The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: J.S. Bach turns 330 on Saturday. At noon in Grace Episcopal Church, the Madison Bach Musicians mark the event with a FREE concert of baroque music. On SATURDAY night at 8 the Wisconsin Brass Quintet plays a FREE concert in Mills Hall. And on Sunday afternoon, Madison native pianist Kathryn Ananda-Owens performs a Mozart concerto at St. Olaf College, and the performance will be streamed live.

March 20, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Three items deserve attention today.

J.S. BACH TURNS 330 ON SATURDAY

This Saturday is the 330th birthday of composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). That means you can expect to hear a lot of Bach played on Wisconsin Public Radio and streamed by other radio stations and music institutions from around the country and world.

Bach1

To mark the occasion, the program “Grace Presents” – which takes place at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square – is presenting a FREE concert by the early music group the Madison Bach Musicians from noon to 1 p.m.

grace episcopal church ext

MBM Grace altar

Explains MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson: “Madison Bach Musicians (MBM) was formed to foster a love of music and to provide education about great music within the community. MBM is dedicated to presenting the music of Bach-as well as works by other great composers of the Baroque, Renaissance and Classical periods — to both the general public and to educational institutions through performances, lectures, and workshops.

“Bach’s music was chosen as a focal point because of its outstanding beauty, variety and profundity, and because it speaks with urgency to modern audiences.

In pursuit of the greatest clarity of musical texture, MBM performs primarily on period instruments, using historically informed performance practices, and the ensemble sizes are typical of those used by Bach himself. MBM provides a unique forum for experienced professional and exceptionally talented young professional musicians to work together in an exciting period performance style.”

Grace Presents is a FREE monthly concert series that takes place in the historic Grace Church on Madison’s Capitol Square. The series features a diverse range of music, everything from classical and folk to jazz and bluegrass.

Members of the Madison Bach Musicians (below) include: Kangwon Kim, baroque violin; Martha Vallon, viola da gamba and baroque cello; Chelsea Morris, soprano; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Here is the program for Saturday’s concert:

Sonata No. 4 in D major from Sonatae unarum fidium by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (below, 1623-1680)

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer

Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Adagio; Allegro ma non tanto; Andante;  Allegro moderato

Prelude & Fugue in E-flat minor, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I by Johann Sebastian Bach

Violin Sonata in F major, HWV 370, by George Frideric Handel (below, 1685-1759)

Adagio; Allegro;  Largo; Allegro

handel big 2

Recitative and Aria from “Ach Gott, wie manches HerzeleidBWV 58, by Johann Sebastian Bach. (You can hear the beautiful music in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Aria from “Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm” BWV 171, by J.S. Bach 

The harpsichord (below) to be played in Saturday’s concert was made by area instrument builder Norman Sheppard in 2009 and is modeled on a circa 1720 German double-manual instrument by Michael Mietke of Berlin, one that Bach bought and used.

PLEASE NOTE: Madison Bach Musicians will repeat the FREE concert on this Sunday, March 22, at 3 p.m. in the West Middleton Lutheran Church, 3763 Pioneer Road in Verona.

BrandenburgsHarpsichord

WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET PERFORMS SATURDAY NIGHT

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a photo by Megan Aley) performs a FREE concert SATURDAY night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall — NOT tonight as incorrectly first stated here.

The program includes music by William Mathias, James Stephenson, Anders Hillborg and Malcolm Arnold.

Here is a link to background about the members of the faculty ensemble that was founded in 1972 at the UW-Madison School of Music:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/wisconsin-brass-quintet-faculty-recital/

Here is link to the program:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2015-0321-WBQ.pdf

Wisconsin Brass Quintet on Mendota K. Esposito

ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MADISON-BORN PIANIST KATHRYN ANANDA-OWENS STREAMS MOZART’S D-MINOR PIANO CONCERTO WITH HER OWN CADENZAS

The following news has come to the attention of The Ear: Pianist Kathryn Ananda-Owens (below), is a graduate of James Madison Memorial High School on Madison’s far west side and the first winner of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition. She was promoted to full professor at St. Olaf College in February.

Kathryn Ananda-Owens, horizontal

On this Sunday at 3:30 p.m., with the St. Olaf Orchestra, she will perform the dark, dramatic and lovely Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) — with her own cadenzas. (The concert will be live-streamed. St. Olaf officials say to tune in 10 minutes ahead).

