The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra performs Sunday afternoon. Plus a FREE violin recital is this Friday at noon

February 23, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Paran Amirinazari in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saens and Dmitri Shostakovich. Amirinazari, a graduate of the UW-Madison, is a member of the Willy Street Chamber Players. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra will perform a concert of music by Domenico Cimarosa, Ludwig van Beethoven and Gioachino Rossini this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is $5, and free with an Edgewood College ID.

The program features the rarely performed Concerto for Oboe by the 18th-century Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa. Oboist Malia Huntsman will be the soloist. The orchestra will perform under the baton of its music director, Edgewood College professor Blake Walter (below).

You can sample the Oboe Concerto by Cimarosa in the YouTube video at the bottom.

blake walter john maniaci

The program opens with music by Rossini and also features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, one of the early symphonic masterpieces of the German composer.

Originally from Los Angeles, Malia Huntsman (below) has been playing oboe since the age of 14. She holds an undergraduate degree in Oboe Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Arts degree in Oboe Performance from Rice University.

malia-huntsman

Founded in 1993 via an endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and the late Edgewood College music professor Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra provides performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra at Edgewood College.


Classical music: Madison Choral Project gives its fourth annual holiday concert, “I Was Glad,” this Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Plus, pianist Bill Lutes gives a FREE recital of Schubert and Schumann this Friday at noon

December 14, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Bill Lutes in a solo recital. The program includes the “Papillons” (Butterflies) by Robert Schumann and the final Sonata in B-Fat Major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert. The program runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

For more information about Bill Lutes and his series of recitals, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/classical-music-pianist-and-piano-teacher-bill-lutes-to-perform-three-free-recitals-bach-haydn-schubert-and-schumann-to-say-thank-you-to-madison/

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Choral Project (below top), Madison’s professional choir under the direction of Albert Pinnsoneault (below bottom), a former Edgewood College professor who now teaches at Northwestern University, will present two performances of its fourth annual Holiday-themed program “I Was Glad.”

madison-choral-project-in-church

albert pinsonneault conducting BW

The performances are on Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. Both performances will be held at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

i-was-glad-poster

Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org, or at the door.

(Preferred Seating is $40, General Admission is $24/$28 and Students are $10)

The concerts feature a carefully curated selection of vocal music and readings, with the intent to lead the listener along a sublime journey of music and text.

Madison Choral Project is will partner again with Wisconsin Public Radio’s news editor Noah Ovshinsky (below), who will perform readings from works of Tim O’Brien, Billy Collins, William Wordsworth and others.

noah-ovshinsky-reading-mcp

The Madison Choral Project will sing an eclectic mix of holiday-themed music in four sets, ranging from the 17th century to brand new compositions.

The program features two exciting world premieres by Eric Barnum (below top), the choral director at UW-Oshkosh, and MCP’s Composer in Residence, Jasper Alice Kaye (below bottom).

eric-barnum-uw-oshkosh

jasper-alice-kaye

The first set of pieces, “Welcome to the Holy Space,” includes A Child’s Prayer by James MacMillan, Sanctus from Mass in G by Francis Poulenc and Our Father by Alexandre Gretchaninoff.

The second set, “Winter Comforts,” features two new commissions written for Madison Choral Project. Winter by Eric William Barnum will be followed by The Invitation by Jasper Alice Kaye. Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre will finish the set.

The third set, “Glad Tidings,” includes the concert’s titular piece, I Was Glad by C.H.H. Parry (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom), as well as beautiful works by Matthew Culloton, William Dawson and Jan Sandstrøm.

The final set, “Gathering and Blessing,” contains joyous settings of familiar texts set by Francis Poulenc, Ludwig van Beethoven, and arranger John Ferguson.

For more information or tickets, go to www.themcp.org.


Classical music: Broadcasts of operas from the Met and string quartets by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet are featured on old media and new media this Saturday and Sunday. Plus, the 89th Edgewood college Christmas Concert is tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

December 2, 2016
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ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.

Tickets are $10, and seating is limited for this very popular annual event. Tickets should be purchased online in advance.

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.

SATURDAY

This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

Met from stage over pit

The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.

This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.

Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.

This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”

But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.

Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/Radio/Saturday-Matinee-Broadcasts/

met-manon-lescaut-anna-netrebko-cr-richard-termine-nyt

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.

The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”

But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-12-4-16/

sal-pro-arte-12-4-16

You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.

