The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Choral Project will sing and celebrate young people’s “Hope for the Future” at its concerts this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

December 13, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Christmas is for the children, goes the old saying — and in more than one way such as gift-giving. The birth of Jesus represents the birth of hope and salvation in Christianity.

Other holiday traditions can claim the same — the extra light theme of Hanukkah in Judaism and the harvest theme of the African celebration of Kwanzaa, for example — and of course the New Year will soon be here with its promise of hope and change.

Now the critically acclaimed and professional Madison Choral Project (below top, in a photo by Ilana Natasha) and its founder, artistic director and conductor Albert Pinsonneault – who used to teach at Edgewood College and now works at Northwestern University near Chicago while living in Madison – has taken that saying to a new level and given it new meaning.

You can hear the results for yourself this Saturday night, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Dec, 16, at 3 p.m. in Madison, and at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, Dec. 18, in Milwaukee.

The Madison performances are at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. The Milwaukee performance is at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 812 Jackson St.

Tickets are $24 in advance online; $28 at the door. Students with ID are $10. Preferred seating is $40.

The theme of the sixth holiday concert by MCP is “Hope in the Future,” which is relevant at any time but seems particularly so this year. So it includes specially commissioned writings by young people, middle school and high school students from grades 6 through 12. Their work will be read by Noah Ovshinsky (below), the news director at Wisconsin Public Radio.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so The Ear wants instead to direct you to a fine story about the MCP concert by reporter Gayle Worland for The Wisconsin State Journal.

There you will find out much more about the identities of the young writers, with a couple of examples of their work, and the inspiration or background of the theme that Pinsonneault (below) came up with.

Here is a link:

https://madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/madison-choral-project-offers-young-vision-of-hope/article_9aff921e-2446-51d7-9c8c-5195e41f4b32.html

Unfortunately, what you will not find in that story or at the MCP’s home web page is the music program. No composers or specific works are mentioned.

But judging from past performances, you can count on outstanding repertoire of both classics and new music.

For more information about the MCP and its past concerts as well as it personnel and singers, go to: http://themcp.org

Here is a sample of the outstanding work by the Madison Choral Project:


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Classical music: UW Concert Choir performs a FREE concert with dancers on Friday night. Friday at noon a piano, viola and cello trio gives a FREE concert

November 17, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Morgan Walsh, violist Shannon Farley and pianist Kyle Johnson in music by Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Rebecca Clarke. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. on Friday night in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Choir (below top), under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who heads the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will give a FREE concert.

Guest dancers will join the singers.

Concert Choir

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Here is the program:

Laudibus in sanctis (Paraphrase of Psalm 150) by William Byrd

Choral Dances from “Gloriana” by Benjamin Britten (Text by William Plomer), as seen in the YouTube video at bottom

“Totentanz” (Dance of Death) by Hugo Distler (original dialogue by Johannes Klockig after the Lübeck Totentanz)

“Dance to My Daddy,” English folksong, arranged by Goff Richards

“Begin the Beguine” by Cole Porter, arranged by Andrew Carter

“Der Tanz” (The Dance) by Franz Schubert

“Verano Porteño” by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Oscar Escalada

“Fa una canzone” by Orazzio Vecchi


Classical music: The Ear likes very old Christmas music more than newer music. What do you prefer?

December 22, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year in the Madison area there are so many wonderful concerts with holiday themes performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Choral Project, the Madison Bach Musicians, Edgewood College and by many, many others  that you just can’t get to all of them.

And it doesn’t help if you have a winter cold or aren’t feeling well, as happened this year to The Ear.

But I did get to two memorable performances.

The first was the terrific annual Choral Prism holiday concert (below) put on at Luther Memorial Church by various choirs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They performed under several conductors, including Beverly Taylor, Bruce Gladstone, Anna Volodarskaya and Sara Guttenberg.

UW Prism 2014 singers 1

UW Prism 2014 crowd

The second was the satisfying “Welcome Yule” concert at Grace Episcopal Church by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir under conductor Robert Gehrenbeck, who also teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

WCC Welcome Yule 2014

Both events were excellent, and drew full and enthusiastic houses.

