The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Baroque and Renaissance English music this coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon

October 3, 2016
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ALERT: The strike by the players in the Philadelphia Orchestra has been settled. For details, go to this website:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20161003_Philadelphia_Orchestra_strike_ends__contract_vote_73-11.html

For more background about that strike and others, which The Ear writes about yesterday, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/classical-music-the-pittsburgh-and-philadelphia-symphony-orchestras-start-their-seasons-with-a-strike-by-the-players/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians will open its 2016-17 season this coming weekend with two performances of a program that features English music from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.

mbm-2016

The first performance is this Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m., preceded by 6:45 lecture, in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The second is this coming Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3:30 p.m., preceded by a 2:45 lecture, at the Holy Wisdom Monastery (below), 4200 County Highway M in Middleton.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

If bought in advance, tickets are $28 for the general public and $23 for students and seniors over 65; at the door tickets will be $30 and $25, respectively. Student rush tickets are $10, require a student ID and are available 30 minutes before the lectures. For more information, visit www.madisonbachmusicians.org

The program features: Sonata in Four Parts in F major “Golden Sonata” by  Henry Purcell (1659−1695); Suite No. 2 in D major from “Consort of Four Parts” by Matthew Locke (c. 1621−1677); Songs to texts by William Shakespeare by Robert Johnson (1583−1633); “Diverse bizzarie Spra La Vecchia” by Nicola Matteis (c. 1650−c. 1709); Division No. 7 for two bass viols by Christopher Simpson (c. 1606−1669); “Solus cum sola” for solo lute solo  by John Dowland (1563−1626); “The Broken Consort” Part 1, Suite no. 2 in G major by Matthew Locke; “The Carman’s Whistle” by William Byrd (c. 1540−1623); “Light of Love” by Anonymous as arranged by David Douglass; “John Come Kiss Me Now” by John Playford (1623−c. 1686) as arranged by David Douglass; “Long Cold Night” and “Queen’s Jig.”

Performers include: Dann Coakwell, tenor; David Walker, lute and theorbo; Kangwon Kim violin and concertmaster; Brandi Berry, violin; Anna Steinhoff and Martha Vallon, viola de gamba; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

mbm-playing-2016

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are some edited notes by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below):

Madison Bach Musicians is delighted to start off its 13th season with a foray into new repertoire for the group: English music from the Renaissance and Baroque.

A special feature of the program will be the recognition in song of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Both the smaller lute and the larger theorbo were considered ideal for accompanying the voice in songs, and the theorbo could project a bit better in larger ensembles.

Like the lute, the viola da gamba is also fretted, but it is bowed and not plucked. Moreover, the gamba is held between the legs, the “gams,” and its name literally means “viol of the legs.”

MBM Trevor Stephenson at Immanuel concertos

The baroque violins we’ll use in this program will be strung in the usual fashion of the 16th and 17th centuries, that is, with gut strings (from dried sheep intestine); and the bows will be of the Elizabethan “short” variety (shorter length, and with the stick arching away from the hair), which make them ideally suited for the intricate articulations and lively dance rhythms of this repertoire.

All of these instruments enjoyed great popularity in England during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Henry Purcell (below) flourished during the arts boom of the Restoration period under King Charles II and is widely known for his theater music and operas. However, he also wrote quite a bit of instrumental music.

The four parts of this sonata refers here not to numbers of movements, but to the number of simultaneous instrumental lines—in this case, four, which is notably different from the typical three-part (or trio sonata) Italianate texture of the 17th century.

purcell

The Purcell sonata is followed by an instrumental Suite in D major by Matthew Locke (c. 1621-1677). Locke was a close friend of the Purcell family and in particular of Purcell’s father, Henry Purcell Sr. The younger Henry Purcell wrote a musical elegy on Locke’s death in 1677.

Locke’s years of greatest musical activity in London began as the period of Puritanical Commonwealth rule, under Oliver Cromwell, was waning in the late 1650’s. The Commonwealth had severely restricted the theater and the arts in general. Fun fact: Locke (below) was the first composer to indicate a musical crescendo and decrescendo in a score.

matthew-locke

The texts for the songs are from various Elizabethan poets—John Fletcher, John Webster and Shakespeare himself—and all of the music was composed by lutenist Robert Johnson (below, 1583-1633).

Johnson worked closely with Shakespeare in theatrical productions at the court of James I during the first few years of the 17th century. Johnson even provided music for Shakespeare’s original production of “The Tempest.”

robert-johnson-lute

The first part of the MBM program will conclude with two works that explore a favorite 17th-century technique of ornamentation over a repeated bass line, sometimes called a ground bass or chaconne.

