The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Festival will “harvest” gardens of music from next Saturday through Sept. 2

August 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer season for classical music in Madison has gotten busier and busier. But the summer still ends on the same high note — the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that is co-directed by John Harbison and Rose Mary Harbison.

Here is the announcement about this year’s festival, the 29th, that begins this coming weekend:

“The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “Harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

“Both garden and festival share much in common:  risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece —whether a piece of ground or a piece of music — is capable of such nourishment, abundance and variety.

“In the musicians’ garden, with its unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables — but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drive us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below). “Each planting retains certain elements and adjusts others with the hope of increased productivity. But so many of the adjustments made in hope of improvement do not work, but create new problems, require new approaches.  What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Here are this year’s Concert Programs. Please note something new this year: All weekend concerts start at 4 p.m.

Program I: ROOTS – Music of Bach and Primosch. On Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4 p.m.

“Continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) in cantatas and instrumental works, and its reflection in the music of James Primosch (below bottom), one of the few composers in our time able to grasp both the possibilities and responsibilities available in sacred music in a tradition inherited from Bach.”

Program II: NEW GROWTH – The Kepler Quartet (below, with composer Ben Johnston, and playing Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7 in the YouTube video at the bottom) on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“A recital of beautifully alluring micro-tonal music “in between the notes.” The attractive and intelligible musical surface, and our experience hearing it, belies the at-times complex compositional methods.

“We are impressed by the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The recital will be augmented with a demonstration and discussion by the Keplers.

Works are by Ben Johnston, Stefano Scodanibbio (below top), Henry Cowell (below middle) and Harry Partch (below bottom).”

Program III: CORNUCOPIA – Saturday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m.

“Schumann’s beloved and timeless song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love) with tenor Frank Kelley (below) and his impassioned, enigmatic and exuberant Piano Trio in D minor anchor this program.

“The program also includes the Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Piano Sonata in E Major by Franz Joseph Haydn sonatas and the world premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, “In Early Evening,” to poems by Louise Gluck.”

The ARTISTS are Mark Bridges, cello; Laura Burns, violin; Ryne Cherry, baritone; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, portative organ and piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Frank Kelley, tenor; The Kepler Quartet; Karl Lavine, cello; Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; James Primosch, piano; Brek Renzelman, viola; Eric Segnitz, violin;  Janice Weber, piano; and Sarah Yanovitch, soprano.

Performances take place in the Festival Barn (below top and bottom), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). 

The charming and rustic venue — indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts — is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended, and casual dress is suggested. Ample parking is available.

Tickets are $12-$32, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-festival-2018-harvest-tickets-47217166817

For more information about the performers and specific works on programs, call (608) 241-2525 or go to www.tokencreekfestival.org

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Token Creek Festival has been called “ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields.” (Photo below is by Jess Anderson.)

“Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming; a deep engagement with the audience; and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a  comfortable refurbished barn.”


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Classical music: The venerable early music group Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble celebrates the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with fine style and revealing contexts that anticipate Mozart and Beethoven. Plus, many UW-Madison choirs perform two performances of a one-hour seasonal program in FREE “Choral Prism” concert this Sunday afternoon at 2 and again at 4.

December 5, 2014
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ALERT: Two one-hour performances of the FREE Choral Prism Concert, featuring all of UW-Madison choral choirs, will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave. Performing short pieces of seasonal music — winter,  Christmas, Hanukkah — under conductor and director Beverly Taylor are the UW Chorale, UW Concert Choir, UW Madrigal Singers, UW Masters Singers and Women’s Chorus Opera and Voice. There is an optional sing-along for the audience. Sorry, The Ear has received no word on specific composers and works.

luther memorial church madison

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 20 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

After almost 25 years, as the first and longest-surviving group bringing early music to Madison on a regular basis, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) is still going strong.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

And two days after Thanksgiving, on the tail end of a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, it came up with a remarkably rich and generous program, performed at a familiar venue, the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (below) in James Madison Park.

Gates of Heaven

Part of the richness was the idea of a partial theme: commemorating the 300th anniversary year of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788).

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Of eight program slots, three were devoted to C.P.E.’s music.  The opening item was a Trio Sonata in D minor, for two flutes and basso continuo, played by flutists Brett Lipshitz and Monica Steger, with cellist Anton TenWolde cellist (below) and harpsichordist Max Yount. (You can hear the Trio Sonata in D minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

anton tenwolde

Written during C.P.E.’s service to the flute-obsessed Frederick the Great of Prussia, it is a conservative piece that still looks back to the late Baroque styles of the composer’s famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach. On the other hand, three short practice Sonatinas from the very end of C.P.E.’s life (played by Yount) can be related to the piano sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was writing exactly at the same time.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Most fascinating of all, however, was a Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord obligato, dating from 1759.  An intricate and demanding work, it has its own musical substance, the opening of which Eric Miller (below, in photo by Katrin Talbot) brought off brilliantly, with Yount.  But clearly as a duet for two equal instruments (abandoning the old keyboard continuo function), it gave hints of Ludwig van Beethoven’s cello sonatas, to come a half-century and more later.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

As against the works of the birthday boy, instrumental pieces by three other composers were offered, composers roughly parallel in lifespan to C.P.E., but whose individual differences made nice contrasts to the latter’s style.

