ALERT: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its acclaimed music director Andrew Sewell are pretty busy these days playing the accompanying music for the Madison Ballet‘s multiple performances of Peter Tchaikovsky‘s holiday ballet “The Nutcracker.”
Then on this coming Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton, the WCO, the WCO Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison and guest soloists, all under the baton of Sewell, also give their annual and usually sold-out performance of George Frideric Handel‘s oratorio “Messiah.” The Ear has been told that this year’s performance is also close to selling out to. For more information and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
At 8 p.m. this Saturday night, Dec. 10, the Madison Bach Musicians (below top) will give their sixth annual Baroque Holiday Concert.
The event will once again be held in the beautiful and sonorous sanctuary (below) of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue.
There is a free pre-concert lecture by the always witty, informative and entertaining MBM founder, artistic director and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below) at 7:15 p.m. NOTE: Trevor Stephenson will also discuss the upcoming holiday concert and play excerpts from past ones TODAY AT NOON on The Midday program aired by Wisconsin Public Radio.
The program will feature: a cappella (solo vocal) masterworks by Orlando di Lassus and Josquin des Prez performed by a vocal quartet; a Christmas Cantata for soprano and strings by Alessandro Scarlatti—featuring soprano soloist Chelsea Morris (below top); a trio sonata by Johann Joseph Fux; an intriguing Partita for two scordatura violins (scordatura means the open strings are re-tuned into a new interval configuration!) by Heinrich Biber; the Sonatina in A minor for baroque bassoon and continuo by Georg Philipp Telemann ― with soloist and UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill); one of the Christmas Cantatas, BWV 122, Das neugeborne Kindelein (The Newborn Baby) by Johann Sebastian Bach (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and a bonus feature ― a preview of MBM’s upcoming April performance of Bach’s oratorio St. John Passion, the tenor aria Ach, mein Sinn.
Advance-sale discount tickets: $28 for general admission, $23 for students and seniors 65 and over. They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West) . You can also find online advance-sale tickets at madisonbachmusicians.org
Tickets at the door are: $30 for general admission; $25 for students and seniors 65 and over. Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID is required)
Musicians will include: Chelsea Morris, soprano; Joseph Schlesinger, counter-tenor; Scott Brunscheen, tenor; Matthew Tintes, bass; Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, baroque violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, baroque cello; Marc Vallon, baroque bassoon; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble offered its latest specimen of intimate Baroque chamber music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Regent Street last Sunday afternoon.
As always, each of the performers—six in this case—had one or two opportunities as soloist.
Mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below), for instance, was featured in two solo cantatas.
One, by Giovanni Bononcini was on conventional emotional themes.
But the other was a real curiosity. By the French composer Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, it was written for the Nativity season, and has been given a French title as “Hymn of the Angels.” But its text was no more or less than the Latin words of the Gloria section of the Mass Ordinary.
A new member in the group, recorder player Sigrun Paust (below), delivered the Sonata No. 1 from a 1716 collection of works written by Francesco Veracini alternatively for violin or flute.
For flutist Monica Steger (below) the vehicle was a Sonata Op. 91, No. 2, for Flute and Harpsichord duo, by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.
The spotlight was on viola da gambist Eric Miller (below) in another duo with harpsichord, no less than the Sonata in D Major, BWV 1028, by Johann Sebastian Bach, but Miller also participated in continuo functions elsewhere. (You can hear the Bach sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Likewise active in continuo work was viola da gambist Anton TenWolde (below), but he had one solo, a Capriccio for cello, by Joseph Ferdinand Dall’Abaco.
And the harpsichordist Max Yount (below), also involved in continuo roles, presented two contrasting keyboard pieces, a Toccata by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and a Fantasie by Johann Jakob Froberger.
For a colorful finale, Paust and Miller joined TenWolde and Steger (on harpsichord) in a Trio Sonata in F by Georg Philipp Telemann.
The artistry of these performers (below) was fully up to their own high standards, and their delight in trading off assignments to play together is palpable.