For anyone who might be interested, here is the link to the streaming part of the website, and scroll to March 22:

http://www.stolaf.edu/multimedia/streams/upcoming.cfm?category=concerts

By way of background, the Mozart piano concerto cadenzas were the study of Ananda-Owens’ doctoral dissertation and lecture recital at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore that is attached to Johns Hopkins University.

Mozart old 1782

Mozart wrote cadenzas for some, but not all, of his 27 piano concertos. No one else has analyzed the topic in-depth, and she is more than halfway through turning her dissertation into a book, thanks to a sabbatical during academic year 2012-13. She annually lectures at the Juilliard School (and occasionally at some other places, including internationally) on this topic.


Classical music: Pianist Shai Wosner explains why we don’t hear more Haydn and like his music more. This Friday night at 8, Wosner performs two piano concertos by Haydn with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

February 19, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater on the Overture Center, pianist Shai Wosner returns for a third time to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

The program is largely from the Classical era. Wosner will perform two piano concertos by Haydn – No. 4 in G Major and No. 11 in D major – and the orchestra will perform the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major by Franz Schubert. In addition, a 1955 Prelude and Fugue by the accessible, 20th-century neo-Romantic composer Vittorio Giannini (below) will be performed.

Vittorio Giannini

Tickets are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

The critically acclaimed Wosner, an Israeli native who studied at the Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax and who is now based in New York City, has previously performed Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven with the WCO.

Wosner recently agreed to a Q&A about this new program.

Shai Wosner color

The prize-winning American composer John Harbison has said that Haydn is the most underappreciated and most under-performed of the great composers. If you agree with that, why do you think that is and how do you feel about Haydn?

It is probably true. I can only guess what the reasons might be. Perhaps, over the centuries, his name has been eclipsed by that of Mozart (below), as the two are often lumped together in spite of the profound differences in their biographies and their music.

Where Mozart has irresistible melodies all over to disarm you at first hearing, with Haydn sometimes you have to get into the “groove” of the music first — perhaps a remnant from earlier music — and then once you do, you can find both great melodies as well as all kinds of twists and turns that can be just as gripping.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Humor, of course, is central to Haydn’s world and one can sometimes mistake that for lightheartedness. But the fact is that it is often just one layer of meaning and by all means not the only one.

If you open up to it, you quickly realize the depth and sincerity with which Haydn (below) speaks — just like spending time with a really great person who likes to tell jokes a lot, but whose immense life experience and understanding of the world soon comes through as well.

Haydn

What are your plans for performances and recordings? Do your plans include performing or recording more Haydn, maybe concertos, sonatas and chamber music works?

Yes, I hope to record concertos along with a few other pieces as well in the near future.

What would you like the public to know about the two piano concertos by Haydn — who always composed at the keyboard — that you will perform here and their individual character? How do they compare to each other?

The G Major concerto is somehow the more “earthy” one — perhaps it’s the association of the key itself, which tends to relate to all things “rustic.” (For example, Mozart’s peasants and servants tend to sing in G Major). It seems to have a rough edge to it, a certain naughtiness.

The popular D Major concerto, on the other hand, is more patrician — even with the Hungarian finale. It shimmers with golden light like the interior of some idyllic palazzo in midday. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the D Major concerto performed by famed pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, who was an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in the 1960s, and conductor Frans Bruggen.)

Haydn_3

How does Schubert go with Haydn? On your program, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also perform Schubert’s early Symphony No. 2 and you have recorded two CDs for the Onyx label that feature the music of Schubert. Clearly you feel a strong affinity with Schubert and have a point of view about him.

Schubert and Haydn are an interesting combination because early Schubert was very much influenced by Viennese Classicism, before Beethoven’s influence became much more dominant in his music.

At the same time, while Schubert (below) was using the same forms as Mozart and Haydn, they tend to come out very different under his hands, as if he couldn’t help it.

Most noticeable, I think, is the difference in energy.

In Haydn, to go back to the “groove,” there is a lot of raw rhythmic energy in fast movements and it helps to give shape to those movements as well.

In Schubert, on the other hand, even in fast movements, the overall shape tends to be much more contemplative, no matter quickly the notes go by.

Franz Schubert writing

This is your third appearance with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, with whom you have performed concerts by Mozart and Beethoven. What would you like to say about Madison audiences and the WCO?

I have been fortunate to meet very interesting people in Madison, and clearly the audiences are very dedicated and comprised of real music-lovers.

