By Jacob Stockinger
The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.
Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.
First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.
This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”
The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).
In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.
His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).
Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).
As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).
In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.
What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.
Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.
But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.
In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.
For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s the weekend — a good time for another reader poll.
Last weekend, The Ear heard the Violin Sonata No. 1 by the French composer Gabriel Faure (below), in a wonderful performance by UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor, who make an outstanding partnership that The Ear hopes to heard more often.
The Ear has long thought that Faure, who was the teacher of Ravel, has been neglected. His work, especially his solo piano pieces and chamber music, is subtle and appealing but unjustly overshadowed by the Germanic school.
Yet Faure seems to be getting more performances, although still not as many as he deserves.
So maybe The Ear will switch to say that the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi (below) is now his favorite neglected composer.
You can hear Finzi’s haunting and exquisite “Eclogue” for piano and strings, which was originally the slow movement for a piano concerto, in the YouTube video at the bottom.
But The Ear also likes Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto and his Five Bagatelles — especially the “Romance” movement — for Clarinet and Piano.
There are so many composers who deserve a wider hearing — including big mainstream composers like the prolific master Franz Joseph Haydn whose name is better known than most of his works.
Recently, on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard rarely performed solo piano works by the Czech Josef Suk (below top) and really liked them. Same goes for some solo piano works and violin works by Clara Schumann (below bottom).
There are so many other composers, including ones from Scandinavia, Asia and the United States, who fly under the radar but deserve better recognition and more performances.
So here is what The Ear wants to know:
Who is your favorite neglected composer?
And what is your favorite piece by that composer and why?
Please tell the rest of us, with a link to a YouTube performance, if possible, and help us expand our horizons.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Ann Arbor Ensemble. The group consists of Berlinda Lopez, flute; Marie Pauls, viola; and Stacy Feher-Regehr, piano. The all-French program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy and the Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op. 34, by Cecile Chaminade.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their 2016-2017 season with a concert titled Looking Within on this coming Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m.
The concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
Here are notes to the eclectic and unusually noteworthy program:
In 2011, American composer Byron Adams (below top) wrote a piece to honor the notable Czech-American composer Karel Husa (below bottom), who was also his composition teacher at Cornell University. The Serenade (Homage de Husa) not only illuminates Husa’s Czech heritage through musical references but also captures the essence of his positive influence in a piece that shows musical charm and wit. With the death of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Husa this past December, the intended tribute is particularly appropriate.
The Notturno (Nocturne) by Arnold Schoenberg (below) is a sweetly atmospheric, late Romantic work for harp and strings. After premiering in 1896 to an appreciative audience, this lovely piece of music was lost for decades and not rediscovered until 2001.
Originally written by French composer Maurice Ravel (below) in 1914, Kaddisch was set as a song using Aramaic text from the Jewish prayer book. The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform an evocative arrangement by David Bruce for a mixed ensemble of strings, winds, harp and English horn.
Music by British composer Gabriel Jackson (below, in a photo by Joel Garthwaite) is written with directness and clarity. In the Mendips, written in 2014, depicts the natural beauty of limestone hills in Somerset, England. The influence of generations of British composers, such as Vaughan Williams who was also inspired by pastoral beauty, is deftly woven into this piece for flute, clarinet, string trio, and harp.
Composer Frances Poulenc (below) was surrounded by the impressionist influence of his fellow French contemporaries Debussy and Ravel.
However, known for humor in how he approached his compositions, his creativity is resoundingly experienced in the high-energy Sextet for piano and woodwind quintet.
The listener will experience quicksilver shifts from the zesty vivace opening to glimpses of introspection to a dazzling high velocity finale. (You can hear the opening of the Sextet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Oakwood Chamber Players are joined by guests Geri Hamilton and Maureen McCarty, violins; Brad Townsend, string bass; Aaron Hill, oboe and English horn; and Mary Ann Harr, harp (below).
This is the third of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation
By Jacob Stockinger
Each year inevitably brings losses in the world of classical music.
And 2015 was no different.
Yet it some ways it seems to The Ear that the losses are getting harder to bear.
Is it because The Ear is getting older -– and finds that aging is not as desensitizing to death as he had expected?
Is it because so many of the deaths were high-profile figures like the German conductor Kurt Masur, who resurrected the New York Philharmonic and helped broker German reunification; or the distinguished Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, who also played the music for the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus”?
