The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For you, what were the best, most memorable or most enjoyable concerts of 2017? Here are the highlights for critics John W. Barker and The Ear

December 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the calendar year is only the mid-point of the new season and the concert calendar.

Still, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and the various performers and performances that we heard.

John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog as well as for Isthmus, recently published his top picks of concerts in 2017 in Isthmus. Here is a link to his year-end assessment:

https://isthmus.com/music/best-2017-classical-music/

To be fair, The Ear doesn’t always agree with Barker on the quality of some pieces and of certain performances. But by and large the two of us are in accord, and even when we aren’t, the Ear respects and learns from Barker’s expertise and experience.

The Ear would only add several things he found that Barker doesn’t mention:

The all-Mozart concert in the fall by the Pro Arte Quartet (below) — with UW faculty clarinetist Alicia Lee and San Francisco cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau filling in for Parry Karp, was a much-needed balm in these times of distress.

If you are a fan of amateur music-making and love the music of Bach, the revival of the Bach Around the Clock marathon in March proved enthralling. (Below are violist father Stan Weldy and mandolinist son Alex Weldy.)

You heard all kinds of musicians, from students and adult amateurs to professionals, in all genres of music, including arrangements and transcriptions that Johann Sebastian would no doubt have approved of.

Pianist Richard Goode (below), who played this fall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, showed the power of softness and quiet.

His subtle playing was full of nuance in preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, by Johann Sebastian Bach; in a late sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven; in the only sonata by Anton Webern; in a generous group for Chopin works; and in an unexpected encore by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. All in all, Goode proved a wonderful reprieve from some of the heavier, louder and more dramatic keyboard playing we hear.

But if you wanted drama, you only had to attend the recital by UW-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below). He excelled in everything, especially the total-body playing of the solo piano arrangement by Franz Liszt of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which wowed the house. But he also showed great restraint, tone and subtlety in contemporary American composer John Corigliano “Ostinato” based on that symphony’s famous second movement.

Then Taylor finished up with contrasting sets of six Musical Moments by Franz Schubert and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

BUT NOW IT IS YOUR TURN: YOU BE THE CRITIC!

Recognizing that the best concert is not necessary the most memorable concert, and that the best or most memorable concert is not necessarily the most enjoyable concert, please tell us:

What did you think was the best concert and best single performance you heard in 2017?

What was the most memorable classical music experience you had in 2017?

And what was the most enjoyable classical music performance you heard in 2017?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day 2017. The Ear’s gift is a concert of 16th-century British holiday music from Stile Antico and NPR

December 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2017.

As always, the holiday season has seen an outstanding time for choral music.

We all have our favorites, including the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach and the oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel. Add in traditional music and carols, hymns and then Baroque instrumental music by Vivaldi and Corelli among others. The choices are vast.

But this year The Ear wandered across something new and relatively unknown.

It is almost a one-hour-long concert of 16th-century British holiday music from the Tudor era.

The performers are the award-winning, 13-member a cappella early music group Stile Antico (below, in a  photo by Marco Borggreve).

The featured composers in this concert that has been posted on the Deceptive Cadence” blog by NPR (National Public Radio) include Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.

Here it is:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2012/12/03/166416569/a-choral-christmas-with-stile-antico

Enjoy!

And Merry Christmas to all!


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.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs a varied holiday concert of all-classical music this Saturday night

December 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice to post:

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “O Wondrous Mystery” this coming Saturday night, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison.

Tickets are $15 (for students, $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (East, West and North locations).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Explore the magic and mystery of the holiday season with the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, whose program highlights the beloved Latin chant ”O magnum mysterium” in musical settings by Tomas Luís de Victoria and Francis Poulenc. (You can hear Poulenc’s setting, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Rounding out the performance are the remainder of Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets along with seasonal works spanning five centuries by William Byrd, Heinrich Schütz, Johannes Brahms, Herbert Howells and Bob Chilcott, plus the world premiere of “Methinks I See a Heavenly Host” by Peter Bloesch (below).

