The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Technical difficulties prevent a long or complicated new post today. The Ear apologizes but offers an update about concerts this weekend by the Madison Summer Choir and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 24, 2016
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Due to technical difficulties beyond his control and at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that is long or complicated, or has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.

There are several noteworthy concerts taking place this weekend:

BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finishes up its Silver Jubilee summer season this weekend. The ensemble will perform two programs at the Playhouse in the Overture Center (Friday and Saturday nights) and in the Hillside Theater (Sunday afternoon and evening) at the Frank Lloyd Wright compound at Taliesin in Spring Green.

BDDS 25th poster

The “Quicksilver” program features: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach; a reduced chamber version of the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 — a double string quartet — by Felix Mendelssohn.

The second program is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” It features a miniature viola concerto, “Soul Garden,” by the contemporary American composer Derek Bermel; and then the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi and the “Four Seasons of Buenos of Aires” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. Movements from the two will be interspersed.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

BDDS 2016 Mozart Flute Quartet Margaret Barker

THE MADISON SUMMER CHOIR

On Saturday night, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus, the Madison Summer Choir (below), under the direction of Ben Luedcke, will perform a program called “This Is My Song: Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.” It includes music by Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Sibelius and other composers. It features piano and orchestral accompaniments.

Here is a link with more information:

http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Summer Choir 2011 orchestraI


Classical music: “The Willies” –- the Willy Street Chamber Players -– excel in fabulous Bach and Mendelssohn at the last concert of the new group’s inaugural season. Don’t miss the second season next summer.

August 3, 2015
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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

Surely the greatest and happiest surprise of this summer’s music season is the sudden emergence of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a group of mostly string players that almost seems to have popped up out of the ground spontaneously.

Willy Street Chamber Players logo

They have introduced themselves in four concerts on successive Fridays this month—experimenting with shorter-length, one-hour programs, and giving three of them at 6 in the evening, and one family concert at Friday noon.

Each concert has drawn progressively larger audiences at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top) on Spaight Street, on the city’s near East Side.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Willy Street audience

Most important, the group involves a bevy of former University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music students who play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and who are simply brimming over with talent and with the joy of making music together.

Their final concert this season, on last Friday night, officially offered two works. As a “thank you” to the increasing number of sponsors and a swelling public, however, the group also gave a glowing performance of the Gavotte movement from the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (below). (You can hear the tuneful Grieg played by a much larger and far less intimate chamber orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

edvard grieg

The Grieg prefaced their playing the first full-length work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

As now properly recognized, the Bach concerto is a work for nine solo string players (three each of violins, violas, cellos — below top, second and third in that order respectively) with basso continuo from the harpsichord (below bottom).

The intricacy of the part writing, especially involving constant interaction of the six upper parts, is particularly well appreciated when one can actually watch the players, who presented the music with a splendid combination of dash and discipline. (And they solved the notorious problem of what to do with the two-chord middle “movement” by adding only the tiniest violin cadenza on the first chord—very sensible and responsible.)

Willy Street Bach violins

Wiily Street Bach violas

Willy Street Bach cellos

Willy Street Bach harpsichord Jason Kutz

The final, and larger, work on the program was the Octet in E-flat by Felix Mendelssohn. This is the creation of an astoundingly precocious 17-year-old genius, and by general agreement it is a virtual miracle of composition.

Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s recourse to such a demanding scoring was not without precedent. He composed this in 1825. At about the same time, in the years 1823-47, the violinist-composer Louis Spohr (below) wrote four “Double Quartets” opposing two discrete string quartets against each other.

Louis Spohr

And, quite frequently, in his writing Mendelssohn does adopt the same strategy, pitting two distinct groups against each other. But he also explores the possibilities of eight-part texture, rich in contrasting colors and contrapuntal invention. It both is, and is more than, a simplistic double quartet.

Our eight Willy Street players did position themselves (below) as two opposing string quartets — with the cellists out in front, for a novel emphasis on the bass line.

Wily Street Mendelssohn Octet

Once again, it was such a benefit to watch these players engage each other in so many different ways. And with what spirit! Here was the music of a teenage genius, played by eight young players who threw their youthful élan into their work with unbounded passion. Yet there was also discipline, and the most careful nuancing of each player’s lines.

I would say that this is possibly the best performance I have ever heard of this work, certainly in live concert—something up to the highest professional and artistic standards.

I find it difficult to express fully my excitement over the sudden creation of this marvelous pool of young musicians. They have made it clear that this was just their first season: they are planning to return next summer, with some possible activities in between.

For member biographies, news and other information, here is a link to the group’s website:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

With minimal promotion so far, based on simple word-of-mouth publicity, The Willies — as I call them — have already found a swelling and enthusiastic audience.