Is it because one of them, Metropolitan Opera’s weekly radio host Margaret Juntwait, died much too young from cancer?
Is it because of a local link, like the dramatic tenor Jon Vickers (below top in a 1998 photo by Graham Trott; and below bottom, as Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes) who performed in Madison when the Madison Opera was still coming of age?
Is it because it was someone who helped us, who brought us new beauty, as Robert Craft (below top, signing a copy of his memoir for Naxos) did with his championing of Igor Stravinsky? (In the photo below, Craft, left, is seen with Stravinsky.)
And there were others.
SURELY THERE WERE OTHER WOMEN AND MEN WHOM CLASSICAL MUSIC LOST IN 2015, ESPECIALLY LOCALLY, WHO HAVE NOT BEEN NAMED.
IF YOU CAN THINK OF SOMEONE, PLEASE LEAVE THEIR NAME AND A DESCRIPTION OF THEIR LIFE AND WORK IN THE COMMENT SECTION.
And to honor all those who were taken from us, The Ear offers one of the best pieces for grieving he knows, the stately and restrained “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Maurice Ravel in the original piano version.
It is played below in a YouTube video by the late great pianist Shura Cherkassky.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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
On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.
The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.
The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.
Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.
An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).
That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.
Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)
Then we had settings of the Latin text.
First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.
Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.
A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.
This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).
English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.
The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).
Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).
Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.
The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.
It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.
For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), a professor of horn at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and a friend of The Ear, writes:
I’m not sure if you know about my FREE and PUBLIC series SoundWaves. But I’d like to tell you about it because we have our first-ever presentation in the UW-Madison School of Music next week. It is part of the statewide Wisconsin Science Festival.
The basic idea is this: I choose a theme and get four scientists from different disciplines (or sometimes academics from the humanities) to explore the theme — for the layman — in short 15-minute talks.
I then give a short talk about the theme as it relates to music.
Then, there’s a related music performance.
To make this concrete for you, our program coming up is about The Roaring ’20s.
Now in its fourth year, the SoundWaves series is underwritten by Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF, below with founder Prof. Harry Steenbock), which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. So it seemed fitting to explore the decade of its creation for our first event of the year.
Accordingly, we will have a historian of science speaking about Vitamin D, which was discovered and synthesized by Steenbock, explaining things like “What the hell IS a vitamin, anyway?”
Then, a dermatologist will talk about bandaids (invented in 1920). Kids love them, but do they work? How? Why does someone invent a bandaid?
Next, a law professor will discuss the lie detector, also invented in 1920. We see them on cop shows, but do they work? Is their evidence admissible in court? How do they work?
Then, an industrial engineer will speak about automotive breakthroughs from the 1920s that have shaped our driving experience. Power steering, the traffic light, the car radio (invented by Motorola, hence the “motor” in the company name) — all were invented in the 1920s and all have had a broad impact on cars and driving today.
Then I’ll be talking about music of the 1920s. I’m particularly interested in what was then the recent invention of the 12-tone system by Arnold Schoenberg (below). If you are a composer, how on earth do you respond to that? Do you reject it, and if so, what do you do instead? How is the musical aesthetic reshaped by such a radical (and difficult to listen to) idea?
At the end, there will be a performance of the String Quartet No. 1 (subtitled “Kreutzer Sonata,” based on the short story by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy) by Czech composer Leos Janacek (below top), written in 1923, played by the Rhapsodie String Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made of Madison Symphony Orchestra players including Suzanne Beia, our own second violinist of the Pro Arte Quartet. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
We’ve been getting around 175 people for our programs at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, including lots of people who come back over and over.
For me, doing this series is hugely stimulating — being able to collaborate across traditionally rigid academic boundaries is one of the reasons I was excited to come to Madison.
Here are the specifics:
Date: This Saturday, Oct. 24, at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Speakers and performers:
Kevin Walters, WARF historian-in-residence
Klint Peebles, Department of Dermatology
Keith Findley, UW Law School
John Lee, Department of Industrial Engineering
Daniel Grabois, School of Music and SoundWaves curator
Rhapsodie String Quartet
For more information, visit:
Sales pitch over!
Hope to see you there.
By Jacob Stockinger
The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opened on Saturday night.
The coming week of daily workshops, lectures and concerts could hardly have enjoyed a more promising opening than the stunning a cappella singing turned in by the justly acclaimed Rose Ensemble (below) of St. Paul, Minnesota. (You can hear the Rose Ensemble in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The group consists of 12 singers and one string player – she plays a Medieval violin-like instrument called “la vielle” — with some singers doing double duty and playing a drum or recorder.