It is a wonderful thing that the city supports not only a symphony orchestra but also a chamber orchestra (below is a photo of the WCO) as well, which is, of course, a very different animal and unfortunately not a very common one any more.

WCO lobby

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I look forward to visiting Madison, of course!


Classical music: Here are the 2015 Grammy winners and the nominees for classical music. Pro Arte Quartet recording producer Judith Sherman wins again.

February 10, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The 2015 Grammy winners were announced Sunday night in a live three-hour broadcast.

The list of winners and nominees can be a good guide to new listening.

grammy award BIG

Of course most of the Grammy attention went to pop, rock, rap, country and the big selling music genres.

But here are the winners for classical music, along with the nominees and competition.

One thing to note: Producer of the Year again went to freelancer Judith Sherman (below).

Sherman will be in Madison again inn May to record the last two centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet. (Below, she is seen recording the first four commissions with the Pro Arte in Mills Hall.) The new recording includes the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Beat poem “Howl” by American composer Pierre Jalbert and Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3.

Judith Shermanjpeg

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Vaughan Williams (below): Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark AscendingMichael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus). Label: ASO Media

Adams, John: City Noir. Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony); Label: Nonesuch

Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean. Dmitriy Lipay & Nathaniel Reichman, engineers; Nathaniel Reichman, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Cantaloupe Music

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne. David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Label: CSO Resound

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Judith Sherman (below)

  • Beethoven: Cello & Piano Complete (Fischer Duo)
  • Brahms By Heart (Chiara String Quartet)
  • Composing America (Lark Quartet)
  • Divergence (Plattform K + K Vienna)
  • The Good Song (Thomas Meglioranza)
  • Mozart & Brahms: Clarinet Quintets (Anthony McGill & Pacifica Quartet)
  • Snapshot (American Brass Quintet)
  • Two X Four (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble)
  • Wagner Without Words (Williams)

Morten Lindberg

  • Beppe: Remote Galaxy (Vladimir Ashkenazy & Philharmonia Orchestra)
  • Dyrud: Out Of Darkness (Vivianne Sydnes & Nidaros Cathedral Choir)
  • Ja, Vi Elsker (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, Ingar Bergby, Staff Band Of The Norwegian Armed Forces & Schola Cantorum)
  • Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (Ingar Bergby & Royal Norwegian Navy Band)

Dmitriy Lipay

  • Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Fauré: Masques Et Bergamasques; Pelléas Et Mélisande; Dolly (Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Chorale & Seattle Symphony)
  • Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione; Five Pieces For String Orchestra (Gerard Schwarz & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ives: Symphony No. 2; Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American In Paris (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ravel: Orchestral Works; Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)

Elaine Martone

  • Hallowed Ground (Louis Langrée, Maya Angelou, Nathan Wyatt & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (Benjamin Zander, Stefan Bevier, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola (Robert Spano & Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus)

David Starobin

  • All The Things You Are (Leon Fleisher)
  • Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16 (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001)
  • Game Of Attrition – Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2 (Jac Van Steen & BBC National Orchestra Of Wales)
  • Haydn, Beethoven & Schubert (Gilbert Kalish)
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos, No. 12, K. 414 & No. 23, K. 488 (Marianna Shirinyan, Scott Yoo & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Music Of Peter Lieberson, Vol. 3 (Scott Yoo, Roberto Diaz, Steven Beck & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Rochberg, Chihara & Rorem (Jerome Lowenthal)
  • Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18 & Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 (Joyce Yang, Alexander Lazarev & Odense Symphony Orchestra

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: Adams, John (below): City Noir.  David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony). Label: Nonesuch

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time.  Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Janáček: Symphonic Suite From Jenůfa. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). Label: Reference Recordings

Schumann: Symphonien 1-4. Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker). Label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola. Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). Label: ASO Media

John Adams

BEST OPERA RECORDING

WINNER: Charpentier (below): La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers. Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble). Label: CPO

Milhaud: L’Orestie D’Eschyle. Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford, Sidney Outlaw, Lori Phillips & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union). Label: Naxos

Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie. William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus). Label: Opus Arte

Schönberg: Moses Und Aron. Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad & Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie). Label: Hänssler Classic

Strauss: Elektra. Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Arend Prohmann, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden). Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Marc-Antoine Charpentier color

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: The Sacred Spirit Of Russia. Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Matthäus-Passion. René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Dyrud: Out Of Darkness. Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir). Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd).

Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter. Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus). Label: Chandos Records

Mozart: Requiem. John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort). Label: Linn Records

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

WINNER: In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores (below). Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dreams & Prayers. David Krakauer & A Far Cry. Label: Crier Records

Martinů: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3. Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen. Label: BIS

Partch: Castor & Pollux. Partch. Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Sing Thee Nowell. New York Polyphony. Label: BIS

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

WINNER: Play. Jason Vieaux. Label: Azica Records

All The Things You Are. Leon Fleisher. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

The Carnegie Recital. Daniil Trifonov. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dutilleux: Tout Un Monde Lointain. Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Toccatas. Jory Vinikour. Label: Sono Luminus

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

WINNER: Douce France. Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit). Label: Naïve

Porpora: Arias. Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato

Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin. Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist. Label: Onyx

Stella Di Napoli. Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon). Label: Erato/Warner Classics

Virtuoso Rossini Arias. Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra). Label: Delos

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

WINNER: Partch (below): Plectra & Percussion Dances. Partch; John Schneider, producer. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Britten To America. Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer. Label: NMC Recordings

Mieczysław Weinberg. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer, & Daniil Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica; Manfred Eicher, producer. Label: ECM New Series

Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet. Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer. Label: Adventure Music

The Solent – Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams. Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer. Label: Albion Records

harry partch

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

WINNER: Adams, John Luther (below): Become Ocean. John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Cantaloupe Music

Clyne, Anna: Prince Of Clouds. Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble). Track from: Two X Four. Label: Cedille Records

Crumb, George: Voices From The Heartland. George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001). Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Paulus, Stephen: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band. Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMASS Wind Ensemble). Track from: Fantastique – Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble. Label: MSR Classics

Sierra, Roberto: Sinfonía No. 4. Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval.  Label: Naxos

John Luther Adams

 


Classical music: Is there more to say about Beethoven and his music? Acclaimed musicologist Jan Swafford thinks so, and says so in his new biography of The Ludwig.

August 9, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.

All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:

The “Eroica” Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony.

The “Pastoral” Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”

The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.

The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.

The “Ghost” and  “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.

The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.

The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.

The “Missa Solemnis.”

“Fidelio.”

And on and on.

Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!

Beethoven big

What more is there to be said about Beethoven?

Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jan Swafford color

Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”

It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.

Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/05/337857557/ask-us-anything-about-beethoven

And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/03/336656578/beethovens-eroica-a-bizarre-revelation-of-personality

Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.

But nobody is ignoring it.

Jan Swafford Beethoven cover

Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-beethoven-anguish-and-triumph-by-jan-swafford-1406927297

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/beethoven-by-jan-swafford.html?_r=0

Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?

What do you think of his music histories and biographies?

Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?

And what is your favorite  work by Beethoven?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival gets more national attention as it marks 15 years. The festival kicks off on Saturday and focuses on Italian early music and art from 1300 to 1600. Part 1 of 2.

July 7, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?

Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Toronto Consort

Leonardo da Vinci

In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals.

MEMF was again the only Wisconsin music festival listed on May 14, 2014 in the The New York Times story “Birds Aren’t The Only Music Amid Nature.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/arts/music/birds-arent-the-only-music-amid-nature.html

Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.

Boston Early Music Festival boston early music festival overview hall

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?

Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.

There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.

Bob Wiemken

MEMF 14 2013 Piffaro instruments

We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.

monteverdi

Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.

The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different?  What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?

 

 


Classical music: Today is the first day of summer. Also today, the second annual Make Music Madison celebration features folk, blues, pop, bluegrass and other genres. Check out the artists, times and venues. But The Ear thinks that classical music is underrepresented for a city so rich in that kind of music.

June 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Saturday, June 21, 2014.

That makes it the Summer Solstice, the first day of summer, which arrived early here in the Midwest at 5:51 a.m. CST.

Summer Solstice

It seems so soon for the longest day of the year to arrive. Much too soon, really.

Can it really be that from now on until Dec. 21 the days will start getting shorter and the nights longer? That we are on our way toward the winter solstice? Why, it hardly seems we had a spring.

winter solstice image

Well, the good news is that today is also when the second annual FREE Make Music Madison celebration will take place.

Make Music Madison logo square

The FREE event will take place CITYWIDE.

It takes place INDOORS and OUTDOORS.

