The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear gets to hear a masterpiece in the making -– Pierre Jalbert’s “Howl” Clarinet Quintet. It sure sounds like it will become a staple of new music. Plus, the FREE Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison resume this Friday.

October 2, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales (below) in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume again this Friday, Oct. 3, at 12:15 to 1 p.m. This week’s featured group is the Arbor Ensemble  with flutist Berlinda Lopez, violinist Marie Pauls and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr in the music of Jacques Ibert, Cesar Cui, Bohuslav Martinu, Astor Piazzolla and Josef Suk.

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

Imagine my unexpected joy at hearing the new Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below), who was inspired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” last Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Pierre Jalbert

The reason for my happiness is because I heard music that was so compelling and so moving that it made me want to listen to it again and again.

I know, I know.

A lot of proponents of new music say you have to listen to any new and unheard piece several times before you can pass judgment.

I don’t buy it.

True, as loyal readers know, I am generally not a fan of new music. I find too much of it unenjoyable and forgettable. It just doesn’t speak to me, for whatever reason. I like tunes and melody and harmonic mood as well as rhythmic pulse. New music too often seems detached from the emotional life of the listeners– or at least this listener.

I prefer music that speaks so deeply and movingly to me on the first hearing that I welcome any chance to hear it more often as another chance to experience beauty — not to fulfill some intellectual obligation or duty to the composer or the art form.

When I first heard Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, for example, I knew within one minute that I just had to hear it again and would hear it again many times. It never fails to disappoint. And so it is with any masterwork, from early music, through Baroque and Romantic music, to modern and contemporary music.

Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert was performed last Friday night by the Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The guest clarinetist was Charles Niedich (below bottom) from New York City, who has a major international reputation from working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and other well-known ensembles.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Charles Neidich CD Sallie Erichson

The performance came at the newly remodeled Wisconsin Union Theater, which the old Pro Arte Quartet helped to inaugurate when the theater opened 75 years ago in 1939. The theater was not sold-out Friday night, but there was a good and enthusiastic audience that rewarded the Jalbert with a prolonged standing ovation (below). So I know that I was not alone in my positive and approving reaction.

PAQ Jalbert audience ovation

Here is a link with more background:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/classical-music-the-free-world-premiere-by-the-pro-arte-quartet-of-american-composer-pierre-jalberts-clarinet-quintet-based-on-beat-poet-allen-ginsbergs-howl/

The program started off with the rarely heard and pretty tame String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a Spanish composer known as “the Spanish Mozart” who died at 20. The program’s fitting finale was the sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In between the Arriaga and the Mozart came the Jalbert Clarinet Quintet, which was the final of six commissions done to mark the Pro Arte’s centennial. (The Pro Arte Quartet, originally from Belgium,  is now the oldest continuously performing string quartet in the world.)

Other elements added to the effectiveness. For one, the Pro Arte Quartet was in top form. Each voice was distinct and yet the overall blend was smooth, resonant and perfect in pitch. And their playing was enhanced by the terrific acoustics of the remodeled Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the new on-stage shell (below, in the background).

PAQ and Charles Neidich in Pierre Jalbert Howl

But it was really the music itself that swept The Ear away.

It started right away, with the pulsing and almost hypnotic rhythms of the opening measures.

The two outer fast movements proved infectious and involving. But I particularly loved the way the middle movement developed.

I heard various audience members talk about how the work reminded them of Samuel Barber, of Philip Glass, of John Adams, of Steve Reich. And yet it didn’t seem to imitate any of them. It possessed a pure, strong voice of its own that used the idea of “Howl” without becoming a didactic piece of program music.

It isn’t often you get to hear a new work that holds the promise of becoming a staple in the repertoire. But that is exactly how it felt as I listened to the Jalbert quintet. Others I spoke to agreed.

PAQ and Charles Neidich standing

Of the six centennial commissions that the Pro Arte has premiered over the past three years, this one seems the best one to end on because it seems the most likely one to succeed in coming years.

Sure, we may hear repeat performances of the String Quartets by John Harbison, Walter Mays and Benoît Mernier; of the Piano Quintets by William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield. They are all recognized composers of quality.

