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: Cellist Amit Peled celebrates historical mentor Pablo Casals with Casals’ own cello. Peled performs this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

March 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is much to look forward to during this Friday night’s MUST-HEAR “Masterworks” concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.

But clearly the big draw is the Israeli-born cellist Amit Peled (below), who is a now a very successful teacher at the Peabody Conservatory that is attached to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and who also tours the globe performing.

Amit Peled playing

The concert is at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Tickets cost $15, $37, $62 and $65. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Amit Peled has played here with the WCO before, and he showed then that his talent is as big as he is, a 6’5” man who projects a big presence physically and musically.

But Peled is also a congenial, humorous and curious musician who knows how to find an unusual angle, a new take on old music.

As an homage, Peled recently recreated a century later a concert by Pablo Casals, who remains perhaps the most famous and influential cellist in history, by performing the same program.

Pablo Casals BIG USE

The program included a solo suite by Johann Sebastian Bach since it was Casals who first discovered them and then who convinced the experts and the public that they were not exercises but genuine gorgeous music.

It also included a Catalan folk song, “The Song of the Birds,” which Casals himself arranged and frequently performed as an anthem to the need for freedom from Nazism and Fascism for his homeland. In fact it became a signature of Casals, and Peled will perform the same piece here.

Moreover, Peled performed this concert on Casal’s own cello, a superb 1733 Goffriller instrument, which Peled got on loan from Casals’ widow and which he had restored. (You can hear Amit Peled talk about and play the famed Casals cello in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

And that is the same cello he will bring to his date in Madison.

Here is a link to a story – two conjoined stories really — that NPR (National Public Radio) did about Peled and the Casals cello.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/11/385240526/what-it-means-to-play-pablo-casals-cello

Amit Peled 1

On the same cello, Peled will also perform the “Tarantella” by David Popper – another favorite of Casals — and the rarely played Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann (below), a late work written as the composer was descending into the mental illness that would eventually claim his life.

Schumann photo1850

Adding to the concert’s appeal are two other works.

One is the penultimate symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), the dark, dramatic and appealing Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550.

Mozart old 1782

The performance by the WCO (below top) should be a lively treat, given the complete mastery of the Classical-era style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) continues to demonstrate.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Another attraction is the Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge (below), who was the teacher of famed 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten. And if you have heard Sewell, who originally hails from New Zealand, you know he has a way for finding neglected repertoire and possesses a special fondness of and talent for performing British works.

Frank Bridge

For more information about the WCO and this concert, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-iv

And here is a link to Amit Peled’s website, where you can find more information including reviews, recordings, biographical facts and more:

http://www.amitpeled.com


Classical music: On Monday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra, with Madison Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Joe Morris as soloist, offers a holiday break from holiday music with works by Brahms, Gerald Finzi and Beethoven.

December 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Thank you, Middleton Community Orchestra.

Surely The Ear can’t be the only person who is starting to feel unpleasantly overwhelmed with holiday music — to say nothing of holiday shopping and holiday cards, with holiday this and holiday that.

Holiday music seems ever-present this time of the year. It  is in stores and malls, on the radio and TV, in the churches and even in the many concert halls. And it has been going on for weeks, if not months.

So coming into the home stretch of Christmas Week, The Ear is feeling particularly grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), a largely amateur group that also includes some very accomplished professionals.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO rarely, if ever, disappoints me. But this upcoming concert, which is NOT billed as a “holiday” concert, seems especially inviting since it promises to offer the gift of music –- not just holiday music, but real music.

Coming into Christmas Week, I find this to be a very welcome offering, a pitch perfect program.

The concert not only features terrific music but also the right length at the right cost, and includes some post-concert meet-and-greet socializing so you can meet the musicians and other audience members.

Here is the announcement from MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic:

The Middleton Community Orchestra’s December concert is this coming Monday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, which is attached to Middleton High School, at 2100 Bristol Street, a simple right turn off University Avenue going west towards the Beltline a few blocks before Parmenter Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The MCO is excited to be sharing the stage with Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Joe Morris (below top) who will be performing the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

You’d be counting down the days if you have heard Joe play (below top, in a photo by Cheryl Savan), and the work by Gerald Finzi (below bottom) is a beautiful piece through which Joe’s amazing clarinet playing soars.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

Gerald Finzi 1

Don’t miss the chance to hear Joe, the MCO and this beautiful concerto. How many 24-year-olds do you know who have won an audition from among 60 other clarinettists vying for the job? Come hear one of our local treasures.

The concert will be conducted by Middleton High School music teacher Steve Kurr (below).

Steve Kurr conducting

The program starts with the popular and rousing “Academic Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms (below), which uses tunes from German drinking songs and which Brahms composed to celebrate an honorary degree he received.

brahms3

Then, after the lovely Finzi concerto, please stay so you can experience the irresistible energy and drive of Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which concludes the program. It is many people’s favorite Beethoven symphony and was highly thought of by the composer and other famous composers including Richard Wagner who famously called it “the apotheosis of the dance” because of its lively rhythms.

