The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.


Classical music: Did anyone else hear Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and think of Donald Trump’s America as well as Stalin’s Russia?

November 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has to agree with a knowledgeable friend.

If you heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under music director John DeMain, perform the famous Symphony No. 5 in D minor — the same key as Beethoven’s Ninth — by Dmitri Shostakovich almost two weeks ago, you heard a performance that rivals or surpasses any other one, live or recorded, you’ve probably heard.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The performance was nothing short of stunning. And it was especially moving, given its timing in coming right after the presidential election in which Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence won an upset surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

mike-pence-and-donald-trump

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

Was The Ear the only one who found himself thinking that the symphony proved an especially fitting, perhaps perfect, choice even though it was programmed a year ago? (You can hear the moving third movement, a lament with such pathos that people cried at its premiere, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was The Ear the only one who identified with Shostakovich, who felt an even deeper empathy with the oppressed composer (below), who, fearing with good reason the dictator Joseph Stalin and his reign of Terror in the USSR, always kept a small suitcase packed with pajamas and a toothbrush by the front door in case the KGB secret police came knocking at 3 a.m., the usual arrest hour?

dmitri shostakovich

The symphony is dark music for dark times. And The Ear hopes he wrong when he fears that America is headed for some dark times of its own, times when various people and members of our society will live in constant fear and dread of what they might suffer?

This is not to suggest that President-elect Donald Trump can be equated to the murderous Joseph Stalin (below), or the United States in 2016 to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

jospeh-stalin-2

But it is to suggest that some comparisons — if not equations — might be in order.

It is to suggest there will be a constant and unsettling anxiety in the US created by a new ruling order that seems based on insults and intolerance, that excludes and condemns what it doesn’t approve of, that seeks to suppress or destroy opposition?

Like Latino and Syrian immigrants.

Like Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians.

Like African-Americans, Native Americans and other non-whites.

Like poor people.

Like liberals and progressives, dissenters and protesters .

Like LGBT people.

Like women and women’s health advocates and organizations that favor reproductive rights.

The list could go on and on.

But you get the idea.

If either as a musician or an audience member you agree – or disagree – leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Summer Choir addresses current events with outstanding performances of great choral music

June 28, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who 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

For eight years, the Madison Summer Choir (below) has been giving an annual concert. This year’s, on Saturday night, under founder and conductor Ben Luedcke, was built around the theme “This is My Song! – Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.”

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with piano JWB

And, indeed, Luedcke (below) introduced most of the selections with pointed remarks, addressing issues faced today, and the need for making ours a better world.

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

The first part of the program began with the “big tune” from Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, set to English words. This was sung a cappella, while the four short items that followed had piano accompaniment.

Two of those pieces—by composers Stephen Chatman and Sven Lekberg—carried poems by Walt Whitman, while another, by Joan Szymko, set a text by Wendell Berry. But the gem of the set was a short partsong, An die Heimat (To my Homeland), by that truly great choral master, Johannes Brahms. 

After the intermission, the chorus of 66 voices was joined by an orchestra (below) of 32, for the musical plateau.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with orchestra JWB

Felix Mendelssohn is one of the handful of supreme choral composers (think of his oratorio Elijah!). As a warmer-upper, we were given his brief setting of Martin Luther’s translation of the Latin Dona nobis pacem as Verleih uns Frieden (Grant us Peace). (You can hear Mendelssohn’s beautiful “Verleih uns Frieden” in a YouTube video at the bottom)

But the true main event was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s unfairly neglected cantata, Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). This sets a ballad by Goethe portraying a band of Druids arranging to celebrate a holy solstice rite in the face of newly triumphant Christian intolerance. By making an unholy racket, they drive away their persecutors and launch the myth of St. Walburga’s Night (Walpurgisnacht, on April 30) as an occasion of Satanic rumpus (think Goethe’s and Gounod’s Faust).

The work calls for three solo singers (below), this time contralto Jessica Timman Schwefel, tenor Dan O’Dea, and baritone Ben Li (of whom the tenor was the most impressive). This score is one of striking dramatic effect and musical force, but it is too brief to find a place in most concert repertoire.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 3 soloists No. 2 JWB

Singers and players threw themselves into it with wonderful gusto under propulsive direction. We must thank Luedcke for giving us a rare chance to enjoy it.

The final piece was a movement from a choral symphony by Srul Irving Glick: making a truly splendid choral sound that, however, quite obliterated the uplifting words.

Overall, the program showed that Luedcke had nurtured, in a short time, a choir of nicely balanced and blended voices. With the best of their material, they made a wonderfully glowing sound.

One more example, then, of the quite stunning riches of Madison’s summer musical life!


Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.

Bach1

But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-easter

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/ten-classical-music-pieces-for-easter.html

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Conservative Republican presidential candidate and Evangelical Christian Ted Cruz wants to ban the tritone – or Devil’s chord – from classical music. NOT. Then again, maybe he does

March 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.

So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Sure, it’s a satire.

But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic  Church.

But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.

Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.

Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?

To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.

And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.

Here is the satire from submediant.com. It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.

http://www.submediant.com/2016/03/15/citing-evangelical-faith-ted-cruz-calls-to-ban-satanic-tritone/

And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:


Classical music: Let us now praise churches for providing concert venues.

January 4, 2016
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following message from a loyal reader and thinks it is worth passing on:

“Dear Ear,

“Two of your recent posts sing the praises of Wisconsin Public Radio.

“May I also suggest that we thank area churches?

