The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: For 75 years, here is how the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival, where composer John Harbison teaches, emphasizes new music and teaches young composers and student performers.

August 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the closing weekend of this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

The closing “Buoyant Baroque” program, featuring the Lydian Quartet and others performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli and Georg Frideric Handel among others, will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. (The Ear sees that Sunday’s performance is sold out, but you should check for yourself. Sometimes spots open up form cancellations.)

Here is a link to find out more:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

American composer John Harbison (below top) is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the festival along with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom).

JohnHarbisonatpiano

RosemaryHarbison

Harbison is a very accomplished man and musician. He has played the piano this summer for the festival, and he is also a preeminent contemporary composer who teaches at MIT. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant among his many honors. And at the Token Creek Festival, he is the most enlightening commentator on composers and specific works that The Ear has ever heard.

So it seemed a good time to bring to your attention a story done by NPR or National Public Radio about the Tanglewood Festival of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since it features John Harbison as a major source and interview. This summer the festival turned 75.

Harbison is, after all, the co-director – with fellow composer Michael Gandolfi — of the composing program at Tanglewood Music Center, which is where he often premieres his own new works and where he was busy working just before he came to Madison for the Token Creek Festival.

The Ear finds it interesting to hear how, ever since the festival’s beginning, the creativity of young composers and young performers has always been cultivated and encouraged, with an emphasis on creating new music and keeping the classical music world vibrant and current.

Below is a photo of this summer’s world premiere of a new work by Michael Gandolfi, with famed soprano Dawn Upshaw (on the far right in purple) working with student performers.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/15/432242280/at-75-tanglewoods-student-program-holds-focus-on-new-music-and-people-making-it

Tanglewood at 75 dawn upshaw


Classical music: John W. Barker reviews conflicting concerts by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the choral group Voces Aestatis.

August 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a two-fer or double review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Scheduled train-wrecks are, sadly, all too familiar in the regular music season, say in October and April. But at the very end of August? Absurd! Unacceptable!

And yet there it was. Last Friday night, August 21, we had two concerts needlessly set at loggerheads. One had been scheduled for months; the other was hastily set and on terms that had little to do with the risks of spoiling the logical audience for both.

The two events were: the second and final summer concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and the only summer concert by the new choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Voices of Summer).

Feeling the need to report on both, I was boxed in and forced by circumstances to review one concert directly and the other though its dress rehearsal.

That is grossly unfair to the disadvantaged choice, the MAYCO concert, for obviously the ensemble needs to be judged on its definitive public performance. Still, rehearsals are themselves often fascinating, and so I hope my approach is not without merits of it own.

MAYCO

The MAYCO rehearsal (below, in a photo by John W. Barker; other performance photos were taken by The Ear) was held on Thursday morning, August 20, in the venue of the concert itself, Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

The program is one that was connected to that of the earlier concert this summer, on June 20, in that each explored approaches to the Baroque ensemble idiom of the concerto grosso and brought together examples old and new.

MAYCO rehearsal 2015 JWB

This second program opened with an outstanding example of a Late Baroque masterwork, the fifth of George Frideric Handel’s great set of 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6.

Conductor and ensemble founder, Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) showed his fresh and enterprising approach in so many ways.

Mikko Rankin Utevsky MAYCO 8-15

He used the supplemental wind parts that double merely the string voices but are authentic survivals. He opposes first and second violins, allowing the concertino’s trio of soloists a proper place in the texture. He had the players (save for cellos) stand for the performance, rather than sit. (In the rehearsal, too, he himself conducted while playing the viola part.) The performance stressed vitality and vigor, and showed that the 19 string players could make a quite coherent ensemble sonority.

By contrast, the second work was a modern counterpart, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings and Piano, the latter played by UW-Madison student Jason Kutz (below). Composed in 1925 — and followed by a second one some years later — this is a remarkable example of neo-Classicism, in which a Baroque form and mentality could be recast in 20th-century harmony.

Bloch knew that the piano could not match the harpsichord as an “authentic” continuo instrument: while he often uses it to reinforce the string bass line, he gives it roles across the texture, while even allowing it tiny solo moments. The style is richly varied, with elements of folk dances, and an overall suggestion of the neo-Hebraic sound with which he was becoming identified.

Jason Kutz MAYCO

The final work was Franz Joseph Haydn’s beloved Symphony No. 94 in G major, the “Surprise.” Utevsky showed a thorough command of the score’s varieties and possibilities, exploiting them with some fine subtleties.

