The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet performs an all-Italian program four times this month starting this weekend and returns as an ensemble-in-residence at the First Unitarian Society of Madison

September 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

The Ancora String Quartet (below) opens its 19th season with a program of works by three Italian composers more usually associated with opera, or solo violin music, than with string quartets.

Members of the Ancora String Quartet (ASQ, below from left in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violins Wes Luke and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

Violin virtuoso and composer Antonio Bazzini (below) led a rockstar’s life, touring Europe and hobnobbing with Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. He later settled in Milan, winning first prize in the Milan quartet competition in 1864 with this piece. The Scherzo shows Mendelssohn’s influence, and the Andante sostenuto delivers breathtakingly beautiful passages of lyrical romance and tender passion.

Opera great Giaocomo Puccini wrote Chrysanthemums (Crisantemi) in one night, upon hearing the news of the death of his friend the Duke of Savoy in 1890. The six-minute piece expresses the composer’s sorrow, in themes that bring to mind the poignant melodies of “Madama Butterfly.” (You can hear “Chrysanthemums” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The String Quartet in E Minor (1873) by Giuseppe Verdi (below) opens with restrained moodiness, but the drama quickly leaps off the page. Written to pass the time while waiting for the delayed opening of his opera “Aida,” this quartet demonstrates Verdi’s mastery of purely instrumental writing — although the cello solo in the Trio of the Scherzo could pass for a tenor aria. The work ends, surprisingly, with an elaborate fugue.

The quartet is gearing up for four performances in September, listed below.

In related news, the Ancora String Quartet, like the Madison Bach Musicians, will become a Resident Ensemble at the First Unitarian Society of Madison (FUS) starting this fall. We are pleased to reconnect with our FUS audiences, and hope our Regent Street fans will make the trip as well.

Here is the September schedule of the Italian program:

  • This Friday, Sept. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday with host Norman Gilliland. WPR is Madison station WERN 88.7 FM. The ASQ will perform the entire Bazzini quartet.
  • This Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors and $6 for students.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8, at 3 p.m. at FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15, $12 and $6.
  • Next Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Germantown Community Library, N112W16957 Mequon Rd., in Germantown. The concert is FREE and open to the public.


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Classical music: Acclaimed Canadian violinist James Ehnes discusses Max Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy,” which he will perform this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the acclaimed Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes returns to Madison to perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

James Ehnes playing 2

Ehnes will play Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, a piece that blends rustic folk tunes and tender themes to convey the stark Scottish landscape.

Opening the program will be Joseph Haydn’s spirited Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” (The Queen) because it was the favorite of French Queen Marie AntoinetteSergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances will close out the concert.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 18, at 2:30 p.m.

James Ehnes made his major orchestral solo debut with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) at age 13 and was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2005. Today, he is a sought-after chamber musician, recitalist and soloist with the world’s finest orchestras. (You can hear his astonishing playing in Antonio Bazzini’s “Dance of the Goblins” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

One hour before each performance, Tyrone Greive, retired MSO Concertmaster and Professor of Violin at University of Wisconsin-Madison, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Background about the music can also be found in the Program Notes by bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ehnes

MSO playing

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts can NOT be combined.

Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

Major funding for the October concerts is provided by Margaret C. Winston, Kenneth A. Lattman Foundation, Inc., Capitol Lakes, the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, and Peggy and Tom Pyle. Additional funding is provided by Dr. Stanley and Shirley Inhorn and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

James Ehnes kindly agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

james ehnes cr Benjamin Ealovega

Could you bring readers up to date with your career and achievements – including future recordings and events — since your last appearance in Madison in 2012?

A lot has happened in my life since 2012! Most importantly, the birth of my second child in 2014.

Musically, I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences. It’s hard to narrow it down, but some of the highlights were the BBC Proms last summer, a play-conduct recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the Sydney Symphony, and performances with all of the so-called Big Five orchestras here in the states (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago).

James Ehnes Four Seasons CD cover

What should people know about composer Max Bruch and his Scottish Fantasy? What distinguishes it from his concertos?

Bruch (below) was one of the great melodists of the Romantic era, but interestingly this piece uses “borrowed” Scottish tunes, hence its title.

I think the piece has just about the perfect combination of elements — virtuosity, beautiful melodies, and interesting and colorful orchestration (the harp plays a very major role). Unlike a “standard” concerto, there is an introduction and four movements in this piece, so it’s a bit unusual in a formal sense.

max bruch

You are especially known for your interpretations of modern composers like Bela Bartok. What do you think of the Romantic composers and repertoire? Do you try to bring anything special to them?

I didn’t realize that was the case! I play lots of different styles of music, and having that variety in my career is probably my greatest inspiration. I love the Romantic repertoire. It is probably this music above all other that made me initially fall in love with the violin as a boy.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or Madison or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I’m very much looking forward to my return. The performances in 2012 were my first visit to Madison, and I really enjoyed the city. I look forward to having a bit more time to explore, and I’m delighted to be able to bring my family this time.


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