The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Acclaimed a cappella vocal ensemble Cantus performs a world premiere in Edgerton this Saturday night

March 12, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Cantus: Inspiring Through Song“ will perform in concert this coming Saturday night, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center, 200 Elm High Drive in Edgerton, Wisconsin.

In its 2017-18 touring program “Discovery of Sight,” the a cappella ensemble Cantus (below) explores the essence of light and vision, reveling in the mystery, science and poetry of what it means to truly “see” with music.

The program features works by Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, Eric Whitacre (below top) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (below middle, in a  photo by Getty Images) alongside a world premiere by Gabriel Kahane (below bottom).

Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online at www.edgertonpac.com or by phone at (608) 561-6093.

Praised as “engaging” by the New Yorker magazine, the men’s vocal ensemble Cantus is widely known for its trademark warmth and blending, and for its innovative programming and involving performances of music ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century.

The Washington Post has hailed the Cantus sound as having both “exalting finesse” and “expressive power,” and refers to the “spontaneous grace” of its music making.

As one of the nation’s few full-time vocal ensembles, Cantus has grown in prominence with its distinctive approach to creating music. Working without a conductor, the members of Cantus rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the entirety of the artistic process.

Cantus performs more than 60 concerts each year both in national and international touring, and in its home of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Cantus has performed at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, UCLA, San Francisco Performances, Atlanta’s Spivey Hall, and Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.

You can hear Cantus perform a Tiny Desk Concert for National Public Radio (NPR) in the YouTube video at the bottom. The Ear is especially fond of the way they sing “Wanting Memories.”

For more information about Cantus, go to the ensemble’s website: www.cantussings.org

The performance is funded by the William and Joyce Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts.


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project features a world premiere when it performs a “timeless” program this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

February 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project (below) bills itself as Madison’s only professional and paid choir, and judging by the results, the a cappella group has succeeded,  creating many loyal fans. (You can hear a sample performance — of a world premiere, no less — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Such success is in large part thanks to the efforts of its founder, director and conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below). Originally a music professor at Edgewood College, Pinsonneault now works at Northwestern University.

He commutes from his home in Madison where he continues his work with the Madison Choral Project.

You can sample his and the choir’s impressive music-making this weekend at two performances in two different venues of a concert called “Drown’d in One Endlesse Day.”

Here are details:

“Drown’d in One Endlesse Day” features a world premiere of Wisconsin composer Eric William Barnum (below).

The Madison Choral Project champions new music. But also on the eclectic program are new and old pieces exploring the transformational moments when “time seems to stop.”

Featured composers and compositions include: the motet Komm, Jesu, Komm by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Crucifixus” by Antonio Lotti (below top); There is an Old Belief by the British composer Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (below second); Credo by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (below third, in photo by Getty Images); I Live in Pain and Last Spring by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer David Lang (below fourth); and Entreat Me Not to Leave You by Dan Forrest (below bottom).

PERFORMANCES:

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.: CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 944 East Gorham Street in Madison on the near east side

On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.: St. ANDREW’S EPISCOPAL,
1833 Regent Street in Madison on the near west side

Tickets are $40 for preferred seating; $24 for general admission; and $10 for students.

To buy tickets online (they are also available at the door) as well as to see more background, reviews, information and several videos of MCP performances, go to:

http://themcp.org


Classical music: Prize-winning Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at 87

July 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.

He was Einojuhani Rautavaara (below, in a photo from Getty Images), who was considered the most important composer of his country since Jean Sibelius, and he died at 87 this past week.

einojuhani rautavaara GETTY IMAGES

Here is a fine summary and obituary by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/07/28/487824438/eclectic-finnish-composer-einojuhani-rautavaara-dies-at-87

And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.


Classical music: University Opera’s entertaining production of “Transformations” features a wonderful student cast and great resourcefulness. The last performance is TONIGHT at 7:30. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert Wednesday night.