First Folio


Classical music: The Festival Choir opens its season Saturday night with a light and music project devoted to peace

October 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison (below, in a photo by Stephanie Williams), singing under its director Sergei Pavlov, will open its new season with a mixed arts event devoted to peace.

Festival Choir of Madison Tchaikovsky Fall 2014 CR Stephanie Wiliams

The concert is this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Da Pacem Domine” is a project of music and light dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

It will feature light design by Andrew Schmitz.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

For more information about this concert, tickets and the entire season with three more concerts, go to: http://festivalchoirmadison.org

festival-choir-of-madison-new-logo-2016

Says Pavlov (below), who teaches at Edgewood College:

“Tonight the Festival Choir of Madison presents a project that goes beyond the concept of a traditional concert. With the help of compositions from all around the world, we recreate a day in the life of a nation. Yes, this day is September 11, 2015. But in fact, it could be any day in history, when humanity has faced profound grief caused by hatred and destruction.

“The concert comprises six parts: “Morning,” “Cries and Whispers,” “A Prayer for Peace,” “Interlude,” “The Memory of our Heroes” and “On Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

“From the dream-like visions of Daniel Elder, through the biting dissonances of Hikaru Hayashi and the otherworldly sounds of Ēriks Ešenvalds, the Festival Choir of Madison and the light designer Andrew Schmitz will take you on a journey of compassion and hope.

“Experience the healing power of LIGHT AND MUSIC in a project inspired by choral works of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Ēriks Ešenvalds (heard below in a YouTube video), Hikaru Hayashi, Daniel Elder, Rene Clausen and James MacMillan.”

There will also be cello music by Johann Sebastian Bach and bagpipe music performed by Rhys O’Higgins.

Sergei Pavlov


Classical music: Edgewood College’s FREE Fall choral concert is this Sunday afternoon. Plus, three sopranos sing for FREE this Friday at noon

October 20, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features sopranos Susan Savage Day, Rebekah Demure and Arianna Day in music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Corigliano, Ottorino Respighi, Richard Strauss and others. It runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Edgewood College will present its Fall Choral Concert at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is FREE.

The Women’s Choir and the Chamber Singers, under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below top) and Sergei Pavlov (below bottom), will feature a wide variety of musical selections.

Kathleen Otterson color

isSergei Pavlov

The eclectic program includes the Johann Sebastian Bach-Charles Gounod setting of “Ave Maria,” heard in the YouTube video at the bottom; Sydney Carter’s beautiful arrangement of “Lord of the Dance”; and music of Pentatonix.

The Chamber Singers is the College’s premier a cappella choral ensemble, open to students of all majors. The choir performs literature from the medieval period to the 21st century, participating in multiple concerts throughout the school year.

Edgewood College Chamber Singers

The Women’s Choir performs a wide variety of traditional and modern music specifically for women’s voices.

Edgewood College Women's Choir


Classical music: Band and choral music is on tap this Sunday at the UW-Madison and Edgewood College

October 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a busy weekend for music, and tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 16, it continues.

For fans of band and choral music, a lot of choices are on tap at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Edgewood College.

Here is the lineup:

At 1 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Bands (below top) at the UW-Madison will perform under conductors Darin Olson (below bottom), Nathan Froebe, Justin Lindgre. Sorry, no word on the program.

UW concert band

Darin Olson

At 2:30 p.m. St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood College Concert Band presents its Fall concert.

Admission is FREE with a free will offering to benefit the Luke House Community Meal Program.

The program, under the direction of Walter Rich (below, in a photo by Edgewood College) will perform music by John Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Strauss.

The program combines those three legendary names with a selection of new music by three young composers: Brian Balmages, Sean O’Loughlin and the emerging American star Daniel Elder.

The Edgewood College Concert Band provides students and Madison-area community musicians with the opportunity to perform outstanding wind literature. The band has performed a variety of works, ranging from classic British band literature of the early 20th century to transcriptions, marches, and modern compositions.

The group charges no admission for concerts, but often collects a freewill offering for Luke House, a local community meal program. The group rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m.

Walter Rich

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will host the FREE Choral Collage Concert (its logo is below).

choral-collage-logo

The concert features many groups: the Concert Choir (below top), Chorale, Madrigal Singers, Women’s Choir (below bottom), University Chorus and Master Singers.

Concert Choir

uw women's choir

The program, drawn from the Baroque, Classical and Modern eras, includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the beautiful “Ave Verum Corpus,” which you can hear with Leonard Bernstein conducting, in the YouTube video at the bottom), Benjamin Britten, Johann Schein, Arvo Part (below), Orlando di Lasso and others.

