The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Free percussion, orchestral and wind music is on tap at the UW-Madison this weekend. Plus, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra performs on Sunday afternoon

November 3, 2017
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ALERT: This Sunday, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform its fall concert. General admission is $5; free with Edgewood College ID.

The program, conducted by Blake Walter (below), features Franz Schubert’s Overture in the Italian Style, Set 1 of Ottorino Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances,” and the Symphony No. 92 by Franz Joseph Haydn.

By Jacob Stockinger

It is another very busy weekend for classical music in Madison, as the past week of preview postings has shown.

But two concerts, with a substantial offering of modern and new music, are especially noteworthy at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

TONIGHT

At 8 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, UW  percussionist Anthony Di Sanza will perform works by the Danish composer Per Norgard and the American composer Elliot Cole. No specific titles were given.

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top), under its new director Chad Hutchinson (below bottom), will perform a free concert, with a pre-concert lecture by Hutchinson at 7:30 p.m.

The program features a contemporary American composer and work, “Dreamtime Ancestors” by Chris Theofanidis (below top) and the Symphony No. 1 “Titan” by Gustav Mahler. (You can hear composer Christopher Theofanidis discuss “Dreamtime Ancestors” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It is an impressive ensemble and conductor, which you can read about in The Ear’s review of Hutchinson’s debut:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/10/11/classical-music-new-faculty-conductor-chad-hutchinson-makes-an-impressive-and-promising-debut-with-the-uw-symphony-orchestra/

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of music by Richard Strauss, Theodor Blumer, Lalo Schifrin, Elliott Carter and Luciano Berio.  (Below are two of the newer Wingra members, clarinetist Alicia Lee and oboist Aaron Hill.)

For specific works and more background, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-wind-quintet-2/

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Classical music: Why aren’t America’s modernist composers as well as known as its modernist artists?

August 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, the culture critic Terry Teachout posed an interesting question in a column he wrote for The Wall Street Journal.

Why, he asked, aren’t America’s 20th-century modernist composers as well known as its modern artists such as Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko?

Sure, you know of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and you hear their music performed and played often.

But what about Roy Harris, Peter Mennin, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston and William Schuman (below)? Or even the concert music of Leonard Bernstein? (You can hear Bernstein conducting one of his favorite works by William Schuman, the energetic “An American Festival Overture,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

William Schuman

You rarely hear their music.

And you rarely hear about them.

Why is that?

And how can it be fixed – if it should be fixed?

Here is Teachout’s take, which involves the focus of the programs at this summer’s Aspen Music Festival.

Read it and see what you think:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-forgotten-moderns-1468445756

Then let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


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: Trevor Stephenson explains why Baroque music sounds so good at holiday time. His Madison Bach Musicians will perform their annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Corelli and Telemann this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FTREE concert Thursday night at 7:0 p.m. and at noon on Friday you can hear a FREE performance of two sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven.

December 9, 2015
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ALERT: On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW -Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of 20th-century music by Henry Cowell, Irving Fine, Robert Muczynski, Alan Hovhaness and Elliott Carter. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in two sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 30, No. 1, and Op. 96.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians and guest soloists will perform their annual Baroque Holiday concert. (Below is a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the 2014 concert in the same venue.)

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

The concert is at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are $23-$28 and can be purchased at the door, with discounts in advance at certain outlets or online.

For more information, visit the MBM website at:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/

Trevor Stephenson, who is a master explainer and who will give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m., recently spoke via email to The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This is the fifth annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Generally speaking, what is your goal when you program for it?

The idea of the Baroque Holiday Concert is to present an interesting and varied program of Baroque and Renaissance music, some of which pertains to the holiday season and to winter itself.

More importantly we try to program outstanding pieces that Madison audiences may not have had a chance to hear very often in live performance, particularly, played on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2012

Why is Baroque music so popular at the holidays? What is it about the music itself that makes it feel so appropriate to the occasion?

Baroque music, whether it is written specifically for the holidays or not, does indeed sound terrific this time of year. I think the baroque style really strikes the right balance between energy and form — a perfect marriage of theater and church.