March 15, 2016
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ALERT: The UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra, under its director James Smith, will give a FREE performance on this Wednesday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall. The program features the Divertimento for Strings by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; the Divertimento, by Bela Bartok; and Elegy (string orchestra version), by the late American composer Elliott Carter.

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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Among the works of the prolific American composer Conrad Susa (1935-2013) were five operas. The last of them (1994) was The Dangerous Liaisons, after the scandalous 18th-century French novel by Choderlos de Laclos.

Susa’s first, Transformations (1973), was utterly different, a true novelty. He called it a “chamber opera” but one might wonder if it is really an opera at all, by conventional standards of lyric theater.

(NOTE: The last performance of the University Opera’s current production of “Transformations” is TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Admission is $25 for the general public, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.)

To begin with, the work has no real libretto, but rather represents Susa’s settings of eight of the poems in a collection of the same title published in 1971 by the brilliant but mentally troubled Anne Sexton (below, 1928-1974). Her book contained 17 poems, each representing a reframing of one of the Grimm folk tales.

anne sexton

Of those 17, Susa (below) selected 10 for his Transformations, setting them as they stand and putting them in his own sequence.

Conrad Susa

The work is scored for eight singers, supported by an ensemble of eight instrumentalists.

Sexton’s saucy texts are both reflective and narrative, but they do not create consistent “roles.” Through solos and ensembles, the singers give out those texts, with selective opportunities for character representation.

The vocal writing is often quite daring, always very clever and witty, but hardly melodic in traditional ways, while the instrumental contributions are spikey, often provocative, and sometimes allusive. There is not a single melody to remember, but the effect of this “ensemble opera” is consistently absorbing, and entertaining.

Transformations has been Susa’s most successful and widely performed work. This 2016 production is in fact the third to have been given by the University Opera at the UW-Madison. The first was mounted under Karlos Moser in 1976, there years after the premiere performance by the Minnesota Opera and it was the second new production anywhere. Moser repeated it in 1991.

Now we have had the realization of it by interim University Opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio).

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

In the Minnesota Opera production, the successive episodes are launched in a set representing an insane asylum. Moser studiously avoided that in his productions.Ronis has used instead an urban office or room that serves as a space for a kind of group therapy session.

At first thought, it seems an unnecessary imposition. (Yes, Sexton, who is represented in the piece, did spend some time in mental institutions, before the last of her suicide attempts was successful.) In point of fact, however, little is made of such a setting as the production progresses, so it does not much matter one way or the other.

What marks this production, however, is Ronis’ unflagging resourcefulness in devising movements and gestures for his singers to constantly point up details in the story-telling.

And he has a simply wonderful cast of young singers to carry out his direction. Because of inevitable weekend schedule crunches, I had to attend the Sunday afternoon performance, at which Cayla Bosché was the robust portrayer of Sexton and some problematical mothers.

High soprano Nicole Heinen (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) represented Snow White and numerous princesses or virginal types. Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Beuchel was particularly delightful as the Witch to Hansel and Gretel.

Dress Rehearsal for "Transformations"

Tenor Dennis Gotkowsky was deliciously arch as Rumpelstiltskin, and tenor William Ottow (below, lying down, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) cleverly represented a number of princes. Tenor Michael Hoke, baritone Brian Schneider, and bass Benjamin Schultz were all admirable in their varied assignments.

Transformations William Ottow and Rebecca Beuchel CR Michael r. Anderson

Under the leadership of conductor Kyle Knox (below), a gifted and busy graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the instrumentalists gave pointed support throughout.

Kyle Knox 2

Not a big-hit item, then, as the rather thin attendance on Sunday afternoon suggested—not something for those who seek Mozart, Verdi and Puccini.

But it is a very enjoyable novelty that really does warrant presentation, as this new production amply demonstrated.