But my money is on the work by Pierre Jalbert, which was by turns pensive and joyous, outraged and lamenting, much like the original poem “Howl.” The tone of both matched, and the clarinet, with its klezmer-like qualities, proved the perfect narrative voice imparted by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (below).

Allen Ginsberg 1

It is a memorable night when you get to hear a masterwork in the making. All that work of chamber music needs now is history and many more repeat performances. I expect it will get those.

And to top it off, Pierre Jalbert (below right) -– who hails from Vermont and teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas — was a very nice artist who was extremely amiable at the pre-concert dinner at the Chazen Museum of Art as well as insightfully candid during the pre-concert Q&A (below) that was so expertly hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (center) and also included clarinetist Charles Neidich.

Jalbert Q&A

Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert will be recorded by the same players for Albany Records, under the supervision of the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, and then released with the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.

I will be first in line to get it and set my CD player on repeat.

Can’t wait.

If you heard it, what do you think of the Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert, who offers his thoughts about composing in a YouTube video at the bottom?

Do you think it will become a staple of the repertoire?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: The Ear offers cheers and jeers for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s remodeled Shannon Hall.

October 1, 2014
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday night, The Ear got his first look and listen at the remodeled concert hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, a wonderful landmark structure that I revere and usually refer to as “the Carnegie Hall of Madison” because of its long and distinguished history of bringing the best performing artists to Madison.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

The event on Friday night was the fantastic concert by the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, with guest clarinetist Charles Neidich. It was the first classical music event in the new building.

They all turned in a wonderful finale to the quartet’s six centennial commissions. This final program featured the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert, who based the work on the poem “Howl” by the Beat writer Allen Ginsberg. The string quartet also performed the String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the glorious, sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But I will offer more comments about the concert and the music tomorrow.

Right now, I want to offer my take on the new hall, which was part of a two-year renovation that cost over $50 million, all privately raised. The remodeling project was completed just in time to mark the 75th anniversary of the historical theater, which opened its doors in 1939 and was inaugurated by the original Pro Arte String Quartet.

I will be anxious to hear your own take on the new hall, as well as the music and performance,  in the COMMENTS section.

Here is mine:

WHAT I LIKE and WHAT I DISLIKE

I like the generosity and intent of University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Michael Shannon (Class of 1980) and his wife Mary Sue Shannon (Class of 1981, both below), who donated something like $8 million to restore and remodel the hall, to reconfigure the Langdon Street entrance and provided a “sunset lounge” for receptions, study and relaxing.

That is why you can hear the “Consecration of the House” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Chicago Symphony Orchestra maestro Riccardo Muti, at the bottom in a YouTube video.

So The Ear offers kudos, a big and hearty THANKS to the Shannons.

Michael and Mary Sue Shannon

BUT:

Why can’t rich people show some respect for the very history they seek to honor and preserve as well as some good taste and modesty?

Do we really need this well-known and historic hall, which is so respected by the world-renowned performers who appear there and are pleased when they see the list of their predecessors, to be renamed?

And do we really need the new name embedded in big metal letters in the handsome terrazzo stone floor of the theater? Wouldn’t a big bronze wall plaque with a bas-relief portrait and some kind words of thanks and praise, perhaps along with a paragraph of background, details and even a quote, have done the job and preserved the continuity of history?

Shannon Hall name in floor WUT

Why can’t we continue to use the names of public buildings and spaces to honor public service rather than money and wealth? Do the arts also have to remind us of the ever-widening wealth gap in the U.S., which already is now the biggest in the world?

Is that the message we want a public building to send?

Could someone rich enough today buy the entire university and rename the UW to the University of Walmart, now that state support has dropped below 20 percent? Could that path to privatizing public education really be the way we want to go?

As I have said in another column: If you can afford to buy naming rights, you aren’t being taxed enough. Governor Walker, are we open for business? Or are we getting the business? What about the importance of tradition, history and public service?