At the dress rehearsal and at the performance, Utevsky also gave two of his conducting students Maynie Bradley and Majestic Lor (below top and bottom respectively)  the chance to lead parts of the slow movement, as an introduction to actual podium experience — a wonderful idea!

Maynie Bradley

Majestica Lor

This has been the MAYCO’s fifth summer season. Utevsky promises to be back leading it at least one more year. He deserves every encouragement to arrange the extension beyond that, as an extension of this wonderful program he has created to allow talented young student players to have orchestral experience.

SUMMER VOICES

The conflicting choral concert was held Friday night in St. Andrew’s Church on Regent Street.

The group “Voces Aetatis” (Voices of Summer) is in its second season and offered a single concert. The group consists of 16 mixed voices, four singers to a part. They are devoted to “early” choral music, predominantly from the Renaissance, an age that offers particularly superlative choral writing just waiting to be exploited. Conductor Ben Luedcke has shaped them into a finely balanced ensemble, with beautifully nuanced overall sound.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The first (and larger) part of the program was devoted to sacred music by eight composers, chronologically: Jean Mouton (1459-1522), Jean Lhéritier (1480-1551), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1512), Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), and Antonio Lotti (667-1740). Of the last two, Gesualdo is a very late Mannerist, while Lotti is really a Baroque composer, represented by his retro-polyphonic warhorse, the eight-voice Crucifixus. Otherwise, the selection represented some prime Renaissance art.

The selections sounded lovely — and all the same. Director Luedcke (below) takes everything at a consistently smooth and stately pace, often rather too slowly to get at the textual and spiritual meanings. Only the Gesualdo Tenebrae motet conveyed any propulsive power. Pieces by Byrd and Gabrieli should have surged in excitement, but did not.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

The program’s second part was devoted to madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), John Bennet (1575-1614) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Now, the problem is that madrigals are not (and were not) intended as choral music. The particular attention to the texts the composers so carefully set is simply steamrollered by the blurred diction of a sizable chorus.

The ideal is one singer per part, and it is a pity that Luedcke did not pull out individual singers from the ensemble in varying combinations of such limited scale.

The obscured clarity of the Italian texts was bad enough, but was disastrous in the English pieces. The words to The Silver Swan (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Orlando Gibbons (below), offered as an encore, and to his What Is Our Life? were totally lost — a particular injustice since the latter sets an ironic poem attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh as he awaited execution, with interesting Shakespearian parallels. To render the words unintelligible is no way to treat madrigals, however prettily.

Orlando Gibbons

This ensemble has so much potential, and is a brave vehicle for an area of musical literature too little performed. One hopes it can mature in future years to the effectiveness of which it is capable.

And without competing with another event for attendance.

 


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will perform music by Handel, Haydn and Bloch this Friday night.

August 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s multi-talented friend Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) -– who is a singer, violist and conductor -– writes:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below) closes its fifth season with works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ernest Bloch and George Frideric Handel in a program titled “Concerto Grosso II: Surprise!”

The concert is this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Music Hall on Bascom Hill. Tickets are $7 at the door (students are admitted by donation). The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), and co-sponsored by the UW-Madison School of Music.

This concert will also feature the most returning players in five seasons — fully 20 of the 30-odd members of the orchestra have performed with the group before, some throughout all five years.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

The program opens with a Concerto Grosso by Handel — Op. 6, No. 5 in D major — whose contributions to the form (which has been our theme for the season) were many and varied. This one opens with a majestic French Overture, followed by a light-footed Presto, a weeping Largo, a graceful Minuet, and a spirited Allegro to close.

handel big 2

Trevor Stephenson (below top), of the Madison Bach Musicians, joined the orchestra this past weekend for a wonderful workshop on the music of Handel as part of our new historical performance program, which also included coaching on Haydn with UW-Madison bassoon professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill).

Trevor Stephenson Explains

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Next up is another Concerto Grosso, the first by Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch (below top). Written in 1925 for piano obbligato and string orchestra, it is an exciting and powerful work encompassing a broad emotional range. Our piano soloist is Jason Kutz (below bottom), currently finishing his master’s degree at the UW-Madison School of Music with Professor Martha Fischer.

Ernest Bloch in 1915

jason kutz at piano

Our second Haydn symphony of the summer closes the concert, the famous “Surprise”  Symphony, No. 94. I’m excited to explore both ends of his career this season.