MMM 2014 indoors

MMM 2014 crowd outdoors playing

It starts in the early morning and runs until almost midnight. It features some 394 individual and group performers — lots of amateurs and some professional musicians.

All kinds of musical genres will be heard.

The emphasis and quantity are clearly on jazz, pop, rock, folk, bluegrass, gospel, hip-hop and roots music and other genres. But classical music is also included – though no specific composers, works or programs are listed.

Here is a link to the Make Music Madison homepage:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org

And here is a link to the performers, venues, time and maps for direction:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org/2014-performances/

From the homepage, you can clock on artists, times, venues.

Here are just a few hints of the offerings –- including string quartets and a performance by the Classical Guitar Quartet of Madison — that you might be interested in if you are a classical music fan:

The very young Suzuki Strings of Madison will perform:

Suzuki Strings of Madison MMM 2014

Duo-cellists Kristin Scheeler and Angie Griffith (below) will perform.

Kristin Scheeler and Angie Griffith duo-cellists MMM 2014

On Madison far west side, nest West Towne, Farley’s House of Pianos will host keyboard musicians:

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

If you attend Make Music Madison either to perform or to listen, let The Ear know what you heard and how it went. You can even include photos if you have them. (Please don’t forget IDs and the photo credits.)

Here is the promotional video for last year’s Make Music Madison.

Unfortunately, it gives short shrift to classical music, which The Ear finds to be an odd oversight. After all, Madison is a city that can boast of a very active classical music scene for its size: It is the home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Pro Arte String Quartet, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and so many other fine classical individual and group classical performers and presenters.

It is posted on YouTube, where you can also find samples from last year’s performances.

The Ear thinks this year’s performance should have more YouTube videos posted, along with more videos of classical music to encourage other amateur and professional longhairs to participate:


Classical music Q&A: How do you make chamber music both fun and fine? Co-directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes discuss this summer’s 23rd annual three-weekend, three-venue season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that starts this Friday night. Part 1 of 2.

June 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as a highlight of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a highlight of the entire concert season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers. But the waiting ends soon.

This Friday night the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will open its six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse (below bottom) at the Overture Center. Then it will move on to the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the beautifully restored Opera House in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

BDDS 3 Faure piano quartet 2

BDDS 4 ovation

And this summer shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And you should be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, piano quartets and piano quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed (you can hear it played by violinist James Ehnes, who has performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom), and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Modern and New Music. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist, Alan Kay, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — music that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the complete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with the consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that will run two parts. The first part runs today. The second part will run tomorrow.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

Why is this summer’s season called “23 Skiddoo,” and what exactly does the term mean or refer to?

SJ: Jeff and I love old-fashioned American vernacular -– like “Deuces are Wild” for 2013, and now “23 Skiddoo” for 2014.

It’s a lot of fun trying to find out where words come from, what expressions mean, and how it defines a country’s style and idiom. As musicians, we are constantly doing this kind of detective work -– what does the composer intend? What else was going on when he wrote it? What are the references and the “inside jokes?”

JS: The following passage comes from the “preface” in our 2014 program booklet: “Popular legend has it that “23 skiddoo” was first heard in the area around the Flatiron Building at the intersection of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City. Because of the building’s triangular shape, winds swirl around it. During the early 1900s, groups of men would allegedly gather to watch women’s skirts get caught by the wind, revealing their legs, which were seldom seen publicly at that time. Local constables, telling such groups of men to take a hike, were said to be giving them the “23 skiddoo.” ”

Our 23rd season is appropriately entitled “23 Skiddoo” (see the poster below) and this year’s programs are inspired by energetic departures and exit strategies of all kinds.

Why would we choose a title that tells you to cut and run when we want you to flock to our concerts? We want to give the “23 skiddoo” to your expectations of what a chamber music concert ought to be. We aim to deliver an experience that makes your skirt fly up, reveals a little leg, and makes you hightail it to our next concert with a smile on your face. So getta move on and join in on the fun. Hasta la vista, baby!

23Skiddoo logo

Is there some overarching theme or continuity to the entire season, or to the various weekend programs?

JS: Absolutely. It’s an oblique theme and a surprising continuity, but it’s definitely there. Stephanie and I love word games of all kinds, and this comes into play when we pick season titles and concert titles.

