The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in trios by Haydn, Bartok and Brahms. They are new, but they deserve your attention.

January 27, 2015
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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, who also provided the performance photos for this review. 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

I have, so far, not followed carefully the work of the Mosaic Chamber Players (below).

But I certainly will from now on.

They are, to put it simply, among the finest purveyors of quality chamber music in Madison just now.

Mosaic 1 John W. Barker

The Mosaic group is currently in its second season. It was founded by pianist Jess Salek, along with four string-playing colleagues, and sometimes added guests. The group gives three performances each season, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The latest one was on Saturday evening in the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.

Salek was the anchor of continuity in all three of the works presented, playing with vigorous collegiality. At least the first two of the selections related to the concert’s announced theme of “The Gypsy Spirit!”

The first was Franz Joseph Haydn’s most familiar trio, the one in G major, for violin, cello and piano—most famous for its “Gypsy” rondo-finale. The performance was wonderful, and a particular showcase for violinist Wes Luke, who is himself emerging as one of Madison’s premier chamber musicians and who has been playing with the Ancora String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra  and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. His tender, nuanced playing in the second movement was particularly distinguished.

Mosaic 2 CPJohn W. Barker

Béla Bartók’s spikey and spunky Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, was composed for Benny Goodman and Joseph Szigeti.

For this, guest player Linda Bartley (below) was brought in. Former principal clarinetist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at the UW-Madison School of Music, Bartley is well-known for her artistry by now, and contributed pungent color to the performance.

Mosaic 4 Bartley clarinet John W. Barker

But Luke again drew attention for his brilliant playing: in fact, in the third movement, alternating on two differently tuned fiddles (with backup from a delightful young lady), and replacing his missing mute with a folded dollar bill.

Mosaic backup violin John W Barker

The final work was the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano by Johannes Brahms. The first of his late “autumnal” chamber works for the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, it is a warm, big-hearted piece, bespeaking personal closeness as well as professional admiration. (A performance from the 2010 International Chamber Music Festival of the Clarinet Trio can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

In this, cellist Michael Allen (below) was able to show off his robust and rich playing as full partner to Bartley’s finely tailored clarinet role.

Mosaic 3 John W. Barker

This was, in sum, a superb program of music making, one to send the audience out into a winter night with a wonderful feeling of warm satisfaction.

The Mosaic Chamber Players give their next concert on April 25, with piano quintets by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré. Watch for it!


Classical music Q&A: Violinist Sarah Chang explains the popularity of Scandinavian music as a blend of ice and fire. She performs the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, Overture Hall the MSO hosts a FREE public Hymn Sing with organ on Saturday morning at 11.

November 4, 2014
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is holding a FREE 45-minute public Hymn Sing with organist Deborah Krauss Smith (below) of Monroe, Wisconsin.

Deborah Krauss Smith.jeg

By Jacob Stockinger

This season the Madison Symphony Orchestra seems to be emphasizing thematic programs. Last time, it was all Russian music with pianist Olga Kern; this coming weekend, it will be all-Scandinavian music with violinist Sarah Chang as the guest artist.

The formula seems to work well for the MSO. From what The Ear has seen and heard, the programs are drawing very good houses and the orchestra is playing very tightly and very expressively.

It all bodes well for this coning weekend. Not only does American-Korean violinist Sarah Chang (below) play Scandinavian music superbly, along with so much other of the violin repertoire, she speaks about it just as well.

Sarah Chang playing

Witness her remarks below.

Those remarks serve as an introduction to Chang, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Scandinavian or Nordic program includes the Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer by Jean Sibelius; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information about Sarah Chang, program notes and some audiovisual clips and sound samples.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/chang

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/3.Nov14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour, pre-concert talk will be given by Randal Swiggum (below), the education coordinator of the Elgin (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

Here is the email interview that Sarah Chang (below) graciously granted to The Ear:

Sarah Chang

How would you place the dramatic and lyrical Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius (below, in a famously granitic photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh) among the great violin concertos in the repertoire? What would you like audiences to pay special attention to in the work?

The Sibelius is a spectacular concerto. It is one of my personal favorites and has been a good friend for a very long time! (You can hear Sarah Chang is the opening of the Sibelius concerto in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the reader comments.)

sibelius

The Sibelius Violin Concerto is part of an all-Nordic program of Finnish, Danish and Norwegian composers that also features the Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” by Carl Nielsen (below top) and Lyric Suite by Edvard Greig (below bottom). What characteristics do you identify with Scandinavian music?

There’s something very special about Scandinavian music. There’s an amazing blend of Nordic iciness and incredible passion.

Carl Nielsen at piano

edvard grieg

This is a return concert to Madison and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson)? Do you have comments about the city or the symphony you care to share?

The Madison Symphony Orchestra is absolutely wonderful! I remember the audience being amazingly warm and the people in Madison are so kind and welcoming. I’m so happy to be going back!

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

What are your current plans and projects?

I spend about half the year in the USA performing and the rest of the year touring Europe and Asia. My schedule is planned at least 2 years in advance so the challenge is always trying to find some personal time in between all the concerts. I also recently got a new puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe, and he makes it very difficult to leave home!

Was there an Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional violinist? How old were you and what was it – a particular piece or performer, recording or live concert?

I started playing at the age of 4 (below) and started attending the Juilliard School when I was 6, so I was always surrounded by phenomenally talented musicians and engulfed in the music world. I could never imagine my life without music.

Sarah Chang as a child

How do you think we can attract more young people to classical music?

I think repertoire and artists are key. Musical exposure is also important. The U.S. Embassy gave me the honor of becoming an Artistic Ambassador and I focus on bringing music into schools, playing for students, giving master classes and Q-and-A’s, inviting them to dress rehearsals to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage before a concert, etc.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’m looking forward to returning to Madison!
 Thank you!


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