that is intriguing.

I have nicknamed this year’s program after the famous phrase by the late Ed Sullivan: “The Really Big Show!”  The focus of the program is on works for double choir.

At the center of the program is a transcription of one of the “Rueckert-Lieder” by Gustav Mahler (below) — “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” — written for 16 separate voice parts by Clytus Gottwald in 1982.  Originally for solo voice and orchestra, Gottwald’s transcription amazingly captures the ambience and color palette of Mahler’s piece.  The work splits each of the usual choral voices into four parts.  For this reason, I have enlarged the choir to 70 voices this summer.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble women

Preceding the Mahler are three sets of pieces for double choir:  Sweelinck’s epic setting of Psalm 150, “Or soit loué l’Eternel”; Johann Sebastoan Bach’s (attributed) motet, “Ich lasse dich nicht”; and Johannes Brahms’s Op. 109 motets, “Fest- und Gedenksprüche.”

The second half of the program features organist Kathrine Handford (below), from the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, in two English choral works for organ and chorus.  In honor of the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s centennial birthday, we will perform his “Hymn to St. Peter” for organ, choir, and soprano solo.  We will also sing Grayston Ives’ “Canticle of Brother Sun,”a setting of the poem by St. Francis of Assisi.

Kathrine Handford

Closing the concert will be a setting of “O Vos omnes” by UW-Madison alumna and member of the Minneapolis-based Rose Ensemble, Linda Kachelmeier (below top) and a contemporary piece by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume (below bottom).  “Twa tanbou,” sung in the original Haitian Creole language, tells the story of three drums in a discussion of which one makes the best sound.

Linda Kachelmeier

Sydney Guillaume

What kind of shape in the IVE in right now and what are its future plans? Concerts? Recordings? Other events?

IVE is proud to have made two CD recordings in its history.  “The Choral Music of Andrew Rindfleisch” was recorded in 2004 and released in 2006 and features approximately half of the choral output of this amazing composer (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as Professor of Composition at Cleveland State University.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

In 2011, IVE released a live recording of their 2010 summer concert: “An Isthmus Christmas.”

Our highest achievement came in February 2012 when we sang a coveted performance at the North Central American Choral Directors Conference, held in Madison.  Hundreds of choral conductors and singers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas attended our concert, which really put IVE “on the map” outside of Madison.

Here is a sample of our singing, a YouTube video of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performing Josef Rheinberger’s “Evening Song” at Luther Memorial Church on Aug. 3, 2012:


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