The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear salutes all graduates today and offers THE PROCESSIONAL OF ALL PROCESSIONALS – Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1. Can you think of a better one? Congratulations, grads!

June 13, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison held its commencement ceremonies in May.

But today is when many high schools around the area will hold commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors. The Ear has been invited to parties celebrating two of them.

graduation caps

What music should I offer to post as my congratulations?

I thought of several choices.

But in the end, I come back to the old royal coronation stand-by: “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar (below). By the way, he composed five such marches and some of the others are also pretty good. (Hear them on YouTube.) But No. 1 is The Best.

Edward Elgar

I know! I know!

You’ve all heard it too often.

But its magic – its energy combined with its stateliness and dignity — never fails to stir me.

The Brits just seem to have a special talent for processional marches, much like their gift for pastoral music and musical landscapes.

So here it is, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom from the BBC Proms in 2012. It includes choral singing by the huge crowd that adds to the version. After all, what is the future for graduates if not “The Land of Hope and Glory“?

Is The Ear the only one who gets goosebumps listening to it?

And if you can think of another suitable processional – or even a better one – please leave a note and, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

Happy Graduation to the Class of 2015!


Classical music Q&A: How does a string quartet come up with programs? The Ear catches up with the Ancora String Quartet, which will close its 13th season this Friday night with piano quartets by Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. Plus, WYSO members talk Thursday morning on WORT 88.9 FM

May 7, 2014
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ALERT: We are in the run-up to the always impressive Spring Concerts by members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).  And Good Friend of The Ear radio host Rich Samuels is helping to publicize the WYSO chamber music concerts on this Saturday, May 10, and the other instrumental groups and orchestras, with soloists, that will perform on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday May 18. The radio segment with violinist Isabelle Krier and pianist Charlie Collar will air on WORT 89.9 FM, starting at 7:08 a.m. on this Thursday morning, May 8. Following that segment, Samuels will be airing a concert featuring conductor Ken Woods (a WYSO and UW-Madison alumnus, who leads the English Symphony Orchestra in Wales in the United Kingdom). Here is a link to the WYSO website for more details about the two weekends of WYSO concerts:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m., three members of the Madison-based and critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet (below) will close out its 13th season with a program that features a relative rarity in chamber music: piano quartets — by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. (Below are, from left, Ancora members violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.)

Ancora Trio 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

The program includes the lyrical Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, K. 493, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the one-movement Piano Phantasy in F-Sharp Minor by 20th-century British composer Frank Bridge, who was also the teacher of Benjamin Britten; and the impassioned Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 67, by the lesser known 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Turina.

The guest artist is University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pianist MyungHee Chung (below), who joined the Ancora in 2010 in a memorable performance of the iconic Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms.

myung hee chung

The concert will take place in the historic Landmark Auditorium, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are available at the door, and are general seating. They cost $15 for the general public; $12 for students and seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

A free post-concert champagne reception is included in the ticket.

This year the quartet is a strong trio made up of violist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. First violinist Leanne League is on a one-year leave.

Violist Marika Fisher Hoyt, who also hosts a Saturday afternoon program on Wisconsin Public Radio and plays in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other local groups, including period-instrument, early music ensembles, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

MarikaFischerHoyt

How does the Ancora Quartet choose repertoire and programs? How do you balance the well-known and the neglected? Highlight various instruments? Is any one of your members more active in selecting programs than the others?

All Ancora String Quartet players (below)  participate equally in proposing pieces and crafting the final programs. We keep a list of pieces that one or more of us would like to perform. In the spring of each year, we look at the list, and select pieces to form programs of roughly 70 minutes of music.

We aim for programs that offer a nice balance of familiar and unfamiliar, of Classical, Romantic and Modern style, and of varying lengths and degrees of emotional intensity.

For the first 10 years we presented pieces that were new to us as a quartet, but at this point we’ll sometimes include a piece we’ve performed before.  That’s usually a piece we really love, like the Beethoven Op. 74 “Harp” Quartet.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

How much does the audience figure in setting up a program?

We don’t really consider the audience’s hypothetical preferences, other than to try to present programs with enough variety that there’s something for all tastes. The constant factor is our love for the music and our commitment to working together.

Ancora Rhapsodie audience

What are current projects and future plans for the Ancora?

Our current project is preparing for and presenting this week’s program!

We’re still in the process of planning next season’s programs. Our first violinist, Leanne League (below), will be on leave next season, and two wonderful violinists will be joining us, both of them players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Wes Luke (below) will join us for our fall programs, which will almost certainly include one of his favorites, the Mendelssohn Quartet, Op. 80, in F Minor, a powerfully moving work written at the very end of that composer’s life.

wes luke

Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will join us for our spring programs, and she’s hoping to perform one of the gorgeous Brahms quartets with us.  We look forward to working with these talented colleagues.

Eleanor Bartsch

Another project is that of increasing our quartet’s presence online.  A few years ago we redid our quartet website www.ancoraquartet.com, which now features a blog. While we don’t aspire to publish new postings every day (like The Well-Tempered Ear), every couple of weeks I’ll publish an interview with a guest artist, a report of our first rehearsal on a new program, or links to reviews.

We also have a Facebook fan page at facebook.com/ancoraquartet.  We only give 8-10 concerts per year, and these online sites are a nice way to stay in touch with the concert-going public. They give our fans an easy way to contact us with any questions or comments.

Ancora Trio 2 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

Is it different playing a PIANO quartet or quintet than an all-string quartet? Pianists often have the reputation of being soloists at core and not easy chamber music partners. Is that your experience?

Yes, the sound of a piano is qualitatively different from that of the violin family of instruments, and so in a piano quartet or quintet we must all work a little harder to achieve a unified effect, through phrasing and careful balancing of dynamics.

Pianists may have the reputation of being divas, but we have worked with MyungHee Chung (below) before, and that has certainly not been our experience with her.  It’s true that a powerful pianist can overwhelm the sound of three or four string instruments.  But, while MyungHee spins out her solo passages with effortless ease and grace, she is also an extremely sensitive collaborator and accompanist, and we are so pleased to be able to work with her again.

Steinway Grand Piano

What would you like to say about each of the pieces on this weekend’s program?

The Piano Quartet by Mozart (below) demonstrates a perfect fusion of elegance, charm and sensuality. Benjamin often reminds us of the vocal quality in much of Mozart’s music, and we will imagine that we’re singing an aria tune from a Mozart opera.  And, on a personal note, I can tell from his writing that Mozart was a violist; I appreciate the melodies I get to play, and how well they lie on viola!

Mozart old 1782

The “Phantasy” by Frank Bridge (below is a wonderful example of late Romantic British style, by turns voluptuously lush and singing, or fiercely dramatic.

Frank Bridge

The work by Joaquin Turina (below) gives us three movements of smoldering Spanish melodrama, spiced with playful cross-rhythms.  We’ll be ready for the champagne reception, after that!

joaquin turina 1

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

We Ancora players are now in our 13th recital season, and our joy in making music together has only deepened over the years. Chamber music is so much more intimate than orchestral playing, and we are extremely grateful for the chance to share this music with our audiences.

The Madison community’s deep appreciation of the arts supports so many wonderful musical ensembles. We feel lucky to be a part of it all, to inspire, and be inspired, in our turn.

 

 

 

 

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