In this photo by Michael R. Anderson, cast members include Brian Schneider, Rebecca Buechel, Cayla Rosche (foreground, as Anne Sexton), William Ottow, and Nicole Heinen in Transformations.

Dress Rehearsal for "Transformations"


Classical music education: The Ear takes the “Cello Cure” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now can’t wait for another “treatment” next summer.

June 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, for the first time ever, I went to the free public concert put on every June by the National Summer Cello Institute, which takes place each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Cello Choir 2014 with Uri Vardi

The NSCI is under the direction of University of Wisocnsin-Madison cello professor Uri Vardi (below top) and his wife Hagit Vardi (below body), who works with the UW-Madison Institute of Integrative Medicine and emphasizes the use of the Feldenkrais Method to help performers in workshops called, fittingly, “You Body is Your Strad.”

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

hagitvardistretching artm

Here is a link to a previous post about the cello institute, with still other links to even earlier stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/classical-music-a-free-cello-choir-concert-will-take-place-this-saturday-night-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-it-features-new-music-and-works-by-villa-lobos-poulenc-j-s-bach-cesar-frank/

The event proved so thoroughly enjoyable and so deeply pleasurable, and put me in such a great mood and frame of mind, that a close friend referred to the experience as the “Cello Cure.”

I won’t argue because it sure did feel curative.

But then I find that experiencing great beauty often feels that way.

One came away from the concert -– which included a cello choir of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional cellists, selected by audition, from around the nation and perhaps even the world –- completely understanding why the cello, with its human voice-like singing tone, is the favorite instrument of so many listeners. (For The Ear, the cello ranks right up there, just below the piano and alongside the violin and the oboe.)

Cello and bow

One thing The Ear liked was the lack of purism. Enjoyment was the goal of the evening, and so the program featured some simply gorgeous isolated single movements from sonatas and concertos, and NOT the entire pieces. The Great Hits format worked exceptionally well. And so was featuring soloists, and not just ensembles, for the first time.

And on top of all the cellos, The Ear also had two special and bonus experiences: He heard Anna Whiteway, a fabulously talented undergraduate soprano at the UW-Madison, and he heard what sounds like an eminently listenable contemporary composer, Kyle Price, who will be attending the UW-Madison for a graduate degree.

So here are the highlights with photos and not a lot of commentary except to say I found excellence from everyone and disappointment from no one.

The concert opened up with UW-Madison conductor James Smith (below right) leading the famous “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5, with its soaring and lyrical soprano aria or wordless vocalise, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. In it and the other similar suites, the composer attempted to adapt and update the musical style of Johann Sebastian Bach to his native country’s indigenous folk melodies and dance rhythms.

Cello Choir 2014 Jim Smith

Here are members of the cello choir, which wouldn’t fit well in a single photo.

Cello Choir 20144 left

Cello Choir 2014 right

And here is Anna Whiteway, who got enthusiastic applause from the cellists and the woefully small audience of several dozen listeners. No wonder. She is The Real Deal. She possesses beautiful tone, big volume, pleasant and modest vibrato, excellent diction and a thoroughly confident stage presence:

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Here is Brian Klickman and pianist Claire Mallory in the poignantly moving Cavatina movement from the Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc.

Cello Choir 2014 Brian Klickman, Claire Mallory piano

Here is that wonderfully tuneful last movement from Cesar Franck‘s Violin Sonata transcribed for cello and played by Cordula Aeschbacher with pianist Claire Mallory:

Cello Choir 2014 Cordula Aeschbacher

Then Aleks Tengesdal played the impressively turbulent first movement of the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, with piano accompaniment.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

Julian Mueller closed out the first half with the gorgeous Andante Cantabile by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who, it seems, was never at a loss for a beautiful, bittersweet melody. (You can hear it played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a YouTube video at the bottom):

Cello Choir 2014 Julian Mueller

The second half opened with seven cellists playing the Recitative and Meditation movements from the young contemporary American composer Kyle Price’s “Requiem in Memory of Connie Barrett.” The Ear found it a very promising and appetizing foretaste of what sounds like a listener-friendly composing style, something too often missing from new music:

Cello Choir 2014 Kyle Price Requiem cellos

Then came back-to-back performances by father and son cellists.

