The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are American violins equal to or even superior to European ones? The Library of Congress thinks so and will buy 263 of them

August 11, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.

And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.

But one collector felt otherwise. He is David Bromberg, a guitarist who played with Bob Dylan and Beatle George Harrison, and he ended up collecting some 263 American-made violins.

The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.

American Violins NPR

Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/07/488561838/these-250-plus-violins-are-about-to-be-owned-by-the-u-s-government

Read it and see what you think.

Then let us know in the COMMENT section.

Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: A NEW summer concert series of chamber music in Allen Centennial Garden starts this coming Sunday afternoon

June 21, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

This coming Sunday, June 26, kicks off the inaugural season of “Summer Sundays in the Garden: Afternoon Concerts in the English Garden,” a new outdoor concert series, FREE and open to the public.

It will feature local classical and jazz musicians in the inspiring natural setting of the stately English Garden at Allen Centennial Garden at 620 Babcock Drive, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the heart of Madison.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 1

The concerts will take place on every other Sunday through Sept. 18 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. They are sponsored by the Friends of Allen Centennial Garden.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair for these free concerts.

Families are welcome.

Established in 1989, Allen Centennial Garden is situated on 2.5 acres surrounding the historic landmarked “Dean’s Residence (below),” adjacent to the Lake Mendota Lakeshore Nature Preserve and path.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden Deans; House 2

This public botanical garden is open to the public free of charge 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.

Although located on the UW-Madison campus, the garden is supported entirely by private funds. In 2013, the Friends of Allen Garden formed to enhance the educational and cultural mission of the gardens and to increase awareness of this “hidden gem” by expanding programming initiatives to better serve the public.

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 3

Summer Sundays in the Garden, one of many programs developed by the Friends, is the first public concert series at Allen Centennial Gardens, now in its 26th year.

Sponsored by the Friends, the series is supported by grants from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional support from the Wisconsin Arts Board; from Dane Arts, with funds from the Overture Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation; and from the Evjue Foundation of The Capital Times. In the event of inclement weather, concerts will be cancelled.

For more information, please visit www.allencentennialgarden.org

Summer Sundays Concerts in the Garden 4

Summer Sundays in the Garden. Afternoon Concerts in the English Garden. June 26 – Sept. 18. 4–5:30 p.m.

June 26 – Johannes Wallmann’s Quartet West. Known as a “remarkable pianist and composer” (Downbeat Magazine) and “a truly international kind of cat” (Midwest Record), Johannes Wallmann, Director of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison, opens SUMMER SUNDAYS with a quartet of top-notch guest artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco to offer up a high-energy, imaginative, and infectious kickoff for the new summer concert series.

July 10 – Quartessence (below). One of Madison’s most often heard society quartets, award-winning Quartessence String Quartet brings a stylish sophistication to a wide range of repertoire including jazz, golden oldies, and imaginative covers of current rock and pop hits, from Bach to the Beatles, Puccini to Pops, Classics to Covers.

Quartessence string quartet

July 24  – Doug Brown Group. Acoustic jazz guitarist Doug Brown brings his infectious spirit and imagination to irrepressibly joyous, finely honed swing-era jazz standards.

Aug. 7 – Willy Street Chamber Players (below). Fun and sassy chamber music by one of Madison’s newest groups, bringing a fresh, imaginative take to classical music that is appealing to both lifelong classical music fans and newcomers to the genre. Expect some serious fun!

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Aug. 21 –  Clocks in Motion (bel0w). Breaking down barriers of a traditional concert performance, this groundbreaking percussion ensemble serves up virtuosic performances that include theater and art and consistently offer a joyous entertainment experience.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Sept. 4 – Harmonious Wail. Smoldering vocals laced among jazzy mandolin and guitar, Harmonious Wail offers an infectious blend of continental jazz, swing, gypsy music, and melodic vocals.

Sept. 18 – Paul Muench Quartet. Now firmly established in the Madison jazz scene, Paul Muench’s group offers up imaginative improvs and creative modern arrangements of timeless jazz standards.


Classical music education: The Ear takes the “Cello Cure” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now can’t wait for another “treatment” next summer.

June 19, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, for the first time ever, I went to the free public concert put on every June by the National Summer Cello Institute, which takes place each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Cello Choir 2014 with Uri Vardi

The NSCI is under the direction of University of Wisocnsin-Madison cello professor Uri Vardi (below top) and his wife Hagit Vardi (below body), who works with the UW-Madison Institute of Integrative Medicine and emphasizes the use of the Feldenkrais Method to help performers in workshops called, fittingly, “You Body is Your Strad.”