Peter Bloesch

The 50-voice choir will be joined by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below top) of Grace Episcopal Church, and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program annotator J. Michael Allsen (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who will accompany the Schütz selections on the sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Mark Brampton Smith

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms; a cappella masterworks from six centuries; and world premieres.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE


Classical music education: This Sunday the Madison Youth Choirs will present their Winter Concert Series celebrating “Shakespeare 400 “

December 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This winter, the Madison Youth Choirs are joining cultural institutions around the world by celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (below) and his ongoing legacy.

shakespeare BW

Singers of various ages will perform musical settings from the plays Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest by composers including William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Benjamin Britten, Giuseppe Verdi, Cesar Franck, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, John Rutter and others.

Examining the role that motif, tension, structure and rhythm play in the repertoire and Shakespeare’s vast body of work, the choirs will explore the elements that combine to create compelling art that stands the test of time.

madison-youth-choirs-shakepeare-400-logo

The MYC Winter Concerts, “Shakespeare 400,” will take place this Sunday, Dec. 11, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall stadium.

Here is the schedule: 1:30 p.m. Girl choirs; 4 p.m. Boy choirs; 7 p.m. High School Ensembles

Tickets will be available at the door. Admission to each of the three concerts is $10 for the general public, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concert 2014

PROGRAMS

Here is the repertoire for the MYC 2016 Winter Concert Series “Shakespeare 400”:

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

“Hey Ho! To the Greenwood” by William Byrd

“Spirits” by Douglas Beam

“Orpheus With His Lute” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“Double, Double Toil and Trouble” by Leeann Starkey

photo

Con Gioia

“When Icicles Hang by the Wall” by David Lantz III

“You Spotted Snakes” by Toby Young

“Ban Ban Caliban” by Dan Forrest

Capriccio

“Hark! The Echoing Air” by Henry Purcell

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by Sarah Quartel

“Philomel with Melody” and “I Will Wind Thee in My Arms” by Cary Ratliff

“It Was a Lover and His Lass” by John Rutter

Cantabile

When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

Madison Youth Choirs 2

4 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs

“One December, Bright and Clear” Traditional Catalonian carol, arr. By Wilberg

“Panis Angelicus” by Cesar Franck

Purcell

“Chairs to Mend” by William Hayes

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by John Rutter (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

“The Coasts of High Barbary” Traditional English sea song, arr. By Julseth-Heinrich

Britten

“Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” by Roger Quilter

“Full Fathom Five” by John Ireland

“Who is Silvia” by Franz Schubert

Holst

“Full Fathom Five” by Robert Johnson

“Sing We and Chant It” by Thomas Morley

Ragazzi

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

7 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

“The Willow Song” by Arthur Sullivan

“Willow, Willow, Willow” by Charles H.H. Parry

“Fair Oriana Seeming to Wink at Folly” by Robert Jones

“You Spotted Snakes” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Felix Mendelssohn

“Give Them Thy Fingers” by Stefan Kalmer

Ragazzi

“Four Arms, Two Necks, One Wreathing” by Thomas Weelkes

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“And Draw Her Home with Music” by Nancy Hill Cobb

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Cantabile

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

“Come Away, Death” by Roger Quilter

Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten

“When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

Cantabile and Ragazzi

“Ave Verum Corpus” by William Byrd

“Jingle, Bells!” by James Pierpont, arr. by David Wilcocks

madison-youth-choirs-older-boys-2016

These concerts are generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from the American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

For further information, contact: Nicole Sparacino, Madison Youth Choirs, Nicole@madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival celebrates local ecological restoration with “water music”

August 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an overview of the upcoming 27th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which starts this Saturday, Aug. 27, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 4.

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. – Years in the planning, summer 2016 marks the completion of a major ecological restoration project on the Token Creek Festival property in the northeast corner of Dane County, part of the watersheds vital to the hydrology of Madison and southeastern Wisconsin.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

During the 1930s, one of the most important feeder streams in the area, and its only cold-water trout stream, was ruined when it was widened to support short-lived commercial interests and development. Now, decades later, in a monumental effort, that stream has at long last been relocated, restored and rescued.

Festival-goers will be able to experience the project firsthand on the opening weekend, when each concert is preceded by an optional stroll along the new stream, with conversation guided by restoration ecologists and project managers.