The Bach cantatas, two of which we’ll be playing on this upcoming concert, are perhaps the strongest examples of this fusion. The bearing of these pieces is always devotional, while the compositional technique—the process of invention in them—is always searching, exploratory, even avant-garde.

Look at the opening of Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come Savior of the Heavens) where Bach (below) begins by firing up a martial-sounding dotted-rhythm French overture and then layers in the voices, one at a time, in long moaning tonally-veering chant lines. And yet, this all seems to operate within a framework that can accommodate it.

Bach1

Briefly and in non-specialist terms, what would you like the public to know about each of the works?

In addition to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 61, the more grand-scale Advent Cantata discussed above, we’ll also be presenting the more intimate Cantata 151, Süßer trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet Comfort, My Jesus Comes) composed for the third day of Christmas), which opens with an elegant and extended aria for soprano and obbligato baroque flute. We’re thrilled that this will be performed by outstanding soprano Chelsea Morris and baroque flutist extraordinaire Linda Pereksta.

We’ll also perform the rightly beloved “Christmas” Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, by Arcangelo Corelli. The melodic material, the sequential dance-movement structure and the unsurpassed beauty of the string writing in this concerto grosso are perfect in the extreme. MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim will lead this from the first violin.

By the way, if you’re familiar with Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Master and Commander you’ll notice that the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto pops up a couple of times in the movie score. (You can hear the “Christmas” Concerto, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

Also on the program is Telemann’s E minor quartet from Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik, literally “table music” refers to the domestic and unassuming everyday quality of the writing. Chelsea Morris (below) will also perform three movements from George Frideric Handel’s Gloria.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Other musicians featured on the program are alto Margaret Fox, tenor William Ottow, bass Luke MacMillan, violinists Brandi Berry, Nathan Giglierano, and Olivia Cottrell, violists Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr, cellists Martha Vallon and Andrew Briggs, and (yours truly) harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson.

I’ll also give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. about the music, the composers and the period instruments.

Is there something else you would like to say about the works or the performers?

I’d also like to mention that the concert will be given in the wonderful sanctuary of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. The acoustics there are absolutely terrific. Wisconsin Public Radio will be recording the concert and will broadcast it later in the holiday season, date to be announced.


Classical music: UW-Madison-trained violist Jeremy Kienbaum, will perform a concert this Saturday to benefit his attending the Juilliard School.

June 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following request for coverage from a very worthy project.

Writes Jeremy Kienbaum (below):

Jeremy Kienbaum Headshot 2012

I was a student of David Perry and Sally Chisholm, who both play in the Pro Arte Quartet and teach at the UW-Madison School of Music.

I served as the Principal Viola of the UW Symphony Orchestra, the UW Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera orchestra.

Jeremy Kienbaum playing viola

I graduated this May with distinction and in September will start my Masters of Music degree at the Juilliard School in New York City with Samuel Rhodes (below), the retired violist of the famed Juilliard String Quartet who has also often performed and recorded with the Pro Arte Quartet in Madison.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

I am presenting a send-off concert on this Saturday night, June 13, at 7 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, before I leave for New York.

Admission is $20.

Jeremy Kienbaum poster

The program will feature the “Arpeggione” Sonata by Franz Schubert (with pianist SeungWha Baek, below, playing as a winner of the UW-Madison Concerto Competition); Figment IV for Solo Viola by Elliott Carter; the Eyeglasses Duo (with pianist Andrew Briggs) by Ludwig van Beethoven; and the Viola Sonata in E-flat Major by Johannes Brahms (with pianist SeungWha Baek).

Editor’s note: You can hear the beautiful Brahms sonata, played by violist Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

SeungWha Baek playing

Proceeds from this concert will go towards paying tuition at Juilliard. I also have a GoFundMe page for donations.

You can find it at: http://www.gofundme.com/jeremykienbaum.

Thank you.


Classical music: The acclaimed Kronos Quartet performs an eclectic program of classical, rock, jazz and blues music on Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, a free art song recital takes place on Friday at noon. But pianist Marco Greco’s recital at Farley’s House of Pianos on Friday night has been CANCELLED due to visa problems.