Rather conventionally post-Baroque was a sonata for cello and bass by the Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799).  But pre-Classical virtuosity was the hallmark of a Sonata for traverse flute and continuo by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), played with wonderful flair by Lipshutz, with Steger shifting to the harpsichord as partner.

Particularly interesting, though, was a chamber work by a dimly remembered French composer of the day, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770). The scoring of this sonata pitted a seemingly unbalanced trio of two flutes and gamba against the basso continuo: the manipulations of color and texture were full of wit and cleverness, especially in the last of its four movements.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble flutist Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger BW

There were also two vocal works, for some added contrast.  Soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) sang a cantata, on a text about tempestuous love by slightly earlier Baroque French master Michel Piglet de Montéclair.  She displayed in this her usual combination of precision and stylistic flair.

Consuelo Sañudo

And then, for the program’s closer, she sang a Spanish “villancico” by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, whose life span (1614-1685) was almost exactly identical with C.P.E. Bach’s, by one century earlier.  This was, in fact, composed for four vocal parts with basso continuo, but for this the other three vocal parts were rendered instrumentally, thus bringing the full group of six performers together in a grand finale.

This was, in all, an unusually long program, but one filled with surprises, discoveries and delights. It proved another reminder of the WBE’s endless gifts to Madison’s musical life.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble BW 2013

 


Classical music: Bummer!!! The recent recital by YouTube sensation Valentina Lisitsa proved tedious and showed that great pianists aren’t always great musicians.

November 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Valentina Lisitsa (below), the Ukraine-born pianist who has become a YouTube sensation, played a recital here last Thursday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. It featured music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Valentina Lisitsa

All four men were accomplished pianists as well as composers.

So you would have thought that nothing could go wrong.

But it did.

Big time.

From the time she took the stage, Valentina Lisitsa seemed ill-at-ease and unsure of what to do musically. What resulted was a very long concert with too much boredom and tedium.

Her default position seemed to be to play a lot, and then play some more. It turned out to be more like a marathon or a 19th-century “monster concert” than a typical piano recital. I don’t know what the intent of her program was except perhaps to show off her undeniable stamina.

Valentina LIsitsa playing

True, the “new media” phenom, who has a clear gift for self-promotion and who attracts avid groupie-like fans to her many YouTube videos and concerts, played for the better part of three hours and never seemed to break a sweat, even in the most difficult pieces.

But I have to concur with The Wise Piano Teacher who said: “It was the worst piano recital I’ve heard in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of them. I came home angry.”

The teacher wasn’t alone.

Except for a few of the miniature intermezzi by Brahms and a few of the ingenious etudes by Schumann, the piano playing seemed disjointed and the music too often lacked musicality.

Now, my instinct is to be generous and to make allowances. Maybe it was just an “off” night. Or maybe she felt ill or sick. Or maybe she has been overbooked or underrehearsed in recent weeks.

I do know that I have heard Lisitsa play much better, though she seemed at her best when she accompanied the gifted American violinist Hilary Hahn (below), who perhaps gave her some interpretive direction.

hilary_hahn

The Ear kept thinking of the response by Vladimir Horowitz (below) when somebody asked him why he didn’t take the second repeats in sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti or why he didn’t play late sonatas by Beethoven. “I don’t want to bore the audience,” he said.

Vladimir Horowitz

Lisitsa showed no such concern for the audience. In fact her program, her stage manner and her playing all seemed listener-unfriendly. At times, her recital even seemed condescending and disdainful of the ordinary listener.

Valentina Lisitsa at keyboard 2

As a critic, I have to call it as I hear it. But I take no joy in writing this. There are few enough solo piano recitals in Madison these days, and I had really looked forward to this one. Rarely do I want to walk out of a concert of any sort, especially a piano concert. But this time I did want to walk out -– and I did leave early, during a Franz Liszt encore that was his arrangement of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” I also saw some other serious music fans walk out even earlier.

As for the all-Romantic program itself, here are some snapshots or mini-critiques:

The “Tempest” Sonata by Beethoven (below): This great sonata was frequently reduced from a tempest to directionless wind by dropped or missed notes and choppy interpretation as well as by inattention to dynamics. It just didn’t make sense intellectually or emotionally -– and it is a great masterpiece of emotional depth. And certainly her playing of the same work in a live concert in Paris in a YouTube video at the bottom is better than what I heard live here. 

Beethoven big

The “Symphonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann (below top): Decca has just released an 85-minute recording (below bottom) of Lisitsa playing these pieces plus the complete Chopin etudes. She seems drawn to etudes, perhaps because they often favor fingers over music. And this woman has fingers and technique to spare, even if she lacks musical ideas. imagination and something to say.

