The Well-Tempered Ear

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 1 of 2.

July 5, 2016
1 Comment

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 music in the work of 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:

Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe 2016 CR KATRIN TALBOT

How successful is this year’s 17th annual weeklong festival (July 9-16) compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? How well established is MEMF now nationally or even internationally?

CBR: Enrollment is up this year, with over 100 people enrolled in the workshop. Shakespeare (below) and the Elizabethan era is a great draw.

Other exciting news it that MEMF is one of five organizations that was chosen to be part of the “Shakespeare in Wisconsin” celebration, which includes the touring copy of the first Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. It is The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, and it will be at the Chazen Museum of Art this fall. https://shakespeare.library.wisc.edu/

MEMF is definitely on the map in the early music world due to our great faculty and our concert series that features musicians from all over the country, Canada and Europe.

We are also excited to be a part of the Arts Institute on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The institute is bringing us into the modern world of Facebook, e-letters, Twitter and so much more. We also have a new program director, Sarah Marty, who is full of fresh ideas and has many new contacts in the UW and the Madison community.

shakespeare BW

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

CBR: Our format has stayed the same because, after 17 seasons, it seems to be working. We are excited about everything that will be happening during the week. https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/concerts.htm

New to MEMF this year is the ensemble New York Polyphony (below). They will be performing their program “Tudor City,” featuring the music of the Church, including the sacred music of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, Christopher Tye and Walter Lambe. Their recording of this program, Tudor City, spent three weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard classical album chart. You can read more about them on their website: http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com/

To get a preview of what you will hear please visit: http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com/media2/

new york polyphony

MEMF goes to the Movies! The Newberry Violin Band (below top) will be performing as a live accompaniment to the silent film, Elizabeth I, made in 1912. Sarah Bernhardt is the star, even though she was 68 years old when the movie was made. The music is a great sampler of many of the most famous Elizabethan composers. Ellen Hargis (below bottom) will also be singing some classic John Dowland songs. An early movie with early music! http://newberryconsort.org/watch-listen-2/

Newberry Violin Band

ellen hargis 2016

Also, we have several unique programs that have been created just for this 400th “deathaversary” year.

The Baltimore Consort (below) is returning to MEMF with a program created especially for this anniversary year, The Food of Love: Songs, Dances and Fancies for Shakespeare, which has musical selections chosen from the hundreds of references to music in the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare had directions in his plays for incidental music used for dancing, interludes and ceremony.

Specific songs are included in the text of the plays, and these texts were set to the popular songs of the day. Very few of these were published, but there are some early survivors which were published and from manuscripts.

Watch the YouTube video “From Treasures from the Age of Shakespeare” by the Baltimore Consort.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soqw5oSdkVs

Baltimore Consort

On Friday night we have a very unique program, Sonnets 400, a program that actor Peter Hamilton Dyer, from the Globe Theatre, conceived to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

The program is a pairing of Shakespeare’s words with Anthony Holborne’s music. Holborne was one of the most respected lutenists of his and Shakespeare’s time. Madison actor Michael Herold (below) will be reciting the narrative arc of the selected sonnets, and the music of Holborne will be played as interludes, or softly under the narration.

Recorder player and MEMF favorite, Priscilla Herreid, brought this program to our attention. Several years ago she performed with Peter in the Broadway production of “Twelfth Night,” and he told her about this pairing of music and sonnets from the Elizabethan era. Lutenists Grant Herreid and Charles Weaver will be joining Priscilla on Friday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. The pre-concert lecture –“Repackaging Shakespeare’s Sonnets” — will be given by UW-Madison Professor of English Joshua Calhoun.

Michael Herold

Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2 — What makes Elizabethan English music special and what will the All-Festival wrap-up concert include?

 


Classical music Q&A: Founder Dean Schroeder talks about the inaugural Handel Aria Competition at this year’s Madison Early Music Festival on Monday night, July 8.

July 5, 2013
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Dean Schroeder is known primarily as a knowledgeable, helpful and amiable local businessman who, with his wife Carol “Orange” Schroeder, owns and runs Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.

But the Schroeders are also serious fans of classical music. They attend, participate in and sponsor many events, including the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Madison Bach Musicians.

Their latest venture, though, is especially interesting: they founded the first annual Handel Aria Competition, which they hope will become an annual event at the Madison Early Music Festival that starts tomorrow, on Saturday, and runs through Friday, July 12. Given the global Handel revival in the past decade, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to build audiences for Handel and audiences for the festival.

memf 14 logo

The final round of the competition will be held on Monday night, July 8, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival. Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Handel etching

Here are links to a previous blog post about the festival overall, and to the festival’s own website and to a special website about the Handel aria competition:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/classical-music-qa-co-artistic-directors-paul-rowe-and-cheryl-bensman-rowe-discuss-the-14th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-that-begins-this-saturday-and-ends-next-friday-it-will-explore-th/

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/

http://www.handelariacompetition.com/Handel_Aria_Competition/Welcome_to_the_Handel_Aria_Competition.html

Dean Schroeder (seen below with his wife Orange) recently talked with The Ear in an e-mail about the Handel aria contest:

Carol %22Orange%22 and Dean Schroeder

How and when did you come up with the idea for the Handel aria competition?