Celebrating this monumental ecological project, the season theme of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is: Water Music. Virtually all of the works programmed evoke brooks and streams and rivers and water in its many forms, with its ritual meanings, associations, allusions, and as metaphor.

In keeping with the theme, the Festival has adopted Franz Schubert (below) as the summer’s featured composer. His poetic, melancholic, ultimately organic and inevitable relationship to the natural world was expressed in composition after composition, wedded to his intense involvement with the poetry of his era, itself so infatuated with birds, fields, clouds and streams.

Franz Schubert big

The second program emphasis continues the festival’s most persistent theme: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach1

Three strands of Bach’s music previously explored at Token Creek will be taken up again. We will present our third complete cantata performance, O heiliges Geist und Wasserbad, a mysterious and poetic piece from early in the composer’s career, with soloists from the Madison Choral Project (below).

Madison Choral Project color

We will conclude our survey of the three Bach violin concertos, this year the E major, co-artistic director Rose Mary Harbison (below top) again as soloist. And we take up our sequence of fugues from The Art of Fugue, co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below bottom), who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius grant,” adding three more to his personal odyssey with this work, due to conclude in 2030.

RosemaryHarbison

JohnHarbisonatpiano

NEW ARTISTS

Token Creek is pleased to introduce several new artists this season, including Grammy Award-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, who has been praised for her “glorious instrument” and dubbed an “undisputed star…who has it all – looks, intelligence, musicianship, personality, technique, and a voice of bewitching amber color.”

Ms. Lattimore will offer works of Franz Schubert and John Harbison on the Festival’s opening concerts, By the Brook (August 27 and 28), where she will be joined by pianist Molly Morkoski.

www.margaretlattimore.net

Margaret Lattimore

Ms. Morkoski (below), who last appeared at Token Creek in 2013, consistently garners praise for her refined virtuosity and “the bold confidence and interactive grace one wants in a devoted chamber music maker.” In addition to the opening program, Morkoski will also be heard on the season finale in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (Sept. 2 and 4).

http://www.mollymorkoski.com/

molly morkoski

On that same concert, tenor William Hite and pianist Kayo Iwama join forces in Schubert’s devastating and tragic song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter), in which a brook functions prominently as the protagonist’s confidante. (You can hear the legendary baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing “The Miller and the Brook” from the flowing song cycle in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini has called Hite (below) a “breathtaking communicator of spoken nuance” for his ability to reveal the meaning and emotion embodied in the text and the music, solidifying his reputation as an engaging and expressive artist.

http://www.williamhitetenor.com/

william hite

Kayo Iwama (below) is associate director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music graduate vocal arts program, the master’s degree program for classical singers, and she also coordinates the vocal studies program at the Tanglewood Music Center. Her frequent concert partners include Dawn Upshaw and Lucy Shelton.

http://www.bard.edu/academics/faculty/details/?action=details&id=1838

Kayo Iwama

VIOLS AND WILLIAM WARTMANN

Finally, the “technically faultless and consistently sensitive and expressive,” consort of viols, Second City Musick (below), based in Chicago, will offer a guest recital on Tuesday, Aug. 30, anchored by John Harbison’s The Cross of Snow.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Commissioned by local businessman and philanthropist William John Wartmann (below) in memory of his wife, mezzo-soprano Joyce Wartmann, this evocative new piece, on texts of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, blends the ethereal lushness of violas da gamba with the haunting clarity of the countertenor voice, here Nathan Medley (below bottom), to explore the emotions of grief, loss and love.

wiiliam wartmann

Nathan Medley

At its first performance in Chicago last May, a local critic praised both the work and the musicians: “The Chicago-based ensemble was ideally suited to premiere this profoundly affecting work, and the shared sensibility between composer and performers was noticeable.”

Tuesday’s program will also include works of Henry Purcell, William Byrd, John Jenkins and Johann Sebastian Bach.

www.secondcitymusick.org

Other festival artists this season include vocalists Rachel Warricke, Sarah Leuwerke, Daniel O’Dea, and Nathan Krueger; violinists Rose Mary Harbison, Laura Burns, and Isabella Lippi; Jen Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; Linda Kimball, horn; and John Harbison, piano.