Our last program opened with his Symphony No. 6 (“Le Matin” or Morning), written for the Esterhazy family; the “Surprise” belongs to his final series of 12 “London” symphonies. Everyone is well acquainted with the slow movement — heard at the bottom in a YouTube video — but how many people remember the fantastic Finale?


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 2015
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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, who also took performance photos. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.

MAYCO Karp CR JWB

What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org


Classical music: The Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performs music by Haydn and Schumann as well as premieres by Cecilia McDowall and Jonathan Posthuma this Saturday night.

June 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The talented Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) – who is a conductor, a violist and a baritone singer in the UW-Madison School of Music – writes about the concert this Saturday night by the Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which he founded in high school, and still directs and conducts:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

This week kicks off the fifth season of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below), consisting of two concerts loosely organized around the theme “Concerto Grosso.”

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

We will be presenting three works explicitly in that form this summer — one of them on this week’s concert — and others touching on it in various fashions: the late Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann, which integrates a solo part into the orchestral texture; and a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn that features soloists drawn from the orchestra, more akin to a “sinfonia concertante.”

The first concert is this Saturday night, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Tickets are $7. Students are admitted by donation.

More information about the orchestra can be found on our website: www.mayco.org

On August 21, we will welcome members of the Madison Bach Musicians and UW-Madison faculty for a workshop on historical performance practices. This season also marks the first year of a new conducting program for high school students. (Below is a photo by Steve Rankin of MAYCO rehearsing.)

MAYCO group 1 Steve Rankin

For those unfamiliar with us, MAYCO is a student-run training orchestra for players ranging in level from middle school and high school through doctoral study. Each summer, the group presents two public concerts, each preceeded by a week of intensive rehearsal.

The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which many of our players are members or alumni. The ensemble typically numbers 25-35 players, balanced evenly between high school and university students.

MAYCO Mikko conducting Steve Rankin

Our program this Saturday night opens with Franz Joseph Haydn’s early Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin” (Morning) — it is the first part of the composer’s triptych “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night” Symphonies. This symphony was  his first written for the Esterhazy family that would employ him for most of his career.

It owes its nickname to a majestic Adagio introduction that sounds like a sunrise. (You can hear the opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.) Nearly every principal player, all the way down to the principal bassist, has some sort of solo passage -– the way that Haydn (below) signaled to the orchestra at his new post that they were going to like working with him.

Haydn

The most prominent part is given to the concertmaster, in this case the acclaimed Valerie Sanders, whom you may know as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra or the violinist of the Perlman Piano Trio at the UW-Madison School of Music. I am particularly delighted to note that we will be performing the work with natural horns, a fascination of mine.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

Composer Jonathan Posthuma (below) received his Master’s from the UW-Madison School of Music in 2015, studying with Professors Steve Dembski and Laura Schwendinger. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor, cast in three movements, is the first of a set of 12, and melds strict Baroque form with minimalist-influenced textures.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It will receive its premiere at this concert, with the percussionists of Clocks in Motion (below, not in order, are members Sean Kleve, Dave Alcorn, James McKenzie, and Michael Koszewski) and pianist Kyle Johnson, a doctoral student of Christopher Taylor. It is tremendously exciting music, with great melodies and complex soundscapes.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), winner of the 2014 British Composer Award for choral music, came to the UW-Madison for a residency in February.

I was quite taken with her distinctive style — communicative, cogent and highly expressive. I’m honored to be giving the U.S. premiere of her orchestral work “Rain, Steam and Speed,” named after the J.M.W. Turner painting of the same title.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finishing our program is an acknowledged masterwork, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in a minor, Op. 129. Pro Arte Quartet cellist and professor Parry Karp (below) will be joining us for this monumental piece. Its three movements are played without break in a tightly integrated web of melody that is also one of the great orchestral works in Schumann’s body of works.

Parry Karp


Classical music: Percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion joins UW-Madison ceramic artist in making an MFA installation a “smashing success.”

May 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO — www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its fifth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance by Clocks in Motion.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also took the performance photos:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

On Sunday, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion performed as part of artist Jeannine Shinoda’s MFA Exhibition “The Collector’s Set” in what can only be described as a smashing success.

Shinoda’s exhibition consisted of a room filled with ceramic plates, cups and dishes suspended from the ceiling by strings (below), which the attendees were invited to cut, sending the dishes crashing to the concrete floor.