Schumann photo1850

Valentina Lisitsa Chopin Schumann etudes CD cover

Selected Intermezzi by Johannes Brahms (below): She didn’t stick to the program, and didn’t announce the changes to the audience. She played 14, but after a while they all ran together and it seemed more like 114. Better she should have played a set of just three or four intermezzi as a quiet interlude –- which was their original intended purpose. But instead she too often rushed through them. We missed the poignant melodies and harmonies, the autumnal soulfulness of late Brahms, to say nothing of the careful construction and counterpoint he used.

brahms3

Sonata No. 1 in D Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below): The Ear thinks Lisitsa knew she has confused and lost her small audience when she went from the long Brahms set directly into the Rachmaninoff sonata. I heard some audience members wonder about what they were hearing – where Brahms had stopped and Rachmaninoff had begun. This sonata is a hard piece to hold together, and it didn’t help that she favored big noise over music, big chords over subtle voices.

rachmaninoffyoung

All in all, and despite a standing ovation — for her strength and brilliance, one suspects — The Ear found it a night to forget. I have heard Valentina Lisitsa (below) in better form and I wish I knew what happened here.

“Was she annoyed that the house wasn’t full?” someone asked. Maybe, although such an attitude would be highly unprofessional and too peevish or diva-like.

But I do know that when she next appears in a solo recital, I will think twice -– more than twice -– about attending.

That is too bad for me and too bad for her, too bad for the audience and too bad for the presenter.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

But everyone’s a critic.

What did others of you who attended Valentina Lisitsa’s recital think?

Did you judge it a success or a failure?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Reading during a live concert is rude and disrespectful — like knitting, texting or checking email. Don’t do it.

April 26, 2012
36 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

So there I was last Saturday afternoon, in the small and intimate Morphy Recital Hall listening to the three winners of the 27th annual Beethoven Sonata Competition – the Bagatelles also can be entered — at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

Three talented students – one undergraduate and two graduate students – were playing three difficult and famous Beethoven sonatas. They had some slips, but each played very well with fluency and an understanding of the music.

Aelin Woo (below) played the dark and dramatic  Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest.”

Jonathan Thornton (below) played the Sonata in E Major, Op. 109, with its sublimely soulful theme-and-variations final movement.

And Sung Ho Yang played the mammoth “Hammerklavier” Sonata, in B-Flat Major, Op. 106, perhaps the Mount Everest of the piano repertoire because of its length and its gnarly fugue in the last movement.

Mind you, these were students — not seasoned or veteran performers. They needed all the focus, concentration and calm they could muster. And they needed attentiveness from the audience.

But they weren’t getting any help from one woman who sat right in front of me.

For most of the 90 minutes of actual playing, she carefully read an issue of The New Yorker Magazine, folding the pages and underlining passages with a ballpoint pen (below).

That shows good taste in reading.

But it also shows bad taste – very bad taste – in concert manners and etiquette. She should know better – and probably does.

Not only might she have distracted the performers who were close by on stage. She also clearly distracted several people in the audience sitting near her who commented to me—but not directly to her.

I understand their reticence. After all, I too did not talk directly to her, even though she was only a row in front of me.

For the same reason, you will see in the photo below that I did not show her face but just her companion — who also induced the rudeness and didn’t apparently say anything to her about the offensive behavior — looking at an ad in The New Yorker during intermission. And I did not try to get her name.

I am more interested in correcting or, better, preventing the behavior than in embarrassing the violator.

Now, this is not the first time such intrusive rudeness has caught the attention of The Ear.

Quite a while ago, I wrote a blog posting that was critical of a woman who sat in the front row of a concert and knitted. Then I did the same thing about people who checked e-mail and texted during a theater performance.

I think they should be kicked out – that is, politely but firmly asked to leave – unless they are willing to pay attention and be polite.

I think most readers agreed with me that such behavior is indeed rude and out-of-place.

If you go to the concert, you should listen to the music.

If you want to use music as background, stay home, put on a CD and knit or read your magazine.

And if you don’t want to go to a concert to hear the music, then stay home or go somewhere else.

Period.

But, with a few exceptions — such as the outdoors Opera in the Park, which is loud and asks audience members to text in donations, or a vocal or choral concert where you follow lyrics or text — you do not read books or magazines at a concert. It is rude to the performer and to the audience. It is also demeaning to yourself.

Even program notes should be read before or after the concert or during intermission. Reading program notes at the wrong time—when it is quiet during the performance or when you make a noise folding the page – is also rude.

My post about knitting drew a lot of reader comments, both pro and con, including comments about some special disorder or disability that makes people need to knit during a concert.

Sorry, I’m not buying that baloney. Just stay home.

Anyway, here are links to those posts about knitting and about texting during performances. Be sure to pay attention to the many comments about knitting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=knitting

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/classical-music-etiquette-kick-texters-out-of-concerts-plays-movies/

And let me know what you think about reading magazines or books during a concert.

And what you think should be done?

The Ear wants to hear.


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