The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs two concerts this weekend that honor choral conductor Robert Fountain. Then founder and director Scott MacPherson steps down

August 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even 21 years after his death at 79 in 1996, the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s legendary choral conductor Robert Fountain (below) is spoken of with reverence and awe.

And with good reason, according to many singers and musicians.

The story goes that Fountain was offered a professional performing career, much like his friend Dale Warland enjoyed, but he chose instead to go into academia and teaching.

Fountain’s legacy will be celebrated this weekend with two performances by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below).

IVE is a summer-only group that has performed for the past 16 years under its founder and artistic director Scott MacPherson (below), who worked at the UW-Madison with Fountain and now directs choral activities at Kent State University.

Performances are this Friday, Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the High Point Church on the far west side, 7702 Old Sauk Road, and on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. at Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. (Cash or check only will be accepted at Mills Hall.)

Here are some comments that The Ear received from MacPherson:

“These are my final concerts as artistic director with IVE. I am stepping down after 16 years. The IVE Board is in the process of finding a new artistic director and should be able to announce the new person in the coming week or so.

“It is the centennial of my mentor and former UW colleague Robert Fountain’s birth, so I have chosen to honor him with a tribute for my final concerts with IVE.

“Robert Fountain: A Choral Legacy” is a concert programmed as he would have programmed with his UW Concert Choir.

“Music from the Renaissance to living composers and everything in between will be featured. Many of my singers sang under his direction at one time or another. Some are even travelling from out of state to participate.”

“The composers represented include Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Randall Thompson, Pavel Chesnokov, Gyorgy Ligeti, Andrew Rindfleisch and a spiritual arranged by Fountain.”

(IVE will perform Chesnokov’s “Salvation Is Created,” which you can hear sung by the Dale Warland Singers in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For the complete program, plus links to ticket information and purchases, go to:

https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/upcoming-performances

For more information about the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and about Scott MacPherson, go to:

https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org


Classical music: Here are seven big things The Ear liked about the latest concert by the Madison Choral Project and two small things he did not like. Go this afternoon and see if you agree.

May 31, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, The Ear attended the latest concert by the estimable Madison Choral Project. He was very glad he did. It was terrific. You should go hear it.

MCP group 5-15

The concert was called “Music of Our Time” and was programmed and conducted by the legendary Grammy-nominated conductor Dale Warland (below top). Edgewood College professor Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom), who just got a new job at Northwestern University near Chicago and who founded and directs the Madison Choral Project, studied under Warland.

Dale Warland

Albert Pinsonneault 2

It was and will remain a memorable event, and I encourage music fans to attend a repeat performance this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. (Free parking is available two blocks west at the UW Foundation.)

Tickets are $20 general admission; $10 student admission; and $50 for preferred seating to support the outstanding organization.

For more information, visit http://themcp.org

Here is The Ear’s review in the form of points he liked and didn’t like:

SEVEN THINGS THE EAR LIKED ABOUT THE CONCERT:

  1. The program was not too long, yet it featured a wide variety of repertoire, texts and composers.
  2. The chorus sang with seemingly exemplary diction in English, Latin and Russian.
  3. The many a cappella portions were broken up by adding other instruments. UW-Madison professor John Aley (below top) played the trumpet, especially in a haunting finale where he played from a distance. Eric Miller (below bottom) played the cello with energy, sensitivity and lyricism.

MCP John Aley

MCP Eric Miller

  1. UW-Madison piano professor Martha Fischer (below) played with mastery, never too loudly or too softly. She demonstrated the art of blending. Little wonder that she heads the collaborative piano faculty – that is what used to be called the art of “accompanying” – at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

  1. The chorus showed absolute precision with crisp attacks and unbroken releases. There was no sloppiness to discern. Warland’s hands were expressive “batons” to observe.
  2. The chorus displayed an exemplary mastery of balance. Too many choral performances sound monolithic, with all parts being emphasized pretty much equally when it comes to volume and dynamics. Instead, conductor Dale Warland brought out lines and gave each piece a foreground, mid-ground and background. That added a richness you often don’t get to hear.
  3. The acoustics and atmosphere of the church seem ideally suited as a concert venue for choral or vocal music. You have to love all the dark wood, the color scheme and especially the rows of organ pipes as a metaphor for the human voices and human “pipes.”