Clocks china hanging

The performance took place in an adjacent room, where it was counterpointed by the occasional crunching noise from the exhibition.

The four core members of Clocks (below) played an assortment of bowls, plates, cups, spoons and ceramic-shard wind chimes in a four-movement composition – his Opus 1 — by music director Sean Kleve. Composed as a set of rhythmic patterns and relative pitches before the instruments were chosen, the creatively scored work was orchestrated cooperatively by the ensemble for this eclectic assortment of pottery, played mostly with chopsticks.

Clocks playing china

It was structured in four movements. I quite enjoyed the lively second one in particular. A slightly eerie third movement made use of threaded metal rods that were scraped along the edges of the instruments to produce a sustained tone, and wind chimes made of broken plates and ceramic spoons (below).

Clocks china hanging spoons

One of the curiosities of the piece was discovering the range of sounds that can be produced from kitchenware — in particular, the gradual acclimation of the ear to the variety of pitches produced. The music seemed to coalesce out of the clatter of dishes and smashing china from the other room, emerging in minimalist rhythmic patterns and creative imitative passages.

All four parts were of equal importance, and each player could be seen taking the lead at various points — a sense of equality that is a hallmark of Clocks performances.

The fourth movement introduced a couple of small gongs, as though signaling that the grand finale was at hand. As the rest of the ensemble played, Dave Alcorn solemnly crossed in front and began the ritualistically choreographed conclusion — slowly and deliberately smashing the instruments.

The other three joined in with equal gravitas, sending plates and cups and bowls alike crashing to the ground. (The performers and audience, seen below, were equipped with protective eyewear for this portion of the work.)

Clocks China audience with goggles

As the last of the instruments were reduced to shattered fragments, the four musicians — straight-faced among stifled laughter from the audience — produced brooms and proceeded to sweep the remains into a single pile in the center of the stage, leaving the rooms silently when finished. They returned moments later to a standing ovation.

Clocks clean up china

Here in his first work, Kleve demonstrates a sophisticated ear for texture and a shrewd understanding of pacing, both key to crafting a musically satisfying work that does not leave the listener feeling that the whole thing was just a setup to the final gambit of breaking dishes — an admitted risk with such a performance piece.

Clocks china Sean Kleve score

One of the wonderful gifts of Clocks in Motion is its ability to focus the ear on the sounds of “found objects” — whether they are plates or brake drums or cow jawbones — and provide a framework for listening to them as musical.

And, as is so often the case with Clocks in Motion, their strength of commitment and musical integrity is such that the enthusiastic audience is drawn into the fabric of even the most outwardly implausible works — their striking “Percussion is Revolution” program in September 2013 was a powerful example.

Clocks chna audience applauding

It is a testament to Madison’s musical community and to the School of Music percussion program that we continue to host such a remarkable performing ensemble, and this innovative performance is just the latest feather in their collective cap.

A PERSONAL NOTE:

Clocks in Motion will be joining my own ensemble, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) on June 20 to open our fifth season, “Concerto Grosso!” It features the world premiere of UW-Madison graduate composer Jonathan Posthuma’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor for Percussion, Piano and Strings.

The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and tickets are $7 at the door with students admitted by donation).

The program will also feature UW-Madison Professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor; the American premiere of contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall‘s “Rain, Steam and Speed”; and the Symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le Matin” or Morning) by Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the sound painting that gives the symphony its nickname in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

 


Classical Music: At Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts, The Ear always learns as he listens. Here are some lessons from last weekend that will no doubt reappear this coming weekend.

June 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This summer, The Ear has yet to see a missed opportunity or hear a false note from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which seems headed for a perfect season.

I find that each of the two weekend programs that the BDDS offers in three venues for three weekends each summer usually rewards me with a generous share of pleasure plus important lessons and pleasant surprises. Little wonder, then, that the BDDS has had its best second weekend ever last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover.

Last weekend certainly did offer much pleasure, plus many lessons and surprises, with the “Take a Hike” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” programs. And there is no reason to think that this coming weekend’s two programs — “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It” — won’t do the same.

So here are some quick looks backward that are likely to serve as good looks forward.

Here is a link for more information about performers, date and times, programs and tickets:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

An avid amateur pianist myself, I get to hear terrific pianists whom I can emulate and who inspire me to practice and play better.

