By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a record 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 FM. 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
For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.
A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.
Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.
Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).
It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”
It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.
Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)
Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.
The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.
Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.
Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.
I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.
They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.
While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.
One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.
This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.
By Jacob Stockinger
For generations, the conquests of the legendary Don Juan were treated as seductions.
But were they really rape?
One blog writer for slate.com – Bonnie Gordon, who teaches a class on music and gender at the University of Virginia — draws a link between the charismatic historic nobleman and the current charges of “womanizing” and allegations of sexual assault made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (below).
She raises questions about what is sexual assault, seduction and rape – and how the definitions of a “rape culture” have changed over time and depending on whether it comes from a man’s or a woman’s point of view.
She pegged her essay to LAST weekend’s broadcast performance of the opera by “Live From the Met in HD” with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. In the YouTube video at the bottom, with English subtitles, Don Juan’s servant Leporello sings an aria about his master’s thousands of “conquests.”
But despite the week that has passed since the broadcast of the production, to The Ear the essay still seems relevant as the national election approaches.
Here is a link to that essay:
What do you think about the essay and its main argument or point?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.
And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.
The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.
Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.
Here is a link:
Read it and see what you think.
Then let us know in the COMMENT section.
Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice:
Concerts are on Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Asbury Church, 6101 University Avenue; and on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased in advance ($12 adult, $9 senior/student) at any of the advance ticket outlets (Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports) or at the door ($15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students).
After three very successful years of directing the choir, music director Brad Schultz (below) has resigned due to added responsibilities on the Luther College faculty starting next fall. Throughout his tenure, Brad has helped MACH’s ringers retain the spirit and skills which have led this auditioned choir to be recognized as one of the leading handbell groups in America. He introduces the concert as follows:
“Maybe it was the first time you tasted a delicious French roll, or saw the Eiffel Tower. Maybe it was an exposure to music, culture, or fashion. Maybe it was in your early ventures as a reader (“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”), or depictions of la belle vie (the French “good life”) in the movies. We have always had a fascination with all things French; from culture to custom, from cuisine to cinema.
“There’s no denying French advancements in music, either. From the cathedral to the salon, Leonin and Pérotin to composers of chanson and popular music, France has always left a musical mark on the world.
“We invite you to join us this weekend for a celebration of all things French. Revered composers Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin and Faure will be represented, alongside pieces that remind us of French culture, landscape and architecture. We’re excited to be joined again this season by flutist Barbara Paziouros Roberts.”
Here is the complete program:
Grand Valse Brillante, Op. 18, by Frédéric Chopin, Arranged by Ruth Artman
Jubilation by Fred Gramann
The Sunken Cathedral (La cathédrale engloutie) by Claude Debussy, Transcribed by Kevin McChesney
Pavane by Gabriel Fauré, Arranged by Albert Zabel
The Ball (from “Children’s Games”) by Georges Bizet, Arranged by Betty B. Garee
Suite for Flute & Piano, Op. 116, by Benjamin Godard: II. Idylle
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint–Saéns, Arranged by Michael R. Keller
Down the River by Jason W. Krug
Fountains by Kevin McChesney
Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie, Arranged by Karen Roth
Cathedrals by Margaret R. Tucker
Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes) by Joseph Kosma, Arranged by Bank Wu
MACH rings over 6 octaves of handbells and 7 octaves of handchimes, the largest assemblage of these instruments in Wisconsin. This fall, while the choir searches for a new director, MACH will be led by founder and former director Susan Udell, who retired from the group in 2010.
For more information about MACH, visit the website at http://www.madisonhandbells.org.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:
On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.
Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.
Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.
The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.
Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).
The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.
While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.
For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:
Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.
And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.
So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.
Sure, it’s a satire.
But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic Church.
But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.
Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.
Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?
To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.
And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?
Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.
Here is the satire from submediant.com. It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.
And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement and is pleased to post it:
Harv Thompson will receive the award in the category of Artistic Achievement. The award will be presented at Arts Day on this Wednesday, March 9, at the Monona Terrace in the Hall of Ideas at 9 a.m.
Deserving individuals and organizations from across the state were nominated for their support of youth arts across all disciplines.
Harv Thompson (below) is Professor Emeritus of Theater at the UW-Madison and the UW-Extension. A firm believer in the “Wisconsin Idea,” Thompson considers the boundaries of the University System to be the boundaries of the state. His passion for arts education throughout Wisconsin is deeply rooted in his belief that the state has a commitment to bring the UW’s arts offerings to the diverse audiences found in every corner of Wisconsin.
Thompson’s career ran on two tracks: his theater endeavors and his administrative leadership. Harv served over 20 years as department chair for the UW-Extension’s Continuing Education in the Arts Department.
His role at the UW-Extension included maintaining a link between UW arts professors and the UW-Extension youth program of 4-H. Over 50,000 children state-wide are enrolled in 4-H and his leadership helped develop and maintain funding for 4-H arts programs including: Arts Camp, Arts Leadership lab, Showcase Singers, Drama Company and Art Team.
Thompson (below) is also founder of the Wisconsin Theater Association, which was developed to assist public schools in their theater offerings including classes and live performances of plays and musicals. Since its inception, the Wisconsin Theater Association has provided educational resources and performances to thousands of students throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Twenty-five years ago, Thompson founded the Wisconsin High School Theater Festival (below). For every year since, hundreds of high school students attended the three-day festival to participate in a variety of educational workshops and to view live theater performances by both their high school peers and by professional theater groups. Thousands of high school students have benefited from the festival’s 25-year run, and Harv continues to remain closely involved in the planning and execution of the festival to this day.