The first is by the Italian virtuoso violinist Nicola Matteis (below, in a painting by Gottfried Kneller, c. 1650-1709), who enjoyed a successful career in London during an era when the English were importing Italian music masters by the dozens.

nicola-matteis-by-godfrey-kneller

The second work, by Christopher Simpson (below, c. 1606-1669), explores “divisions” or variations tossed back and forth between two bass viols (gambas) while they simultaneously repeat a ground bass.

christopher-simpson

The second half of the program will feature songs for tenor and voice by John Dowland (below). We’ll also play Locke’s Broken Consort, “broken” meaning “mixed”–in that violins and gambas, which were considered in Elizabethan times to be artistically quite different instruments—were being asked by the composer to play nicely together.

John Dowland

Following that, I’ll play a rousing set of variations for harpsichord, “The Carman’s Whistle,” by William Byrd (below).

William Byrd

And to conclude the program, the consort will play a set of sprightly dances originally published in 1651 in the collection “The English Dancing Master” by John Playford (below).

john-playford

 

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Classical music: Old music and new music mingle superbly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival through a concert with viols, a countertenor and a new composition by John Harbison

September 1, 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. Barker also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The second of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s three public concerts, which took place on Tuesday evening, was a study in the old and the new, and the mingling thereof.

The program title was, in fact, “Viol Music, Then and Now.” The performing group was the Second City Musick Consort of Viols of Chicago (below)  — three players from there, plus visitor Brady Lanier.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Much, but hardly all, of their contributions were consort pieces of the 16th and 17th centuries, although a certain number of transcriptions — ironically, of later music — were involved.

Three Fantasias for three viols by William Byrd and one by John Jenkins for four viols were prime specimens. Two pairs of examples from Henry Purcell’s Fantasias in 4 Parts represented a late contribution to the consort literature, but were probably intended — primarily, if not exclusively — for members of the violin family, not viols.

Token Creek viols JWB

With the addition of countertenor Nathan Medley, groups of “consort songs” were presented: three by Byrd and one each by four different composers of the late-Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. These were capped by one of the favorite airs of Purcell, “Fairest Isle”— which is a part of his large “semi-opera” King Arthur.

Token Creek viols and countertenor closeup JWB

The program’s centerpiece, however, was a new work by festival co-founder and co-artistic director, John Harbison (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellow and who teaches at MIT.

John Harbison MIT

The nature and the scoring of this work, The Cross of Snow, was defined by the patron who commissioned it. This was local businessman William Wartmann (below), who intended it as a tribute to his deceased wife, the painter and singer Joyce Wartmann.

wiiliam wartmann

It was understood from the outset that it would be written for countertenor and consort of viols, and that the texts set would come from 19th-century poetic literature.

The choice eventually fell on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who also lost his wife tragically, in a fire. The three poems set are: The Cross of Snow, Suspira and “Some day, some day.” All of them deal with the deep and enduring pain over the loss of a loved one. The three settings are framed by a Prelude and a Postlude for the consort alone. (You can hear the poem “The Cross of Snow” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Harbison has a strong sense of tradition and a genuine sympathy for Baroque music. Still, in this composition he by no means attempts simply to imitate long-past styles. While he is interested in exploring the special coloring and harmonics of the viols, he also brings to them a lot of the playing techniques familiar from writing for modern stringed instruments, but alien to viols. Indeed, the instrumental role in this work could pretty easily be transferred from viols to modern strings.

Nevertheless, Harbison’s stylistic assimilations run deep. The five movements, and especially the quite contrapuntal Postlude, are built upon allusions to chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). And, quite wisely, the consort played transcriptions of three such pieces in conjunction with Harbison’s score.

Bach1

Moreover, it was decided to perform Harbison’s new work twice, once in each half of the concert. This was most helpful in allowing a deepened appreciation of the emotional content of both the poetry and the music. The vocal lines are strongly etched, and were beautifully sung by countertenor Medley, a superb artist.

With the final program, on this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the spotlight will be exclusively on Franz Schubert (below) — his “Die Schoene Muellerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) song cycle and the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet — music in a world between the two evoked by this concert.

Schubert etching

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


Classical music: The superb final concert of the Madison Early Music Festival took the audience through an Elizabethan day with inventive fun

July 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You have to hand it to early music advocate, scholar, conductor and performer Grant Herreid (below), who once again was a major player in the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which wrapped up this past Saturday night.