Almost every concert features BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes, who teaches at University of California-Berkeley and California State University-East Bay. Sykes never disappoints. He is a master of different styles, color and dynamics — in short, an ideal collaborator.

And last weekend, this Pianist for All Seasons demonstrated yet another skill with his improvised embellishments and ornamentation on themes and passage work in a well-known Mozart piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488).

BDDSrehearsalJeffrySykes

This weekend Sykes will play by himself in piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak with the San Francisco Piano Trio of which he is a member. He will also perform duets and trios with his BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt. Particularly noteworthy is that this weekend, Sykes will again be joined by fellow pianist Randall Hodgkinson (below) in works for one piano, four hands, one by Darius Milhaud with a Charlie Chaplin movie to accompany it.  Hodgkinson teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and Wellesley College, and he is really good.

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Still, the real piano treat last weekend was tango pianist – and also music arranger -– Pablo Zinger (below), a native Uruguayan who now lives in New York City. Zinger once arranged music for and performed the works of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. And it was in two evenings of Piazzolla’s tangos that Zinger displayed his amazing skills.

I watched how carefully he pedaled, never overdoing it. I listened to how well he balanced volume with other instruments. I heard his unfailing ability to execute complex rhythms and to quickly but naturally change tempi. I listened to what seemed an undeniably classical keyboard technique that allowed him to play multiple voices independently, as in a Bach fugue. Articulate and laconic, Pablo Zinger (below top, he is talking; below bottom, he is playing) proved nothing short of a master instrumentalist, not just some generic dance-band pianist. I don’t think I will ever forget his rendition with BDDS of Astor Piazzolla’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Oblivion,” which you can hear in a comparable chamber music arrangement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger talks

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger playing

I get to hear first-rate, terrific artists from out-of town.

Some of the performers who were familiar from past BDDS seasons included husband-and-wife cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier, who both play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They are terrific separately and together, as when they played the only Concerto for Two Cellos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (below) whose appealing works we hear played live too infrequently.

Beth Rapier and Anthony Ross BDDS 2014

Violinist Carmit Zori, who is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn (NY) Chamber Music Society, never fails to impress me with her sound and her expressiveness. This was especially true is the Romance, Op. 23, for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach, which I had never heard before. (You can hear it below in a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who also discusses the American violinist Maud Powell to whom the Romance was dedicated and who gave the world premiere of the work. Barton Pine will perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next season.)

The Beach Romance also reminded me of what a great strategy it is to open a concert with a slow piece to help get the audience into The Zone. In a way, it seems like back to the future, back to Baroque-era sonatas that went Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast rather than the Classical-era style of Fast-Slow-Fast in their sequence of movements. More concert programs should do the same.

Carmit Zori BDDS 2014

Clarinetist Alan Kay, who performs in New York City and who teaches at both the Mannes School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, proved simply sublime in the great “autumnal” Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms as well as other pieces. What tone, color and control the man has. He made klezmer-like passages both howl with laughter and lament with moans.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

I get to hear unknown or neglected repertoire, both old and new.

Last weekend, as I said earlier, one gem was the Romance for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach; another was the chamber music arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel of a Mozart piano concerto. I also liked a pampas- or gaucho-inspired work by Alberto Ginastera for cello and piano. Contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s string quartet and clarinet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was breathtaking.

This weekend I will get to hear music by composers I have never even heard of: Philippe Gaubert (below top), who, I suspect, sounds a bit like Gabriel Faure, and will feature virtuoso flutist Stephanie Jutt, BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director ; plus another Argentinean composer Angel Lasala (below bottom)  and William Hirtz (below bottom right with pianist Jon-Kimura Parker on the left), who are also complete unknowns to me. That adds excitement.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Angel Lasala

John Kimura Parker (left) and composer William Hirtz

I learned that the importance of dance forms in music survives.

In Baroque suites like the French and English Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Concerti Grossi of George Frideric Handel and of various Italian composers, you find the allemande, gigue, minuet and sarabande among other dance forms.

In the Romantic era, it was the waltz, the polonaise, the mazurka, the polka and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak and Hungarian Dances of Brahms.

Right into that tradition fits the Tango or, more precisely, the “new tango” or “nuevo tango.”

I could go on, but, you get the idea.

I find the Bach Dancing and Dynamite programs extremely well planned and then extremely well executed. And I am not alone, as repeated standing ovations demonstrate (below left at the Stoughton Opera House, below right at The Playhouse in the Overture Center).