The expression “23 skiddoo” relates to the idea of “getting out while the getting’s good.” As it turns out, English is full of colloquialisms that express the idea of a rapid departure—expressions like “take a hike” or “cut and run” or “hightail it.” We thought of a bunch of expressions that relate to this idea—and from them, we chose expressions that could ALSO be read in a different way.

“Take a hike” can also mean “scram!” or it can mean to go wander out in the countryside. It fits in with our season theme because of its colloquial meaning. We used it as a program title with its literal meaning in mind — music that was inspired by the countryside, like Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.

“Getta move on” can mean “scram!” or it can mean “to dance”—as in “get your moves on.” It fits with our season theme because of the first meaning, and its second meaning gave us a program of dance-inspired music.

One of our cutest titles (in my humble opinion) is “hightail it,” again, an expression that means to leave quickly. As I’m sure you know, many pieces of chamber music have very exciting codas, the coda being the last section of a movement or a piece. And “coda” is the Italian word for—you guessed it—”tail.” We picked pieces that have super-exciting codas for this program.

Of course, there are a lot of other considerations in picking music. Expense is certainly a big one.

We can only hire a certain number of artists each week, so we have to find programming that works with those artists and instruments.

We like variety, so you’ll never find us doing an all-Baroque program or an all-modern program.

(I actually find that such programming in the end marginalizes the music it’s designed to celebrate. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the Bach’s music actually benefits from being heard alongside Aaron Jay Kernis and Rachmaninoff and vice versa.)

Another big consideration is, of course, what we want to play. I really wanted to do another two-piano extravaganza with University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Christopher “Kit” Taylor; Stephanie really wanted to do this brand new piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, “L’arte della danssar” (The Art of Dancing), one of the few pieces he’s written that has a flute part. We figured out a way to do BOTH things in a single week of programming.

I’m very keen on the music of Osvaldo Golijov, especially this gorgeous piece he wrote for klezmer clarinet and string quartet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” When playing in a music festival in New York, I worked with this incredible clarinetist Alan Kay, co-principal of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I wanted to have him come to BDDS. Turns out he’s played this piece—which is VERY hard—a lot.

Another thing I’ve been loving lately is playing arrangements of the Mozart piano concertos. Well, here we have a string quartet and a clarinet. Just add in Stephanie’s flute, and suddenly you’ve got a mini-orchestra for the Mozart concerto.

I often say that putting together the season is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle—except the pieces change size and shape as you work with them, and you don’t know the picture you’re aiming for. The pieces of this season’s jigsaw puzzle have come together beautifully.

BDDS 5 2013 Mozart concerto 22

What have you changed for this season, and what have you kept and continued? Program elements? Repertoire? Artists ?

SJ: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society tradition is a blend of the hottest, cutting-edge compositions, combined with our love of the Baroque, Romantic and Impressionistic eras of music. When you take the huge breadth of musical expression and mix it with musicians of the loftiest caliber, you’ll always find “something for everyone” at our concerts.

Just like the weather in Wisconsin, if you don’t like one piece, that’s fine, because in ten minutes we’ll play something that will break your heart and make you fall in love all over again.

Sometimes we are asked, “Would you like to grow Bach Dancing and Dynamite into a larger festival, with more cities, more venues?” Our answer is an enthusiastic, “No!”   The festival is just about perfect the way it is – small venues, intimate and profound music, a living room atmosphere, informality, surprises – these are the hallmarks of BDDS, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

JS: What we have changed: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

What we’ve continued: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

Maybe it’s funny answering two questions with the same answer, but it’s really true. I wouldn’t say we have a “formula.” That implies that we get the same result every season. We don’t. Our results vary widely. The result is always great (in my humble opinion), but it’s really different each time.

I guess you could say we are like chefs working with the crème-de-la-crème of ingredients (musicians and musical compositions). Using our skills, we can combine these ingredients into staggeringly different yet exciting meals: same high-quality ingredients, same well-honed chef skills, completely different meals.

A couple of people to watch out for:

The aforementioned clarinetist Alan Kay (below top)  in Week Two. He’s amazing.

Soprano Disella Larusdottir (below middle)  in Week One. She’s a gorgeous singer, and she sings Aaron Jay Kernis’ music beautifully.

The return of the San Francisco Piano Trio (me, Axel Strauss and Jean-Michel Fonteneau) playing Dvorak and Shostakovich.

Tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below bottom) from New York in Week Two. Authentic Argentine flair!

