The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Voces Aestatis — Summer Voices — will perform early and Baroque vocal music this Friday night

August 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post from Ben Luedcke, the artistic director of the choral group Voces Aestatis (Summer Voices, below).

Luedcke writes:

Voces Aestatis (Summer Voices) will present its third annual summer concert this Friday night, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below top and below bottom), 1833 Regent Street in Madison.

Tickets are $20 and available at the door. (Cash and check only; sorry, no credit or debit card sales.)

Artistic Director Ben Luedcke (below) and Assistant Director Ena Foshay have carefully selected singers with a pure blend to perform in this intimate concert venue.

Voces Aestatis is Madison’s only professional choir that specializes in early music.

The group will maintain its tradition of favoring a cappella repertoire of the 16th century, but new this year will be a collaboration with Saint Andrew Episcopal’s music director, Ken Stancer (below).

Stancer will accompany the choir on organ in four 17th-century pieces, including works by Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Gabrieli, Henry Purcell and Marc-Antione Charpentier.

While the Purcell is the familiar, powerful and climactic “Hear My Prayer,” Gabrieli’s “O Jesu mi dulcissime” and Charpentier’s “Te Deum,” H.147, are rarely performed and are not to be missed.

The Gabrieli setting is for double-choir. But rather than two equal choirs, there are separate low-voice and high-voice choirs that provide a unique and sonorous texture of men and women. Additionally, the Charpentier is full of variety, including solos and quartets within the larger 10-minute piece.

Other a cappella works round out the program, including music by Tomás Luis de Victoria and William Byrd (below).

Most noteworthy will be the group’s fresh look at the double-choir motet “Super flumina babylonis,” by Phillipe de Monte (below). Although the work is typically performed rather slowly and lamentingly, the group will bring a decisively different interpretation with a quicker tempo and active articulations. (You can hear a traditional performance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Also of note on the first half are pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (below top) and Orlando di Lasso (below bottom), with texts from the “Song of Solomon” — a collection of bible passages that allege to describe the love between Christ and the Church, though they are in fact favorites of choral composers as they are known for their rather erotic descriptive passages.

Finally, Jacob Obrecht’s “Salve Regina” for six voices is likely to stun listeners not only for its beauty, but also because it was written almost 100 years earlier than anything else on the program.

It features a noticeably different and almost austere harmonic palette with overlapping thick textures, as well as many complicated rhythms and chants in between major sections.

Please visit VocesAestatis.org for more information or to support the organization. The group relies on individual donations, so we thank you in advance for supporting the arts in Madison.

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Classical music: Madison Summer Choir addresses current events with outstanding performances of great choral music

June 28, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For eight years, the Madison Summer Choir (below) has been giving an annual concert. This year’s, on Saturday night, under founder and conductor Ben Luedcke, was built around the theme “This is My Song! – Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.”

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with piano JWB

And, indeed, Luedcke (below) introduced most of the selections with pointed remarks, addressing issues faced today, and the need for making ours a better world.

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

The first part of the program began with the “big tune” from Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, set to English words. This was sung a cappella, while the four short items that followed had piano accompaniment.

Two of those pieces—by composers Stephen Chatman and Sven Lekberg—carried poems by Walt Whitman, while another, by Joan Szymko, set a text by Wendell Berry. But the gem of the set was a short partsong, An die Heimat (To my Homeland), by that truly great choral master, Johannes Brahms. 

After the intermission, the chorus of 66 voices was joined by an orchestra (below) of 32, for the musical plateau.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with orchestra JWB

Felix Mendelssohn is one of the handful of supreme choral composers (think of his oratorio Elijah!). As a warmer-upper, we were given his brief setting of Martin Luther’s translation of the Latin Dona nobis pacem as Verleih uns Frieden (Grant us Peace). (You can hear Mendelssohn’s beautiful “Verleih uns Frieden” in a YouTube video at the bottom)

But the true main event was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s unfairly neglected cantata, Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). This sets a ballad by Goethe portraying a band of Druids arranging to celebrate a holy solstice rite in the face of newly triumphant Christian intolerance. By making an unholy racket, they drive away their persecutors and launch the myth of St. Walburga’s Night (Walpurgisnacht, on April 30) as an occasion of Satanic rumpus (think Goethe’s and Gounod’s Faust).