To miss music and performances as fine as these is to cheat yourself.

And that just doesn’t make sense, does it?

BDDS 2014 Standing ovation in Stoughton

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

 

 


Classical music: What if Johann Sebastian Bach had composed more of his popular “Brandenburg” Concertos? What might they look like and sound like? The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and guest artists from Chicago explore that possibility this Friday night.

May 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Few pieces of Baroque music, or of any classical music in any style from any period for that matter, are more beloved than the six secular “BrandenburgConcertos that Johann Sebastian Bach (below) composed when he was seeking a court appointment.

Bach1

So what is one to make of a concert called “Brandenburg X” this Friday night by the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below), a terrific early music ensemble that uses period instruments and  historically informed performance practices?

Does it mean “X” as in the alphabet or FX (a phonetic stand-in for fantasy-like special “effects”? Or does it mean 10 as in a number or sequence, or perhaps as used in algebra to represent an “unknown”?

Maybe all of those possibilities are correct.

If it sounds like something out of science fiction or something futuristic, well that isn’t far off the mark. That is because Brandenburg X is indeed experimental.

Madison Baroque Ensemble

The concert is this Friday night, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side, near Randall Elementary School.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

The performers are Peter Lekx and Marika Fischer Hoyt on baroque violas; Eric Miller, Phillip W. Serna and Russell Wagner on bass viols; Eric Miller and Anton TenWolde on Baroque cellos); Marilyn Fung on violone; and Emily J. Katayama and Max Yount on harpsichords.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Tickets are available at the door only: Admission is $20; $10 for students.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and New Comma Baroque of Chicago (below) will explore Johann Sebastian Bach’s music for the Viola da Braccio, the Violoncello, and the Viola da Gamba.

New Comma Baroque

The program includes: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051 (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom); Brandenburg Concerto “No. 12” (arranged by Bruce Haynes and Susie Napper); the Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027/1039, in an arrangement for 3 violas da gamba; the Concerto in C Major for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061a; and the Brandenburg Concerto “No. 7” in C minor, BWV 1029, as arranged by Duncan Druce.

Here are some program-like comments written by performer Anton TenWolde (below):

“We are very excited about our collaboration with the New Comma Baroque, based in Evanston, Illinois. The program is entitled “Brandenburg X: J.S. Bach’s Exploration of the Viola da Braccio (arm viola), the Violoncello and the Viola da Gamba (leg viola).”

“The idea for this concert was conceived when several members of our two groups met last spring to perform the sixth Brandenburg concerto with the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana. We all said after that concert: “This is wonderful! We wish Bach would have written more for this combination of instruments.”

Well, of course he did not, so we opted for the next best thing: compositions Bach could have written or arranged for these lower string instruments (violas, violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord, without violins).

The program is set around three “Brandenburg” concertos.

We start with a “real” Brandenburg Concerto, No. 6, BWV1051 for two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone and harpsichord. This is followed by an arrangement by Bruce Haynes, “Brandenburg Concerto No. 12” created for Montreal Baroque, completely based on compositions by J.S. Bach. It incorporates Bach’s arias “Nur jedem das Seine”, BWV163; “Lass mein Herz die Munze sein, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott“, BWV80; “Wie selig sind doch die, die Gott im Munde tragen”, and the Sinfonia from “Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fallt,” BWV18. It is scored for 2 cellos, 2 violas da gamba, and basso.

The last “Brandenburg” concerto (Number “7”) is scored as Brandenburg No. 6: two violas, two violas da gamba, cello, violone, and harpsichord. It is based on the G minor sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV 1029) and was arranged by Duncan Druce.

Some may frown on the practice of arranging Bach’s works for different instrumentations, but it is good to remember that Bach frequently re-arranged his own work, and that of other composers. Numerous cantata movements show up in different places, in different arrangements, sometimes in different keys. In fact, movements of the first Brandenburg concerto show up in three different cantatas, and Bach adapted the fourth Brandenburg into a harpsichord concerto. So the precedent has been set by the great master himself.

In addition to the Brandenburgs we will be performing Bach’s Sonata in G-Major, BWV1027/1039 arranged for three bass viols. This work originated as a trio sonata for two flutes and basso continuo (BWV1039), which Bach recast as a solo sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord (BWV1027).