“Not only do they provide concert venues for various groups, but their active promotion of music more generally — choirs, organ accompaniment — throughout the year is worth a blessing.

“On Christmas Eve, we went to the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the Madison Bach Musicians performing its annual Baroque holiday concert) to hear an abbreviated Nine Lessons and Carols.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

“We had the benefit of hymnals and for the first time for me could actually read or sing along with the service. Plus lighting dozens of candles in the darkness and wishing the congregation of the planet peace.”

The Ear couldn’t agree more and is happy to comply.

Quite a few churches or church-like organizations come immediately to mind.

There is the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below) with its FREE Friday Noon Musicales every week and its special concerts:

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

FUS1jake

There is the downtown Luther Memorial Church (below) where University of Wisconsin-Madison choirs hold their annual holiday concert and where the Madison Early Music Festival has performed:

luther memorial church madison

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

There is Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below) where the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra holds its annual performances of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah”:

BlackhawkMessiah

There is Grace Episcopal Church (below), on the Capitol Square, which is where the Wisconsin Chamber Choir held its concert this year of various settings of the Magnificat and which hosts the FREE Grace Presents series.

grace episcopal church ext

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

There is the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), on the near east side, that hosts the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Madison Bach Musicians.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

There is the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on the near west side, which hosts many different concerts and groups:

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

There is Holy Wisdom Monastery (below) in Middleton, which holds a variety of concerts and hosts the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in the summer.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

And even though it is now a landmark building rather than an active place of worship, there is the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park, where the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs.

Gates of Heaven

Thank you, all.

The Ear is sure there are many more that he is leaving out.

So he asks readers to please leave the names of other churches and concerts or musical events in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: An outstanding concert by two harpsichordists explores the rich Baroque repertoire of arrangements and transcriptions. Let’s hear more!

November 25, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: The will be NO free Friday Noon Musicale this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The musicales will resume on Dec. 4.

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 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

Trevor Stephenson (below left), the versatile founder, director and keyboard player of the Madison Bach Musicians, ventured another early music novelty last Saturday evening at the Madison Christian Community Hall on Old Sauk Road. (All performance photos are by John W. Barker.)

He and a colleague, Stephen Alltop (below right) from Northwestern University, braved our football traffic and our first snowstorm to bring their respective harpsichords for a joint program.

It was called “Music for Two Harpsichords,” but a better title would have been “Music for Two Harpsichordists.”

Stephenson and Alltop two harpsichords

The fact is, only one item on the program was actually written for two harpsichords playing together. This was the Concerto for Two Harpsichords  in C Major (BWV 1061), for which the string-ensemble parts are purely optional — and which were dispensed with in this case. (For the harpsichord-only version, see the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The two artists did play otherwise together, but in transcriptions.

They took several selections from Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which Rameau (below) himself adapted from purely harpsichord pieces into trios for harpsichord and two other instruments. But these were played in adaptations that turned the other instrument parts into a second harpsichord.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

And there was a transcription for two harpsichords of the Fandango finale from the Quintet No. 4 in D Major by Luigi Boccherini (below) for guitar and string quartet.

Boccherini with cello 1

In between these works there were solo keyboard segments.   Alltop played three of the Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and Stephenson played three of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 harpsichord sonatas.

For some extra spice, Tania Tandias (below), of local Flamenco dance activities, contributed some tambourine rhythms to a pair of the Rameau pieces, and she worked up a lot of castanet excitement in the Boccherini.

Tania Tandias

The two keyboard artists are each wonderful musicians, and obviously are compatible partners as well as gifted individual soloists. Alltop (below) matches Stephenson’s witty commentaries with wonderfully articulate and informed discussion.

Stephen Alltop speaks

Their two harpsichords are, inevitably, quite distinct in tone, so that it is possible to discern each player’s role. Fortunately, too, the Christian Community’s hall is moderate in size and intimate, a perfect acoustical setting for such keyboard playing.

The Stephenson-Alltop partnership deserves to continue. There is a lot of actual two-harpsichord literature out there. Francois Couperin wrote a good deal of music for the combination, as did a number of Elizabethan composers. It would be wonderful if such material could be explored in further ventures like this one, and by these two splendid artists.

Do remember the Madison Bach Musicians’ annual Baroque Holiday Concert, which features cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and music by Georg Philipp Telemann and Arcangelo Corelli. It will take place at 8 p.n. on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall. For more information, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/


Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?

npr

Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.

 


Classical music: Four “passion” chorales by J.S. Bach are perfect music to mark Easter and Passover. What music would you choose?

April 5, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend both Easter and Passover are being celebrated.

Perhaps the earliest Easter music I heard was by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the so-called “Passion Chorale” from the St. Matthew Passion.

Back then it seemed perfect music for the occasion.

It still does.

I suspect it always will.

It reaches into your heart and soul like no other music, even if you are not religious.

Bach1

It doesn’t matter whether it is the crucifixion of Jesus or the bondage of the Israelites under the Egyptians, the music suits the occasion of portraying the suffering some people inflict on other people.

That old music seems all the more timely, given the new religious conflicts and religion-based terrorism the world now confronts.

And now along comes a genius-like a cappella setting by Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe (below), who combines four different settings into a single work that is profoundly moving.

philippe herreweghe conbducting

Here it is, at the bottom in a YouTube video.

Listen for the glorious dissonances and the lovely part-singing.

Choral music just doesn’t get better, or more empathetic and compassionate.

Listen to it and tell me what you think.

Also tell us what music you prefer to mark this weekend’s spiritual and religious holidays.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover.


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