The work calls for three solo singers (below), this time contralto Jessica Timman Schwefel, tenor Dan O’Dea, and baritone Ben Li (of whom the tenor was the most impressive). This score is one of striking dramatic effect and musical force, but it is too brief to find a place in most concert repertoire.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 3 soloists No. 2 JWB

Singers and players threw themselves into it with wonderful gusto under propulsive direction. We must thank Luedcke for giving us a rare chance to enjoy it.

The final piece was a movement from a choral symphony by Srul Irving Glick: making a truly splendid choral sound that, however, quite obliterated the uplifting words.

Overall, the program showed that Luedcke had nurtured, in a short time, a choir of nicely balanced and blended voices. With the best of their material, they made a wonderfully glowing sound.

One more example, then, of the quite stunning riches of Madison’s summer musical life!


Classical music: The new early music, a cappella vocal group Voces Aestatis (Voices of Summer) makes an impressive debut with many Renaissance composers and works. Plus, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens to acclaim.

August 26, 2014
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ALERT: Perhaps you didn’t make it to the opening of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival last Saturday night or Sunday afternoon (below is a photo of the renovated barn concert hall). The festival runs through this coming Sunday afternoon and is celebrating both its 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. Here is a link to a review written for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine by Greg Hettmansberger, along with two preview stories from this blog:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/classical-music-violinist-rose-mary-harbison-talks-about-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-upcoming-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-while-composer-john-harbison-discusses-c-p-e-bach-whose-300th-anniv/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday was one of those nights, one of those increasingly frequent “train wrecks,” as The Wise Critic likes to call them, when two or more worthy classical musical events conflict and compete.

The Ear could not be in two places at once.

The two concerts were given by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which was reviewed yesterday by John W. Barker.

At another venue, at exactly the same time, the new early music vocal group Voces Aestatis made its Madison debut.

To give you an idea of that performance, The Ear welcomes another new reviewer -– Ann Boyer, a retired medical research librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a longtime member of the UW-Madison Choral Union.

Here is her review debut for The Well-Tempered Ear:

Ann Boyer

By Ann Boyer

The new Renaissance Choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Summer Voices) — all 13 of them, including director Ben Luedcke — delighted the 200 or so listeners who filled St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, on Regent Street, last Friday night. (Below is a photo of the choral group, minus Jerry Hui, the composer, singer and teacher who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.)

Voces aestratis 1

They had rehearsed four times, we learned, but had been instructed to come prepared. They were professionals, and it showed.

Songs were arranged in thematic pairs or threes, the sacred songs reflecting such themes as the imperfection of humankind, the birth of Jesus (emphasizing Mary’s role), and the death of Jesus.

Composers included Michael Praetorius, De Victoria and Giovanni di Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Heinrich Schütz. A particularly beautiful song was one by Antonio Lotti (below)

Antonio Lotti

The second half of the program consisted of secular songs: the famous “Mille Regretz” (A Thousand Regrets) by Josquin des Prez (below and at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the famed Jordi Savall), sung sweetly and gently; the strange, expressionistic harmonies of Gesualdo and a work by Claudio Monteverdi with surprisingly erotic lyrics. A final pair of somber songs by Weelkes and Wilbye ended the program on a dark note, relieved by the encore: the chipper ”El Grillo” (The Grasshopper).

Josquin Des Prez

The group demonstrated fluidity of line, diction which varied from very clear to less so, good phrasing in particular songs, and good vocal blending. Towards the beginning the women’s voices seemed to dominate, but this corrected itself as the program continued.

The energy of director Ben Luedcke (below) – another UW-Madison graduate who was the music director of Lake Edge Lutheran Church and the founder-director of the Madison Summer Choir and who is completing a master’s degree at the University of Iowa — carried us all along.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

We hope that the group will reassemble next summer.


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