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.
By Jacob Stockinger
The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)
Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.
Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.
But there are some important changes this year that you should note.
One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)
After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.
The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.
Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.
This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.
Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.
For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:
Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:
Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.
Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)
Franz von Schober (1796-1882)
Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)
Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)
Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)
Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)
4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)
No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh)
No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved)
Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)
From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)
Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)
Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)
Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)
Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)
Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)
Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)
Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)
Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)
Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)
Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)
Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)
Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)
Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)
Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)
Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)
Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)
An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)
Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)
Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)
Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)
Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)
8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)
Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)
Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)
An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)
Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.
Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:
And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:
By Jacob Stockinger
Such an occasion and its artistic celebration assumes even greater importance now that we are on the verge of the Trump Era, which starts this coming Friday with the Inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
Once again The Ear looked for classical music to mark the occasion and the holiday. But the results he found were limited. Do we really need to hear Samuel Barber’s famous and sadly beautiful but overplayed “Adagio for Strings” again on this day?
So The Ear asks the same question he asked two years ago: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about the pioneering civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and would today be 88?
Here is a link to that more extended post that asks the same question:
If you know of such an opera, please let The Ear know in the COMMENT section.
And if there is classical music that you think is appropriate to mark the occasion, please leave word of it, with a YouTube link if possible.
REMINDER: Had your fill of holiday music yet? The Ear sure has. Listening to too much Christmas music is a little like drinking too much eggnog or eating too much fruitcake.
So he is grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra, a mostly amateur but very accomplished ensemble that performs tomorrow night, Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School.
Happily, the MCO has a program that features conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. The music runs counter-intuitive to most seasonal programming and offers a break from all things Christmas except for beauty and joy: some Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak, the terrific Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn and the sunny Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.
Admission is $15 (NOT $10 as mistakenly stated earlier); free to students.
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
There is still time for giving and getting this holiday season.
So here are The Best Classical Recordings of 2016, as chosen by critics for The New York Times.
The Times listing has good discerning commentaries and even some audiovisual excerpts of the recordings named. And at least one of the recordings — a CD of Haydn and Ligeti by pianist Shai Wosner — has connections to Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
One can also use this list as a starting point.
The Ear likes to package a recording with a book and even a ticket to a live performance. And these choices offer much food for thought. For example. the recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar, recorded by conductor Daniel Barenboim, will be performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater this spring by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its outgoing director Edo de Waart.
Here is a link:
And here is a link to two other gift guides.
The second is the list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:
Enjoy and leave word of your agreement or disagreement along with other selections in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
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. He also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.
Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.
This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.
The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.
But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.
The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.
The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.
But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.
The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.
The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.
Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.
By Jacob Stockinger
The end of the first semester is at hand. And this weekend two very appealing concerts will help finish off the first half of the new concert season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The orchestra and the campus-community chorus will be conducted by Beverly Taylor (below), the director of choral activities at the UW-Madison.
The program of works that are relatively rare on programs includes the Mass in C Major by Ludwig van Beethoven, “Nänie: Song of Lamentation” by Johannes Brahms (heard conducted by Claudio Abbado in the YouTube video below) and the “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein.
Admission is $15 for adults; $8 for students.
Here are some notes about the works written by conductor Beverly Taylor:
“The Choral Union will present a 3 B’s concert, which includes masterpieces of three different types.
“The Bernstein “Chichester Psalms,” written in the 1960’s for a cathedral in Britain, is a setting of three psalms in Hebrew. The piece is for strings, brass and percussion, and lasts about 20 minutes. It features a flamboyant, joyful and somewhat dissonant opening full of exciting percussion writing.
“The second movement features a wonderful boy soloist, Simon Johnson, from the Madison Youth Choirs, with harp and strings. He is like the shepherd King David, who is peacefully in the fields with his sheep; contrasting that are the warring peoples, sung by the tenors and basses. The boy and women’s voices return singing peacefully above the warring mobs.
“The third movement starts in dissonant pain, but it dissolves into a beautiful, quiet psalm of praise and trust.
“The Brahms Nänie is a 15-minute setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller on the topic of beauty and its inability to last; even beauty must die, and the gods weep too, but the beauty itself is worth all! The style is Romantic with the long arching melodic lines for which Brahms is well-known.
“The Beethoven Mass in C is one of just two masses that Beethoven wrote; in contrast to the long, loud, high, grand and overpowering “Missa Solemnis,” the Mass in C is more charming, Mozartean and approachable. It still has some Beethovenian touches of sudden dynamic changes, sforzandi (which are emphases or accents), and slow, elegiac quartets. Our solo quartet will be Anna Polum, Jessica Krasinki, Jiabao Zhang and John Loud.”
For more background and information about how to get tickets, go to:
On this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), under the baton of James Smith (below bottom, in a photo by Jack Burns), will give a FREE concert.
The program features three works: the late “King Stephan” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven (heard below in a YouTube video as conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic) the “Billy the Kid” Suite by Aaron Copland; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
The Ear has heard both groups often and highly recommends both concerts.
He was quite amazed at how good the last UW Symphony Orchestra program he heard was. It offered two Fifth Symphonies — by Sergei Prokofiev and Jean Sibelius – only about three weeks into the semester.
It was nothing short of amazing how well the orchestra had come together in such a short time. It was a tight and impassioned performance. The Ear expects the same for this concert, which has had a lot more rehearsal time.
By Jacob Stockinger
The weather predictions that The Ear has seen say today and tomorrow will be cool and rainy with possible storms.
So here is a touch from the composer who The Ear thinks is the most summery composer in history. His work has just the right touch of breezy lightness and bright sunshine.
He is the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc, so severely underestimated in his lifetime, and here– in the YouTube video at the bottom — is his Sonata for Oboe and Piano, which The Ear often finds Mozart-like its simplicity, clarity and beauty.
Hope you enjoy.