A lot of beautiful music in a wide variety of styles was offered by each of the two groups. That included homages to the St. Paul, Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below), who died at 64 this past year and who had close ties to Madison’s vocal groups that commissioned and performed his music. And because programs strive for ethnic diversity today, spirituals and jazz arrangements were also included. (I often cringe when I see something has been “arranged.”)

stephen paulus

But when all was said and done, the “winners” so to speak –- for The Ear at least -– were the old ones. I mean the very old ones, generally those works dating from the Medieval period and Renaissance period over the Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary eras with the Baroque falling somewhere in between.

Why did I like the old music so much?

One reason was the performances. The straight-ahead singing, mostly a cappella or unaccompanied but sometimes with a bit of percussive drum or lyrical harp added, was much more convincing than when I saw modern largely white singers stiffly swaying and awkwardly stomping their feet and clapping the hands to get into the swing of things and show some unconvincing imitation of gospel singing.

But I started thinking.

Maybe it goes back to the Bible and that old verse about “The Word made Flesh.”

That seems a much more successful formula for effective Christmas music than the modern approach, which I am starting to think of as “The Flesh made Word.”

That means that what gets to me is the very simplicity, the strength of the rhythms and melodies as well as the simpler harmonies and compositional techniques.

Simpler is simply better. No better proof was offered that a souped-up jazz arrangement of “Silent Night.” That venerable and quietly emotional carol cannot be improved upon by complicating it. Keep it simple. That seems to be the way to go. Another case of inferior “arranging,” I am afraid.

I think of the old Medieval hymns about a mother simply rocking her baby Jesus to sleep as she sings to him. Can there be anything more touching or poignant, more to the point or direct, especially at a historical period when there was no nighttime lighting and so many babies died.

More than nostalgia, such music offers the art of reducing things to the essential. And the essential, as the old composers seemed to know, is often the path to the universal.

Of course, the plain song or chant-like harmonies also add to the appeal.

But it still goes back to simplicity of the act and the simplicity of the metaphor.

That is why the great 20th-century modern English composer Benjamin Britten (below) used so many older carols in his “Ceremony of Carols” to such great effect.

Benjamin Britten

That is also why 100 times out of 100 I will prefer the simple 16th-century German tune “Lo how a Rose Ere Blooming” (at bottom in a YouTube video) over, say, the long and tedious “Magnificat” No. 20 with its overworked harmonies and complexities for chorus and organ by another 20th-century English composer Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

What do you make of the old music versus new music debate when it comes to holiday music?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

And what is your favorite local holiday concert  to recommend for next year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The 87th annual Christmas Concerts at Edgewood College are this Friday night and Saturday night. Plus, this week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at FUS features music for double reeds.

December 3, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature “Music for Double Reeds and Piano” with Scott Ellington, Ruth Dahlke, Willy Walter, Rozan Anderson and Ann Aschbacher playing music by Johannes Brahms, George Frideric Handel, Alyssa Morris and more. Double reed instruments include the bassoon, the oboe, the oboe d’amore and the English horn.

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood College Music Department will give the 87th annual Christmas concerts (below is a photo from last year’s concert) on this Friday night, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., and again on this Saturday night, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., in St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Edgewood College 86th Christmas concert

The evening of seasonal music will feature the Guitar Ensemble, Chamber Singers (at bottom in a YouTube video), Women’s Choir, Men’s Choir, Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble.

Sorry, The Ear has received no word on the program or specific works or composers to be performed.

According to a press release: “This annual Christmas celebration is one of the College’s oldest traditions. A highlight each year is the invitation for audience members to join in singing traditional carols.”

Tickets are $10, and seating is limited for this very popular annual event. Tickets must be purchased online in advance.

Please visit www.edgewood.edu.

All proceeds for these concerts benefit Edgewood College music students through the Edward Walters Music Scholarship Fund.

 

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Choral director Robert Gehrenbeck talks about how composer Ralph Vaughan Williams sparked TWO renaissances or revivals of British music. You can hear the results when the Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs works by Vaughan Williams and his followers this Saturday night. Part 1 of 2.

May 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

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

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

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.” (You can hear that “Fantasia” performed in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

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 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 concert:

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

Why did you choose to do a program based on the influence of Ralph Vaughan Williams (below)? How and why was he so influential?