Repertoire to look out for:

Aaron’s new piece (Week One)

Golijov’s piece (Week Two)

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” with me and Kit Taylor. (Fun!)

Darius Milhaud’s piano, four-hand version of “Le boeuf sur le toit,” which was originally conceived as a score for a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. We’re reuniting it with Chaplin’s classic “The Count”—a movie that culminates in an exceedingly well-timed cut-and-run.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Disella Larusdottir

Pablo Zinger at piano

Tomorrow: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season?

 

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Classical music: Con Vivo! will perform Russian and Eastern European chamber music this Saturday night.

May 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo! … music with life, concludes its 12th season of chamber music with a concert entitled “Eastern Block Party” on Saturday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

The program includes the Serenade for violin, viola, cello and two clarinets by Bohuslav Martinu (below top), the Polonaise No. 1 in D Major for violin and piano by Henryk Wieniawski (below middle), and Spiegel im Spiegel for clarinet and piano by Arvo Pärt (below bottom in a YouTube video that features the viola rater than the clarinet).

Bohuslav Martinu

Henryk Wieniawski

Arvo Part

The performance will also feature the outstanding church organ with the Prelude in G Major by Friedrich Constantin Homilius. To conclude the evening’s offering, con vivo! will perform the Piano Quintet for two violins, viola, cello and piano by Dimitri Shostakovich (below).

dmitri shostakovich

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their Carnegie Hall debut this past December.

Con Vivo at Carnegie Hall

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, talking about the concert, said: “As is our tradition, con vivo!’s post Carnegie Hall debut season brings to our audience works that are familiar and some that are new. We’ve been honored as the “Best Classical Concert of 2013” by reviewer John W. Barker (below). With this concert, we aim to continue that trend.”

John-Barker

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

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Classical music Q&A: How does a string quartet come up with programs? The Ear catches up with the Ancora String Quartet, which will close its 13th season this Friday night with piano quartets by Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. Plus, WYSO members talk Thursday morning on WORT 88.9 FM

May 7, 2014
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ALERT: We are in the run-up to the always impressive Spring Concerts by members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).  And Good Friend of The Ear radio host Rich Samuels is helping to publicize the WYSO chamber music concerts on this Saturday, May 10, and the other instrumental groups and orchestras, with soloists, that will perform on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday May 18. The radio segment with violinist Isabelle Krier and pianist Charlie Collar will air on WORT 89.9 FM, starting at 7:08 a.m. on this Thursday morning, May 8. Following that segment, Samuels will be airing a concert featuring conductor Ken Woods (a WYSO and UW-Madison alumnus, who leads the English Symphony Orchestra in Wales in the United Kingdom). Here is a link to the WYSO website for more details about the two weekends of WYSO concerts:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m., three members of the Madison-based and critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet (below) will close out its 13th season with a program that features a relative rarity in chamber music: piano quartets — by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. (Below are, from left, Ancora members violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.)

Ancora Trio 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

The program includes the lyrical Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, K. 493, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the one-movement Piano Phantasy in F-Sharp Minor by 20th-century British composer Frank Bridge, who was also the teacher of Benjamin Britten; and the impassioned Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 67, by the lesser known 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Turina.

The guest artist is University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pianist MyungHee Chung (below), who joined the Ancora in 2010 in a memorable performance of the iconic Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms.

myung hee chung

The concert will take place in the historic Landmark Auditorium, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are available at the door, and are general seating. They cost $15 for the general public; $12 for students and seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

A free post-concert champagne reception is included in the ticket.

This year the quartet is a strong trio made up of violist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. First violinist Leanne League is on a one-year leave.

Violist Marika Fisher Hoyt, who also hosts a Saturday afternoon program on Wisconsin Public Radio and plays in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other local groups, including period-instrument, early music ensembles, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

MarikaFischerHoyt

How does the Ancora Quartet choose repertoire and programs? How do you balance the well-known and the neglected? Highlight various instruments? Is any one of your members more active in selecting programs than the others?

All Ancora String Quartet players (below)  participate equally in proposing pieces and crafting the final programs. We keep a list of pieces that one or more of us would like to perform. In the spring of each year, we look at the list, and select pieces to form programs of roughly 70 minutes of music.

We aim for programs that offer a nice balance of familiar and unfamiliar, of Classical, Romantic and Modern style, and of varying lengths and degrees of emotional intensity.