The program is rounded out with the Concerto for two Harpsichords, BWV1061a., as originally composed without an orchestral accompaniment.

-Anton TenWolde

anton tenwolde

For more information (608) 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org or www.newcommabaroque.org.

Do you have a favorite “Brandenburg” Concerto?

The Ear wonders: Why doesn’t a compete cycle of J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos get performed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Madison Symphony Orchestra? It is an annual holiday treat every year in New York City from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center — which uses modern instruments — and The Ear thinks it would be a big draw in Madison.

The Ear loves all of them, but especially prizes the busily virtuosic and exciting keyboard part in Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.

And you?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music Q&A: What makes Haydn, Haydn and Mozart, Mozart? Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra maestro Andrew Sewell, discusses the composers and music he will perform this Friday night at the Overture Center. Plus, at noon on Saturday the Madison Bach Musicians will perform a FREE concert of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti and Corelli at Grace Episcopal Church.

February 20, 2014
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ALERT: This Saturday from noon to 1 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church (below), downtown on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue, will present a FREE early music concert of  works by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti and Handel by the Madison Bach Musicians under the direction of keyboardist Trevor Stephenson.

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a concert of Haydn, Mozart and Vittorio Giannini.

WCO lobby

The concert will open with a modern Concerto Grosso by the 20th-century Italian composer Vittorio Giannini, another of the WCO discoveries of neglected or unknown composers. Then the young and critically acclaimed cellist Joshua Roman will join the WCO (below) in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major. The concert will close with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterful Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter.”

Tickets are $15-$67 and can be obtained from the Overture Center box office 212 State Street or by calling (608_ 258-4141. You can also visit http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/70/event-info/ http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventList?groupCode=WCO_E&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode=

Haydn and Mozart (below, left is Haydn and right is Mozart) are often mentioned in the same breath and the same sentences if they were identical or fraternal twins — much like Beethoven and Schubert, or Ravel and Debussy.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

So The Ear really likes this kind of contrast-and-compare program that helps to underline the similarities and especially the differences between two composers who were contemporaries and sometimes even colleagues who learned from each other and played in the same string quartet. In that spirit, I recently asked WCO’s longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below) to discuss the program and especially the Classical-era composers whom he is so convincing at interpreting:

andrewsewell

Haydn and Mozart are often lumped in together as Classical-era contemporaries. What makes each composer so distinctive? What makes Mozart, Mozart and Haydn, Haydn?

It’s a question of style. They both used classical conventions and were each experimenting constantly, seeing what worked for their audiences. Haydn (below top) was for the longest time confined to writing for a specific audience, at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt as opposed to Mozart (below bottom), who moved from Salzburg to Vienna, and spent time in Paris as well.

The geographical demands of each musical center framed, I think, the level of sophistication being determined by their audience and who they were writing for. Mozart’s symphonies written for the Parisian orchestra and audience had more virtuosity factored in. They had clarinets, and a slightly bigger wind section. They used “flash and sparkle.”

Haydn’s 12 symphonies commissioned by Salomon for the London Salon Concerts were more refined and experimental than before. Again the orchestra was larger, and he had top quality musicians at his disposal, achieving a greater level of virtuosity.

Haydn

mozart big

What can you tell us about the Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below)? How did you find out about it and why are you attracted to him and to that work? Why do you think it is so little known and rarely performed?

I first conducted a work by Giannini with a high school orchestra in Salem, Oregon in 2012 while guest conducting the Salem Chamber Orchestra. It included several school visits as part of a week-long residency. The work was Prelude and Fugue for String Orchestra. I kept a copy of the score, and was both enchanted and curious about other works by this composer.

He was born in Philadelphia, was a prodigy on the violin and spent time studying at the Milan Conservatory and the Juilliard School. He founded the North Carolina School of the Arts, as a “Juilliard of the South,” in 1965.  His music is both Romantic and Expressionist. He wrote five symphonies and five concertos and several radio operas in the 1930s. His father was an opera singer as were two of his sisters, who sang at the Metropolitan Opera.

After conducting the Prelude and Fugue, I was curious about his Concerto Grosso. It is Baroque in form as the title suggests but stylistically would remind one of Hindemith.  Written in 1955, it reflects the current trends at the time that took music to more strident, poignant and angular sonorities.