MCP church setting

TWO THINGS THE EAR DIDN’T LIKE:

  1. Too many of the songs had the same slow tempo. The Ear loves ballads, elegies and laments as much as — and maybe more than — the next person. But only one piece really jumped out as an upbeat contrast, and that was with very mixed success – as you can see below.
  2. The Ear doesn’t like choruses or conductors that think they have to entertain the audience and do something active besides stand there and sing well. I don’t like it, for example, when singers clap their hands and stomp their feet during spirituals in mock-folk, mock-slave style that comes awfully close to being something out of a minstrel show. Luckily, the singers did not spoil the fabulously beautiful and stirringly poignant version of “Deep River” with such shenanigans.

For that reason, I did not like the chorus waving their hands and turning their heads as if being buzzed by stinging bees in one third-rate song “Of Crows and Clusters” by Norman Dello Joio (below), who used a third-rate poem by Vachel Lindsay. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at bottom, where the University of Southern California singers forego the cliche theatrics.) Yet most of the audience seemed to like the novelty piece a lot, right along with the rest of the program that deserved the enthusiastic reception it got.

MCP audience

But The Ear found it too cute, completely unconvincing and totally unnecessary. The Ear doesn’t do cute -– at least not in music.

Norman Dello Joio


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project adds a second performance in late May with famed guest conductor Dale Warland. Plus, you can hear J.S. Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations arranged for string trio in a FREE concert on Friday at noon.

April 30, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House at 900 University Bay Drive, will offer a transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, originally composed for solo harpsichord, arranged for string trio by Russian violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Performers are Kangwon Kim, violin (below); Micah Behr, viola; and Mark Bridges, cello. (You can hear the opening of this transcription, with the arranger who was inspired by Glenn Gould, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Choral Project (below) write:

Madison Choral Project color

Dear Friends of Great Choral Music,

Due to high interest, we are pleased to announce we have added a second concert with guest conductor Dale Warland (below).

Maestro Warland’s program is titled: “Music of Our Time,” and features a wonderful array of music including Morten Lauridsen, Arvo Part, Ola Gjeilo, Carol Barnett, and even a work by Warland himself.

Dale Warland

We will now offer two concerts on the last weekend of May, both at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave, Madison:

Friday May 29th, at 7:30pm (Tickets are still available)

OR

Sunday May 31st, at 2:30pm

You can get your tickets by clicking on the links above, or going through our website: www.themcp.org/tickets 

Join us for this memorable evening of music-making!

A reception at the church to follow each concert.

The distinguished career of choral composer and conductor, Dale Warland, spans more than six decades and has made a profound contribution to the music of our time.

As founder and music director of The Dale Warland Singers, he commissioned over 270 new choral works and fostered the careers of an entire generation of composers.

This program, “Music of our Time,” features compositions by 20th and 21st century composers such as Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Dominick Argento and Morten Lauridsen, as well as several others. With just over an hour of music, the concert will be divided into six thematic sets: 1- American Voices; 2- From the Balkans; 3- From Belgium; 4- Traditional Texts: International Voices; 5- Classic American Folk and a Madrigal; and 6- From Minnesota.

All musical selections were chosen by Dale Warland, specifically for this collaboration with the Madison Choral Project.

If you would like to change your tickets from Friday to Sunday, please reply to this email and we can assist you.

 


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates receiving tax-exempt status with a fundraiser on Nov. 2 and announces its new season, which features the renowned choral conductor Dale Warland.

October 10, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will run 12:15 to 1 p.m. and feature classical guitarist Steve Waugh (below) playing music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Jorma Kaukonen, Francisco Tarrega, Rodgers and Hart, and more. This concert is in the Landmark Auditorium.

Steve Waugh

By Jacob Stockinger

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who founded and directs the Madison Choral Project, writes:

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Dear Friends,

I am so proud to share with you some amazing news:

The Madison Choral Project is the newest official 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit in the state of Wisconsin!

