The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 29th Token Creek Festival closes with the world premiere of a song cycle by John Harbison and dramatic, affecting Schumann

September 6, 2018
3 Comments

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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The third and final program of this summer’s 29th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in a refurbished barn (below) was given on last Saturday afternoon, when I caught it, and then was repeated the following day.

There were adjustments down to the wire, as co-director John Harbison noted in his opening comments. The originally planned opening piece, Mozart’s Sonata in G Major, K. 301, for Violin and Piano, was cancelled, and the program actually began with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E Major (H. XVI:22).

Harbison (below) played this himself, having observed that, if not noteworthy, it was representative of its kind. In fact, it is a worthy work, its third and final movement is a little set of delightful variations on a minuet tune. Harbison obviously loves this whole Haydn literature, and he played the piece with affection.

Then it was vocal music, sung by tenor Frank Kelley — who has worked with Harbison in the Emmanuel Music activities in Boston — with pianist Janice Weber.

Their first offering was the world premiere of a cycle-in-progress by Harbison, titled In Early Evening, to texts by poet Louise Glück (below): specifically, of its first three songs. The texts are dreamy and nostalgic, and the composer has attempted to capture their multi-layered implications.

The two performers (below) then completed the concert’s first half with a presentation of the complete 16 songs of the cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love) by Robert Schumann. This sets the reflections on failed love, written by the great German poet Heinrich Heine.

Kelley is not an ingratiating singer. His voice sounds raw and worn. Nevertheless, he has splendid diction, in both English and German. He sounded much more confident and secure in the magnificent Schumann cycle, which he sang without a score. In this music he conveyed the varying moods and emotions with genuine engagement and expression.

But pianist Janice Weber (below) proved a real discovery. In his program notes, Harbison rightly pointed out that Schumann’s piano writing was not so much accompaniment as individualized piano writing with its own character and even independence. Indeed, the final song of the Heine cycle ends, after the voice is finished, with a substantial little epilogue of reflection for the piano alone.

Weber projected that very strong piano dimension wonderfully, and she repeated the feat when, for the program’s second half, she was joined in Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, by violinist and Festival co-founder Rose Mary Harbison and cellist Karl Lavine.

This is a lively and quintessentially Schumanesque work that the audience loved. (You can hear the energetic first movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But I found the ensemble not well balanced. Lavine was surprisingly mild, deferential and understated in his playing. But Weber provided the sturdy backbone of the performance. We should hear more of this splendid artist.

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Classical music: The Token Creek Festival will “harvest” gardens of music from next Saturday through Sept. 2

August 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer season for classical music in Madison has gotten busier and busier. But the summer still ends on the same high note — the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that is co-directed by John Harbison and Rose Mary Harbison.

Here is the announcement about this year’s festival, the 29th, that begins this coming weekend:

“The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “Harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

“Both garden and festival share much in common:  risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece —whether a piece of ground or a piece of music — is capable of such nourishment, abundance and variety.

“In the musicians’ garden, with its unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables — but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drive us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below). “Each planting retains certain elements and adjusts others with the hope of increased productivity. But so many of the adjustments made in hope of improvement do not work, but create new problems, require new approaches.  What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Here are this year’s Concert Programs. Please note something new this year: All weekend concerts start at 4 p.m.

Program I: ROOTS – Music of Bach and Primosch. On Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4 p.m.

“Continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) in cantatas and instrumental works, and its reflection in the music of James Primosch (below bottom), one of the few composers in our time able to grasp both the possibilities and responsibilities available in sacred music in a tradition inherited from Bach.”

Program II: NEW GROWTH – The Kepler Quartet (below, with composer Ben Johnston, and playing Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7 in the YouTube video at the bottom) on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“A recital of beautifully alluring micro-tonal music “in between the notes.” The attractive and intelligible musical surface, and our experience hearing it, belies the at-times complex compositional methods.

“We are impressed by the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The recital will be augmented with a demonstration and discussion by the Keplers.

Works are by Ben Johnston, Stefano Scodanibbio (below top), Henry Cowell (below middle) and Harry Partch (below bottom).”

Program III: CORNUCOPIA – Saturday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m.

“Schumann’s beloved and timeless song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love) with tenor Frank Kelley (below) and his impassioned, enigmatic and exuberant Piano Trio in D minor anchor this program.

