The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On this Veterans Day, what music best marks today’s centennial of the armistice that ended World War I?

November 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

In August of 2014 the world marked the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.

It was supposed to be over by that Christmas.

It wasn’t. It lasted for more than four years.

It was supposed to be “The war to end all wars.”

It didn’t. In fact, most historians agree that World War I directly set up the conflicts and conditions that led to World War II.

It was supposed to be the war that “made the world safe for democracy.”

It didn’t do that either, although it did lead to the overthrow of many kings and royal rulers in Russia, Germany and Austria.

The one thing World War I did do was kill people, especially the trench-bound soldiers, on a scale never before seen. It was nothing short of a bloody meat grinder of a war that saw the introduction of air warfare and chemical warfare.

Four years later – today, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 – we mark the centennial of the armistice that, 100 years ago, that ended the war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

That is why the holiday was called Armistice Day before it became Veterans Day.

Anyway, what music is appropriate to the occasion?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, The Ear is giving you this link to the other centennial celebration post that mentioned , via links to other web sites, a lot of works and a lot of composers.

Many of those favorites remain relevant today — although Benjamin Britten’s epic War Requiem (you can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Samuel Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings (also at the bottom, conducted by Leonard Bernstein) still seem to tower over all the others.

Use this link to read about music and let us know what thoughts you have about the centennial of the armistice and the music you would listen to mark it.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/classical-music-as-we-mark-the-centennial-of-world-war-i-what-classical-music-should-we-think-of-and-listen-to-plus-check-up-on-the-last-day-of-wysos-10-day-tour-to-argentina/

And, finally, here is The Ear’s fervent hope that — given the rise of the far right and of populist, nationalistic politics here and around the globe — we are not working our way back to World War I rather than away from it.

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Classical music: What music best expresses the “bomb-cyclone” and Arctic blasts?

January 6, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Weather-wise, the past couple of weeks have been unforgettable and, in many ways, unbearable.

First, around Christmas, we had one bitterly cold Arctic blast.

Then after New Year’s Day came the massive “bomb-cyclone” that brought snow and ice, high winds and flooding, to the East Coast all the way from Florida to Maine.

Next came another Arctic blast – that put most of the country into the deep freeze with sub-zero temperatures that broke records over a century old.

(How, The Ear wonders, does the Arctic blast differ from the Polar Vortex of a few years ago? And who invents such colorful names that certainly seem new.)

Such extreme wintry weather has brought misery, hardship and even death to wherever it struck.

With luck, the coming week will see a return to more normal temperatures and more normal winter weather.

Still, the past few weeks got The Ear to wondering: What music best expresses such extreme kind of winter weather?

The highly virtuosic and aptly named “Winter Wind” Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, by Frederic Chopin came to mind. Its swirling notes suggest the howling wind and bitter cold while the minor-key melody has a certain dirge-like or funereal quality to it.

You can hear it played by Evgeny Kissin in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear is sure that many readers could suggest other musical depictions of extreme winter weather.

So please leave the name of the composer, the title of the work and, if possible, a link to a YouTube video performance at the bottom.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are recommendations for post-Christmas shopping

December 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it’s time to start using those gifts cards you got for Hanukkah,  Christmas and other holidays.

Or maybe just to treat yourself.

In any case, here are two more lists of top classical recordings of 2017.

Maybe you will find something of interest.

The first list has the Top 10 recordings chosen by National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. It has photo and sound samples:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/12/19/570182207/npr-musics-top-10-classical-albums-of-2017

And here is a list of the Top 10 from The Classical Review, along with some runners-up or honorable mentions:

http://theclassicalreview.com/2017/12/top-ten-recordings-of-2017/

Earlier in December this blog features other lists.

Here are links to some in case you need a reminder or want to compare lists and look for overlaps and agreement, such as the CD of piano music by Philip Glass in the YouTube video at the bottom:

Here are the nominations for the upcoming Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2018-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

Here is a list from critics for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

Here is a link to lists by the Chicago Tribune, Gramophone Magazine and Forbes magazine:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/16/classical-music-here-are-lists-of-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2017-as-named-by-the-new-york-times-the-chicago-tribune-forbes-magazine-and-gramophone-magazine/


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

December 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

Enjoy!

And Merry Christmas to all!


Classical music: Spend at least part of Christmas Eve with Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”

December 24, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Merry Christmas Eve, all.

The Ear hopes you can spend at least part of it with some sections of “The Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach — perhaps The Ear’s favorite holiday work.