Arvo Part

For more information and a link to the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-collage/


Classical music: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra opens its new season this coming Sunday afternoon with music by Handel, Haydn and Beethoven.

September 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will present its first concert of the new season on this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is free for persons with an Edgewood College ID, and $5 for others. Tickets will be available at the door.

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Blake Walter (below), will perform the Overture to the oratorio “Samson” by George Frideric Handel, a rarely played masterpiece.

blake walter john maniaci

Also featured is the Symphony No. 82 in C major, “The Bear,” by Franz Joseph Haydn. In its last movement, Haydn imitates the music used in the 18th-century Austria to accompany dancing bears — a popular form of street entertainment. (You can hear the last movement of the symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The central part of the program is the last movement Finale of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, by Ludwig van Beethoven. It marks the orchestral debut of pianist Johanna Novice-Leonard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Concerto Competition, and a student of Dr. Beatriz Aguilar.

Johanna Novich Leonard

Founded in 1993 via a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the college.


Classical music education: Composer Robert Schumann and cellist Steven Isserlis offer advice to young people about going into music

September 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Schools are back in session – public and private K-12 elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges and universities, including Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And private music lessons have started up again after a summer break.

So it seems only fitting to offer advice to young people who are thinking about becoming musicians.

Such advice comes from two very good sources, one older and one newer: The Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below top) and the acclaimed contemporary British cellist Steven Isserlis (below bottom).

Schumann photo1850

steven-isserlis-playing

Schumann (1810-1846) wrote a book (below) with his advice to young musicians. Then Isserlis updated that book with his commentaries.

schumann-isserlis-book

You can get a good sample of its contents, from practicing to performing, from the entry on the blog “Only Strings” that is written by local musician Paul Baker (below), who also hosts a radio program for WSUM, the award-winning student-run radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here is a link:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/what-to-think-about-when-youre-thinking-about-being-a-musician/

Paul Baker at WSUM


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards’ production — with paid singers — of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” opens this coming Friday night and runs through Aug. 7

July 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release to share:

The Madison Savoyards presents The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) by Gilbert and Sullivan (below), starting this Friday night, July 29, at 7:30 p.m. and running through Sunday, Aug. 7, at Music Hall, at the base of Bascom Hill on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

There will be six performances: Friday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m.; Friday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. UW-Madison conducting student Kyle Knox will make his Madison Savoyards debut as Music Director for The Gondoliers. 

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

Gilbert and Sullivan fans will not want to miss this tale of romantic complication, silliness and wonderful music, set in beautiful 18th-century Italy.

The story opens with a conundrum. Casilda, the young daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, has arrived in Venice to meet her future husband, the prince of Barataria.

Upon arrival, however, she finds that his identity is in question. As an infant, the young prince was entrusted to a drunken gondolier, who promptly mixed up the baby with his own son.

Thus, in the wake of the king’s recent death, both gondolier brothers must jointly rule the kingdom until the prince’s nurse can be brought in to correctly identify him.

To further complicate the matter, both gondoliers have recently married their loves, and Casilda is, in fact, in love with another man. The story plays out and eventually resolves in typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, with hilarious circumstances intertwined with poignant, relatable moments.

Stage Director Audrey Lauren Wax has her artistic eye on the set design to help bring this story to life. “I am truly excited to work with a functional Gondola in this production,” says Wax, who most recently directed Princess Ida with the Savoyards in 2014.

“Our design and stage management team have gone above and beyond discussing and collaborating on the logistics of it.” Wax says. “I do think the audience will be quite pleased and excited the moment it hits the stage. And in the fashion of my directing approach, it has been designed with the idea of a puzzle in mind. You’ll just have to see the show in order to see this fabulous creation.”

Puzzle-like stage pieces aside, no Gilbert and Sullivan show would be complete without the trademark hummable tunes and patter songs, and The Gondoliers does not disappoint in either realm. You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

In a historic move for the Savoyards, all roles and some chorus positions will be paid. This has drawn a larger mix of current students and recent grads from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College, as well as local youth and adult performers.

One such local favorite is Bill Rosholt, playing the Duke of Plaza-Toro in his 11th principal role with the Savoyards. Anmol Gupta appears with Rosholt as Luiz, the Duke’s assistant, and UW-Madison graduate student Becky Buechel (below) portrays the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, along with Deanna Martinez as her daughter, Casilda.

