The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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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 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.

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.


Classical music: Music for piano-four hands played a vital historical role in disseminating classical music and also in encouraging amateur musicians and a socially acceptable form of erotic intimacy.

April 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First things first — a full disclosure because today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

april fools day

But this is no April Fool’s post. The Ear detests using the media, old or new, for April Fool’s stories and pranks. The Ear finds them stupid and reprehensible. They undercut credibility and insult readers or consumers by taking advantage of their gullibility.

So …

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted a preview of the upcoming recital this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. by pianists Peter Serkin and Julie Hsu at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/classical-music-pianists-peter-serkin-and-julia-hsu-will-play-works-for-piano-four-hands-by-mozart-schubert-schumann-and-brahms-this-saturday-night-at-farleys-house-of-pianos/

But as background, or perhaps an appetizer or teaser, I thought you might like to see a link sent to me by a professor friend at Stanford University. It covers a book by his colleague in German that offers not only history but also the role of four-hand playing in encouraging intimacy, a kind of erotic sensuality and sexuality that was socially acceptable. Then, too, music playing also bridged the worlds of professional and amateur musicians.

Whether or not you attend the concert at Farley’s, it is good to read the overview of the vital role that music for piano-four hands (below is the team of Varshavsky and Shapiro who perform quite often in the area) played in the history of Western classical music. They helped to disseminate into ordinary homes versions of the symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when hearing a real symphony was a rare occasion.

And of course they also encouraged Hausmusik — the playing of music in private homes before commercial concerts became established. A piano was like the CD player or radio or television of its day.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Madison hears its fair share of such music. It is always featured at the Schubertiades, held by wife-and-husband pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in late January.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Such music has also appeared regularly at the free Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum of Art, the annual Karp Family Labor Day Concerts, the summer Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Farley’s House of Pianos, and other important series.

The Ear has enjoyed such music – in addition to the many social works by Franz Schubert, I have heard Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak and Polonaises by Franz Schubert, for example — but was never fully aware of what, historically, he was listening to.

So The Ear found the historical essay fascinating and thought you might also appreciate it.

Here is a link to the essay:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/piano-monster-daub-120814.html

And here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece that is perhaps the crown jewel of piano-four hand literature — Franz Schubert’s late Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 — performed by two of my favorite British pianists, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis:


Classical music: On Saturday night, the University of Wisconsin-Madison percussion group Clocks in Motion will celebrate its inaugural recording with a concert of highlights from the current season.

April 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, the acclaimed and recently formed local percussion group, Clocks In Motion, will celebrate a landmark that area fans and all classical musicians can be proud of.

Here is the press release:

“Clocks in Motion, a cutting-edge new music ensemble from Madison, Wisconsin, will present an expansive program featuring highlights from the 2013-14 concert season, as well as selections from their upcoming debut CD album, “Escape Velocity.”

“Clocks in Motion (below in performance in 2013) consists of percussionists Dave Alcorn, Sean Kleve, Michael Koszewki, James McKenzie and Joseph Murfin plus Jennifer Hedstrom, pianist and percussionist, and conductor Matthew Schlomer.

clocks in motion in concert

“The concert is this coming Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at Bright Red Studios (below), located at 9 Ingersoll Street in Madison. Admission is $10 for the general public; free with a valid student ID.

Bright Red Studios

“The program will feature captivating performances of works by innovative composers: John Luther Adams, John Cage, John Jeffrey Gibbens, Paul Lansky, and Marc Mellits.

Drums of Winter” is a movement from the breathtaking multimedia composition, “Earth and the Great Weather” by John Luther Adams (below). This genre-defying piece depicts the Arctic landscapes of Northern Alaska, and Clocks in Motion will perform a shattering and powerful drum selection.

John Luther Adams

“Paul Lansky has said that the aim of his percussion quartet, “Threads,” is to “highlight the wide range of qualities that percussion instruments are capable of, from lyrical and tender to forceful and aggressive, and weave them into one continuous ‘thread.’”

paul lansky

Third Construction” by John Cage (below) features a wildly diverse instrumentation. Clocks in Motion will use tin cans, maracas, claves, cowbells, Indo-Chinese rattles, quijadas, cricket callers, a conch shell, ratchets, and various drums in this singular and innovative 1941 work.