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

hagitvardistretching artm

Here is a link to a previous post about the cello institute, with still other links to even earlier stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/classical-music-a-free-cello-choir-concert-will-take-place-this-saturday-night-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-it-features-new-music-and-works-by-villa-lobos-poulenc-j-s-bach-cesar-frank/

The event proved so thoroughly enjoyable and so deeply pleasurable, and put me in such a great mood and frame of mind, that a close friend referred to the experience as the “Cello Cure.”

I won’t argue because it sure did feel curative.

But then I find that experiencing great beauty often feels that way.

One came away from the concert -– which included a cello choir of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional cellists, selected by audition, from around the nation and perhaps even the world –- completely understanding why the cello, with its human voice-like singing tone, is the favorite instrument of so many listeners. (For The Ear, the cello ranks right up there, just below the piano and alongside the violin and the oboe.)

Cello and bow

One thing The Ear liked was the lack of purism. Enjoyment was the goal of the evening, and so the program featured some simply gorgeous isolated single movements from sonatas and concertos, and NOT the entire pieces. The Great Hits format worked exceptionally well. And so was featuring soloists, and not just ensembles, for the first time.

And on top of all the cellos, The Ear also had two special and bonus experiences: He heard Anna Whiteway, a fabulously talented undergraduate soprano at the UW-Madison, and he heard what sounds like an eminently listenable contemporary composer, Kyle Price, who will be attending the UW-Madison for a graduate degree.

So here are the highlights with photos and not a lot of commentary except to say I found excellence from everyone and disappointment from no one.

The concert opened up with UW-Madison conductor James Smith (below right) leading the famous “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5, with its soaring and lyrical soprano aria or wordless vocalise, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. In it and the other similar suites, the composer attempted to adapt and update the musical style of Johann Sebastian Bach to his native country’s indigenous folk melodies and dance rhythms.

Cello Choir 2014 Jim Smith

Here are members of the cello choir, which wouldn’t fit well in a single photo.

Cello Choir 20144 left

Cello Choir 2014 right

And here is Anna Whiteway, who got enthusiastic applause from the cellists and the woefully small audience of several dozen listeners. No wonder. She is The Real Deal. She possesses beautiful tone, big volume, pleasant and modest vibrato, excellent diction and a thoroughly confident stage presence:

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Here is Brian Klickman and pianist Claire Mallory in the poignantly moving Cavatina movement from the Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc.

Cello Choir 2014 Brian Klickman, Claire Mallory piano

Here is that wonderfully tuneful last movement from Cesar Franck‘s Violin Sonata transcribed for cello and played by Cordula Aeschbacher with pianist Claire Mallory:

Cello Choir 2014 Cordula Aeschbacher

Then Aleks Tengesdal played the impressively turbulent first movement of the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, with piano accompaniment.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

Julian Mueller closed out the first half with the gorgeous Andante Cantabile by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who, it seems, was never at a loss for a beautiful, bittersweet melody. (You can hear it played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a YouTube video at the bottom):

Cello Choir 2014 Julian Mueller

The second half opened with seven cellists playing the Recitative and Meditation movements from the young contemporary American composer Kyle Price’s “Requiem in Memory of Connie Barrett.” The Ear found it a very promising and appetizing foretaste of what sounds like a listener-friendly composing style, something too often missing from new music:

Cello Choir 2014 Kyle Price Requiem cellos

Then came back-to-back performances by father and son cellists.

Son Andrew Laven played three movements –- the Bourees 1 and 2 and the Gigue -– from the Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Cello Choir 2014 Andrew Laven

Father Steven Laven, with pianist Christina Lalog, played “The Tears of Jacqueline” by Jacques Offfenbach, a work he said he first heard when it was dedicated to the late great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre. You understand the dedication because the piece is appropriately lyrical in its lament:

Cello Choir 2014 Steven Laven, Christina Lalog piano

And then the concert closed as it opened, with the music of Villa-Lobos. But this was a work The Ear didn’t know, the “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 1, which has a lovely and soulful slow movement and catchy fugal finale:

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

As an encore, the cello choir demonstrated an improvisational exercise that it used during the two-week workshop. It involves a conductor using unusual and unpredictable hands movements that are unrelated to a particular score or piece of music, and to which the cellists must each respond as they desire or hear is necessary. To The Ear, it sounded a bit like the famous simultaneous, full-orchestra crescendo in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” song from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Uri Vardi graciously thanked the small but very appreciative audience that rose to its feet and added: “See you next year.”

Indeed, he will.

