The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: There was so much to like about the Grand Tour finale of the 2019 Madison Early Music Festival. But where were the high notes in Allegri’s legendary “Miserere”?

July 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fair is fair.

Before he talks about last Saturday night’s conclusion of the successful 2019 Madison Early Music Festival – which marked its 20th anniversary — The Ear has a confession to make: He generally prefers later Baroque music and he generally prefers instrumental music to vocal or choral music.

That said, he nonetheless had a memorable and very enjoyable time on the “Grand Tour” during the well-attended All-Festival concert. There was so much to like and to admire.

The concert used the conceit of a Grand Tour by a composite 17th-century traveler going to London, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris and Dresden to take in the local sights and local music, and included lesser-known composers such as William Lawes and William Child as well as such famous figures as Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli , Jean-Baptiste Lullyand Heinrich Schütz.

Like most journeys, this one – once again assembled in an ingenious scissors-and-paste job by early music specialist Grant Herreid (below) – had many entertaining and uplifting moments.

But it also had one big disappointment.

The Ear really looked forward to hearing a live performance  of the famous “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri (below) as a high point. But those haunting, ultra-high descant notes that give you goosebumps and that you never forget hearing just never materialized.

Maybe it had to do with the different ornamentation that the MEMF forces used. Maybe it was based on a different manuscript or score. Maybe there was no one capable of singing those spellbinding and unforgettable high notes.

Whatever the reason, The Ear’s hope for a live performance of the dramatic and iconic work were dashed and the famous, even classic, recorded versions – the 1980 recording by the Tallis Scholars is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — remain for him the unsurpassed standard.

The evening also had its ironies. That same night on the NBC TV news The Ear saw a story about “overtourism” in Europe and China. Venice, for example, has now shrunk to only about 50,000 unhappy residents who put up with some 20 million tourists a year.

But centuries ago, travel was a rare and exotic luxury of the wealthy and well-educated, not an affordable indulgence or curiosity by ever-expanding middle classes. And this metaphorical trip proved an ideal vehicle to sample 16th- and 17th-century music in England, France, Germany and Italy.

Combining high culture and low, Herreid chose witty and detailed travelogue texts that gave the audience the rich flavor of various cultures at the time.

Details mattered to the four sharp-eyed travelers on which this tour was based. So as “our hero” wandered, we got to hear about the “libidinous ladies” of Naples and the musical talented courtesans of Venice as well as the richly attired archbishop of Paris attending a feast day service in the newly finished Notre-Dame cathedral.

Such descriptions were well delivered by unnamed narrators (below) from the chorus and proved a refreshingly earthy and entertaining counterpoint to the more serious spiritual and religious music of the era.

Another big satisfaction was the exceptional quality of the ensemble playing – exhibited even in large amounts of less interesting music — by the many singers and instrumentalists on the stage of Mills Hall, and, at one point, in the hall’s balcony.

Whether the players and singers were conducted by Herreid or by assistant conductor Jerry Hui — a UW-Madison graduate who is now a tenured professor at UW-Stout — the music sounded tight, authentic and expressive.

As for more superficial pleasures, it is great visual fun watching such early versions of modern string, wind and percussion instruments being played — trombone-like sackbuts, oboe-like shawms, flute-like recorders and lute-like theorbos. (Below are cello-like viols.)

The players, both faculty and students, were particularly convincing on their own in the sound painting done to depict battle scenes and political upheaval. And who will ever forget the surprise of loud foot-stomping by all the performers and conductor?

Herreid was absolutely spot-on to keep the program to about 80 minutes with no intermission. It helped the audience stay in the spirit of the Grand Tour and added cohesion to the program.

The Grand Tour, in short, proved outstanding in concept and excellent in execution.

But was The Ear alone in missing to those high notes?


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Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians hold their fourth annual Baroque Summer Chamber Music Workshop with a faculty concert and afternoon performances and classes this coming Tuesday through Friday. Many events are open to the public

July 21, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual Madison Bach Musicians Summer Chamber Music Workshop offers an evening Faculty Concert and various afternoon classes exploring baroque dance, ornamentation, continuo playing, specific instrument master classes, and more. (Below is a photo by Mary Gordon from last year’s workshops.)

The workshops, classes and concerts will be held this coming Tuesday through Thursday, July 24-27, at the West Middleton Lutheran Church, 3763 Pioneer Road, in Verona, Wisconsin.

Tickets for the Madison Bach Musicians Faculty Concert on Wednesday night from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. are $15.

The Friday all-workshop concert from 2 to 3:30 p.m. is FREE and open to the public.

An Auditor’s Pass for afternoon programing for the entire festival — including the Faculty Concert — is $40.

MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson, MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim and other outstanding faculty members will share their expertise over four afternoons.

Adds Stephenson: “We’re excited about a wonderful new venue for the event—at West Middleton Lutheran Church, which is located at the intersection of Mineral Point and Pioneer Roads, just 10 minutes west of West Towne Mall.

“Twenty-four participants ranging in age from high school to older adulthood will get personalized ensemble coaching from outstanding instructors in violin, cello, piano, harpsichord, recorder and flute.”

Kim (below) adds: “I am thrilled. Of our 24 participants this year, almost half are returning students, which we love.  Most of the our participants come from the Dane County area, but last year we had a participant from France and this year we have a couple from Oklahoma.

“Chamber music is the best way to get to know people as you are learning a new piece – you have a personal voice, but you also need to listen and blend with the other voices.  I am always amazed to see the transformation both musically and socially over the four days of the workshop. I am so excited to meet everyone and to see the magic that happens when these musicians work together.”

Harpsichordist Jason Moy (below) will be returning this year to discuss the art of continuo playing.

Lisette Kielson (below) who offers recorder workshops throughout the United States will lead a class “To Flourish and Grace: Ornamentation!”

Sarah Edgar (below), a specialist in 18th-century stage and dance performance, will focus on the interplay of music and dance rhythms in two afternoon baroque dance classes.

MBM cellist Martha Vallon (below) will explore how to play creative and enjoyable continuo lines for cellists and bassoonists.

The Wednesday night Faculty Concert from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. will feature works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Telemann, Boismortier, Biber and a special Baroque dance performance-–all performed by the faculty members who specialize in early music with play period instruments.

For information about the specific schedule and enrolling in the workshops, go to take a look the schedule

You can also find more general information at: http://madisonbachmusicians.org/education-and-outreach/summer-workshop/


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