Madison’s lovers of highest-class chamber music should take note, support and attend. How can I say it better? They are simply fabulous! It is an enormous blessing to any community that is lucky enough to generate such players!


Classical music: What if Johann Sebastian Bach had composed more of his popular “Brandenburg” Concertos? What might they look like and sound like? The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and guest artists from Chicago explore that possibility this Friday night.

May 21, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Few pieces of Baroque music, or of any classical music in any style from any period for that matter, are more beloved than the six secular “BrandenburgConcertos that Johann Sebastian Bach (below) composed when he was seeking a court appointment.

Bach1

So what is one to make of a concert called “Brandenburg X” this Friday night by the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below), a terrific early music ensemble that uses period instruments and  historically informed performance practices?

Does it mean “X” as in the alphabet or FX (a phonetic stand-in for fantasy-like special “effects”? Or does it mean 10 as in a number or sequence, or perhaps as used in algebra to represent an “unknown”?

Maybe all of those possibilities are correct.

If it sounds like something out of science fiction or something futuristic, well that isn’t far off the mark. That is because Brandenburg X is indeed experimental.

Madison Baroque Ensemble

The concert is this Friday night, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side, near Randall Elementary School.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

The performers are Peter Lekx and Marika Fischer Hoyt on baroque violas; Eric Miller, Phillip W. Serna and Russell Wagner on bass viols; Eric Miller and Anton TenWolde on Baroque cellos); Marilyn Fung on violone; and Emily J. Katayama and Max Yount on harpsichords.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Tickets are available at the door only: Admission is $20; $10 for students.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and New Comma Baroque of Chicago (below) will explore Johann Sebastian Bach’s music for the Viola da Braccio, the Violoncello, and the Viola da Gamba.

New Comma Baroque

The program includes: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051 (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom); Brandenburg Concerto “No. 12” (arranged by Bruce Haynes and Susie Napper); the Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027/1039, in an arrangement for 3 violas da gamba; the Concerto in C Major for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061a; and the Brandenburg Concerto “No. 7” in C minor, BWV 1029, as arranged by Duncan Druce.

Here are some program-like comments written by performer Anton TenWolde (below):

“We are very excited about our collaboration with the New Comma Baroque, based in Evanston, Illinois. The program is entitled “Brandenburg X: J.S. Bach’s Exploration of the Viola da Braccio (arm viola), the Violoncello and the Viola da Gamba (leg viola).”

“The idea for this concert was conceived when several members of our two groups met last spring to perform the sixth Brandenburg concerto with the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana. We all said after that concert: “This is wonderful! We wish Bach would have written more for this combination of instruments.”

Well, of course he did not, so we opted for the next best thing: compositions Bach could have written or arranged for these lower string instruments (violas, violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord, without violins).

The program is set around three “Brandenburg” concertos.

We start with a “real” Brandenburg Concerto, No. 6, BWV1051 for two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord. This is followed by an arrangement by Bruce Haynes, “Brandenburg Concerto No. 12” created for Montreal Baroque, completely based on compositions by J.S. Bach. It incorporates Bach’s arias “Nur jedem das Seine”, BWV163; “Lass mein Herz die Munze sein, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott“, BWV80; “Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen”, and the Sinfonia from “Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fallt,” BWV18. It is scored for 2 cellos, 2 violas da gamba, and basso.

The last “Brandenburg” concerto (Number “7”) is scored as Brandenburg No. 6: two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone, and harpsichord. It is based on the G minor sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1029) and was arranged by Duncan Druce.

Some may frown on the practice of arranging Bach’s works for different instrumentations, but it is good to remember that Bach frequently re-arranged his own work, and that of other composers. Numerous cantata movements show up in different places, in different arrangements, sometimes in different keys. In fact, movements of the first Brandenburg concerto show up in three different cantatas, and Bach adapted the fourth Brandenburg into a harpsichord concerto. So the precedent has been set by the great master himself.

In addition to the Brandenburgs we will be performing Bach’s Sonata in G-Major, BWV1027/1039 arranged for three bass viols. This work originated as a trio sonata for two flutes and basso continuo (BWV1039), which Bach recast as a solo sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV1027).

The program is rounded out with the Concerto for two Harpsichords, BWV1061a., as originally composed without an orchestral accompaniment.

-Anton TenWolde

anton tenwolde

For more information (608) 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org or www.newcommabaroque.org.

Do you have a favorite “Brandenburg” Concerto?

The Ear wonders: Why doesn’t a compete cycle of J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos get performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Madison Symphony Orchestra? It is an annual holiday treat every year in New York City from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center — which uses modern instruments — and The Ear thinks it would be a big draw in Madison.

The Ear loves all of them, but especially prizes the busily virtuosic and exciting keyboard part in Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

And you?

The Ear wants to hear.

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