John Cage and cat

“John Jeffrey Gibbens (below) is a living composer in Madison whose marimba solo, “Travelling Music,” was only just premiered on March 13.  The vast complexities of this 12-tone work result in some entertaining choreography for the performer and a rich experience for the listener.

Clocks in Motion John Jefffey Gibbens cr MiltLeidman

“The new mallet quintet, “Gravity,” by Marc Mellits (below) was commissioned in part by Clocks in Motion in 2013.  This piece features Mellits’ pop-minimalistic style with driving rhythms and lush harmonies.  The sectional work builds in intensity, resulting in a climactic and satisfying ending.  

marc mellits 1

“Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com), Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

With a fearless and uncompromising ear to programming challenging and adventurous contemporary percussion ensemble repertoire, Clocks in Motion (below in a photo by Megan Alley) consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater and computer technology.

Clocks in Motion Group Photo 2 cr Megan Alley

“Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

“Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate the young audiences of the future through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The individual members of Clocks in Motion’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of musical styles including, rock, jazz, contemporary classical music, orchestral percussion, marching percussion, and world music styles. (Listen for yourself to the YouTube posting at the bottom.)

“Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as the ensemble in residence with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music percussion studio.

“For more information, including boomings, recordings, videos, concert/residency schedule, and repertoire, please visit www.clocksinmotionpercussion.com.”

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Classical music: What would be a good April Fool’s joke about classical music? But it is no joke that April will bring a lot of major choral music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff among others.

April 1, 2014
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READER SURVEY: Today is April Fool’s Day! So in keeping with tradition, here is what The Ear wants to know: What would be a really good April Fool’s joke about classical music? Discovering a 10th symphony or sixth piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven? Finding one of the many lost cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach? Unearthing a letter from Arnold Schoenberg disavowing his own 12-tone or atonal music as a dry and boring experiment? Use the COMMENT section to leave your April Fools treat. Be creative, original and unexpected, and have some fun.

Here is a link to one year’s entries:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/classical-music-news-the-discovery-of-beethovens-tenth-symphony-wins-first-prize-for-the-best-april-fools-day-story/

april fools day

By Jacob Stockinger

April is the “choralist month,” to paraphrase — with a badly twisted pun — a famous opening line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

Is it because of Easter? The end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Or maybe the arrival of spring? Or perhaps the closing on some current seasons?

All play a role, The Ear suspects, but so does coincidence. Besides, after such a hard winter, singing out seems healthy and almost normal.

During this April, local audiences will have the chance to hear more than half a dozen major choral works –- and that doesn’t even include the Russian and Baltic concert performed this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Many of the events will have more detailed postings on this blog. But here is a summary roundup to help you fill in your datebooks and make plans.

It will kick off this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and guest soloists when they perform the famously storied Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Guest conductor Julian Wachner will be substituting for the MSO music director John DeMain, and the program also includes guest organ soloist Nathan Laube in Jongen’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” For more information, including program notes and ticket information, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/laube

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

On Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Festival Choir (below), under WCO music director Andrew Sewell, will perform Mozart’s late, short and sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” (heard at the bottom with conductor Leonard Bernstein in a popular YouTube video that has over 2 million hits) and Beethoven’s rarely heard “Choral Fantasy,” which is a sketch with solo piano of the famous last chiral movement, with the famous “Ode to Joy,” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Stewart Goodyear’s own Piano Concerto is on the program, as is Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” For details, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

festivalchoir

On Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will see a FREE performance on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra).

Concert Choir

The next day Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday. It will see two performances (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) of the gorgeously calm and reassuring Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performed in the old historic Landmark Auditorium, where the organ is. FUS music director Dan Broner will conduct. Free-will offerings will be accepted.

faure

Then on Good Friday, April 18, in the First Congregational Church and on Saturday, April 19, in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, J.S. Bach’s landmark Mass in B Minor will receive two performances (both at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m.) from the Madison Bach Musicians, and guest soloists and the Madison Choral Project under conductor and UW bassoonist Marc Vallon.  