“The program also includes the Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Piano Sonata in E Major by Franz Joseph Haydn sonatas and the world premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, “In Early Evening,” to poems by Louise Gluck.”

The ARTISTS are Mark Bridges, cello; Laura Burns, violin; Ryne Cherry, baritone; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, portative organ and piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Frank Kelley, tenor; The Kepler Quartet; Karl Lavine, cello; Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; James Primosch, piano; Brek Renzelman, viola; Eric Segnitz, violin;  Janice Weber, piano; and Sarah Yanovitch, soprano.

Performances take place in the Festival Barn (below top and bottom), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). 

The charming and rustic venue — indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts — is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended, and casual dress is suggested. Ample parking is available.

Tickets are $12-$32, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-festival-2018-harvest-tickets-47217166817

For more information about the performers and specific works on programs, call (608) 241-2525 or go to www.tokencreekfestival.org

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Token Creek Festival has been called “ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields.” (Photo below is by Jess Anderson.)

“Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming; a deep engagement with the audience; and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a  comfortable refurbished barn.”


Posted in Classical music
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Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will explore “Necessary Music” by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Harbison and other composers from Aug. 26 through Sept 3

August 17, 2017
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 By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an annual event that puts on a lot of MUST-HEAR programs:

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. –    In what way, and for whom, is a certain kind of music necessary?

Certainly the presenters of a chamber music festival would be presumptuous to offer a program as a sort of prescription for listeners. And at Token Creek we won’t.

So often the music we need arrives by chance, and we did not even know we needed it until it appears. And other times we know exactly what we are missing. And so we offer this year’s programs of pieces that feed the soul.

Saturday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 27, at 4 p.m., Program I: Continuo

Some works of art are so rich that they sustain a lifetime of inquiry and encounters, each time revealing fresh new insights only possible through sustained engagement, pieces so resilient they admit multiple interpretations, approaches, nuances, shadings.

We open the season with music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), pieces we’ve played before and some we have not, music that continues to compel for the very reason that it can never be fully plumbed, music that rewards over and over again. In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces is really only that they offer sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority.

Flutist Dawn Lawler (below top), cellist Sara Sitzer (below second) and pianist Jeffrey Stanek (below third join the artistic directors composer-pianist John and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom) for this opening program.

Works:
BACH Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo, BWV 1023

HAYDN    Trio in F major for flute, cello and piano XV:17

BACH   Two Fugues, from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

HARBISON    Mark the Date, for flute and piano (pre-premiere)

BACH Sonata in G major for violin and continuo, BWV 1021

BACH Three-Voice Ricercar, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

BACH Sonata in C minor, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Program II: Schubert

A sequel to last year’s all-Schubert program, which offered Die Schöne Müllerin and the “Trout” Quintet, this season we offer two late masterworks by  Schubert (below): the song cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song) and the solo piano set of six Moments Musicaux (Musical Moments).

In structure, ingenuity and invention these two large works offer an eloquent counterpoint and complement to one another. We are pleased to welcome back pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (below top), and to introduce tenor Charles Blandy (below middle) with pianist Linda Osborn (below bottom).

Works:

SCHUBERT      Andante, from Sonata in C for Piano Four Hands (“Grand Duo”),  D.812

SCHUBERT     Moments Musicaux, D.780

SCHUBERT      Schwanengesang, D.957

Saturday, Sept. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4 p.m. Program III: Waltz

This program explores the familiar form of the waltz as an unexpectedly flexible and diverse musical type, with uncommon approaches from a wide variety of composers from Schubert through Sur.

We conclude the season with Schumann’s splendid Piano Quartet, whose third movement offers one of the greatest of slow waltzes of all time. (You can hear it performed by the Faure Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We are pleased to introduce violist Becky Menghini (below top) and cellist Kyle Price (below bottom).

Works:

FRITZ KREISLER   Three Old Viennese Melodies for Violin and  Piano

DONALD SUR        Berceuse for Violin and Piano

SCHUBERT      Waltz Sequence

RAVEL     Valses nobles et sentimentales

GEORGE CRUMB    Sonata for Solo Cello

SCHUMANN     Quartet in E-flat for Piano and Strings, Op.   47

The Token Creek Festival has been called a gem, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields, a late-summer fixture just outside of Madison.

Now in its 28th season, the Festival has become known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a comfortable refurbished barn.

The 2017 festival offers five events to close the summer concert season, Aug. 26–Sept. 3.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie) with ample parking available.