He will almost certainly see The Ear, although I hope the NSCI can find a way to avoid a conflict with a concert on the same night by the popular Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Audiences shouldn’t have to choose between two such deserving groups.

And Vardi should also see a full house in Mills Hall.

The Cello Choir concert is that good and that lovely, that beautiful and, yes, that curative.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform a concert of Russian and Baltic music this Saturday night — in the shadow of political events and turmoil in Ukraine. Plus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Brass Quintet also performs a FREE concert of Bach, Gershwin and others on Saturday night.

March 28, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Two fine and FREE concerts are on tap this Saturday night:

WISCONSIN CHAMBER CHOIR

On this Saturday night, March 29, in the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform its spring concert.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church (below top is the exterior, below bottom the acoustically terrific beautiful interior), located at the corner of West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

grace episcopal church inter

The concert features Russian music. But it worth noting that even an event this small and this local shows the ripples of the political situation in Ukraine where Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. Tickets are $15 for general admission; $10 for students. “Because of the situation in Ukraine (below), the choir made a decision to change the title of the concert from “Back to the U.S.S.R.” to just “Spring Concert,” the choir says. “We are confident the change will help our audience focus on the beautiful music and not current politics.”

Venezuela protest 2014

The riches of Russian choral music will be represented by selections from the Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below top) along with ravishingly beautiful works by  Alexander Grechaninov (below middle in 1912) and Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov (below bottom and at bottom in a YouTube video).

rachmaninoffyoung

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

Chesnokov mug

The scope widens to include sacred and secular music from various former Soviet Republics. Works by Veljo Tormis (below top) of Estonia), Pēteris Vasks of Latvia (below middle) and Vytautas Miškinis of Lithuania (below n bottom) exemplify the vibrant choral traditions of the Baltic states.

Tormis

Vasks

Miskinis portrait

Sacred and secular works from Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus round out this fascinating and varied program. There is also the possibility of something by the Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney (blew left and right, respectively) to bring things to a rousing close.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Advance tickets are available for $15 from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10. Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck

WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a 2013 performance photo by Jon Harlow) in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will perform a FREE concert on Saturday night, March 29,  8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Maidson campus.

WBQ members include John Aley, trumpet; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; John Stevens, tuba; and special guest Abby Stevens, soprano, who is the daughter of John Stevens, who is retiring this May.

The program offers “Distant Voices” by David Sampson; “Brass Calendar” by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach); “Contrapunctus” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and a selection of songs by George Gershwin sung by Abby Stevens.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2013 CR Jon Harlow

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Classical music: British composer Sir John Tavener is dead at 69. He made being old-fashioned new again.

November 16, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I know of two composers who seem like throwbacks to older time – very old times at that – and yet who stir passionate loyalty among lovers of contemporary classical music.

One is Sir John Tavener (below, in a photo by Simone Canetty-Clarke) and the other is Arvo Part.

john tavener Simone Canetty-Clarke,

Both seemed to draw inspiration from older forms of choral music, all the way to early chant and church music.

Both became quite popular, at least by the standards of contemporary classical music as compared to pop, rock, blues, and jazz. Tavener’s early work was even released on the Apple record label by the Beatles and by Sir Paul McCartney, who seems to have a good ear for whatever will catch on.)

But The Ear could never figure out why local groups, especially the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Choral Union – to name a few prominent local music groups – never performed more of their choral and instrumental works since both composers seem to connect widely with and resonate deeply with the public.

True the composers were hardly avant-garde or cutting edge, especially in their pursuit of an apparently old-fashioned spirituality and devotional kind of music.

But a lot of beauty, maybe even most of it that passes the test of history, in art is not cutting edge.

All this comes by way of introducing the fact that this past week, the British composer Sir John Tavener (below, at home composing in a photo by Steve Forrest for Insight-Visual), who found his abiding musical and spiritual roots in the Russian Orthodox Church, died this past week at 69 after a long period of protected illnesses.

John Tavener composing Steve Forrest Insight-Visual

Here is a roundup of some of the best stories The Ear could find on the web:

Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=0

Here is a wonderful story that was done by the outstanding NPR classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/12/244788638/remembering-holy-minimalist-composer-john-tavener

Here is an obituary from Gramophone, the well-respected British classical music magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-sir-john-tavener-has-died

And here is the story of one listener’s growing appreciation of Tavener’s music:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/10447276/John-Tavener-how-I-came-to-love-his-music.html

Did you know and like or dislike the music of Sir John Tavener?

Do you have a favorite piece of his? (Perhaps the “Funeral Canticle” that was used in the critically acclaimed 2011 film by Terrence Mallick “The Tree of Life” and  remains his most popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear wants to hear.


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