HERE ARE FESTIVAL PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE:

Program 1: By the Brook – Schubert, Bach and Harbison

Saturday, Aug. 27: 6:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 8 p.m. – concert

Sunday, Aug. 28:  2:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 4 p.m. – concert

*(The stream stroll is free, but reservations are recommended)

Program 2: Music for Viols, Then & Now

Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Program 3: Water Colors = Two Schubert Masterworks

Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). The preview stream stroll on opening weekend is free to concertgoers, but advance reservations are recommended.

Reservations can be made in several ways:

  • Online:    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-chamber-music-festival-2016-tickets-26070692142
  • Website (printable order form): www.tokencreekfestival.org
  • Phone: 608-241-2525 (voicemail only, please leave a message)
  • Email: info@tokencreekfestival.org
  • U.S. mail: P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608 241-2525.


Classical music: Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. So here are guides to this summer’s local, national and even international festivals of classical music

May 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Madison now has great classical music year-round, including in the summer, which long ago ceased being an artistic desert.

LOCAL

This summer’s offerings include:

The 25th anniversary season, filled with new music but also tried-and-true treasured masterpieces, of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that runs June 10-26:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

The 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which runs from July 10-16 and will focus on William Shakespeare in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

The annual Madison Savoyards’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan will stage “The Gondoliers” for six performances July 29-Aug. 7:

http://madisonsavoyards.org

The second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below):

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

The 27th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which runs Aug. 27-Sept 4 and this year features music celebrating water and the natural world. Programs include music by Johann Sebastian Bach,  English Renaissance music of John Dowland, William Byrd and Henry Purcell and a Wisconsin premiere by composer and co-director John Harbison plus Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” and his equally famous masterpiece, the “Trout” Piano Quintet:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Plus there are a lot of smaller groups including the Madison Summer Choir and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, both of which have received critical acclaim. And there is the Green Lake Festival. Some I might also include the six Concerts on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which this year features a hefty dose of classical fare.

NATIONAL

But if you don’t stay around town and hit the road instead, there is a lot that might interest you in the way of summer music festivals around the country. There are festivals of chamber music, orchestral music and opera.

And The Ear has always wanted to attend the Bard Music Festival (below), which emphasizes the cultural context of the music, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. One of these years! (You can hear from co-artistic director and Bard College president Leon Botstein how the unique Bard Music Festival is run in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

Here is a roundup by The New York Times, which put all kinds of genres together. Just scroll down until you hit the Classical Festivals section that was compiled and annotated by the Times’ trustworthy critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/19/arts/summer-festivals.html?_r=0

Here is a fairly comprehensive national guide from Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Classical_music_festivals_in_the_United_States

Here is a guide from two years ago, done by NPR or National Public Radio, that includes the Madison Early Music Festival and divides up the selection by regions of the country:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals

And for good measure, for those taking international vacations here is a guide to international music festivals:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_classical_music_festivals

Happy hunting and choosing. Then happy and safe traveling. And finally Happy Listening.

The Ear hopes you have a classic “classical” summer.


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 Q&A: Choral director Robert Gehrenbeck talks about his favorite works by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can hear some of them when the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — which unveils its 2014-15 season here — performs works by Vaughan Williams and his followers this Saturday night. Part 2 of 2.

May 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will wrap up its current season with a special concert of “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Friends.”

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Nov 17, 2012 Bethel Lutheran

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on this Saturday, May 31, in the acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church, West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

The soloists include violinist Leanne League and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Admission is $15, $10 for students.

One of the best-loved choral composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams was renowned not only for his compositions, but also for his friendship and advocacy on behalf of countless other musicians.

The concert features some of Vaughan Williams’ best-known works including, “Serenade to Music,” Mass in G Minor, and the powerful anthem, “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge.”

Vaughan Williams shared a passion for collecting folksongs with his close friend Gustav Holst, whose heartfelt setting of “I Love My Love” will be heard alongside several of Vaughan Williams’ own folksong arrangements.