The charmingly rustic venue—indoors and air-conditioned with modern comforts—is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). Reservations can be secured in several ways:

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: The Token Creek Festival celebrates Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker this Tuesday afternoon and evening with a forum, a picnic and a recital.

August 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Token Creek Festival write:

On this Tuesday, August 25, the Token Creek Festival shines a lens on one of Wisconsin’s most important artists: the American poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), whose recognition and appreciation have been delayed until recently.

Many poets of the 20th century have worked in what is broadly known as the Imagist mode: short lines, brief phrases, elusively stated thoughts. At its most eloquent it can give us the great range and imagination of William Carlos Williams, as well as decades of other very convincingly compressed writers from Emily Dickinson through Gary Snyder.

lorine niedecker

In Lorine Niedecker we feel the pressure of what has been left out, the hard journey to final shape. We infer a “story” behind it, and we marvel at the courage and art that set it down so briefly.

We can also admire the persistence that drove her to continue to write all through her life, when she received little support or recognition. Niedecker cleaned hospital rooms, and hung barely above the poverty level throughout her life, which she led mainly in a cottage on Blackhawk Island (below) near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. (You can hear a reading of her poem “My Life by Water” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Niedecker cottage Blackhawk Island

According to Ann Engelman, president of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, she “has been called the poet of place because her imagery is so grounded in the area where she lived. Basil Bunting called her “the Emily Dickinson of this century.”

As an objectivist poet, the simplicity of her images helps us sense our own experiences with the elements around us.” Niedecker (below, in a photo from her later years, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation) had a strange life that included a truncated college education and long stretches of isolation as well as an extended epistolary (and, briefly, physical) friendship with fellow poet Louis Zukofsky; her existence resonates in her verse.

lorine niedecker poetry foundation

Three years ago the Token Creek Festival began a concerted look at the land where the festival takes place (below, in a photo by Jess Anderson), exploring intersections between art and nature. The theme continues in the multi-part Niedecker-inspired event, “Paean to Place,” on this Tuesday.

Token Creek land:barn Jess Anderson

Here is a schedule:

  • 4 p.m. Forum. “Finding Lorine Niedecker” will introduce the poet through audio and video footage. A wide-ranging conversation between biographer Margot Peters and composer John Harbison will explore Niedecker’s work, and the event will conclude with performances of music inspired by, or settings of, her evocative texts.
  • 6 p.m. Picnic. Festival attendees are invited to a first -ever Token Creek picnic at the farm—an elegant feast of savory summer fare.
  • 7:30 p.m. Recital: “Longing for Place.” Pianist Ryan McCollough and soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon are two outstanding performers who represent their own youthful generation, searching for what is best and most characteristic in the work of their time. In 2015 our relationship to the natural world is even more fragile and elusive than it was to Lorine Niedecker. Still artists seek to frame that relationship, and render it with their new developing languages.

McCullough and Fitz Gibbon’s recital on themes of nature and place and longing includes works by Henry Purcell, Kaija Saariaho, Nicholas Vines and Robert Schumann, as well as new song cycles by John Harbison — a co-founder and co-director of the Token Creek Festival — and Niccolo Athens.

Harbison’s settings of Niedecker poems, commissioned by the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Festival and premiered there this summer, “let the words speak clearly, syllable by syllable, but he adds expressive space into the texts’ phrases and expands its melodic contours, heightening the sense of the poems being mediums of internal, very personal, monolog” (from the Tanglewood program booklet, July 2015).

Ryan McCullough with piano

Lucy Fitz Gibbon

“Paean to Place” is presented in collaboration with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Tickets are $15-$30 (students $10). Packages are available.

Tickets can be purchased by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org, by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

TokenCreekentrance

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The concert venue (below), indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, http://www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music education: The Green Lake Festival of Music opens the 17th year of its Chamber Music Camp, with FREE public concerts, this week.

June 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Green Lake Festival of Music write to tell us about a program important to music education – which means a program important to the future of classical music:

Here is the press release:

On Sunday, July 5, at the Thrasher Opera House (below  bottom) in Green Lake, The Green Lake Chamber Players open the 17th annual Green Lake Music Festival Chamber Music Camp, as string and piano students (below top) from nine states, ages 11 to 20, convene at Ripon College for two weeks of stimulating music-making along with just plain fun.

chambermusicstudents

thrasher opera house

Part of the fun includes a trip to Larry Miller’s farm and a shopping scavenger hunt at K-Mart.