March 12, 2015
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ALERTS:

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale – which takes places from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive – features tenor J. Adam Shelton (below) and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by George Bizet, Benjamin Britten, Joaquin Turina and Richard Strauss.

Plus, the Friday night recital by pianist Marco Grieco at Farley’s House of Pianos has been CANCELLED due to visa problems.

J. Adam Shelton 2

By Jacob Stockinger

This is another “train wreck” weekend for classical music, as the Wise Critic likes to say.

Saturday night especially has a lot of competing events. They include:

At 7:30 p.m. in Old Music Hall, a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” by University Opera.

And a FREE cello recital in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. by UW-Madison professor Parry Karp – with pianist mother Frances and pianist brother Christopher — that features music by Benjamin Britten, George Crumb and Ludwig van Beethoven (two violin sonatas as transcribed for cello by Parry Karp.)

But one non-local event stands out.

The San Francisco-based, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet (below top) — which since 1973 has pioneered crossover genres and in so doing popularized chamber music — performs on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Kronos Quartet 2015

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

The program features the typical eclectic mix of the Kronos Quartet, which plays string quartet versions of jazz, rock and blues music as well as contemporary classical music. (At bottom,  in a historic YouTube video, is the classic Kronos performance of “Purple Haze” by rocker Jimi Hendrix.)

Included is music by Laurie Anderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus as well as works by Maru Kouyoumdjian, Vladimir Martynov, Komitas, Michael Daugherty and Dan Becker.

Kronos Quartet playing

Here is a link with the program, ticket prices, biographies of the players, critical reviews and videos.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/kronos-quartet.html

MASTER CLASS: Violist Hank Dutt of the Kronos Quartet will be giving a master class in Mills Hall, on Friday, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. It is open to the public. The menu includes J.S. Bach’s  Suite No. 6 and Chaconne for four violas, Elliott Carter’s “Figment IV” and the String Quartet by Maurice Ravel.

 

 

 


Classical music: Here are the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine awards for classic music recordings.

April 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

In another week or two, the live concert season will start winding down until mid-June when the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will start its three weeks of concerts. Then in mid-July will come the Madison Early Music Festival (below bottom).

Here are links to those two events:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

BDDS 3 Ferdinand Ries flute quartet

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

MEMF 2012 left stage

But one of the compensating pleasures of the upcoming spring “intermission” is that you can catch up of some recent or new recordings that you might have overlooked or not had time to listen to during the regular concert season.

At least, you will do that if you are like The Ear.

So, in that spirit, here is a list of the 2014 winners of the BBC Music Magazine for classical recordings, which this year also include the Classical Music App of the Year.

Riccardo Chailly Brahms Symhonies CD Cover

I have sampled some of the recordings, and so far I have to agree: Some bias toward British musicians, music and labels notwithstanding, these are fine, outstanding recordings. You will find some familiar names among the honorees: Daniel Barenboim, Alisa Weilerstein (who has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in the Overture Center with the Madison Symphony Orchestra), Sir Edward Elgar,  Riccardo Chailly, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Johannes Brahms (you can hear some of his symphonies in a YouTube video at the bottom), Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Britten, Johann Sebastian Bach, Elliott Carter,  Richard Wagner, Jonas Kaufmann, Giacomo Puccini and Felix Mendelssohn.

Alisa Weilerstein Daniel Barenboim Elgar and Dvorak CD

But there is always room for more suggestions. So I encourage all readers to send in any relatively new recordings that they consider discovered good enough to be shared. Just leave the information in the COMMENT section.

Meanwhile, here is a link to the BBC winners:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/bbc-music-magazine-awards-2014-winners-announced

 

 

 

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Classical music: A new statewide collective has been formed to perform and promote Baroque music in Wisconsin, with initial concerts in Madison and Milwaukee. Plus, the Lawrence Chamber Players from Appleton will perform music by Brahms, Elliott Carter and Juan Orrega-Salas this Sunday afternoon on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” Museum of Art.

