The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an unusual holiday program of several settings of the “Magnificat” as well as two world premieres this Saturday night. Plus, today is the 245th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven.

December 16, 2015
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ALERT: Today is the 245th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). You’re sure to hear a lot of Beethoven on the radio. And maybe you will play some Beethoven. Why not let The Ear and other readers know what is your favorite symphony, piano sonata, concerto and string quartet or other chamber music work? Leave your choice in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video, if that is possible.

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) is known delivering first-rate music in first-rate performance, often with some original twist or take or concept.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

This weekend of this holiday season is no different.

On this Saturday night, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an ambitious and unusual holiday concert called “Magnificat.”

The performance is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below), at 116 West Washington Avenue, where it joins Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

MBM Grace altar

Tickets are $15 (students $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports.

Featured performers include Andy Olson, oboe; Laura Burns, violin; Eric Miller, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ

BACKGROUND AND PROGRAM NOTES

Here is more information from the Wisconsin Chamber Choir:

“My soul magnifies the Lord…”

Marys magnificat

It is how Mary’s song of praise, from the Gospel of Luke, begins. And it is one of the oldest Christian hymns, known as the Magnificat. (The hymn’s title comes from first word of the Latin version, Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will offer Mary’s song in English, Latin, German and Church Slavonic, with music by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Arvo Pärt, Herbert Howells and two world premieres by the Iowa-based composer, Peter Bloesch.

Widely regarded as the greatest German composer before Bach, Heinrich Schütz’s double-choir “German Magnificat” was his very last composition. In this piece, Schütz (below) brings the vivid imagery of the Magnificat text to life in some of his most inventive and compelling music.

Heinrich Schutz

Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, known as “the Catholic Bach,” was the official church composer to the Catholic court in Dresden. A master of counterpoint like Bach, Zelenka frequently utilized energetic, syncopated rhythms and daring harmonic progressions in his music, qualities on display in his Magnificat in D-major for soloists, choir, and instruments.

jan dismas zelenka BIG use

From Bach himself, the WCC presents three charming, rarely heard movements that Bach inserted into his own “Magnificat” setting for performances during the Christmas season. (NOTE: You can  hear Bach’s complete “Magnificat” with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bach1

Complimenting these choral works by Bach, Zelenka and Schütz, organist Mark Brampton Smith performs solo organ works by Baroque composers Johann Pachelbel and Johann Kindermann.

Mark Brampton Smith

The spritely Bogoroditse Devo (the Russian equivalent of the Latin Ave Maria) by Arvo Part (below top) opens the second half of the program, followed by a glorious, Romantic version of the “Magnificat” sung in Church Slavonic. The musical setting is composed by César Cui (below bottom), a close associate of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.

Arvo Part

Cesar Cui

Representing the Magnificat text in English is the setting for Gloucester Cathedral, composed in 1946 by Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

The WCC’s program concludes with a set of seasonal carols by the late Grammy-nominated Stephen Paulus (below top) and Peter Bloesch, a multifaceted composer from Iowa City with extensive experience in choral music, holiday pops arrangements, and film and television scores, including collaborations with Mike Post on TV hits “LA Law” and “Law and Order.”

stephen paulus

The WCC will present two world premieres by Peter Bloesch (below): an original version of the medieval carol, Out of Your Sleep Arise and Wake, and a virtuoso, eight-part setting of the beloved French melody, Ding Dong, Merrily on High.

Peter Bloesch

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the artistic director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


New Life for “The Great Gatsby”: John Harbison’s “Roaring ‘20s” opera has its European premiere this month in Dresden, Germany

December 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend, Sarah Schaffer, who works with composer John Harbison, writes:

Many Madisonians were among those who travelled to New York City in 1999 for the world premiere of John Harbison’s opera, “The Great Gatsby,” which is based on the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in celebration of renowned conductor James Levine’s 25th anniversary there. (Below, from the original production, are the late tenor Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby and soprano Dawn Upshaw as Daisy Buchanan.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Gatbsy (Hadley) and Daisy (Upshaw)

The work has since been presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, in Boston and at Tanglewood by Emmanuel Music, and, in a reduced orchestra chamber version, by Opera Parallele in San Francisco and at the Aspen Music Festival.

A suite from the opera, commissioned by conductor David Zinman, was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under Maestro John DeMain here in 2010.

And of course, John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, are best known in Madison as the artistic directors of the fiercely imaginative annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in their refurbished barn near Sun Prairie just before Labor Day each summer.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

Now, the first European performance of “The Great Gatsby” will take place at Semperoper (below) in Dresden, Germany from this Sunday, Dec. 6, through Dec. 21. It will be presented in English, with German surtitles.

semperoper dresden exter

Semperoper interior

Preceding the first performance, Semperoper is offering a preview event where two film versions of “The Great Gatsby” will be shown: the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; and the 2013 Baz Luhrman version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

According to Semperoper, “The opera blends modern classical music with jazz and swing to paint a thrilling portrait of a debauched and decadent society, where double standards clash with idealism. European audiences can now enjoy this work for the first time.”

John Harbison directing Gatsby

Wayne Marshall is music director, Keith Warner stage director, with dramaturgy by Stefan Ulrich, and set design by the late John Engels, whose stunning and evocative work was seen last spring in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of The Passenger, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s powerful opera about how the horrors of Auschwitz impact people’s lives in the present.

Wayne Marshall, renowned interpreter of the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and other 20th-century American composers, serves as music director.

In making a new production of The Great Gatsby, Director Keith Warner does not adopt an “update” strategy, often seen in recent European productions.  Instead he goes directly to the period, the American mid-1920s, making its excesses, its excitements, and its cloak of impending doom the essential color of the opera. (below is the party scene.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Party Scene

In the upcoming Dresden production, tenor Peter Lodahl makes his Semperoper debut in the role of Jay Gatsby. For more information, visit: www.peterlodahl.co

Daisy Buchanan will be performed by soprano Maria Bengtsson. For more information, visit: www.mariabengtsson.com

A complete cast list and production personnel can be found at https://www.semperoper.de/en/whats-on/schedule/stid/Gatsby/60545.html

A brief video regarding the launching of Gatsby at Semperopera can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7x_dVimgYg

While not without its detractors, over the years and through its many productions Gatsby has garnered significant praise from some of the most respected critics and publications.

With such an iconic and thoroughly American novel, story and music as its origin and soundscape, it will be fascinating to see what kind of reception Gatsby’s eagerly anticipated European premiere will garner across the pond.

Harbison Great Gatsby 2

Europeans, very conversant with the Fitzgerald novel, tend to emphasize the role of class more than American readers.  Warner uses a number of theatrical devices to starkly outline the attitudes and surroundings of the Wilsons, the working-class couple so crucial to conflicts within the story.

The racist and elitist rants of Tom Buchanan, perhaps more comfortably folded into his familiar character by American fans of the book, emerge in stark outline in Warner’s conception.

 


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