The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Trevor Stephenson announces the new season of the Madison Bach Musicians on YouTube. It features smaller concerts and familiar comfort music

May 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many concerts are being canceled, it is especially welcome when a local ensemble announces plans for the 2020-21 season.

To announce the 17th season of the Madison Bach Musicians — a period-instrument group that uses historically informed performance practices — the founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who also plays the harpsichord, fortepiano and piano, has made and posted a 13-1/2 minute YouTube video.

The season will also be posted on the MBM website in early June, and will also be announced with more details about times and ticket prices via email and postal mailings.

In the video, Stephenson plays the harpsichord. He opens the video with the familiar Aria from the “Goldberg” Variations and closes with two contrasting Gavottes from the English Suite in G minor.

As usual, Stephenson offers insights in the programs that feature some very well-known and appealing works that are sure to attract audiences anxious to once again experience the comfort of hearing familiar music performed live.

One thing Stephenson does not say is that there seems to be fewer ambitious programs and fewer imported guest artists. It’s only a guess, but The Ear suspects that that is because it is less expensive to stage smaller concerts and it also allows for easier cancellation, should that be required by a continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

If the speculation proves true, such an adaptive move is smart and makes great sense artistically, financially and socially given the coronavirus public health crisis.

After all, this past spring the MBM had to cancel a much anticipated, expensive and very ambitious production, with many out-of-town guests artists, of the “Vespers of 1610” by Claudio Monteverdi. Nonetheless, MBM tried to pay as much as it could afford to the musicians, who are unsalaried “gig” workers who usually don’t qualify for unemployment payments.

“Hope and Joy” is a timely, welcome and much-needed theme of the new season.

The new season starts on Saturday night, Oct. 3, at Grace Episcopal Church downtown on the Capitol Square, and then Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

The program is Haydn and Mozart: songs composed in English and German by Haydn plus songs by Mozart; the great violin sonata in E minor by Mozart; and two keyboard trios, one in C major by Haydn and one in G major by Mozart.

Only four players will be required. They include: Stephenson on the fortepiano; concertmaster Kangwon Kim on baroque violin; James Waldo on a Classical-era cello; and soprano Morgan Balfour (below), who won the 2019 Handel Aria Competition in Madison.

On Saturday night, Dec. 12, in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall Stadium, MBM will perform its 10th annual holiday concert of seasonal music.

The program includes several selections from the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach; a Vivaldi concerto for bassoon with UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) as soloist; and the popular “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

On Saturday night, April 24, at Grace Episcopal Church and Sunday afternoon, April 25, at Holy Wisdom Monastery, the MBM will perform a concert of German Baroque masterworks with the internationally renowned baroque violinist Marc Destrubé (below).

The program features Handel and Bach but also composers who are not often played today but who were well known to and respected by Bach and his contemporaries.

Specifically, there will be a suite by Christoph Graupner (below top) and a work by Carl Heinrich Graun (below bottom).

There will also be a concerto grosso by George Frideric Handel and two very well-known concertos by Bach – the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Concerto for Two Violins.

Here is the complete video:

What do you think of the Madison Bach Musicians’ new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Merry Christmas from The Ear and Johann Sebastian Bach, who gave us the gift of his “Christmas Oratorio.” What is your favorite Christmas music?

December 25, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day 2015.

ChristmasTreeBranch.j

The Ear has only a few words, but a lot of music, to offer.

First, he wants to thank all his readers for the ongoing gift of their eyes, ears and attention as well as their comments.

In return, The Ear is offering his readers his favorite Christmas music.

He loves it more than more popular works such as “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel or the “Christmas” Concerto by Arcangelo Corelli, more than so much other holiday music.

It is Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, which is not really an oratorio but rather a series of six interconnected Christmas cantatas that do not get performed live very often.

It is performed superbly below in a YouTube video by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in a superb performance that comes from their worldwide Bach Cantata Pilgrimage.

Listen to it for the energetic and brassy opening movement.

Listen to it for various other wonderful moments, including the lovely Sinfonia.

Listen to it for the gorgeous solo and choral singing.

Listen to it in its entirety or in parts.

Stream it on or around Christmas Day.

But listen to it, now or later, especially if you don’t already know it.

And be sure to let us know in the COMMENT section what your favorite piece of Christmas music is.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson explains why Baroque music sounds so good at holiday time. His Madison Bach Musicians will perform their annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Corelli and Telemann this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FTREE concert Thursday night at 7:0 p.m. and at noon on Friday you can hear a FREE performance of two sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven.

December 9, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW -Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of 20th-century music by Henry Cowell, Irving Fine, Robert Muczynski, Alan Hovhaness and Elliott Carter. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in two sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 30, No. 1, and Op. 96.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians and guest soloists will perform their annual Baroque Holiday concert. (Below is a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the 2014 concert in the same venue.)

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

The concert is at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are $23-$28 and can be purchased at the door, with discounts in advance at certain outlets or online.

For more information, visit the MBM website at:

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

Trevor Stephenson, who is a master explainer and who will give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m., recently spoke via email to The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This is the fifth annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Generally speaking, what is your goal when you program for it?

The idea of the Baroque Holiday Concert is to present an interesting and varied program of Baroque and Renaissance music, some of which pertains to the holiday season and to winter itself.

More importantly we try to program outstanding pieces that Madison audiences may not have had a chance to hear very often in live performance, particularly, played on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2012

Why is Baroque music so popular at the holidays? What is it about the music itself that makes it feel so appropriate to the occasion?