Son Andrew Laven played three movements –- the Bourees 1 and 2 and the Gigue -– from the Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Cello Choir 2014 Andrew Laven

Father Steven Laven, with pianist Christina Lalog, played “The Tears of Jacqueline” by Jacques Offfenbach, a work he said he first heard when it was dedicated to the late great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre. You understand the dedication because the piece is appropriately lyrical in its lament:

Cello Choir 2014 Steven Laven, Christina Lalog piano

And then the concert closed as it opened, with the music of Villa-Lobos. But this was a work The Ear didn’t know, the “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 1, which has a lovely and soulful slow movement and catchy fugal finale:

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

As an encore, the cello choir demonstrated an improvisational exercise that it used during the two-week workshop. It involves a conductor using unusual and unpredictable hands movements that are unrelated to a particular score or piece of music, and to which the cellists must each respond as they desire or hear is necessary. To The Ear, it sounded a bit like the famous simultaneous, full-orchestra crescendo in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” song from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Uri Vardi graciously thanked the small but very appreciative audience that rose to its feet and added: “See you next year.”

Indeed, he will.

He will almost certainly see The Ear, although I hope the NSCI can find a way to avoid a conflict with a concert on the same night by the popular Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Audiences shouldn’t have to choose between two such deserving groups.

And Vardi should also see a full house in Mills Hall.

The Cello Choir concert is that good and that lovely, that beautiful and, yes, that curative.


Classical music: A FREE Cello Choir concert will take place this Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It features new music and works by Villa-Lobos, Francis Poulenc, J.S. Bach, Cesar Franck, Tchaikovsky and others. Plus, hear a clip of the Fusions Continuum art music concert with cello and oud to promote understanding and peace between Israelis and Arabs.

June 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Concerts of chamber music by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society aren’t the only classical music events happening this weekend.

This week has also seen the annual National Summer Cello Institute (NSCI), which features master classes and performances plus sessions about using Feldenkrais Method and relaxation techniques to best employ one’s physical body to make music through the cello.

cello choir 2

national summer cello Institute 1

For more information about the Institute, here is a link to its home website:

http://www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com/main/2014_National_Summer_Cello_Institute.html

Here is a link to a previous post about the Institute on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/classical-music-news-for-the-next-two-weeks-madison-will-again-become-the-summer-capital-of-cello-world-and-this-time-the-public-is-invited-to-participate/

A fine musician and good friend of the blog, Professor Uri Vardi (below) teaches cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Along with his wife Hagit Vardi and some others, Uri Vardi runs the NSCI and sent this message:

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

Dear Jake,

The 2014 National Summer Cello Institute is ending on this Saturday, June 14, with a public FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m.

The concert will include “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5 (with soprano Anna Whiteway, below top) and No. 1 by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Both pieces will be played by the NSCI Cello Choir, conducted by Professor James Smith (below bottom) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Béatrice et Bénédict Rehearsal

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

The program will also include new music: two movements of a “Requiem for 6 Cellos and Double Bass” by former NSCI participant (and future UW-Madison Master’s of Music student) Kyle B. Price in memory of his aunt Connie Barrett (a 2010 NSCI participant).

Other solo pieces are by the following composers:  Francis Poulenc, Cesar Franck, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Peter Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach and Jacques Offenbach.

I hope you will be willing to let your blog audience know about this.”

Vardi also took part this past season in a Fusions Continuum Concert that mixed the Western cello and the lute-derived Arabic oud (below) with the purpose of using different kinds of art music to promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

oud

Adds Vardi: “Also, I thought you might be interested in a 17-minute YouTube clip of Fusions Continuum:”


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