First and foremost, the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams (below) music is extremely rewarding to perform — it’s thrilling for players, singers and audiences alike. He seemed to have a special knack for writing for voices, and he composed an enormous amount of vocal music, from folksong settings, hymn tunes, and solo songs to large-scale operas, oratorios and choral symphonies.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

He was the leading figure in the “English Renaissance” of the early 20th century, a movement that began with Sir Edward Elgar and which extended beyond Vaughan Williams to those he influenced, including Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, and Gerald Finzi (below).

Gerald Finzi 1

Even Benjamin Britten (below top) and Michael Tippet (below bottom), although they consciously distanced themselves from the style of Vaughan Williams, followed his pioneering embrace of earlier English composers as models, looking back to the luminaries of Tudor and Stuart periods for inspiration just as he did.

Benjamin Britten

tippett

It is as if the musical genius of Thomas Tallis (below top), William Byrd, and Henry Purcell (below bottom) was reawakened after a long slumber in the works of Vaughan Williams and his successors.

Thomas Tallis

purcell

How would you describe the individual musical style and historical importance of Ralph Vaughan Williams, especially given the modernist age?

The issue of Vaughan Williams’ relationship to musical modernism is an interesting one. It’s worth noting that Vaughan Williams, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Arnold Schoenberg, and Charles Ives were all born within two years of one another, between 1872 and 1874.

Although their music is vastly different, they all responded to a similar crisis facing composers after the heyday of the Romantic era -– namely, the challenge of writing music that would be original and distinctive while taking into account the fact that most concertgoers still embraced the Romantics.

One might call this the central dilemma of musical modernism: the need to break with the past while also acknowledging it.

Vaughan Williams’ response to this dilemma, while different from Schoenberg’s or Ives’, was nevertheless highly original and unique.

Comparing Vaughan Williams’ development to Schoenberg’s is instructive. Schoenberg (below) famously broke with tonality — an approach that Vaughan Williams vehemently rejected — but Schoenberg saw himself carrying on the tradition of Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, and he wrote in many of the same forms and used similar techniques as his German forebears. For Schoenberg, simply ignoring the music of late Romantics such as Brahms and Wagner was not an option; in the eyes of his German-speaking public, he was their competitor as much as their heir. Schoenberg thus felt compelled to transcend the highly chromatic musical language of Wagner by rejecting its central feature — tonality — while preserving its chromaticism and emotionalism.

Arnold Schoenberg

By virtue of geography, Vaughan Williams (as well as Rachmaninoff and Ives) did not feel so shackled to the legacy of German Romanticism. For composers on the periphery, as it were, rejecting the dominant German tradition and embracing native influences were virtues in the eyes of their compatriots, especially given the rise of nationalism throughout Europe during this period.

Thus, Vaughan Williams developed a kind of modernism that was infused with elements of his own English heritage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Vaughan Williams’ music owes very little to Wagner, but he does carry on the symphonic tradition of Ludwig van Beethoven (Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies too!); he was a great admirer (and conductor) of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top); and he was strongly influenced by Johannes Brahms (below bottom).

Bach1

brahms3

Crucially, Vaughan Williams’ abiding interest in English folksong, in Tudor polyphony, and in writing music that would speak to the common people resulted in a style that was uniquely his — more conservative than other composers’, perhaps, but no less original because of that fact.

Three of the main characteristics of Vaughan Williams’ mature style are the primacy of melody; the retention and enrichment of triadic harmony; and his interest in creating large-scale forms and dramatic tension through non-traditional means. I’ll attempt to illustrate these traits in my answer to the following question.

Tomorrow: Favorite works by Ralph Vaughn Williams; his influence on his contemporaries and his students; and plans by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for the next season.

 

 

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Classical music: Choral music, wind music and brass music add to the season-ending events this super-busy weekend.

April 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings more season-closers. The groups concluding their concert seasons include the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales; the Festival Choir of Madison; the UW Chamber Orchestra; and Edgewood College.

Here is a round-up of yet another busy weekend.

FRIDAY

On Friday afternoon, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., the last FREE Friday Noon Musicale of the season at the first Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature Driftless Winds, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville Faculty Reed Trio.

Members are Laura Medisky, oboe; Corey Mackey, clarinet; and Jacqueline Wilson, bassoon.

The program, performed in the historic Landmark Auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus, Jacques Ibert, Erwin Schulhoff and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Bring your lunch; coffee and tea are provided.

FUS1jake

On Friday night, the Madison Chamber Choir will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church (http://www.madisonchamberchoir.com) . It will be directed by Adam Kluck.

