The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 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, who also took performance photos. 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

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.

MAYCO Karp CR JWB

What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org


Classical music: Percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion joins UW-Madison ceramic artist in making an MFA installation a “smashing success.”

May 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO — www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its fifth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance by Clocks in Motion.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also took the performance photos:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

On Sunday, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion performed as part of artist Jeannine Shinoda’s MFA Exhibition “The Collector’s Set” in what can only be described as a smashing success.

Shinoda’s exhibition consisted of a room filled with ceramic plates, cups and dishes suspended from the ceiling by strings (below), which the attendees were invited to cut, sending the dishes crashing to the concrete floor.

Clocks china hanging

The performance took place in an adjacent room, where it was counterpointed by the occasional crunching noise from the exhibition.

The four core members of Clocks (below) played an assortment of bowls, plates, cups, spoons and ceramic-shard wind chimes in a four-movement composition – his Opus 1 — by music director Sean Kleve. Composed as a set of rhythmic patterns and relative pitches before the instruments were chosen, the creatively scored work was orchestrated cooperatively by the ensemble for this eclectic assortment of pottery, played mostly with chopsticks.

Clocks playing china

It was structured in four movements. I quite enjoyed the lively second one in particular. A slightly eerie third movement made use of threaded metal rods that were scraped along the edges of the instruments to produce a sustained tone, and wind chimes made of broken plates and ceramic spoons (below).

Clocks china hanging spoons

One of the curiosities of the piece was discovering the range of sounds that can be produced from kitchenware — in particular, the gradual acclimation of the ear to the variety of pitches produced. The music seemed to coalesce out of the clatter of dishes and smashing china from the other room, emerging in minimalist rhythmic patterns and creative imitative passages.

All four parts were of equal importance, and each player could be seen taking the lead at various points — a sense of equality that is a hallmark of Clocks performances.

The fourth movement introduced a couple of small gongs, as though signaling that the grand finale was at hand. As the rest of the ensemble played, Dave Alcorn solemnly crossed in front and began the ritualistically choreographed conclusion — slowly and deliberately smashing the instruments.

The other three joined in with equal gravitas, sending plates and cups and bowls alike crashing to the ground. (The performers and audience, seen below, were equipped with protective eyewear for this portion of the work.)

Clocks China audience with goggles

As the last of the instruments were reduced to shattered fragments, the four musicians — straight-faced among stifled laughter from the audience — produced brooms and proceeded to sweep the remains into a single pile in the center of the stage, leaving the rooms silently when finished. They returned moments later to a standing ovation.

Clocks clean up china

Here in his first work, Kleve demonstrates a sophisticated ear for texture and a shrewd understanding of pacing, both key to crafting a musically satisfying work that does not leave the listener feeling that the whole thing was just a setup to the final gambit of breaking dishes — an admitted risk with such a performance piece.

Clocks china Sean Kleve score

One of the wonderful gifts of Clocks in Motion is its ability to focus the ear on the sounds of “found objects” — whether they are plates or brake drums or cow jawbones — and provide a framework for listening to them as musical.

And, as is so often the case with Clocks in Motion, their strength of commitment and musical integrity is such that the enthusiastic audience is drawn into the fabric of even the most outwardly implausible works — their striking “Percussion is Revolution” program in September 2013 was a powerful example.

Clocks chna audience applauding

It is a testament to Madison’s musical community and to the School of Music percussion program that we continue to host such a remarkable performing ensemble, and this innovative performance is just the latest feather in their collective cap.

A PERSONAL NOTE:

Clocks in Motion will be joining my own ensemble, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) on June 20 to open our fifth season, “Concerto Grosso!” It features the world premiere of UW-Madison graduate composer Jonathan Posthuma’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor for Percussion, Piano and Strings.

The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and tickets are $7 at the door with students admitted by donation).

The program will also feature UW-Madison Professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor; the American premiere of contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall‘s “Rain, Steam and Speed”; and the Symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le Matin” or Morning) by Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the sound painting that gives the symphony its nickname in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

 


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players end their 30th anniversary retrospective this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and other works.

May 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

A friend writes:

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have spent the 2014-2015 season – entitled “Reprise” — encoring performances of unique and much-loved musical works of art over their 30 years, as well as continuing their tradition of presenting memorable, neglected and newer chamber works to their audiences.

Their final concerts of the anniversary season – to be held this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon — highlight music from significant moments in the history of the ensemble.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 1

The concerts are this Saturday, May 23, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 24, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Village Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

The program includes works by American composer Aaron Copland, Danish composer Carl Nielsen, contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall and contemporary Italian composer Corrado Maria Saglietti.

Tickets are available at the door and cost $20 for adult general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

Guests for the final concert are Laura Burns (below top), Geri Nolden, Wendy Buehl, violins; Katrin Talbot, viola; Mark Bridges, cello; Bradley Townsend, string bass; and Scott Teeple (below bottom), conductor.

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Scott Teeple

The original version of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944), scored for 13 players, was first performed in concert by the Oakwood Chamber Players 25 years ago on stage at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This enduring and popular chamber work will be conducted by director of University of Wisconsin-Madison Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple. This chamber version of Appalachian Spring features 10 strings, flute, clarinet and bassoon. Originally commissioned by pioneering American modern dance choreographer Martha Graham (below top), this stunning compositional achievement earned Copland (below bottom) the Pulitzer Prize.

martha graham

aaron copland

In 2002, the Oakwood Chamber Players travelled to Washington D.C to represent the State of Wisconsin as artists for the 25th anniversary of the Kennedy Center.