February 21, 2014
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ALERT: The accomplished and always popular Lawrence Chamber Players, from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, will perform on this weekend’s edition of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area). The FREE concert is in Brittingham Gallery III of the art museum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and airs live from 12:30 to 2 p.m. The program includes the Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60, by Johannes Brahms; Duos for Violin and Viola by Elliott Carter, and the  Sonata for Viola and Piano by Juan Orrego-Salas. As always, the host will be WPR’s Lori Skelton.

SAL3

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention, all early music fans!

If you haven’t heard news yet, a new statewide collective has been formed to perform and promote Baroque music in Wisconsin, with initial concerts and groups in Madison and Milwaukee.

Major organizers, with their hometowns, include: Brett Lipshutz, Monica Steger and Christine Hauptly Annin, who all live in Milwaukee; and Eric Miller and Theresa Koenig, who live in Madison. 

Brett Lipschutz and Monica Steger — you can hear them with cellist Anton Ten Wolde and harpsichordist Max Yount — performing flute music by Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemann in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently cooperated to answer an email Q&A by The Ear to give readers more information:

Monica Steger

Brett Lipschutz 2014

When and why did the collective come into being?

The idea began when Monica moved to Milwaukee. Being two of a very small disparate group of musicians playing on period instruments, they wanted to create more activity locally.

Having to travel all of the time to play with good musicians didn’t seem logical, considering the size of Milwaukee. The idea then went from local to statewide in the hopes of connecting a broad base of period musicians, regardless of affiliation.

Our first informal public gathering was July 3, 2013. Brett Lipshutz, Monica Steger, Eric Miller (below), Theresa Koenig, and Christine Hauptly-Annin came together to do open public rehearsals just to bring some awareness to historically informed performance practice.

Eric Miller viol

We know that there are many musicians playing Baroque music on period instruments in Wisconsin, but some feel isolated. The collective offers an opportunity for such musicians to find like-minded colleagues with whom to collaborate, as well as a way to encourage improvement in performance through peer review or studying with guests we would like to bring here. (Below are the Madison Bach Musicians, who will perform a FREE program of J.S. Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli and Scarlatti this Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square downtown.)

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

What does such a statewide collective say about the state of early music and how established it is among the general public by now?

Because this is such a new endeavor, the Collective is just starting to be discussed among musicians interested in developing such a community. It might take a bit of time and exposure for the general public to catch on. The emphasis now is the music and the people who play it. The hope is that this emphasis will create excitement about projects that lead to audience education and development.

How many members or chapters belong to it now and where are they located? How does the collective benefit its musician members?

This collective has just gotten started, and we have about 10 musicians in the Madison and Milwaukee areas who have participated in reading sessions and informal public performances, or concerts. But there are more and more who are expressing interest.

What is the plan of concerts and events that the collective has in mind? Do you have other projects such as recordings or special plans in mind?

At this point, members of the Collective have been creating concerts and playing for events under the name of the Wisconsin Baroque Musicians Collective. We’ve also had a music reading session and plan to do them on a regular basis. This includes discussions about relevant peripheral elements such as aesthetics of music, etc. (Below is a concert from the annual Madison early music Festival that takes place every July.)

MEMF1

Are there special aspects of Baroque music – composers, works, instruments (below) – that you expect to champion and educate the public about?

We want our audiences to learn to be curious about the music and its cultural context. Much of the music we play is enjoyable upon the first hearing, but we want to encourage listeners to take a “deep dive” into learning about styles and philosophies informing the music as well as the underlying systems that make the music’s narrative apparent.

MEMF 14 2013 Piffaro instruments

How do musicians, presenters or the general public contact you and learn about you?

Musicians interested in playing Baroque music on period instruments are encouraged and welcome to contact us at wisbmc@gmail.com.

We also have a basic informational webpage up at www.harmonyhallforall.com/collective.

Because we are just beginning, our performances are mostly informal and sporadic. However, presenters can contact us for a list of potential projects that group members have expressed interest in realizing in the next couple of years.