On Friday night, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, the University of Wisconsin-Stout Choirs come to Madison on a mini-tour, with a program titled “An Ode To The Bard: Shakespeare in Music.”

The concert will feature musical settings of Shakespeare’s words, popular music of his time (including tunes that are referenced in his plays), and works inspired by the legacy of William Shakespeare (below).

shakespeare BW

Performers include the Stout Symphonic Singers (an open-seat choir of about 30 singers) and the Stout Chamber Choir (an auditioned choir of 20 singers), both directed by composer-conductor Jerry Hui (below), with pianist Michaela Gifford.

Admission is free with a free-will donation welcomed.

Jerry Hui

 

SATURDAY

On Saturday at 11 a.m. at Oakwood Village West, 6209 Mineral Road, on Madison’s far west side, the UW-Stout Choirs will give a second performance of their Friday night program. See directly above.

On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University String Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under conductor Janet Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on a specific program.

Janet Jensen Katrin Talbot

On Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel at 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble will perform under the direction of Walter Rich and Daniel Wallach.  Included will be works by Paul Dukas, Jenkins, Williams, Van der Roost and Franz von Suppe.

Admission is $7 to benefit music scholarships at the college.

Walter Rich  Edgewood Concert Band 2013-3-22-Band

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., the FESTIVAL CHOIR OF MADISON (below) will conclude its 40th season in the 
First Baptist Church, 
518 North Franklin Avenue, in Madison. It will perform with the Pecatonica String Quartet and winds, and under the baton of artistic director Bryson Mortensen, who is the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County.

The program is entitled “Gloria” and features two Glorias: the well-known one by Antonio Vivaldi and a rarely heard one by Luigi Boccherini. A pre-concert lecture, begins at 6:30 p.m. The Ear hears there will also be an encore performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s “Ave Verum Corpus.”

Tickets are $18 general public, $14 for seniors and $8 for students if bought in advance – call (608) 274-7089; the day of the concert, tickets are $20, $15 and $10, respectively.

For more information, visit the link: http://festivalchoirmadison.org/index.htm

festivalchoir

On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Women’s Chorus and the University Chorus will perform a FREE concert under the direction of Anna Volodarskaya and Adam Kluck (below), respectively. Sorry, no word yet on a specific program.

Adam Kluck conducting

SUNDAY

On “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., members of the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will perform the second-to–last concert of that series this season. As always it will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio. The concert itself is FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3. Sorry, no word on a program.

SALProArteMay2010

On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band will perform a FREE concert under director Mike Leckrone (below). Sorry, no word on the program.

leckrone

On Sunday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Chamber Singers, Men’s Choir, Women’s Choir and Campus-Community Choir.

Kathleen Otterson (below) will conduct the Women’s Choir, while Albert Pinsonneault will lead the Chamber Singers, Campus-Community Choir, and Men’s Choir.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Pinsonneault (below) will also conduct the combined choirs and the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Te Deum.”

Admission is $7 to benefit music scholarships at Edgewood.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

On Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, the Lincoln Chamber Brass of Chicago will perform a FREE concert, just a week before they compete at the prestigious Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

All of them are members of Civic Orchestra of Chicago; at 21, the horn player already substitutes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Four are students at Northwestern University, the fifth at DePaul. Four of the five, including Ansel Norris, who was born in Madison and in high school studied with UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley, will attend the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival this summer.

Musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. 
The program includes Victor Ewald’s Brass Quintet No. 3; David Sampson’s “Morning Music”; Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” (arranged by Barker); and Giles Farnaby’s Suite of Dances.

Members (below, from left) are Ansel Norris and William Cooper, trumpets;
 Kevin Haseltine, horn; 
Joseph Peterson, trombone; and Scott Hartman, bass trombone.

For more information, visit: http://lincolnchamberbrass.wordpress.com/home/

lincoln chamber brass  madison shot

At 7:30 in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform its last concert of the season and its last concert before being either mothballed or terminated.

The performance is FREE and will be under the baton of director James Smith.

The program includes: Jacques Ibert’s “Hommage to Mozart”; Richard Strauss’ “Dance Suite After Francois Couperin”; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E Fat Major. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the first movement performed by the legendary conductor Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic.)