Works by Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams’ students Imogen Holst and Elizabeth Maconchy will demonstrate Vaughan Williams’ influence on succeeding generations.

Finally, selections from the motets and anthems of Thomas Tallis exemplify Vaughan Williams’ debt to his English predecessors, notably Tallis’ “Third Mode Psalm Tune,” the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

Joining the WCC in this performance are violinist Leanne League, associate concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Advance tickets are available for $15 from http://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; of a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and of world-premieres. Dr. Robert Gehrenbeck, who teaches and directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.

Gehrenbeck recently agreed to an email Q&A about the upcoming concer.

Yesterday, Part 1 appeared. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/classical-music-qa-choral-director-robert-gehrenbeck-talks-about-how-british-composer-ralph-vaughan-williams-sparked-two-renaissances-or-revivals-you-can-hear-the-results-when-the-wisconsin-cha/

Today’s post features the second and last part of the Q&A.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

What are your favorite works –- choral or otherwise — by Vaughan Williams, ones you would recommend to those listeners who don’t know him?

Many discussions of Vaughan Williams’ body of works start with his visionary orchestral work, the “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” from 1910. The “theme” of this work is a choral psalm tune in the Phrygian mode by Tallis (below) that Vaughan Williams discovered while working as music editor for the 1906 “English Hymnal.” (The WCC’s concert includes this Tallis work in its original form, using words from the English Hymnal.)

Not only did Vaughan Williams borrow Tallis’ melody, but, more importantly, his harmony, which is full of jarring cross relations, such as E-minor juxtaposed with E-major. Throughout his “Fantasia” — and throughout his career —Vaughan Williams exploited and extended this harmony based on what I like to call “consonances in unusual relation” (that’s a quote from the Grove Dictionary article on an obscure English composer named Alan Bush).

Thomas Tallis

Unlike his contemporaries who developed increasingly chromatic music around the same time, Vaughan Williams stuck with simple triads but subjected them to various sorts of modern treatments, especially by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated chords, as in the 1910 Fantasia.

Finally, the form of this piece is not, as one might expect, a theme and variations scheme, but rather a free, rhapsodic meditation on the ethos of Tallis’ tune, somewhat in the style of an Elizabethan keyboard fantasia by William Byrd.

So it is that in this work, we have the characteristics of Vaughan Williams’ mature style in a nutshell — a melody-based form that develops freely, rather than predictably, whose harmonic language is based on new, modally inspired ways of using common chords.

The overall effect is mysterious, awe-inspiring, and revelatory. The young Herbert Howells (below) was so awestruck by the premiere performance that he spent the rest of the night pacing the streets of Gloucester, trying to digest what he had heard.

herbert howells autograph

As I mentioned above, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, and several of these are favorites of mine, particularly the first, sixth, and ninth. His first symphony is a choral-orchestral masterpiece (following the examples of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler). It’s called “A Sea Symphony,” with a libretto based on the poetry of Walt Whitman (below).

Completed the year before the Tallis “Fantasia,” this score gives voice to the muscular, optimistic humanism of Whitman’s poetry in triadic eruptions that stir the soul. I don’t claim to know all of Vaughan Williams’ music by any means, but, like many others, I am also a fan of his sixth symphony, composed in the aftermath of World War II and premiered in 1948, soon becoming the most popular English symphony of all time. The change in Vaughan Williams’ style during the 40-year period between his first and sixth symphonies is startling.

Walt Whitman 2

The sixth provides a good rebuttal to those who claim that Vaughan Williams remained a reactionary, rather than a modern composer. It’s full of dissonance and gnawing ostinatos that create an atmosphere of unease and dislocation, which seemed to fit the post-Hiroshima age — including our own times — extremely well.

The long final movement is marked “pianissimo, senza expressivo” (very quietly, without expression) throughout, eventually dissolving into a weird undulation between two unrelated triads, E-flat major and E-minor. Such a concluding movement is exactly the opposite of what traditional symphonic form leads listeners to expect. It’s one of the most eerie moments in the entire symphonic repertoire.