MEMF 2016 all-festival Grant Herreid

What could have been a scissors-and-paste job to wrap up the celebration of music in Shakespeare and Elizabethan England was turned by the creative Herreid into an event that was thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly inventive.

What the final All-Festival Concert did was to bring together what seemed a very large number of students, faculty and guest performers.

MEMF 2016 all-festival all forces

Then what the combined forces did was offer a sampler of a typical Elizabethan day. That day included the usual routines from waking up, exercising and going to bed, but also included prayers, romance and entertainment.

It used snippets from plays by William Shakespeare (below) and snippets by many composers of the period including Thomas Tomkins, Anthony Holborne, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Weelkes, John Bennet, John Coperario, Thomas Ravenscroft, John Dowland and Thomas Tallis as well an anonymous composers and reconstructions.

shakespeare BW

The formula must have appealed because it drew a large and enthusiastic audience.

Since it was such an ensemble effort, it is difficult to single out individuals for praise or criticism.

Instead, The Ear simply wants to mention a few of his favorite things with photos to illustrate them.

Here is what The Ear liked:

He liked that the entire 90-minute program of sacred and secular music was done without an intermission. Once you were in the zone, you didn’t have to leave it and then have to get back into it. Plus, the unity of the day was preserved.

He liked the diverse and always highly accomplished singing.

He liked seeing the unusual period string and wind instruments that are beautiful as well as useful.

MEMF 2016 all-festival strings left

He liked how the entire hall, not just the main stage, was used, including the balconies from which a fanfare opened the concert:

MEMF 2016 all-festival balcony

He liked the many “actors” who stepped to the edge of the Mills Hall stage and did an exceptional job reading the excerpts of Shakespeare that were kept short and to the point:

MEMF 2016 all-festival Shakespeare reader

He liked the period and very energetic dancing with handkerchiefs and leg bells:

MEMF 2016 all-festival dancing

There was more. But you get the idea.

Once again, if you can’t make it to other concerts in the Madison Early Music Festival’s annual week-long schedule, try to make it to the impressive All-Festival Concert at the end.

In 17 years, it has never disappointed.

That is a record to be envied and praised.


Classical music: New York Polyphony opens the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival with a perfectly rendered composite portrait of Elizabethan sacred music. Plus, the winners of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition are announced

July 11, 2016
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ALERT: In case you haven’t yet heard, the winners (below) of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, held on Friday night in Mills Hall and accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians, have been announced.

Eric Jurenas (center), countertenor, won First Prize; Christina Kay (right), soprano, won Second Prize; and Nola Richardson (left), soprano, won Third Prize and Audience Favorite.

Handel Aria winners 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear left the concert hall thinking: Well, this will be an easy review to write.

Just give it an A-plus.

An easy A-plus.

On Saturday night, the acclaimed a cappella quartet New York Polyphony (below) opened the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) with a flawless performance.

new york polyphony

This year, the MEMF is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below top) and the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below bottom), who oversaw the English Renaissance.

shakespeare BW

Queen Elizabeth I

And the program – performed before a large house of perhaps 450 or 500 enthusiastic listeners — was perfectly in keeping with the festival’s theme. It used sacred music rather than stage music or secular music, which will be featured later in this week of concerts, workshops and pre-concert lectures.

In fact, the program of New York Polyphony was based on two of the group’s best-selling CDs for BIS Records and AVIE Records: “Tudor City” and “Times Goes by Turns.” It was roughly divided into two masses, one on each half. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Adding to the variety was that each Anglican or Roman Catholic-based mass was a composite, with various sections made up like movements written by different composers. Thrown in for good measure were two separate short pieces, the “Ave Maria Mater Dei” by William Cornysh and the “Ave verum corpus” of William Byrd.

The Mass on the first half featured music by Byrd, John Dunstable, Walter Lambe and Thomas Tallis. The second half featured works music by Tallis, John Pyamour, John Plummer and excerpts from the Worcester Fragments. The section were typical: the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

There was nothing fancy about this concert, which marked the Wisconsin debut of New York Polyphony and which spotlighted superbly quiet virtuosity. The four dark-suited men, who occasionally split up, just stood on stage and opened their mouths and sang flawlessly with unerring pitch and superb diction.

New York Polyphony MEMF 2016

A cappella or unaccompanied singing is hard work, but the four men made it seem easy. The countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass each showed confidence and talent plus the ability to project clarity while not overshadowing each other. This was first-class singing.