Savoyards Gondoliers Becky Buechel

Christopher Smith (below) and Brian Schneider play the handsome gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe, flanked by Gavin Waid (Antonio), Nicholas Kaplewski (Francesco), Coltan Bratland (Giorgio), and Sara Wojtak (Annibale) as the brothers’ Venetian gondolier friends.

Savoyards Gondoliers Christopher Smith

Contadine (peasant farmers) Gianetta and Tessa are portrayed by Lauren Welch (below) and Alaina Carlson, and Julia Ludwiczack plays all three contadine Fiametta, Giulia and Vittoria.

Savoyards Gondoliers Lauren Welch

Natalie Falconer portrays Inez, the King’s Foster-mother, and the cast is rounded out by a chorus of Gondoliers, Men-at-Arms, Heralds, Pages, and Contadine from the greater Madison area.

Tickets for The Gondoliers are $30 and $40, and can be purchased through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.arts.wisc.edu

The Children’s Pre-Show is Sunday, August 7 from 1 to 2 p.m., and is free for any ticket holder age six to 12. Limited spots are available, so please contact Krystal Lonsdale at krys.lonsdale@gmail.com to reserve a space for your child.

For more information about the opera and the production, visit: www.madisonsavoyards.org

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas for 53 years and strives to make each presentation come alive by knowing and respecting the special gifts of the authors and gathering a gifted and enthusiastic cast and crew.

The Savoyards first presented “The Gondoliers” in 1974, and most recently in 2003.


Classical music: Great choral singing by the Madison Chamber Choir and the Madison Choral Project should serve great choral music – and fewer second-rate novelties

May 25, 2016
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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 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Two of the city’s important choral groups joined forces for a program presented at the First Congregational United Church of Christ last Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University, and who is the director of both groups, conducted.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Each group had its own showcase in the program’s first half.

The Madison Chamber Choir (below) led off with the “Serenade to Music,” a setting of lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which Ralph Vaughan Williams  composed in 1938 for 16 of his favorite singers, with orchestra. He adapted this for full chorus, but that transition did not quite produce a work truly choral in character.

The choir sang the beautiful work very handsomely, but the substitution for the orchestra of a piano accompaniment was uncomfortable and, indeed, a disruption of diction. (You can hear the original version for chorus and orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Madison Chamber Choir JWB

The Madison Choral Project (below top) came next with a performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes” by the late David Baker (1931-2016, below middle).

Baker was a noted scholar and promoter of jazz, and his goal was a “fusion” of jazz with classical forms. To the five composed poems, Pinsonneault added readings of poems written by five young participants (below bottom) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project activities in cultural and educational support.

Madison Choral Project JWB

David Baker

Madison Choral Project jazz Odyssey student JWB

All this represents noble and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of disadvantaged African-Americans. But high ideals do not necessarily guarantee artistic achievement. Baker uses a combo of five instrumentalists, which bangs away behind the choir, hardly “fusing” anything in styles—neither honest jazz nor multicultural synthesis.

Madison Choral Project jazz drum and bass JWB

The choir, in its turn, sings mightily at music of generally simplistic technique — mostly unisons and chordal declamations. There is little to remember or admire, once the “messages” have worn off.

Fortunately, the intermission yielded to the one work of substance on the program, the Mass for Double Choir, by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below), a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles that is better appreciated in Europe than here.

Frank Martin

For this, the two choirs (below) merged, then divided into the requisite two components.

Martin’s writing is subtle, and his juxtaposition of the two choirs is not just antiphonal but artfully varied in their interaction—to which is added a great deal of harmonic experimentation. This is one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century.

Pinsonneault and his 57 choristers gave it a glorious performance, showing what this conductor can do to make great choral sound out of great choral music.

Madison Chamber Choir and Madison Choral Project combined JWB

The final programmed piece was a somewhat pretentious setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) of a ballad by poet Robert Burns. As an encore, the singers perpetrated a glitzy, but uncredited, arrangement of “Loch Lomond”—the only piece that brought the audience to its feet.

James MacMillan headshot

This concert was an undeniable testimony to the splendid choral groups we have here, and to what Pinsonneault is accomplishing with these groups. But I kept returning to the dichotomy at which I hinted earlier.

Choral singing is a wonderful activity both to listen to and to participate in, and I share some of the enthusiasm for that. But I wonder how many in the audience were there seeking great CHORAL singing. I was there seeking great choral MUSIC.

Our choirs can give us the former, no question, and audiences can justly admire it. But has all this musical talent been applied responsibly to the latter? How much do our choral programs deal with trivia and little sweetmeats, rather than digging into the vast literature of magnificent choral art?


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