(By the way, the well-known and haunting slow movement featured prominently in the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech” several years ago. You can hear it at the bottom in a popular YouTube video.)

Beethoven big

We hope to see you Monday. Tickets are $10, with students admitted free of charge. Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West or at the door on the night of the show starting at 7 p.m. You can also call (608) 212-8690 to reserve tickets in advance.

There will be a reception (below) for the audience and musicians after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

 

For information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including how to support it and how to join it, here is a link to its website:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

 

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform “Welcome Yule,” a concert of six centuries of holiday music, including Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” this Friday night.

December 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “Welcome Yule,” featuring the well-known “Ceremony of Carols” (at bottom is an excerpt in a YouTube video) by British composer Benjamin Britten.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

Benjamin Britten

The concert is this Friday night, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below in exterior and interior photos), at the intersection of West Washington Avenue and Carroll Street on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Advance tickets are $15 for the public and $10 for students; at the door, the prices are $20 and $12, respectively.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

Welcome Yule! traverses six centuries of music in celebration of Christmas.

Benjamin Britten’s cheerful Ceremony of Carols, (accompanied by harp) is paired with Renaissance motets by Giovanni di Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Raffaella Aleotti, and a set of rousing medieval carols.

After intermission, we pay tribute to the late Stephen Paulus (below top), who died this year, with his bright and uplifting Ship Carol, accompanied by harp, followed by a rarely-heard Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Herbert Howells (below bottom), originally composed for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. Howells’ visionary music is accompanied by organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Here is a link to a post The Ear did about Stephen Paulus,who had many links to Madison. Be sure to read some of the local reader comments:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/classical-music-american-composer-stephen-paulus-dies-at-65-the-festival-choir-of-madison-performed-many-world-premieres-by-him-and-will-perform-the-all-night-vigil-by-tchaikovsky-this-coming-saturd/

stephen paulus

herbert howells autograph

Also on the program are inspiring works by contemporary composers Jean Belmont Ford and Wayne Oquin; a lush jazz arrangement of Silent Night by Swiss jazz pianist Ivo Antognini; and a Christmas spiritual by Rosephanye Powell.

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 1998, 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), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, is artistic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir turns in an outstanding performance of music by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and his musical “friends.” But the fine singing deserved an orchestra, not just organ and violin, for the famous Serenade to Music.

June 3, 2014
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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 hosts 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

Robert Gehrenbeck and his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) gave an entirely English choral program as the conclusion of their season on last Saturday night.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

And, despite the heat, and the frightfully uncomfortable pews of Grace Episcopal Church on the Square — not to mention the competition of the Con Vivo chamber music concert — a considerable audience turned out to hear it.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW audience

The program took as its theme “Ralph Vaughan Williams (below, 1872-1858) and Friends,” highlighting the work of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, but one whose music still has not been taken up sufficiently in our country. (When was the last time you heard one of the great nine symphonies of “VW” played by an American orchestra?)

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

The beginning of the program was rightly dominated by Vaughan Williams. After an elaborate Psalm setting, titled “A Choral Flourish,” a Latin motet by Thomas Tallis (below, ca.1505-1585) provided context for VW’s great a cappella Mass in G Minor—though, alas, only its first two movements. Like the composer’s famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, the writing cleverly opposes soloists, and small and larger groupings against each other. (I note for the record that there were a few moments of intonation problems.)

Thomas Tallis

Next came an English hymn by Imogen Holst (below top, 1907-1984), daughter of VW’s dear friend and colleague, Gustav Holst, and an anthem from an Anglican service by Herbert Howells (below bottom, 1892-1983), one of VW’s devoted disciples.

Imogen Holst

herbert howells autograph

The “Psalm tune” by Thomas Tallis (if with a modernized English text imposed) was a noteworthy gem, familiar, of course, as the subject for VW’s Tallis Fantasia, already mentioned, followed naturally by another of VW’s elaborate settings of Psalm 90, “Lord, Thou has been our refuge”—again, a piece that juxtaposed a small group (vocal quartet, below) against a larger (full choir).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW 4 solists

Following the intermission, three of VW’s arrangements of examples from his favorite source, English folksongs, these about sailors.

There followed the one serious mistake of the program: VW’s Serenade to Music. This is a lovely setting of Shakespeare’s wonderful tribute to music in lines from Act V of The Merchant of Venice. It was composed in 1938 to honor conductor Sir Henry Wood and his orchestra, featuring 16 singers with whom he had worked. VW allowed the 16 solo lines to be adapted for full chorus, and Gehrenbeck’s compromise was to have 13 singers in the choir sing specifically solo lines, while their joint parts were taken by the full choir.

shakespeare BW

It was a shaky compromise, hindered by the fact that some of the choir soloists were not quite equal to their assigned solos. Most disastrous of all, however, was the substitution for the orchestral role of a solo violin and organ.