For more about the news significance of the event, here is a link to yesterday’s blog post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

uw chamber orchestra USE

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform a concert of Russian and Baltic music this Saturday night — in the shadow of political events and turmoil in Ukraine. Plus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Brass Quintet also performs a FREE concert of Bach, Gershwin and others on Saturday night.

March 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two fine and FREE concerts are on tap this Saturday night:

WISCONSIN CHAMBER CHOIR

On this Saturday night, March 29, in the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform its spring concert.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church (below top is the exterior, below bottom the acoustically terrific beautiful interior), located at the corner of West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

grace episcopal church inter

The concert features Russian music. But it worth noting that even an event this small and this local shows the ripples of the political situation in Ukraine where Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. Tickets are $15 for general admission; $10 for students. “Because of the situation in Ukraine (below), the choir made a decision to change the title of the concert from “Back to the U.S.S.R.” to just “Spring Concert,” the choir says. “We are confident the change will help our audience focus on the beautiful music and not current politics.”

Venezuela protest 2014

The riches of Russian choral music will be represented by selections from the Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below top) along with ravishingly beautiful works by  Alexander Grechaninov (below middle in 1912) and Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov (below bottom and at bottom in a YouTube video).

rachmaninoffyoung

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

Chesnokov mug

The scope widens to include sacred and secular music from various former Soviet Republics. Works by Veljo Tormis (below top) of Estonia), Pēteris Vasks of Latvia (below middle) and Vytautas Miškinis of Lithuania (below n bottom) exemplify the vibrant choral traditions of the Baltic states.

Tormis

Vasks

Miskinis portrait

Sacred and secular works from Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus round out this fascinating and varied program. There is also the possibility of something by the Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney (blew left and right, respectively) to bring things to a rousing close.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

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 1999, 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) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck

WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a 2013 performance photo by Jon Harlow) in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will perform a FREE concert on Saturday night, March 29,  8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Maidson campus.

WBQ members include John Aley, trumpet; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; John Stevens, tuba; and special guest Abby Stevens, soprano, who is the daughter of John Stevens, who is retiring this May.

The program offers “Distant Voices” by David Sampson; “Brass Calendar” by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach); “Contrapunctus” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and a selection of songs by George Gershwin sung by Abby Stevens.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2013 CR Jon Harlow

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will “wake up” listeners with a popular Bach Cantata and several other works at a holiday concert this Friday night. Plus, the Madison Opera gets an NEA grant to help stage Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” in the spring.

December 18, 2013
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NEWS: The Madison Opera has news to announce: It has been awarded a grant of $15,000 in the first round of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Fiscal Year 2014 funding. It is one of 895 nonprofit organizations nationwide – and one of only 34 opera companies – to receive an NEA Art Works grant. The grant will help support the Madison Opera’s Upper Midwest premiere production of Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking” on April 25 and 27, 2014. The Ear sends hearty congratulations!

By Jacob Stockinger 

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below top) will perform the program “Wake, Awake” featuring Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 140 on this Friday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church (below bottom is the acoustically superior interior)  on the corner of West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

MBM Grace altar

The concert of choral music will usher in the holiday season with J. S. Bach’s most famous cantata, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (“Wake, Awake, a Voice is Calling”), featuring some of the most beloved melodies by Bach (below). You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Bach1

Appearing with the WCC in this work is a stellar cast of soloists and Sinfonia Sacra, the WCC’s own professional orchestra.

Additional highlights of the concert include a set of hauntingly beautiful carols by Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below) and a new, visionary setting of O magnum mysterium by Juilliard School of Music composer Wayne Oquin.

stephen paulus

Further music for Advent and Christmas by Heinrich Schütz (bel0w), Gottfried Homilius (a student of Bach), William Mathias and  William Dawson round out the program, and a vocal Jazz arrangement of Go,Tell It On the Mountain brings the evening to a rousing close.

Heinrich Schutz

Advance tickets are available for $10 for students, and $15 for adults from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets; or at our local retail partners: Willy Street Coop East and West, and Orange Tree Imports.

Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.

Robert Gehrenbeck


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra deserves to be taken seriously by local symphony fans. Plus, Edgewood College’s FREE Fall Choral Concert is tonight at 7.

October 18, 2013
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ALERT: Tonight at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College presents its FREE Fall Choral Concert. The program includes the Chamber Singers and Men’s Choir under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), and the Women’s Choir under the direction of Kathleen Otterson.  This free concert will feature a diverse repertoire, including traditional Western, African and American Gospel works.