MadisonBachMusicians

On Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also a FREE concert by the UW Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program yet.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 pm. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below) will perform the lovely and rarely performed Russian Orthodox, a cappella “Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral program, will conduct the one-time only performance -– normally the UW Choral Union gives two performances. Tickets can be purchased for the concerts. Admission is $10 for adults and the general public; free for  students and seniors.
 Remaining tickets will be at the door. 
Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

As an added bonus to April, and to wind up the spring semester, on Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the FREE concert by the UW Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. On Monday. May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Master Singers will perform a FREE concert.

I’m betting there are some others I am missing, especially at Edgewood College, which I haven’t heard from yet. Perhaps readers will leave word in a COMMENT. But even from what I have listed, you see that listeners are in store for a lot of choral treats.

 

 

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Classical music news: The discovery of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony wins first prize from The Ear for The Best April Fools’ Day Story

April 9, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On April 1, I posted a contest — the first one ever on The Well-Tempered Ear — to see who could come up with the best or most believable classical music story for April Fools Day.

I talked about how I am probably too sincere and gullible to be a fan of April Fools Day stories, be they on-line, in-print or on-the-air.

But I didn’t have to worry.

It turned out to be pretty popular, judging from the number of hits and comments.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/

Now I am back home from being on the road and can announce the results.

Several readers sent in very good ideas, as you can see for yourself.

Among others — including Yo-Yo Ma turning to rock on a solid gold cello — the most credible entries included:

Bach Hits Broadway in Baroque Follies

PDQ Bach Was Real”

A piano that was rigged so it wouldn’t sound during an accompanying session proved to be a real-life April Fools’ practical joke or prank.

But the clear winner was Rita Stevens who said: “How about the discovery of a 10th Beethoven symphony?”

Well, great minds think alike.

Naomi Lewin, of NPR’s Weekend Edition, had a similar story, which was the April Fools Day story that was featured by Tom Huizenga on NPR’s outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/04/01/149697309/beethovens-10th-symphony-for-real

In retrospect, the story about Beethoven (below, another make-believe in the form of a recreation by Getty Images) seems pretty obvious. But only one reader suggested it and she wins.

Let me just say that to add a touch of credibility, I might have suggested qualifying it just a bit: “Extensive Sketches for Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony Discovered.”

That way, Beethoven’s Tenth would be on par with sketches left for unfinished symphonies and other works by Schubert, Mahler and Bruckner among others. And those are for real!

Anyway, the promised prize of a book and a CD will be in the mail shortly.

Thanks to all of you for your help in suggesting entries and reading the post.

Maybe we’ll have to do another kind of contest soon.

Any suggestions?


In classical music, what would be a really clever and outrageous but believable April Fools’ Day story? Tell us the best one and win prizes from The Ear.

April 1, 2012
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is April 1.

That is, April Fools’ Day.

I’ll admit it: I do not like April Fools’ Day stories or so-called jokes.

In fact, I hate them.

When I was working in a newsroom, I always considered it unprofessional to publish such stories. I saw it as a betrayal of the same public trust that newspaper and magazines are always crowing about and citing as grounds for all sorts of rights or even privileges.

But I also hate them personally as well as professionally.

That’s probably just because I am a gullible and sincere guy, a sucker who falls for them.

“Oh, really” I would almost always say – to much laughter and guffawing, disbelief and incredulity, to say nothing of embarrassment, awkwardness and shame. I was always The Joker or The Jerk.

But who knows? Maybe there is a deeper reason for my disdain of April Fools’ Day and all that it entails.

Anyway, for some reason this year I found myself at the end of March idly wondering: What would be a good April Fool’s Day story in classical music?

Steinway Pianos to Go Digital” was one.

“Steinway to Make Violins” was another.

You get the idea. I have a very limited ability for this kind of goofing around and satire.

Maybe I just lack the imagination to be both outrageous and believable.

So I call on you, Dear Readers:

If you are so inclined, come up with and tell me: What would be a good headline for a classical music April Fool’s Day story?

Just send in your suggestions – put them in COMMENTS — and let’s see what you come up with.

If one story clearly emerges as a winner, I will personally send that person a recently published book about classical music and a new CD as a top prize. So include your snail-mail address or e-mail so I can get that address.

Happy Brainstorming!

And Happy April Fools’ Day!

And THAT is no joke.


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