Here it is, in a YouTube video with a spirited early music performance by the critically acclaimed, expert forces of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir:

What is your favorite holiday music?

Leave the name, the composer and, if possible, a link to a YouTube performance in the COMMENT section.

Cheers to all!


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra draws its largest crowd yet as it rings in the New Year with Viennese waltzes, ethnic dances and violin showpieces

December 22, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below)  had the last word of the December holiday season with a distinctly non-Christmas program.

To be sure, it was not a typical concert devoted to a tiny handful of major works. Rather, conductor Kyle Knox (below) devised something a cut above simplistic “pops” programming, with a clutch of nearly a dozen short works, each one of charm and substance—more like what Sir Thomas Beecham used to call “lollipops.”

The opener was a group of three selections from Tchaikovsky’s score for the ballet Swan Lake. There followed three of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms intermingled with two of the Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, in their orchestral versions.

The first half then closed with the first of two pieces featuring the conductor’s wife, violinist Naha Greenholtz (below), who is also the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This was a kind of mini-concerto tidbit by Tchaikovsky, his Danse Russe.

The high point of the program’s second half was the second violin solo for Greenholz. Ravel’s Tzigane is a contemplation of Gypsy style. It begins with a wild unaccompanied solo for the violin, to which the orchestra then joins in a colorful set of variations. Here the playing by Greenholz was simply dazzling.

(You can hear Ravel’s virtuosic “Tzigane” — played by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Otherwise, the second half of the program was a bit of old Vienna, via Johann Strauss II, perhaps hinting at that city’s famous New Year’s Concert.

Setting the scene was the overture to Die Fledermaus. Knox’s direction throughout showed a lot of hard work to bring off all the selections with precision, but I often felt that he strove mainly for exuberance at the cost of subtleties. Notably in this overture, it seemed to me that the strings, especially the violins, sounded a bit coarse, certainly below their best ensemble polish.

But doubts were certainly dispelled with one Strauss miniature, the Persian March, followed by that noblest of the composer’s achievements, the Kaiserwalzer or Emperor Waltz.

All in all, this worked as a responsible seasonal treat. It seemed to me that it drew the largest audience that the Middleton Community Orchestra has yet had, and this audience simply loved everything.

So, if you will, Happy New Year!


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will sing a varied holiday program about peace on Earth this coming Saturday night

December 13, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will sing its holiday concert featuring works about peace on Earth.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium, (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The holiday message of peace and good will to all people resonates across the centuries. Tragically, the proclamation, “Peace on earth” is every bit as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

WCC director and conductor Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the UW-Whitewater and who is celebrating his 10th season with the group, writes in his program notes to the concert:

“According to New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, “Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.” “This evening’s program by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir explores humanity’s yearning for peace through the centuries. 

The centerpiece of the WCC’s 2017 holiday concert is British composer Gerald Finzi’s exquisite retelling of the Christmas story, In terra pax, for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra. Baritone Brian Leeper (below top) and soprano Ann Baltes (below bottom) are among the featured soloists, performing with members of Sinfonia Sacra, the WCC’s professional orchestra.

In his own program notes, Finzi explained that the Nativity “becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Chrismas Eve, in our own familiar landscape.”

Finzi scholar Andrew Burn elaborates: “On New Year’s Eve, 1926, the 25-year old Gerald Finzi (below) joined the bell-ringers of the tiny church of St. Bartholomew perched on the crest of Chosen Hill, near Gloucester, as they rang in the New Year. For Finzi, the experience was unforgettable—the frosty starlit night with bells ringing out from churches far and near across the Severn valley—and from it sprang the orchestral New Year Music and [25 years later] In terra pax, his last major composition.

In terra pax is a masterpiece in miniature. Finzi’s pacifism is at its heart, and his belief that men and women of goodwill should live harmoniously together. Weaving through the music are three ideas: the pealing of the bells with their joyous message, a phrase from the carol The First Nowell, and the alleluia refrain from the hymn Lasst uns erfreuen (‘Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones”).”  (You can hear the opening of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Complementing Finzi’s music are two other works with instrumental accompaniment: Felix Mendelssohn’s moving prayer for peace, Verleih uns Frieden, and an energetic Gloria from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in A major.

Several more recent works bring the concert’s message up to date, including Cry Peace by Libby Larsen (below top) and the haunting Winter Solstice Carol by Giles Swayne (below bottom).