We couldn’t have done it without you!  All future donations to us are tax-exempt — as are past donations, retroactive to August of 2013.

Help us celebrate!

We are hosting our second annual Gala Event and Fundraiser on Sunday, November 2, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Hotel RED on the corner of Monroe and Regent streets near the UW-Madison Badger’s Camp Randall Stadium.

There will be live music from MCP musicians from 3 to 4 p.m.; a silent auction with many unique items from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; light appetizers served and a cash bar; and many amazing people to meet!

CLICK HERE to learn more about our event and to purchase tickets!

If you have an item that you would like to donate to our silent auction, contact us by replying to this message!

With all our thanks,

The Madison Choral Project

Madison Choral Project color

THE NEW SEASON

And here is the coming three-concert season of the MCP:

The Madison Choral Project (MCP) has announced its third season, which features internationally renowned choral conductor Dale Warland (below), and notable local artists Martha Fischer, Bruce Bengtson, Noah Ovshinsky and the Madison Youth Choirs.

Dale Warland

CONCERT 1: “O Day Full of Grace,” MCP’s second annual holiday concert, opens the season on Saturday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational Church of Christ in Madison, 1609 University Ave.  It will feature an evening of traditional holiday music, secular music, narrated texts and audience singing all surrounding the theme of a transformative time, place or experience.

MCP is again partnering with Noah Ovshinsky (below), Assistant News Editor at Wisconsin Public Radio, who will narrate readings interposed amongst the musical selections.

Noah Ovshinsky

CONCERT 2: The stunning and sublime Requiem by French composer Gabriel Faure (below top) will headline the choir’s second concert, which will also feature the striking “Te Deum” of contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below bottom) on Saturday, February 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. (You can hear the opening of James Macmillan’s “Te Deum” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure-1

James MacMilllan

MCP is partnering with organist Bruce Bengtson, Director of Music at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, on both the Faure and MacMillan.

February is also the culmination of a period of educational exchange between MCP and the Madison Youth Choirs, and this concert will include a performance by the Ragazzi (below, in a photo by Dan Sinclair) and Cantabile ensembles of the Madison Youth Choirs, both alone and in a combined work with the MCP singers.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi by Dan Sinclair

CONCERT 3: The season will close on Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Christ under the direction of renowned guest conductor Dale Warland, and collaborating pianist Martha Fischer (below left, with her husband pianist Bill Lutes), Professor of Piano and head of the graduate collaborative piano program at the University of Wisconsin.

martha fischer and bill lutes

This concert marks Warland’s first return to conduct in Madison in 20 years.

Dale Warland is considered one of the most influential American choral musicians of all time, and is one of only two choral conductors to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

He founded the pioneering choral ensemble, the Dale Warland Singers, in 1972.  The group was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2003, and their 29 commercial CDs remain standard issue for choral conductors and educators around the country.

Tickets for the 2014-2015 season are available online at www.themcp.org, and at the door before each concert.  Discounted student tickets are available with a valid student ID.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Edgewood College conductor Albert Pinssonneault discusses The Madison Choral Project, a new professional vocal group, makes its debut this Saturday night with a program celebrating Spring.

May 16, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project (below) – a new vocal group on the Isthmus -– will give its inaugural concert this Saturday night, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, in Madison.

Madison Choral Project color

The debut concert, entitled “Celestial Spring,” will celebrate the season- with sets on the return of color, nature and love. For details about specific works and composers, see below.

Tickets are free. Those who are able are encouraged to leave a suggested donation of $15 each.

For more information including how to audition for the vocal group, contact The Madison Choral Project, 901 High Street, Madison, Wisconsin, 53715 or visit www.themcp.org, Albert Pinssonneault, the founder and director of the choir, who teaches choral conducting at Edgewood College in Madison, recently gave an email Q&A to The Ear:

Albert Pissonneault 2

Can you briefly describe how and why the Madison Choral Project came about?

Many pieces came together to make the Madison Choral Project happen, like spokes on a wheel.

First were the incredible voices in Madison, interested in ensemble singing.