St. Andrew’s Church (below) on Regent Street may have been a bit bigger than a Baroque salon or parlor, but still served well as a setting for this kind of amiable gentility in musical substance.
The group’s next Madison concert is at St. Andrew’s on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. No program has been announced.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble have sent the following word:
The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a Thanksgiving concert on this coming Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, at 3 p.m. in Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side. (Below are photos of the church’s exterior and interior.)
Performers include Brett Lipshutz, traverse; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger, traverso, recorder, harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.
Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students.
The program features: “Ricercata X sopra il violoncello” (1687) by Giovanni Battista Degli Antonii; “Nel dolce dell’ oblio,” HWV 134, by George Fridrich Handel; Sonata 5 for traverse and basso continuo by Johann Kirnberger; the Second Concert, from Concerts Royaux (1722) by François Couperin; Pièces de Violle, Suite 4 (1685) by Monsieur de Machy; “Mi palpita il cor,” HWV 132c, by George Friderich Handel: Suite No. 6 in E-flat Major by Georg Boehm (1661-1733): and Quartet in E Minor by Georg Philipp Telemann (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom as played on Baroque period instruments and historically informed performance practices by members of the Freiburger Barockorchester.)
PLEASE NOTE: There will be a reception at our studio at nearby 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor, immediately following the concert.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Surely the greatest and happiest surprise of this summer’s music season is the sudden emergence of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a group of mostly string players that almost seems to have popped up out of the ground spontaneously.
They have introduced themselves in four concerts on successive Fridays this month—experimenting with shorter-length, one-hour programs, and giving three of them at 6 in the evening, and one family concert at Friday noon.
Each concert has drawn progressively larger audiences at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top) on Spaight Street, on the city’s near East Side.
Most important, the group involves a bevy of former University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music students who play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and who are simply brimming over with talent and with the joy of making music together.
Their final concert this season, on last Friday night, officially offered two works. As a “thank you” to the increasing number of sponsors and a swelling public, however, the group also gave a glowing performance of the Gavotte movement from the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (below). (You can hear the tuneful Grieg played by a much larger and far less intimate chamber orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
As now properly recognized, the Bach concerto is a work for nine solo string players (three each of violins, violas, cellos — below top, second and third in that order respectively) with basso continuo from the harpsichord (below bottom).
The intricacy of the part writing, especially involving constant interaction of the six upper parts, is particularly well appreciated when one can actually watch the players, who presented the music with a splendid combination of dash and discipline. (And they solved the notorious problem of what to do with the two-chord middle “movement” by adding only the tiniest violin cadenza on the first chord—very sensible and responsible.)
The final, and larger, work on the program was the Octet in E-flat by Felix Mendelssohn. This is the creation of an astoundingly precocious 17-year-old genius, and by general agreement it is a virtual miracle of composition.
Mendelssohn’s recourse to such a demanding scoring was not without precedent. He composed this in 1825. At about the same time, in the years 1823-47, the violinist-composer Louis Spohr (below) wrote four “Double Quartets” opposing two discrete string quartets against each other.
And, quite frequently, in his writing Mendelssohn does adopt the same strategy, pitting two distinct groups against each other. But he also explores the possibilities of eight-part texture, rich in contrasting colors and contrapuntal invention. It both is, and is more than, a simplistic double quartet.
Our eight Willy Street players did position themselves (below) as two opposing string quartets — with the cellists out in front, for a novel emphasis on the bass line.
Once again, it was such a benefit to watch these players engage each other in so many different ways. And with what spirit! Here was the music of a teenage genius, played by eight young players who threw their youthful élan into their work with unbounded passion. Yet there was also discipline, and the most careful nuancing of each player’s lines.
I would say that this is possibly the best performance I have ever heard of this work, certainly in live concert—something up to the highest professional and artistic standards.
I find it difficult to express fully my excitement over the sudden creation of this marvelous pool of young musicians. They have made it clear that this was just their first season: they are planning to return next summer, with some possible activities in between.