I’m afraid I’ll have to save a discussion of other orchestral works for another day, but I do want to mention a few additional favorite choral works: the war-time oratorio “Dona Nobis Pacem” (another Whitman libretto), the rarely heard oratorio “Sancta civitas” (libretto from the Book of Revelation), and the late “Three Shakespeare Songs” for unaccompanied choir. Several other favorite works of mine are on the WCC’s concert, so I’ll discuss them next.

shakespeare BW

What would you like the public to know about the specific composers and works on the program, and why you chose them?

We are looking forward to performing what I think is Vaughan Williams’ most inspired setting of William Shakespeare, his “Serenade to Music,” composed in 1938. Vaughan Williams adapted his libretto from Lorenzo’s meditation on the power of music to mediate between human passion and the harmony of the spheres in “The Merchant of Venice,” Act V

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony….

Thus begins Vaughan Williams’ one-movement nocturne featuring some of his most lovely melodies, exquisite modulations, and ethereal scoring. The original version was for 16 solo singers and orchestra, so we will alternate between multiple soloists from the choir with the full chorus singing the tutti passages. Our fabulous organist, Mark Brampton Smith (below top), is responsible for most of the orchestration, Leanne League, who is the associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and a violinist with the Ancora String Quartet, is joining us to perform the original solo violin part. (You can hear “The Serenade to Music” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Brampton Smith

leanne league

The remainder of our program draws on the rich a cappella repertoire of Vaughan Williams and several of his followers.

We’re doing two movements from his incredible Mass in G minor, which he wrote in 1921 in response to the revival of the sacred music of Byrd and Tallis at Westminster Cathedral. We’ll precede that work with an actual motet by Tallis, “Mihi autem nimis.”

In addition to the Serenade, the second half of our program features folk song settings by both Vaughan Williams and his closest friend, Gustav Holst (below), including Holst’s justifiably famous “I Love My Love,” based on a Dorian-mode tune. This piece is one of the absolute masterpieces in the genre of choral folksong arrangements.

Gustav Holst

From Vaughan Williams’ numerous additional “friends” (composers who were all literally good friends of his) we have chosen Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst’s daughter Imogen Holst (below top) and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom). Howells is represented by the “Jubilate” movement from his “Collegium Regale Service,” a set of Anglican canticles he composed in 1945 for King’s College in Cambridge.

The flowing melodies, modally flavored harmonies and Howells’ expert control of pacing in this work are all reminders of Vaughan Williams’ influence. Imogen Holst (below) was the only child of Gustav and Isobel Holst, and an important composer, conductor, writer, and organizer of musical festivals in her own right. Her teachers included both Howells and Vaughan Williams, and she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten during her later years.

We will perform Holst’s “Hymne to Christ,” a luminous setting of a poem by John Donne.

Imogen Holst

Finally, Elizabeth Maconchy was another of Vaughan Williams’ students and a classmate of Imogen Holst. Maconchy (below) is best known for her chamber music, but also composed operas and a significant body of choral music. We have chosen two movements from a 1979 work called “Creatures,” settings of poems written for children about various animals and their foibles.

The music of “Cat’s Funeral” is an example of the English predilection for “consonances in unusual relation” that I mentioned earlier. The string of unexpected, descending minor triads that opens this movement creates a mood of exaggerated pathos perfectly matched to the poem. The other movement is “The Hen and the Carp,” a humorous dialogue that doubles as social commentary.

elizabeth maconchy

What are the current plans and future projects including programs for next season, for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir?

We are very excited about our upcoming season. On December 19, 2014 we will present “Wolcum Yole,” a Christmas-themed concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” and on April 18 and 19, 2015, we will perform Brahms’ “German” Requiem with full orchestra. Also featured on the April concerts will be the world premiere of a piece we have commissioned from English composer Giles Swayne, called “Our Orphan Souls.” Swayne has chosen an excerpt from chapter 114 of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” as his text, and his piece will be scored for two soloists and choir with alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Swayne (below, in a photo by Alice Williamson) plans to begin writing this piece next month, and I’m eagerly anticipating receiving the completed score in the fall. An interesting connection to our current season is that Swayne’s first composition teacher was Elizabeth Maconchy, who was his mother’s cousin.

giles swayne CR Alice Williamson

 

 

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