Included in that concert by the group was Serenata Invano (1914), for clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello and string bass. The work was described by its composer Carl Nielsen (below top) as a “humorous trifle.” The Oakwood Chamber Players will be joined by guest bassist Bradley Townsend (below bottom) for this upbeat work.

Carl Nielsen at piano

Bradley Townsend

Two additional contemporary works of new music, performed for the first time by the Oakwood Chamber Players this season, will provide listeners with contrasting concepts on dance forms.

Italian composer and horn player Corrado Maria Saglietti (below) wrote his Suite for horn and string quartet (1992) in three movements. It features a sensual tango, a plaintive canzone and a jazz-influenced final movement with driving rhythms subtitled “Speedy,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Corrado Maria Saglietti

Not Just a Place, by contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) – who did a residency this winter at the UW-Madison School of Music — is written for the sultry tones of viola, double bass and piano. Subtitled “dark memories from an old tango hall,” the piece is based on late night impressions of an Argentinian dance hall and creates a mesmerizing atmosphere.

Cecilia McDowall 2

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: Award-winning British composer Cecilia McDowall to headline a three-day residency this week, with public workshops and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

February 17, 2015
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ALERT:  On this Wednesday, Feb. 18, at noon, British composer Cecilia McDowall will be featured live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM). On this Thursday morning on WORT Radio (89.9 FM), host Rich Samuels plans a half-hour special on McDowall that he pre-recorded with organizer UW-Madison professor of trumpet John Aley. It will be broadcast at 7:15 a.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

A major event involving new music and contemporary music is taking place this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Here is a round-up provided by the UW-Madison School of Music and concert manager Kathy Esposito: 

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), who in December was awarded the 2014 British Composer Award  (BCA) for Choral Composition, will visit UW-Madison’s School of Music this week for a three-day series of concerts and discussions.

Cecilia McDowall

The visit, to take place Thursday through Saturday, marks McDowall’s first United States residency and will include one colloquium and two concerts, all open to the public.

McDowall won the BCA prize for “Night Flight,” a work for a cappella choir and solo cello that honors Harriet Quimby (below), an aviatrix who was the first woman to fly over the English Channel. Download a BCA news release here. 

Harriet Quimby

“Night Flight” was premiered by the Phoenix Chorale, an Arizona ensemble that included a McDowall work on its 2008 Grammy-award winning CD, “Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary.”

Cecilia McDowall’s music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs and instrumental groups, including the BBC Singers, the Westminster Abbey Choir, the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She came to composition later in life, after raising two children, teaching and singing in choirs for many years. She holds a master’s degree in composition from Trinity College in London and is now a composer-in-residence at the Dulwich College, a pre-college school in London.

Listen to selected McDowall works on SoundCloud.  

You can also listen to a sample in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Writes Guy Rickards of Gramophone magazine: “Cecilia McDowall is another of the new generation of highly communicative musicians who, though often inspired by extra-musical influences, favors writing which, without being in any way facile, is brightly cogent, freshly witty and expressive in its own right.

“She often uses minimalist ostinatos – the spirit of Steve Reich hovers – but constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colors, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling. Each of the individual movements within her works is titled, sometimes descriptively, sometimes perhaps with tongue in cheek.”

On Friday, Feb. 20, in Mills Hall at UW-Madison, a student and faculty chamber orchestra (conducted by James Smith, below top), coupled with the university’s Madrigal Singers, conducted by Bruce Gladstone (below bottom), will perform the U.S. premiere of her work “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” (Read a review here.)

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

BruceGladstoneTalbot

“Seventy Degrees” is a cantata for solo voice (to be sung by faculty tenor James Doing, below), which McDowall composed in 2012 to commemorate the voyage of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic. Scott and crew members died while on that expedition; one hundred years later, the City of London Sinfonia and the Scott Polar Research Institute commissioned the music to honor Scott and his men.

James Doing color

As a twist, the concert will extend the polar theme with a slideshow and lobby presentation linking Antarctic research of yesterday with today’s, presented by Michael Duvernois (below) of UW-Madison’s IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Michael Duvernois

McDowall’s residency will also feature the piano playing of UW-Madison’s Christopher Taylor (below) performing McDowall’s “Tapsalteerie,” described by Gramophone as “ingenious play with a cradle song by the turn-­of-the-­century Aberdeenshire fiddler James Scott Skinner.”

Many other UW-Madison faculty musicians will also perform. Here is a link with details about other performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/

Taylor_Chris_piano01

Events include:

THURSDAY

At noon in Mills Hall.

Meet the composer at a free public colloquium.

The topic will be “The Effects of Extra-Musical Influences”: McDowall will discuss how she interweaves composition with events, past or present; with real, imagined or visual images; or as a response to the physical environment or written text.

FRIDAY

At 8 p,m. in Mills Hall.

Concert and Presentation: UW Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir, with a faculty/student chamber orchestra, featuring the U.S. premiere of “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” With Michael Duvernois of the UW IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Meet the composer and performers at a reception to follow in Mills Hall lobby.

Tickets: $20 adults, free for students. Tickets available via the Wisconsin Union Theater prior to show (online and in person) and on the day of show at Mills Hall.

Box office: http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Concert: Cool It — The Chamber Music of Cecilia McDowall.

Free concert.

For a link to this festival on our website, please see: http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/ 

For an interview:

http://www.boardroommum.com/interviews-archive/cecilia-mcdowall/


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