Well, enough of a rant. (Below are the happy Shannons hand-in-hand on the Memorial Union waterfront.)

shannons on wut waterfront

ON TO OTHER THINGS: THE REMODELED BUILDING ITSELF

I like the new bigger and 3-inch wider seats, although they reduce the seating capacity from 1,300 to 1,139. I also like the new upholstery. But I heard someone complain that there was no padding on the armrests. And I still find too little knee room, even though I am only a bit over 6 feet tall. It feels like flying economy class, which, these days, is not good. But that can’t be helped, short of destroying the original concrete raking and seat beds.

WUT new seats and walls

I also very much like the acoustics and sound -– try the terrific lower balcony (below) sometime to see that closer isn’t always better — especially with the new shell (below, the on-stage background). But I hear that you can’t do multimedia because the shell simply won’t allow for a screen to drop down for films, videos, slide shows and Power Point presentations. That design mistake should be fixed in view of the importance of high technology.

WUT from Shannon Hall lower balcony

The wall color (take another look at the first photo above), which was apparently chosen and approved by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is NOT the same as before and I don’t find it attractive except to the degree it is evenly applied and not water-stained.

But it doesn’t feel authentically period or Deco. The color seems darker and shinier than in photos, more dark peach than salmon. Some may find it handsome. I find it awfully close to pukey brown. And I believe the rule of thumb is that paint only darkens with age. Lighter, one suspects, would have been better both now and especially in the long run.

Something unfortunate happened between the idea and the execution. It happens to me too — and to many others — when I tried to match a dry paint chip to a whole wall. But you’d think the experts would have the collective experience to get it right, if only by trial and error.

Overall, the walls and paint remind The Ear of a face with too much heavy foundation makeup on an oily skin. The wall paint -– maybe it’s a semi-gloss? — is just not flat enough and exudes a light sheen in the right lighting. It makes you want to blot the wall with cotton gauze balls.

I like the new carpet color and pattern (below), but I already saw staining — see the one below? —  within the first month or two. I wonder: Couldn’t it be easier to clean? How long will it last and wear well?

WUT new carpeting

I like the new sunset lounge, with its airiness and its great view of Lake Mendota. It made for a great post-concert dessert reception.

And I really like the new entrance lobby off Langdon Street. It feels much less like the theater is hidden away. You don’t have to seek it out. That part especially seems more populist and in keeping with The Wisconsin Idea.

The quieter heating and air conditioning system also seem much improved and make for a far more comfortable concert experience.

I like the historical feel fostered by keeping turquoise water fountains (“bubblers”), but I also like the eco-friendly greener restrooms with automatic light switches that save on electricity.

All in all, I give the remodeling a B, though given all the money and know-how I would have thought an A-plus was a certainty.

To help you decide for yourself, you should really attend an event there.

But for more background and details, here are some links:

To a story and photos by Eric Tadsen in Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43040

http://www.isthmus.com/isthmus/article.php?article=43007

To a story in the UW-Madison student newspaper The Daily Cardinal:

http://host.madison.com/daily-cardinal/union-theater-returns-to-campus-life/article_f739c49e-37e9-11e4-b83e-001a4bcf887a.html

To the official press release from the UW-Madison:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/22998

 

 

 


Classical music: Which one of five trains will you ride into the upcoming super-wreck on this Sunday afternoon?

September 25, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.

And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!

Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.

The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking —  falls into place.

There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.

A-l-l-l-l aboard:

Here, in timetable order, we go:

PRO ARTE STRING QUARTET

The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle).  It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to www.chazen.wisc.edu on the day of the concert for a link.

The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a link: http://proartequartet.org

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

SALProArteMay2010

Pierre Jalbert

ANCORA STRING QUARTET

Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are,  from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.

http://ancoraquartet.com

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

Wes Color CR Barry Lewis

UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND SOPRANO ELIZABETH HAGEDORN

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci

SOPRANO CHELSEA MORRIS AND FORTEPIANIST TREVOR STEPHENSON

At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris  and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.

Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.

He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. 
Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot

OVERTURE CENTER ANNIVERSARY

At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.

All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber  Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:

http://www.overturecenter.org/about/news/1016-you—ve-never-seen-a-concert-like-this-sep-12-2014

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

 


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