Albert Pissonneault 2

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

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) is trailblazing in a number of ways.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

For one thing, it regularly has its concerts on Wednesday evenings (though the one on December 23 will be on a Monday), thus avoiding contributing to the already impossible crush of weekend conflicts.

Second, like some other groups, it performs a program without intermission (and follows the concert with generous refreshments, below, and a chance to meet the musicians).  Under some circumstances, that kind of program could be hard on the performers, given no rest.  But it does make for a compact concert experience.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

On Wednesday night, the MCO opened its 2013-14 season, its fourth season, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School. And it sounded better than ever.

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

After some shuffling, the program had settled down to a familiar symphony, framed by two familiar overtures.

Hector Berlioz (below) took material from his opera “Benvenuto Cellini for his “Roman Carnival” concert overture.

berlioz

Maestro Steve Kurr (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) tends to favor somewhat leisurely tempos, but not always just to make things easier for the players. In the slow opening material the strings delivered a degree of confidence and suavity beyond anything I have heard from them before. And the whole orchestra easily managed the brisker tempo of the overtures fast and flashy later sections.

Steve Kurr 10-13 Margaret Barker 2

The meat in the hamburger, as it were, was the Fourth or “Italian” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn (below). Given the limited number of rehearsals the orchestra can manage, it works miracles. To be sure, it could use more, and the somewhat overtaxed sound of the strings, especially the violins, seemed not quite fully secure, at least in the first movement.  But that movement contains particularly difficult string writing, after all.

Mendelssohn

Conductor Kurr rightly included the movement’s repeat, too often ignored by many conductors (who thereby lose some lovely transitional moments). But the work went very well, overall, in an intelligently conceived and very handsomely played performance, a real pleasure to hear.

The final piece was by Richard Wagner (below), whose bicentennial is being marked this year: the overture to his opera “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.”  It is an absolute marvel of orchestral writing, and the Middleton players made it sound truly magnificent.  Particularly noticeable was progress in the brass section, which sounded more secure, better disciplined and balanced, than ever before, truly splendid.

Richard Wagner

Madisonians, listen up!  It can fairly be said that our area now has four orchestras to take seriously.

Not only the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, of course, but the UW Symphony Orchestra as the third, and the Middleton Community Orchestra as an honorable fourth. Madison’s concert-lovers who ignore their concerts are missing some very fine music-making!

Fore more information about attending, p;laying in and supporting the Middleton Community Orchestra, which is heard playing Johann Strauss Jr.’s famous “On the The Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz in a YouTube video at the bottom,  visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir celebrates the centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten this Saturday night, June 1, at 7:30 p.m.

May 30, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

To mark the centennial of the great modern British composer Benjamin Britten, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below top) will perform “Benjamin Britten and Friends.”

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

Special guest performers are the  Britten Choir (below, in a photo by Karen Holland) of the Madison Youth Choirs, conducted by Randal Swiggum.

Madison Youth Purcell and Britten Choirs cr Karen Holland

The concert is this Saturday night, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona, Wisconsin.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. They are available via Brown Paper Tickets or www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org or at the door.

Benjamin Britten (below, 1913-1976) was perhaps the greatest choral composer of the 20th century. In celebration of Britten’s 100th anniversary this year, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has assembled a delightful program featuring Britten’s quirky cantata, “Rejoice in the Lamb,” along with his rapturously beautiful “Five Flower Songs” (at bottom in a YouTube video).

Benjamin Britten

Complimenting Britten’s works are pieces by his “friends” (both figuratively and literally), including music by Arvo Pärt, Henry Purcell, Percy Grainger and Frank Bridge, who taught Britten. The Britten Choir of Madison Youth Choirs, conducted by Randal Swiggum (below), will make a special appearance performing music by Britten and others.

Randall Swiggum

Organist and pianist Mark Brampton Smith (below) joins the WCC performing the virtuoso keyboard parts in Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb and in several of Percy Grainger’s boisterous folksong arrangements.

Mark Brampton Smith

Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios from the Baroque and Classical eras, a cappella masterworks from various centuries, and world premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below), the director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the WCC’s Artistic Director.

Robert Gehrenbeck

 


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