Violinist Leanne League (below top), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, fiddled very beautifully, and organist Mark Brampton Smith (below bottom) played well. But violin and organ do not an orchestra make. This piece just should not have been attempted this way in this program. (You can hear an orchestral version of The Serenade to Music, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult,  at the bottom in a YouTube video. Be sure to read the listener comment about the Serenade to Music reduced Sergei Rachmaninoff to tears.)

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW Leanne League

Mark Brampton Smith

Two short and supposedly humorous pieces about animals, composed by Elizabeth Maconchy (below, 1907-1994) were awfully trivial: I would gladly have sacrificed them for the rest of the Vaugah Williams’ Mass in G Minor.

elizabeth maconchy

Finally, to restore some balance, there were three folksong arrangements by Gustav Holst (below, 1874-1934) himself—the last of them, the “Blacksmith’s Song,” familiar to many in its alternate treatment as a movement in Holst’s Suite No. 2 for Band.

Gustav Holst

One thing that concerned me throughout was the question of section organization. Up to Imogen Holst’s piece, the chorus was grouped by voice parts. But thereafter the singers were repeatedly scrambled, breaking down such part groupings. This is a practice now favored by many choral directors, who will use the argument, among others, that such scrambling furthers blending.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

But blending can be achieved at the price of structural clarity. In much of the program’s music there was a great deal of unison writing, or very simple chordal writing, and the strength derived from the blending was truly powerful.

But in other cases, the interaction of parts was muddled. The prime example was the sturdy Tallis Psalm: its “tune” is in the tenor part, which should have had a united prominence but was instead dispersed and diluted.

I have raised this issue before, and I will continue to do so, no doubt to much scoffing.

That issue aside, the program demonstrated the wonderful choral sound that Gehrenbeck (below) has developed with these 33 singers. They sing their hearts out for him, but in suavely balanced ensemble that is a joy to hear.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

It is clear by now that Gehrenbeck, who directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has set a new standard for choral singing in Madison, and has a lot to offer us in times ahead.

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Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes celebrates winter this weekend with two performances of Medieval and Renaissance British vocal music.

January 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be performing British sacred choral music from the Medieval and Renaissance eras in two performances – one FREE and one with admission — this coming weekend.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Here is a press release from the group:

“Titled “A British Winter,” the performances will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; and again on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), 302 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park.

Admission is free on Saturday at the Chocolaterian; tickets are $15 ($10 for students) on Sunday, sold at the door.

For more information about the concert, please visit the website of Eliza’s Toyes at toyes.info, or its Facebook page at facebook.com/elizastoyes.

Gates of Heaven

In this program, Eliza’s Toyes revisits its founding mission of a cappella early music. The musicians who will perform are sopranos Deb Heilert and Chelsie Propst; Sandy Erickson, alto; Peter Gruett, alto/tenor; Jerry Hui (below), tenor/bass; and Mark Werner, baritone.

Jerry Hui

A vocal sextet will perform music with Latin and English text composed by William Byrd, Robert Fayrfax, Peter Phillips, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, and Christopher Tye. A few anonymous pieces likely of British origin are also included.

The choice of composers spans at least 200 years, and highlights the development of polyphonic British music. Tallis (below) in his early age took works of Fayrfax as a model for his own Latin sacred music; Byrd studied with and worked for Tallis; and both Tomkins and Philips were students of Byrd’s.

Thomas Tallis

Here is the complete program of “A British Winter”:

Anon.: Regina caeli (chant)

Anon.: Regina caeli à 3

William Byrd (1540-1623): Memento salutis auctor

Byrd: O magnum mysterium (sung in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521): Magnificat “O bone Jesu”

Peter Philips (1560-1628): O beatum et sacrosanctum Diem (1612)

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585): O sacrum convivium (1575)

Christopher Tye (1505-1573): A sound of angels

Tallis: O nata lux (1575)

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656): Music Divine (1622)

Anon.: Tidings True

Anon.: There is no rose

Byrd: Sing Joyfully (1641)

Among the selection of music is a rarely heard piece, Magnificat “O bone Jesu” by Fayrfax. Likely composed around 1500-1502, it is a setting of Magnificat text whose musical material is based on Fayrfax’s own motet (survived only in fragments). The piece is a fine example of English choral music of its time: polyphonic settings are only written for the even verses, while the odd verses remain as plainchant; and much of the piece features a trio texture, with intricate rhythmic interactions among voices.

Eliza’s Toyes is a Madison-based early music ensemble specialized in performing vocal and wind music from before 1700. Its creative concert programs often feature geographical or narrative themes, partnering with both music and non-music academic fields. Now in its fifth season, Eliza’s Toyes has been performing at least twice a year, in various venues including UW-Madison Memorial Library, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Gates of Heaven. It has also been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” concert series.

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