A varied selection of carol arrangements rounds out the program, including a resplendent setting of Silent Night by one of the WCC’s favorite composers, Peter Bloesch (below).

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

Advance tickets for the Dec. 16 performance are available for $20 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).

Tickets will also be available at the door for $25 ($10 for students).


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra deliver outstanding performances of great music by Mozart and Brahms

December 12, 2017
2 Comments

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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The program for the first concert this season by the UW Choral Union (below), mercifully, had nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, and just offered great music.

There were only two works, one by Brahms and the other by Mozart. Surefire!

Johannes Brahms composed three relatively short works for chorus, without soloists, and orchestra. Of these, I wish conductors would get busy with two of them in particular. The Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates) and Nänie are simply superb works by one of the greatest of all choral composers.

The third, the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54, I would rate just a bit lower for musical content, but that is the one of the three that is more frequently performed, and that was the one we heard.

That said, there is much quite beautiful music in the piece, which sets a poem of Friedrich Hölderlin that moves from anxiety to desperation. Brahms (below) preceded the choral setting with a serene introduction that—to satisfy his aesthetics if not the poet’s—he repeats at the end to restore order.

Conductor Beverley Taylor (below) employed rather broad tempos, but this enabled her to bring out some of the melodic material with great beauty.

And, with a chorus of some 124 singers, she was able to give the music tremendous sonority, if a bit at the price of German diction. With the very good UW Symphony Orchestra in fine fettle, too, this was an excellent performance that should alert listeners to neglected treasures.

The main work was the unfinished “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427, by Mozart (below). This is music inspired by the composer’s marriage and by the new (for him) artistic climate of Vienna. Even incomplete – it has a fragmentary “Credo” and is missing an “Agnus Dei”) — it still stands, with his also uncompleted Requiem, as a towering masterpiece of his sacred choral output.

Taylor displayed a fine feeling for both the overall and individual qualities of the work, projecting them with vigor and discipline.

There were four student soloists (below), with promising young voices.

But eventually the standout proved to be soprano Sarah Richardson (below). The operatic-style aria, “Et incarnatus est” from the “Credo” was apparently sung by Mozart’s wife in its preliminary performance, and is often heard as a separate solo number today. This was sung by Richardson (below) with skill and eloquence. (You can hear the aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This chorus was really a bit oversized for a work like this, but Taylor made it the real star of the performance, in singing with both power and precision.

A truly rewarding concert!


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform their seventh annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Vivaldi and Corelli this Saturday night

December 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians will perform their seventh annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below, in a 2014 photo by Kent Sweitzer) this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall stadium.

The concert will be preceded at 7:15 p.m. by a lecture by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below), who will talk about period instruments, the pieces and composers on the program, and historically informed performance practices.

The seasonal program features works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi.

Soprano Alisa Jordheim (below top) and baritone Joshua Copland (below bottom) will sing the solo parts in a cantata by Bach.

They will be joined by UW-Madison oboist Aaron Hill (below bottom) and a baroque string ensemble in Bach’s lyrical masterpiece Cantata BWV 32 Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (Dearest Jesus, My Desiring). A aria and a song by Bach will also be performed.

Also on the program is the rarely performed but electrifying chamber cantata or motet “In Furore iustissimae irae,” RV 626, by Vivaldi. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert will open with the Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 12, by Arcangelo Corelli.

The concert will conclude with MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim as the featured violin soloist in the Winter section from Vivaldi’s popular Four Seasons.

Advance-sale discount tickets are $30 for general admission and are available at Orange Tree Imports and the Willy Street Co-op (East and West).

Advance sale online tickets: www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $33 for the general public, $30 for seniors (65+). Student Rush tickets for $10 go on sale 30 minutes before the lecture at 6:45 p.m.

For more information, go to: www.madisonbachmusicians.org


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir perform Handel’s “Messiah” this Friday night

December 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was originally intended to be performed at Easter. But is there any piece of holiday music more reliable or more central to the Christmas repertoire than “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below bottom)?

It seems neither the performers nor the public ever tires of it. (You can hear the iconic “Hallelujah Chorus” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. “Messiah” returns for its eighth year at Blackhawk Church (below) past Madison’s far west side and located in Middleton.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), choirs and soloists will all perform under WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below).

Returning will be last year’s vocal quartet with the combined WCO Chorus and Festival Choir of Madison (below) under directors Scott Foss and Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov.

Tickets are $27. The event usually sells out.

For more information about how to obtain tickets as well as photos and extensive background about the soloists, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah/


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