For the first 10 years we presented pieces that were new to us as a quartet, but at this point we’ll sometimes include a piece we’ve performed before.  That’s usually a piece we really love, like the Beethoven Op. 74 “Harp” Quartet.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

How much does the audience figure in setting up a program?

We don’t really consider the audience’s hypothetical preferences, other than to try to present programs with enough variety that there’s something for all tastes. The constant factor is our love for the music and our commitment to working together.

Ancora Rhapsodie audience

What are current projects and future plans for the Ancora?

Our current project is preparing for and presenting this week’s program!

We’re still in the process of planning next season’s programs. Our first violinist, Leanne League (below), will be on leave next season, and two wonderful violinists will be joining us, both of them players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Wes Luke (below) will join us for our fall programs, which will almost certainly include one of his favorites, the Mendelssohn Quartet, Op. 80, in F Minor, a powerfully moving work written at the very end of that composer’s life.

wes luke

Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will join us for our spring programs, and she’s hoping to perform one of the gorgeous Brahms quartets with us.  We look forward to working with these talented colleagues.

Eleanor Bartsch

Another project is that of increasing our quartet’s presence online.  A few years ago we redid our quartet website www.ancoraquartet.com, which now features a blog. While we don’t aspire to publish new postings every day (like The Well-Tempered Ear), every couple of weeks I’ll publish an interview with a guest artist, a report of our first rehearsal on a new program, or links to reviews.

We also have a Facebook fan page at facebook.com/ancoraquartet.  We only give 8-10 concerts per year, and these online sites are a nice way to stay in touch with the concert-going public. They give our fans an easy way to contact us with any questions or comments.

Ancora Trio 2 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

Is it different playing a PIANO quartet or quintet than an all-string quartet? Pianists often have the reputation of being soloists at core and not easy chamber music partners. Is that your experience?

Yes, the sound of a piano is qualitatively different from that of the violin family of instruments, and so in a piano quartet or quintet we must all work a little harder to achieve a unified effect, through phrasing and careful balancing of dynamics.

Pianists may have the reputation of being divas, but we have worked with MyungHee Chung (below) before, and that has certainly not been our experience with her.  It’s true that a powerful pianist can overwhelm the sound of three or four string instruments.  But, while MyungHee spins out her solo passages with effortless ease and grace, she is also an extremely sensitive collaborator and accompanist, and we are so pleased to be able to work with her again.

Steinway Grand Piano

What would you like to say about each of the pieces on this weekend’s program?

The Piano Quartet by Mozart (below) demonstrates a perfect fusion of elegance, charm and sensuality. Benjamin often reminds us of the vocal quality in much of Mozart’s music, and we will imagine that we’re singing an aria tune from a Mozart opera.  And, on a personal note, I can tell from his writing that Mozart was a violist; I appreciate the melodies I get to play, and how well they lie on viola!

Mozart old 1782

The “Phantasy” by Frank Bridge (below is a wonderful example of late Romantic British style, by turns voluptuously lush and singing, or fiercely dramatic.

Frank Bridge

The work by Joaquin Turina (below) gives us three movements of smoldering Spanish melodrama, spiced with playful cross-rhythms.  We’ll be ready for the champagne reception, after that!

joaquin turina 1

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

We Ancora players are now in our 13th recital season, and our joy in making music together has only deepened over the years. Chamber music is so much more intimate than orchestral playing, and we are extremely grateful for the chance to share this music with our audiences.

The Madison community’s deep appreciation of the arts supports so many wonderful musical ensembles. We feel lucky to be a part of it all, to inspire, and be inspired, in our turn.

 

 

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan compares great music-making to great acting, and the concert hall to an exciting museum. He makes his MUST-HEAR Madison debut on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall in a solo recital program of works by Schubert, Barber, Franck and Ravel.

April 17, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

By Jacob Stockinger

The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.

Inon Barnatan

Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Inon-Barnatan.html

You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.

In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.

Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:

www.inonbarnatan.com

And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:

Inon Barnatan face

You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?

What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience.  It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.

Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice!  I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.

New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert

How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?

I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.

That is what I think my job as a performer is.  I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.

There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.

When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)

Inon Barnatan playing at Carnegie Hall NY Times

Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?

Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.

Leon Fleisher

The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire.  I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.

That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.

As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!

Franz Schubert writing

What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?

This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.

The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.

Samuel Barber

How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?

That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.

We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one.  Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.

A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.

We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.

VanGogh-starry_night_edit

 

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