Additionally, there was the huge support for choral music in town, dating from the era of Robert Fountain (below, in 1979) at the UW-Madison to today with many extremely fine choruses and UW ensembles performing.

I had a passion to bring together a core of the finest singers for a single “project,” and with a lot of help I was able to raise and secure funding, find venues, audition singers, and a new entity was born: The Madison Choral Project.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Why is another choral group needed or wanted in Madison? Briefly, how do you expect it to be different from other local groups?

The Madison Choral Project is unique in Madison, in that it is a fully professional chamber choir of 16 voices.  We hope to offer a highly refined and expressive chamber choral sound, singing both new unique repertoire, and treasured favorites.

As this very talented group comes together to present one project at a time, we feel we can tailor our concerts to the needs and tastes of our musical community.  We are so excited to contribute our small part to the outstanding musical landscape of Dane County.

Can you briefly introduce us to your career in choral singing and directing, to your professional and personal commitment to it?

I’ve always loved making music with others, and I love people, and I love text, and expression.  I grew up in Minnesota and wanted to move away to a conservatory for college, yet some inexplicable gut feeling drew me to attend St. Olaf College (in Northfield, Minnesota), where I found a choral music experience that was the nexus of all the things I loved.

In the years following St. Olaf I lived in St. Paul and completed a Master’s degree in choral conducting at the University of Minnesota, where under the excellent tutelage of Kathy Saltzman Romey I had the opportunity to work closely with the German conductor Helmuth Rilling (below top) and the American vocal conductor Dale Warland (below bottom).

helmut rilling

Dale Warland

Applying broadly to doctoral programs, I was extremely fortunate to receive a kind offer from the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, where I was able to work with several wonderful professional conductors, including Earl Rivers, Richard Westenburg, Richard Sparks and Donald Nally.  I completed my doctorate in choral conducting and music theory from CCM in 2009, and got a dream job: Full-time employment at a wonderful liberal arts college in Madison — Edgewood College (below, he is conducting the Chamber Singers at Edgewood College).

Edgewood Chamber Singers

Can you comment on the upcoming premiere program and specific works on it?

The idea behind “A Celestial Spring” came not only from the title work by F. Melius Christiansen (below), but also from the season of spring and its promise of rebirth and newness, fitting for the inaugural concert of a new ensemble.

F. Melius Christiansen

Our first set of German Romantic composers seeks to capture the comforting return of lush green in nature, echoed in wondrous rich harmonies.

The very first work, “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Joseph Rheinberger (below bottom) invites the audience to “Bide with us,” an entreaty both to for the duration of the concert and for our life as a new ensemble.

Josef Rheinberger bw

The second set, “The Celestial Season,” focuses on the season of spring itself, beginning with rays of sunshine (“I Am the Great Sun” by Jussi Chydenius) and ending in sunset (“The Sun Has Gone Down” by Leland Sateren).  In between are two movements of F. Melius Christiansen’s “Celestial Spring” (at bottom in a YouTube video), a work composed completely without text.  Christiansen (below) sought to capture the sounds of the season with an orchestra of voices, and later gave the finished score to his colleague Oscar Overby to “fill in” with text.

The third set of music, “The Call of Summer,” explores transitions into a wondrous hereafter, in settings by the great English composers Charles Hubert Parry (below top) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (below bottom). This set addresses the end of spring, and alludes as well to the idea of death as a gateway into an everlasting summer.

hubert parry

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Our fourth set traces the evolution of romantic love through texts depicting five tableau scenes.  In “O Mistress Mine” by Matthew Harris (below top), the protagonist is struck with attraction from a distance.  “The Devon Maid” by Dominick Argento (below bottom) represents first contact and flirtation, in this case by an aggressive suitor. “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” by Nils Lindberg represents the honeymoon of intense passion, while “It Was a Lover and His Lass” (Parry) recounts many merry days of coupled frolicking.  “Rest” (Vaughan Williams) is a tender goodbye, to that loved one now deceased.

Matthew Harris Color

dominick argento 1

Is there more you would like to add or say?

Thank you so much, Jake, for the opportunity to share our efforts on The Well-Tempered Ear!


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