The daily schedule includes coaching sessions by Thomas Rosenberg (Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition Director, cellist and the Camp’s Artistic Director); Samantha George, Associate Professor of Violin at Lawrence Conservatory of Music; Karen Kim, Grammy Award winning violinist; David Perry, Professor of Violin at the UW-Madison and first violin of the Pro Arte String Quartet; Renee Skerik, Instructor of Viola at Interlochen Arts Academy; Andrew Armstrong from the Amelia Piano Trio; James Howsmon, Professor of Instrumental Accompanying at Oberlin College Conservatory; and guest artists, including Shen Lu, 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, the Jupiter Quartet (below top), and the Bergonzi String Quartet (below bottom).

Jupiter Quartet at Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. From left: Liz Freivogel, Nelson Lee,  Daniel McDonough, and Meg Freivogel

Jupiter Quartet at Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. From left: Liz Freivogel, Nelson Lee, Daniel McDonough, and Meg Freivogel

bergonzi string quartet

Join us for the first of several Green Lake Chamber Players concerts on Sunday, July 5, at 3 p.m. This concert is a “BUY ONE, GET ONE” ticket concert. The Green Lake Chamber Players includes the Green Lake Festival Chamber Music Camp faculty and guest artists who will perform music by Alexander Scriabin, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. This is also the first concert in a series of matinees that offer a special package for bus pick up and ticket from Appleton, Oshkosh, and Beaver Dam. Call the Festival office for more details on this package.

The 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, Shen Lu (below) will perform Thursday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thrasher Opera House, along with teaching a piano master class on Friday, July 10, at 10 a.m. John O’Conor, the Jury Chair from the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition, says, “Shen Lu is a young Chinese pianist with an exciting future. His interpretations have great depth, his technique seems effortless and he communicates wonderfully with his audience.”

shen lu

Students will attend master classes and five Festival concerts, and perform a variety of community service engagements in such facilities as nursing homes, service clubs, and libraries.

The program includes three public concerts – a Chamber Camp Student Recital on Saturday, July 11, and the popular “Circle of Sound” string orchestra concert at the Boston Barn on Tuesday, July 14, as part of the Boston Barn Concert package that includes appetizers and music by the Bergonzi String Quartet, and the final Chamber Music Celebration at Rodman Center for the Arts, Ripon College, on Saturday, July 18.

Please visit www.greenlakefestival.org for information about these and other artists performing throughout July at the Festival or to purchase tickets.  Tickets are also available by calling the office at 920-748-9398.  You can also stop by one of the following ticket outlets:  Green Lake Bank (Green Lake) and Ripon Drug (Ripon).

Green Lake Festival of Music logo

The Green Lake Festival of Music is supported in part by the Arts Midwest Touring Arts Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Crane Group, and General Mills Foundation. Additional support comes from the Horicon Bank, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Agnesian Healthcare, Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, and private and corporate donations.

Chamber Workshop FREE Public Events

Get the inside story on the rehearsal process as you watch these artists work with talented students. All master classes will be held at the Rodman Center for the Arts at Ripon College.

  • Piano Master Class with Shen Lu. Friday, July 10, 10 a.m.
  • Cello Master Class with The Jupiter Quartet. Monday, July 13, 10 a.m.
  • Violin Master Class with The Bergonzi String Quartet. Thursday, July 16, 10 a.m.

 Chamber Workshop Concerts

  • Chamber Camp Recital. Join us for this FREE community concert at the Rodman Center for the Arts, Ripon, Wisconsin on Saturday, July 11, at 2 p.m. No tickets are need for this event; seating is first come, first served.
  • “A Circle of Sound” Tuesday, July 14, 6:30 p.m. at the Boston Farm, Green Lake, Wisconsin. Be in the center of the music as The Bergonzi String Quartet, faculty and students encircle the audience in a historic Wisconsin barn. This concert is preceded with cocktails and appetizers with an Italian flair. This concert is offered only as a package.
  • Chamber Music Celebration Showcase Performance. Saturday, July 18, 3 p.m., Rodman Center for the Arts (below), Ripon, Wisconsin. Hear the stars of tomorrow as the talented students perform in trios, quartets and quintets, concluding with their trademark Circle of Sound strings. A student-led preconcert conversation begins at 2:30 p.m.

Ripon College Rodman Hall

 


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