Somewhere around two-thirds of a house (below) turned out in Mills Hall to hear a thoroughly masterful display of early Eastern European music from the 11th century through the 16th century, which is the topic of this year’s festival.
Start with the basics.
As far as The Ear could tell, there was not a single weak link in the chain. Each singer sang strongly and with conviction.
And the balance that allowed different lines to emerge was nothing short of miraculous.
They sang as a large group of 12.
They sang smaller motets with groups of six women or six men (below).
They sang duets and they sang solos.
And all of the permutations proved successful.
They were terrific in all the liturgical music that makes up the bulk of the early Slavic repertory.
But The Ear’s favorite pieces were some of the folksongs from Ukraine and elsewhere. The performers moved around the stage and used their voices in what American poet Walt Whitman aptly described as a “barbaric yawp” that came close to artful shouting.
The singing was nothing short of thrilling as the performers cut loose with chopping arms, moving feet and howling mouths. Yet it all remained controlled and convincing. It reminded The Ear of plain chant and shape-note singing.
The Rose Ensemble organized a masterful display of varied programming and performances that, to be honest, helped offset a lot of the similarities of so much of the music.
One other thing: If you wonder about attending the lectures, just go. They start one hour before the concerts, at 6:30 p.m. in 2650 Mosse Humanities Building.
For this concert, John W. Barker, a veteran music critic and retired professor of Medieval history at the UW-Madison, provided a terrific historical context that help the audience appreciate the achievement of early Slavonic music. His lecture was filled with wit and facts as he pointed to the map to show how Slavic culture was born and how extensive it became.
What we learned in one hour!
For more detail about events, venues and prices, go to the comprehensive website:
ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.
Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:
And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Mother’s Day 2015.
And nothing says love like music.
So what music would you like to play for your mother?
And what music would she like to hear?
They aren’t necessarily the same.
So here are The Ear’s choices.
The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:
And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.
And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.
What are your choices in each category?
Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.
ALERT: It may not feel like it, but today — Wednesday, March 20, 2013 -– is the vernal equinox (from the Latin for “equal night”). It arrives in Wisconsin at 6:02 a.m. CDT. And boy, is it ever welcome this year after this on-and-off winter of warm and cold, snowfall and floods, sunshine and gray skies. But the first of spring is so cold!! So is spring a reality? Or just a dream or maybe illusion? Franz Schubert wondered the same thing in the YouTube video of his song “Spring Dream” (below) from “Winterreise” (Winter Journey), sung by the incomparable German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died last year. (The mix of Schubert titles for the cycle and this specific song certainly applies to this winter and spring, no?). What piece would you like to hear to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of spring?
By Jacob Stockinger
Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, will present a concert by the internationally recognized Czech pianist Martin Kasik on this Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.
The first half of the performance will feature all three movements of Claude Debussy’s “Estampes” (Prints) that include “Pagodas,” “Evening in Granada” and “Gardens in the Rain”; and Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) No. 3 and “Spanish Rhapsody.” After an intermission, Kasik will perform Modeste Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (at bottom in a YouTube video) in its entirety. See the program details at www.farleyspianos.com
Tickets can be purchased in person at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street, or by calling (608) 271-2626 to reserve tickets by credit or debit card.
Tickets are $35 the day of the concert or $30 in advance. Located on Madison’s far west side near West Towne, Farley’s House of Pianos will have plenty of free parking available, and is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro. A reception will follow the concert.
Kasik has been playing piano since the age of four and won many national and international awards before the age of 25, including the 1999 Young Concert Artists Competition and the 2000 Davidoff Prix. Other prizes include: the 1997 Chopin International Piano Competition, 1st prize; the 1998 Prague Spring International Competition, 1st prize; the 1998 Young Concert Artists Competition, European Round, Leipzig, 1st prize; and the 1999 Young Concert Artists Competition, World Round, New York, 1st prize.
Kasik has played throughout the world, including concerts in Helsinki, Barcelona, Tokyo, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Kasik teaches piano at the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and is considered one of the best Czech pianists active today.
Other 2013 concerts include UW-Madison cellist Parry Karp and UW-Oshkosh pianist Eli Kalman in the complete works for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven on April 19 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 4:30 p.m.