The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Award-winning British composer Cecilia McDowall to headline a three-day residency this week, with public workshops and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

February 17, 2015
5 Comments

ALERT:  On this Wednesday, Feb. 18, at noon, British composer Cecilia McDowall will be featured live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM). On this Thursday morning on WORT Radio (89.9 FM), host Rich Samuels plans a half-hour special on McDowall that he pre-recorded with organizer UW-Madison professor of trumpet John Aley. It will be broadcast at 7:15 a.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

A major event involving new music and contemporary music is taking place this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Here is a round-up provided by the UW-Madison School of Music and concert manager Kathy Esposito: 

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), who in December was awarded the 2014 British Composer Award  (BCA) for Choral Composition, will visit UW-Madison’s School of Music this week for a three-day series of concerts and discussions.

Cecilia McDowall

The visit, to take place Thursday through Saturday, marks McDowall’s first United States residency and will include one colloquium and two concerts, all open to the public.

McDowall won the BCA prize for “Night Flight,” a work for a cappella choir and solo cello that honors Harriet Quimby (below), an aviatrix who was the first woman to fly over the English Channel. Download a BCA news release here. 

Harriet Quimby

“Night Flight” was premiered by the Phoenix Chorale, an Arizona ensemble that included a McDowall work on its 2008 Grammy-award winning CD, “Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary.”

Cecilia McDowall’s music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs and instrumental groups, including the BBC Singers, the Westminster Abbey Choir, the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She came to composition later in life, after raising two children, teaching and singing in choirs for many years. She holds a master’s degree in composition from Trinity College in London and is now a composer-in-residence at the Dulwich College, a pre-college school in London.

Listen to selected McDowall works on SoundCloud.  

You can also listen to a sample in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Writes Guy Rickards of Gramophone magazine: “Cecilia McDowall is another of the new generation of highly communicative musicians who, though often inspired by extra-musical influences, favors writing which, without being in any way facile, is brightly cogent, freshly witty and expressive in its own right.

“She often uses minimalist ostinatos – the spirit of Steve Reich hovers – but constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colors, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling. Each of the individual movements within her works is titled, sometimes descriptively, sometimes perhaps with tongue in cheek.”

On Friday, Feb. 20, in Mills Hall at UW-Madison, a student and faculty chamber orchestra (conducted by James Smith, below top), coupled with the university’s Madrigal Singers, conducted by Bruce Gladstone (below bottom), will perform the U.S. premiere of her work “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” (Read a review here.)

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

BruceGladstoneTalbot

“Seventy Degrees” is a cantata for solo voice (to be sung by faculty tenor James Doing, below), which McDowall composed in 2012 to commemorate the voyage of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic. Scott and crew members died while on that expedition; one hundred years later, the City of London Sinfonia and the Scott Polar Research Institute commissioned the music to honor Scott and his men.

James Doing color

As a twist, the concert will extend the polar theme with a slideshow and lobby presentation linking Antarctic research of yesterday with today’s, presented by Michael Duvernois (below) of UW-Madison’s IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Michael Duvernois

McDowall’s residency will also feature the piano playing of UW-Madison’s Christopher Taylor (below) performing McDowall’s “Tapsalteerie,” described by Gramophone as “ingenious play with a cradle song by the turn-­of-the-­century Aberdeenshire fiddler James Scott Skinner.”

Many other UW-Madison faculty musicians will also perform. Here is a link with details about other performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/

Taylor_Chris_piano01

Events include:

THURSDAY

At noon in Mills Hall.

Meet the composer at a free public colloquium.

The topic will be “The Effects of Extra-Musical Influences”: McDowall will discuss how she interweaves composition with events, past or present; with real, imagined or visual images; or as a response to the physical environment or written text.

FRIDAY

At 8 p,m. in Mills Hall.

Concert and Presentation: UW Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir, with a faculty/student chamber orchestra, featuring the U.S. premiere of “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” With Michael Duvernois of the UW IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Meet the composer and performers at a reception to follow in Mills Hall lobby.

Tickets: $20 adults, free for students. Tickets available via the Wisconsin Union Theater prior to show (online and in person) and on the day of show at Mills Hall.

Box office: http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Concert: Cool It — The Chamber Music of Cecilia McDowall.

Free concert.

For a link to this festival on our website, please see: http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/ 

For an interview:

http://www.boardroommum.com/interviews-archive/cecilia-mcdowall/


Classical music: What is the best music to listen to in sub-zero cold weather?

January 6, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, I know three of the pieces I will NOT be listening to this week: the “Alpine” Symphony by Richard Strauss, the “Sinfonia Antarctica” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and the “Winter Wind” etude by Chopin.

BRRRRRRRR.

This week, we in the Upper Midwest are getting a typical January blast from the Arctic. The low temp last night was -11 degree F. As I am writing, the temperature has risen all the way to -8.

sub-zero weather

It will get above zero today. Briefly.

But then another winter Arctic front moves in and we again drop done below zero again with absolute temps down to -20 and wind chills down to -50 or more. On Wednesday, the daytime high will be -3.

So it seems The Ear will be logging quite a lot of indoor time since no warm up is in store until the weekend.

Hence The Ear’s Question of the Week: When the weather is this dangerously cold and you end up pretty much housebound, what is the music you like to listen to?

Sometimes I want to explore a new piece or a new composer.

But often, feeling deprived of normal activities, I want the comfort of listening to something familiar and maybe a little passionate and Romantic, which translates into “heated.” For one example, look below at the YouTube video of pianist Arthur Rubinstein playing the Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52, by Chopin.

Of course, one could choose works on a grander scale such as symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven or Gustav Mahler, concertos by Robert Schumann or Peter Tchaikovsky, oratorios by George Frideric Handel, masses and requiems, and of course operas by Verdi and Puccini.

Or perhaps, like me, you favor a more intimate but collaborative rather than solo genre -– perhaps a string quartet or the piano trio, one of my favorites. I find the music of Franz Schubert so friendly and empathetic.

There is also some about the music of the Baroque and Classical eras that seems light, rational, clear-headed and reassuring. Something like Comfort Food for the Ears.

So perhaps I will put on some music by Johann Sebastian Bach or some of my favorite chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A week like this could also be a good start on listening to a series, something like all the symphonies or string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn or all the piano concertos of Mozart.

Another good choice would be to set out to explore the 550 sunny Italian-Spanish keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

Maybe it is an instrument that provides a respite from the cold — perhaps the guitar.

Anyway: Don’t be shy. Help us get through this bitter cold snap. Please use the Comment section to let The Ear and other readers know what you are listening to in weather like this -– or what you think you would listen to. Or what we should listen to. Include a link to a YouTube performance, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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