Baroque music, whether it is written specifically for the holidays or not, does indeed sound terrific this time of year. I think the baroque style really strikes the right balance between energy and form — a perfect marriage of theater and church.

The Bach cantatas, two of which we’ll be playing on this upcoming concert, are perhaps the strongest examples of this fusion. The bearing of these pieces is always devotional, while the compositional technique—the process of invention in them—is always searching, exploratory, even avant-garde.

Look at the opening of Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come Savior of the Heavens) where Bach (below) begins by firing up a martial-sounding dotted-rhythm French overture and then layers in the voices, one at a time, in long moaning tonally-veering chant lines. And yet, this all seems to operate within a framework that can accommodate it.

Bach1

Briefly and in non-specialist terms, what would you like the public to know about each of the works?

In addition to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 61, the more grand-scale Advent Cantata discussed above, we’ll also be presenting the more intimate Cantata 151, Süßer trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet Comfort, My Jesus Comes) composed for the third day of Christmas), which opens with an elegant and extended aria for soprano and obbligato baroque flute. We’re thrilled that this will be performed by outstanding soprano Chelsea Morris and baroque flutist extraordinaire Linda Pereksta.

We’ll also perform the rightly beloved “Christmas” Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, by Arcangelo Corelli. The melodic material, the sequential dance-movement structure and the unsurpassed beauty of the string writing in this concerto grosso are perfect in the extreme. MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim will lead this from the first violin.

By the way, if you’re familiar with Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Master and Commander you’ll notice that the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto pops up a couple of times in the movie score. (You can hear the “Christmas” Concerto, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

Also on the program is Telemann’s E minor quartet from Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik, literally “table music” refers to the domestic and unassuming everyday quality of the writing. Chelsea Morris (below) will also perform three movements from George Frideric Handel’s Gloria.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Other musicians featured on the program are alto Margaret Fox, tenor William Ottow, bass Luke MacMillan, violinists Brandi Berry, Nathan Giglierano, and Olivia Cottrell, violists Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr, cellists Martha Vallon and Andrew Briggs, and (yours truly) harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson.

I’ll also give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. about the music, the composers and the period instruments.

Is there something else you would like to say about the works or the performers?

I’d also like to mention that the concert will be given in the wonderful sanctuary of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. The acoustics there are absolutely terrific. Wisconsin Public Radio will be recording the concert and will broadcast it later in the holiday season, date to be announced.


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians announces its new season, which includes “Messiah”

September 15, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Trevor Stephenson, the founder, artistic director and keyboardist of the Madison Bach Musicians, writes:

Dear Friends,

Summer has wound down and Madison Bach Musicians (below) is gearing up for a wonderful concert season: 2015-16 will be our 12th year. Thanks for all your support and encouragement!

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

We’ll open on Oct. 3 and 4 with Baroque Concertos: Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Biber, Leonardo Leo and Antonio Vivaldi.

Our Dec. 12, our Baroque Holiday Concert will feature two outstanding seasonal Cantatas by J.S. Bach (BWV 61 and 151), Arcangelo Corelli‘s Christmas Concerto (at bottom in a YouTube video), and Georg Philipp Telemann‘s Tafelmusik Quartet for baroque flute and strings.

The grand finale for the season on April 8 and 10 will be two performances of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” featuring an all-baroque orchestra, eight outstanding vocal soloists, and singers from the Madison Boy Choir (part of Madison Youth Choirs).

Season subscriptions are available until Sept. 21 — online or mail order only. Subscribers receive: Significant savings on ticket prices; priority seating in the first several rows; and invitations to special subscriber lecture events.

You can find out more information and order tickets online at our website www.madisonbachmusicians.org or mail in your season subscription order form and check. Go to “Concerts – Season Overview” on our website to print out our season brochure for the order form.

Tickets for individual concerts are also now available online and at all of our ticket outlet locations: Orange Tree Imports, Willy Street Co-op (east and west), Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own bookstore.

We look forward to seeing you at the concerts!

For more information, visit www.madisonbachmusicians.org and www.trevorstephenson.com.

You can also call (608) 238-6092.


Classical music: On Christmas Day, YOU MUST HEAR THIS – “The Shepherd’s Farewell” chorus from the oratorio “L’Enfance du Christ” by Hector Berlioz.

December 25, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2014.

As this year’s gift, The Ear wants to share something special.

It is a work that usually gets drowned out at Christmas time by more familiar works — from “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti and the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

The work I am talking about is the “Shepherd’s Farewell” to the infant Jesus whose family — Virgin Mary and father Joseph — must flee its homeland in face of the death threats posed by King Herod.

It comes from “L’Enfance du Christ” (The Childhood of Jesus) by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). The story goes that he was bored at a dinner party and sketched it out on a linen napkin.

berlioz

True story or not, the music is gloriously beautiful, calm and reassuring — in an appropriately pastoral way. This neglected chorus -– in fact, the whole neglected oratorio — deserves to be a much more integral part of Christmas celebrations.

Maybe in future years, Hector Berlioz’ “L’Enfance du Christ” could be performed, in part or in its entirety, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. It would make a wonderful holiday addition, or even tradition.

Anyway, you listen and you decide.

Then tell us what you think in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

So here is the music, in a YouTube video at the bottom, running just under 5 minutes.

Enjoy.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!


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