The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, located in Madison, Wisconsin, presents the Rabin Youth Arts Awards in honor of their founding conductor, Marvin Rabin (below), as a means to honor those who follow in his footsteps.
The awards are a forum for promoting quality youth arts programs and honoring those who work diligently to provide arts opportunities for children throughout Wisconsin. They also serve as a means to elevate awareness in our community about the importance of arts education for all children.
Now celebrating its 50th season, WYSO membership has included more than 5,000 young musicians from more than 100 communities in southern Wisconsin. WYSO, currently under the artistic direction of James Smith, includes three full orchestras, a string orchestra, a chamber music program, a percussion ensemble, a harp ensemble and a brass choir program. For more information, visit www.wysomusic.org
ALERT: This Sunday night’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano composed by UW-Madison professor of saxophone Les Thimmig, with UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson, has been CANCELLED.
By Jacob Stockinger
Tonight is the last debate for the Republicans before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. It takes place at 7 p.m. CST in Manchester, and will be broadcast on ABC-TV.
This past week also saw both a town hall meeting and a debate between the Democrats – their last before the primary election (below, in a photo by Getty Images).
Here’s a question no one has asked them during the debates: What kind of classical music do you like?
I know, I know. The question has little relevance and little popularity.
The Ear notes a couple of trends.
No specific pieces were named.
No sonatas or concertos, no symphonies or operas.
All the names of composers were extremely mainstream except for Arcangelo Corelli by Dr. Ben Carson (below), who also named Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Others mentioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Bernie Sanders’ preferred composer echoes his own populist and defiantly anti-establishment, even rabble-rousing, sentiments. Can you guess which composer he favors?
Why is The Ear not surprised that Hillary Clinton remains vague about composers and pieces, but says YES of course she likes classical music and even has it on her iPod.
And former businesswoman Carly Fiorina (below, in a photo by Politifact) surprises one with her youthful plan to be a professional musician, a concert pianist. Does she still play? The Ear wants to ask.
The Ear also wonders:
Does Evangelical Ted Cruz consider classical music frivolous or even sinful?
The Ear bets that country music, rock and pop music draw many more voters and gets many more votes.
But doesn’t anyone else think that the irresistible opening thee of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would be a great dramatic call to arms for a candidate?
But who knows for sure?
Anyway, here is a link tot he WQXR story:
Now, The Ear doesn’t expect that this survey will change anyone’s vote.
Still, it is interesting as a sidelight to the much bigger and much more important issues confronting the candidates and the electorate.
And perhaps more specifics about their taste in music will emerge during the rest of the primary campaign and the then the general election.
Their individual culture quotients must matter for something.
What are your reactions?
What do you think?
Let us know.
The Ear wants to hear.
The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.
Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:
“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m.
“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”
“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”
The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:
Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum
Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion
Banaha — Congolese folk song
MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR
Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum
“Riflemen of Bennington“ Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum
HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR
Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano
Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler
THE MADISON BOYCHOIR
Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors
Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)
Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason
“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)
“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”
About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC)
“Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.
“Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self -confidence, personal responsibility and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.”
For further information, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musicians of the Year two years ago – will begin its new summer season this coming weekend.
The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.
Here is the first part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 2 will run tomorrow:
BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY (BDDS) PRESENTS ITS 24TH ANNUAL SUMMER CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL — GUILTY AS CHARGED — JUNE 12–28, 2015.
This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends. Each weekend offers two different programs. Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at Overture Center in Madison, the Stoughton Opera House, and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.
Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences. Led by artistic directors and performers (below) Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, 20 guest artists will perform in the festival.
So, what is the meaning of this year’s theme?
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is clearly a criminal enterprise. After all, we are named after the only major composer to ever spend a significant amount of time in jail, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Our crime at BDDS?
We’ve destroyed the stuffy, starched-collar atmosphere of traditional chamber music concerts and replaced it with a seriously fun vibe. We’ve broken down the barriers that separate audience and performer, making our concerts into riotously interactive events. Rather than leading audiences through a museum, we invite audiences to trespass into the creative and re-creative process right in the concert hall.
We own up to our crimes, and we proudly proclaim that we are GUILTY AS CHARGED.
GUILTY AS CHARGED features six programs, each performed multiple times and in multiple venues, and each named after some “crime.”
In “Stolen Moments” we feature music that has been stolen in some fashion: stolen from another composer, stolen from oneself, stolen from a completely different land and culture.
Felix Mendelssohn stole a chorale tune from Johann Sebastian Bach as the basis of the slow movement of his second cello sonata (heard at bottom in a YouTube video with cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist James Levine).
Franz Joseph Haydn stole from himself to create his flute divertimentos; Ludwig van Beethoven stole Irish and Scottish folksong texts and tunes as the basis for his songs with piano trio accompaniment.
“Stolen Moments” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., and in the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14, at 2:30 p.m.
“Rob the Cradle” features the music or poetry of artists who died tragically young, robbing the world of their creative talents.
The Flute Sonata by Dick Kattenburg, a light-hearted and joyous work, was written at the age of 18 shortly before he died in a Nazi concentration camp.
The powerful “Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok” by Dmitri Shostakovich feature the luminous poetry of the man many considered Russia’s finest poet, a man whose life was cut short by the conditions of early Soviet years.
Both programs feature the talents of two great singers—bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top) and soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom) — familiar to BDDS audiences as the voices of Robert and Clara Schumann from our 2013 season.
“Rob the Cradle” will be performed in The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14, at 6:30 p.m.
For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.
This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.
CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.
BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 E. Main Street, below top); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (below bottom, County Highway 23 in Spring Green).
Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.
Various ticket packages are also available, starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half off.
For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.
Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com additional fees apply).
Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.
TOMORROW: PART 2 WITH WEEKS 2 AND 3