For member biographies, news and other information, here is a link to the group’s website:
With minimal promotion so far, based on simple word-of-mouth publicity, The Willies — as I call them — have already found a swelling and enthusiastic audience.
Madison’s lovers of highest-class chamber music should take note, support and attend. How can I say it better? They are simply fabulous! It is an enormous blessing to any community that is lucky enough to generate such players!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) opened their 2013-14 season — which marks the 10th anniversary of the local early music group — with a splendid concert of Baroque string music at the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium Auditorium on Saturday night and then repeated it again on Sunday afternoon at the Madison Christian Community Church on Old Sauk Road.
I went to the Saturday night performance. As always, the proceedings were prefaced by a talk from founder, director and keyboardist Stephenson (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) in his usual witty and informative style.
The rich program proved to be a study in string sounds. Joining harpsichordist Stephenson, along with cellist Anton TenWolde, were five guest players.
Marilyn McDonald (below) is something of the matriarch of Baroque violin playing and teaching, and two of the other players here have been her students: violinist Kangwon Kim and violist Nathan Giglierano. Two others were Brandi Berry and Mary Perkinson, both skilled players known here.
The program was, to a considerable extent a constant switching of these talented violinists. A Concerto for Four Violins without Bass was one of those endlessly fascinating experiments by Georg Philipp Telemann, complete with a finale of fanfares.
Two chamber works by George Frideric Handel (below top) graced separate parts of the program. A Sonata for Violin and Continuo featured the amazingly deft McDonald, with the continuo pair. And a Trio Sonata, Op. 2, No. 9, joined her with the spirited Kim. A Sonata for Two Violins by Jean-Marie Leclair (below, bottom) brought together Berry and Kim.
The first half concluded with a revitalized warhorse: the notorious Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, reclaimed from all its stupid arrangements, and restored as a contrapuntal delight for three violins with continuo, as well as reunited with its brief concluding Gigue. Perkinson joined McDonald and Berry for this.
Here, I must say, I found another example of how attending a live performance makes all the difference. Watching the players in person, I could follow how leading lines were transferred in turn, canonically, from one violin to another, with a clarity that no recorded performance could allow.
In the second half, after Handel’s Trio Sonata, Stephenson himself played on the harpsichord the final Contrapunctus or fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.” Along the way in this, Bach (below) introduced the motto of his own name, made up of the German musical notes of B, A, C, B-flat (“H” in German notation). And then the piece trails off abruptly where, story has it, Bach dropped his pen forever.
The grand finale was a truly exhilarating performance of the Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo, No. 8 by Antonio Vivaldi (below and in a popular YouTube video with over 3 million hits at the bottom) and included in his Op. 3 publication. (Bach himself so admired this work that he made a keyboard concerto transcription of it.)
Here again, too, I had one of those moments of insight that live performances alone can give.
The players were arrayed, one to a part, with the cello by its harpsichord continuo partner on the far left, the strings then spread out towards the right. The violist Giglierano, in his only appearance, was furthest on the edge.
That isolation from the cello–which really belongs to the continuo, not to the string band–was telling, for it enabled me to appreciate how Vivaldi used the viola as the lowest voice in what is really three-part string writing. This was notably obvious in the middle movement, which was written almost entirely senza basso (without bass). Again, such awareness can come only from a live performance, rather than a recorded one.
It goes without saying that all the performers played with the highest level of skill and stylistic sense, joined with infectious enthusiasm.
MBM concerts used to be held in the lovely intimacy of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below top) on Regent Street. Now, they can virtually fill the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium (below bottom), in a photo by Zane Williams) with an audience close to 200 –and a very enthusiastic bunch, at that.
Thirty years ago a concert like this would have been inconceivable. The Madison public was just not as aware and as prepared and as receptive as it has come to be by now. Stephenson and his colleagues in the Madison Bach Musicians are one of the major forces that have brought about that process. How much we owe them!