Over the past few years, I have realized my strong affinity to Handel’s vocal music, especially the arias and duets from his many operas and oratorios.

I previously had no appreciation for opera, but one day I was driving down Monroe Street and heard, on Wisconisn Public Radio’s WERN (88.7 FM), an aria that was so delightfully melodic and lively that I had to pull over and listen. It was “Tornami a vagheggiar,” sung by Natalie Dessay (below in a different live performance in a YouTube video) on William Christie’s recording of “Alcina,” also featuring Renee Fleming and Susan Graham.

In that life-changing moment I knew I had to seek it out, and eventually found great pleasure in discovering dozens of other arias from Handel’s works. We are lucky to be in a period of revival of Handel’s music, and I’d recommend YouTube for its countless selection of arias to explore.

How will the contest be run and judged?

The judges will be tenor William Hudson (below top), soprano Ellen Hargis (below middle) and the local music critic, retired UW-Madison medieval history professor and choral singer John W. Barker (below bottom).

The first two are regulars on the Madison Early Music Festival’s faculty, and will be performing in the week’s concerts as well.

The three will have to coordinate on the criteria, applying their expertise to determine the standards they will use to judge. They will determine the top three prizes, which are cash.

The audience will get to vote via ballot for their favorite.  This winner will get a free ticket for tuition to the Early Music Festival next year.

William Hudson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John-Barker

Why did you want to create such a contest? Do you think it will expand the audience for the Madison Early music Festival?

About a year ago, I learned of the annual Handel aria competition in London, which is part of a month-long celebration of Handel (below). Thanks to Paul and Cheryl Rowe, we have been able to create our own competition to encourage young singers as part of the annual Madison Early Music Festival.

They have generously welcomed the idea and worked to make it happen, and I believe it will result in additional interest and enthusiasm for the Festival in the coming years. We were delighted to have almost 50 singers audition this year, and anticipate an increase in future years.

handel big 2

Do you yourselves have a favorite Handel aria or favorite Handel arias? Do you have favorite performers of those arias you could recommend recordings of?

A few years back I was lucky to attend the Lyric Opera’s production of Handel’s “Hercules,” conducted by Harry Bicket.  He brought with him a soprano, for a supporting role, who stunned the audience with her gorgeous voice:  Lucy Crowe (below).

Her latest recording project, Handel’s “Il pastor fido,” is one that I am highly recommending for the talent of the young singers and musicians, as well as the sonic beauty of the performance space: the Temple Church in London.  (There is also an interesting YouTube video of the making of the recording:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVRZzt90SNw

lucy crowe

In addition to those singers mentioned, I really enjoy hearing Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels (below), Ian Bostridge, Andreas Scholl, Mark Padmore, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont … the list is long and growing larger!  A good starting CD might be Harmonia Mundi’s CD box “Handel: Famous Arias.”

David Daniels

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

I’ve been taking singing lessons from Ben Luedcke (below) for about four years, and have been in all three of his choirs: Madison Choral Arts Society, UW Men’s Choir and Madison Summer Choir (the latter two he founded).

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

I’m a tenor, and the Handel I’ve attempted includes: “As Steals the Morn” (a gorgeous duet, sung by Ian Bostridge and Lynne Dawson in a YouTube video at the bottom); “Waft Her, Angels” (a plaintive aria from the oratorio “Jeptha,” which we just saw in Boston by the Handel and Haydn Society and which will be sung by our tenor on Monday); AND I’ve sung the soprano part an octave down in these duets: “Io t’abbraccio” and “Son nata a lagrimar” (the lament from “Giulio Cesare”) … I love the duets, and it works surprisingly well to “flip” parts!

Handel was a master of every voice range and expresses a wide range of emotions.  His arias are very approachable and engaging, and many are extremely moving.  It is so good to see the increase in appreciation for Handel’s genius, beyond just “Messiah,” (which everyone knows and loves).  I loved the Madison Opera’s and John DeMain’s production of “Acis and Galatea,” and look forward to more local productions of Handel, including the University Opera’s upcoming presentation of “Ariodante” on  October 25–29.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera

Along with hearing more Handel, I hope more people will try singing his gorgeous arias and duets.  I’ve only been singing a few years, but have attempted a few of them with credible results. They are not beyond the average singer, and they are greatly satisfying to sing.

 


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