I hope performing his music will rekindle interest in his music, and I may program his Prelude and Fugue at a later date. Why did I choose this piece? Because in contrast to the very familiar names of Haydn and Mozart, this presents the other extreme.  In fact, with a name like Vittorio Giannini, one is apt to mistake him as a period equivalent to say, Handel or Vivaldi, and the composition is entitled Concerto Grosso!

Vittorio Giannini

What would you like to say about the young cello soloist Joshua Roman and how he came to your attention to book for the WCO?

I first heard Joshua Roman perform with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra in November of 2012, and was very impressed by him. He played the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and afterwards I asked him what he would like to play if he were to return to perform with the WCO? He chose Haydn. His pedigree is such that at the age of 22, he won the Principal Cello position with the Seattle Symphony. He did this for two years before embarking on a successful solo career.  He is a very engaging performer who makes the cello literally “sing” when he plays.

Joshua Roman 3

Do you have any other programming plans in the works like this Haydn-Mozart program to “compare and contrast” major composers -– say with, perhaps, Beethoven and Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, Debussy and Ravel?

I think one is always putting together programs that compare and contrast each other. Whether consciously or otherwise, it’s what fits together in a balanced program. This Haydn-Mozart program wasn’t a conscious “compare and contrast” decision.  It really stems from a more fundamental question of programming. Once you establish the soloist’s repertoire, it’s a matter of putting a program together within the context of the five-concert Masterworks season.

But you do raise a good point. I chose Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, as it is his last and, in my opinion, greatest symphony. The last movement (below in a popular YouTube video with more than 1 million hits) is incredible, particularly as it contains a fugue, the subject of which is introduced in a very subliminal way at end of the trio of the previous movement. It is pure genius and so joyful. In contrast, the genteel nature of the last movement of the Haydn Cello Concerto makes that piece seem jaunty in comparison. Yet they are both highly sophisticated pieces.

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Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians offers two Holiday Baroque Concerts — one especially for children — with vocal and chamber music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli, Schutz and Lassus this Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Music – and especially baroque music — is such an integral part of holiday celebrations, and you would be hard put to find a better sampler than the one being offered this coming weekend.

The Madison Bach Musicians (below) will offer two Baroque Holiday Concerts on this Friday night, Dec. 14, and Saturday afternoon, Dec. 15, in Madison’s First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

MBM will play the same program twice, but with somewhat differing formats.

Friday night will be the usual sequence of a 7:15 p.m. pre-concert lecture followed by an 8 p.m. concert.

On Saturday, the program will start at 3 p.m. in the afternoon and have lecture and demo interludes between the pieces. The Saturday concert will be geared particularly toward children and young adults and promises to be very fun and informative.

MBM founder and artistic director, keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below) will talk about the featured composers lives — Bach, Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi, Schütz and Lassus.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

The Madison Bach Musicians players will talk about their 18th-century instruments — such as the baroque violin, viola, and cello. The singers will discuss their approach to singing baroque music. And the audience will be invited onto the stage after the program to speak with the players. For the Family Concert, ticket prices for ages 6-18 are half-price.

The program includes J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 122, “Das Neugeborne Kindelein”; 
Schütz’ “Allein Gott in der Höh
”; Lassus’ “Ave Regina Coelorum
”; Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in D major, RV 12; 
Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in C minor, Op. 6, No. 3 (middle movement is at bottom); 
selections from Handel’s “Messiah
” including “Every Valley” (tenor), “Thus saith the Lord” (bass), “But who may abide” (countertenor), “If God is for us” (soprano) and “
His yoke is easy” (vocal quartet).

Performers include Chelsea Morris, soprano; 
Joseph Schlesinger, countertenor
; Peter Gruett, tenor; 
Joshua Copeland, bass
; Kangwon Kim (below), Edith Hines, Lauren Basney, Mary Perkinson on baroque violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr on baroque violas; Martha Vallon and Anna Steinhoff on baroque cellos; and 
Trevor Stephenson on harpsichord.

Kangwon Kim

Tickets
 are $20 general admission and $15 for students and seniors over 65 if purchased in advance; $25 and $20, respectively, at the door

The Dec. 15 Family Concert tickets are half-price for children and young adults 
ages 6-18 ($7.50 in advance, $10 at the door)

Advance-price discount tickets are on sale at: A Room of One’s Own, Farley’s House of Pianos, 
Willy St. Co-op (east and west), Orange Tree Imports & Ward Brodt.
Tickets also available at the door. Call (608) 238-6092 or visit www.madisonbachmusicians.org for more information.


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