The beautiful polyphony of the lines was wondrous to behold even, if like The Ear, sacred music from this era – with its chant-like rather than melodic qualities – is not your favorite fare.

New York Polyphony provided a good harbinger of the treats that will come this week at the MEMF from groups like the Newberry Consort of Chicago with soprano Ellen Hargis (below top) and the Baltimore Consort (below bottom) as well as from the faculty and workshop participants. On Friday night is an appealing program that focuses on Shakespeare’s sonnets and music.

MEMF newberry consort

Baltimore Consort

And on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m., will be the All-Festival concert. That is always a must-hear great sampler of what you perhaps couldn’t get to earlier in the week. This year, it will feature the music as used in a typical Elizabethan day.

Here is a link to the MEMF website:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

And here is a link the website of New York Polyphony if you want to hear more:

http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com


Classical music: Spend a week in the Age of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I when the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival is held, starting this Saturday. Part 2 of 2.

July 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Saturday, the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival will take place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The theme this year focuses on William Shakespeare and the Age of Queen Elizabeth I.

You can check out all the details of the festival at: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

The co-directors of the festival – the wife-and-husband team of singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot and signaled in the answers by the initials CBR and PR) took time out from the hectic preparations to answer an email Q&A with The Ear.

Here is a link to Part 1 that appeared yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/classical-music-spend-a-week-in-the-age-of-shakespeare-and-queen-elizabeth-i-when-the-17th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-is-held-starting-this-saturday-part-1-of-2/

Today is the last of two parts:

Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe 2016 CR KATRIN TALBOT

Why was the theme of the “Shakespeare 400: An Elizabethan Celebration” chosen for this year’s festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?l

CBR: We chose the theme to honor the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the musical connections in his plays and sonnets, which also reflect the world of Queen Elizabeth I.

Audiences will hear many works of famous Elizabethan composers including Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis, Anthony Holborne, John Dowland and others.

How does Elizabethan music differ from its counterparts in, say, Italy, France and Spain. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era?

PR: The most familiar music from this time, the madrigal, is “borrowed” from the Italians. There were several Italian composers who came to England to instruct the English in their music. The most famous collection of these pieces is called “Musica transalpine” or Italian madrigals “Englished.”

The lute song also originated in Italy but was taken to new poetic heights by John Dowland and his compatriots.

The English composers did create a unique style of sacred music with William Byrd (below top) and Thomas Tallis (below bottom) as the greatest of these Elizabethan composers.

William Byrd

Thomas Tallis

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers? What big things should the public know about Elizabethan music?

PR: Audience members may be less familiar with the vocal and instrumental consort music of this era. Many of these pieces were not intended for public performance, but were played as home or parlor entertainment. The pieces were designed to be very flexible and could be played with a variety of voices and instruments.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below) with her active encouragement of the arts was a peak of artistic achievement in the long history of the British Empire. Music, poetry, dance and theater all thrived for more than 20 years and produced some of the greatest masterworks of Western culture, including the plays of Shakespeare.

Queen Elizabeth I

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday night, July 16?

CBR: The All-Festival Concert will feature MEMF students and faculty performing a new program created exclusively for MEMF by Grant Herried (below), “Shakespeare’s Musical World: A Day in the Life of Elizabethan London.

Grant Herreid

The program is organized by times of the day with speeches from different plays of Shakespeare. Musical reflections include several wonderful pieces by Orlando Gibbons including “The Cries of London,” “O Come Let Us Sing Unto the Lord” and a setting of the “Magnificat” by Orlando Gibbons, “Music Divine” by Thomas Tomkins, a motet by Thomas Tallis, and other works by Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Morely, John Coperario and John Dowland.

Retired UW-Madison history professor John W. Barker will be giving the 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture on “Queen Elizabeth I: The Politician” in the Elvehjem Building of the Chazen Museum of Art.

MEMF all festival concert 2015

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers or performances that you especially recommend for the general public?

PR: We would like to encourage everyone to see all the concerts and experience the entire week. It’s like stepping back in time to a different era—a living history lesson complete with an authentic sound track.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CBR and PR: Check out our website for more details about everything. There is a lot to hear, see, and experience! You can purchase tickets: online; at the Vilas Hall Box Office; at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office (Memorial Union); by calling 608-265-ARTS (2787); or the door. For more information about the MEMF concert series and workshop, please visit our website: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

 


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