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Classical music: Mary Mackenzie, a former Madisonian now singing in New York City is seeking help to finance the first recording of composer John Harbison’s “Songs After Hours.”

January 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Mary Mackenzie (below), a very accomplished singer, a friend of the blog and a former Madison resident, writes:

mary mackenzie

Dear Mr. Stockinger,

It has been quite a while since you saw me perform — I suspect it may have been “Brundibar” with Madison Opera in 2000! — but I always enjoy keeping up with your blog about all things musical in Madison.

I was last in Madison in August, and gave a recital at the Token Creek Music Festival (below, and art bottom in a YouTube video). Returning home to Madison to share my life-long love of song with family and friends is always a treat for me.

TokenCreekbarn interior

I was fortunate to have an extensive musical education in Madison. I was involved in the music programs at West High School, WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra) and the Madison Opera, and I was able to see my mother play almost every week, either with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Oakwood Chamber Players.

I went on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later moved to New York City, where I received a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

I made my Carnegie Hall debut in the Stern Auditorium in November with the American Symphony Orchestra, singing “Warble for Lilac Time” by Elliott Carter (bel0w).

Elliott Carter

My eight years in New York City have been rich with a busy and varied singing career. I have made a name for myself as an interpreter of contemporary music – particularly art song and chamber music – and have worked with many prestigious living composers. (Below is Mary Mackenzie performing Harrison Birtwistle’s “Three Settings of Celan” with the Juilliard School’s Axiom Ensemble in a photo by The New York Times). It is one piece in particular, and the relationship I forged with the composer  John Harbison that has resonated with me.

Mary Mackenzie ii in Harrison Birtwistle's %22Thee Settings of Celan%22 with the Juilliard School's Axiom Ensemble NYT

I am writing to tell you a bit about the jazz songs, Songs After Hours, by John Harbison (below) and a unique new artistic endeavor of mine, which includes creating the first-ever recording of these works. It is my hope that you will see the value in this project, and consider supporting its production.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Five years ago, I performed John’s Songs After Hours at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Though scored only for piano and voice at the time, John mentioned his wish to see the music developed further for a jazz combo.

Fast forward to 2012, when I had an opportunity to work with some of the most exceptional jazz musicians in New York City. Through their artistry and creativity, I knew that I’d found the group to realize John’s vision. We created original arrangements of the songs for voice and combo and are going into the studio soon to make the debut recording in 2014. The album will ultimately be released by Albany Records.

There are many financial obligations involved in making a record, and while I am applying for grant funding and running a crowd-funding campaign through Kickstarter, I am looking for outside donors as well.  In particular, I would like to find donors to sponsor each of the five musicians involved in the project. (Below is a photo of Mary Mackenzie performing Hector Parra’s “Hypermusic — Ascension” at the Guggenheim Museum.)

Mary Mackenzie in Hector Parra %22Hypermusic -- Ascension%22 at the Guggenheim Museum

As for the Kickstarter, the deadline is January 17, so not that far away. The link for the page is:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1472615144/the-john-harbison-project-songs-after-hours-debut.

The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $10,000, which would go towards studio costs, engineering, mixing, and mastering.  Of course, if we exceed our goal, then that’s more money towards the overall budget. I am hoping that I can find some donors that are separate from the Kickstarter to help sponsor the musicians.

I will be applying for a grant through the Aaron Copland Fund for the remainder of the funds.

I have some of the best jazz musicians accompanying me on this project, and I believe they deserve to be compensated with at least $1,500 for their work on this record. Ideally, I’d like to give them more if funding allows. This totals at least $7,500 for five musicians.

I am hoping Madisonians will consider supporting this record.  Of course, any amount anyone can give would be a great help, perhaps even a sponsorship of one of the musicians. You and others can contact me at mmackenzie981@gmail.com or at www.mary-mackenzie.com or call me at (608) 215-9261.

Sincerely,

Mary Mackenzie


Classical music Q&A: Composer and violinist Andrew Waggoner talks about the importance of improvisation and his upcoming concerts at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival on Sunday, and then next Tuesday and Wednesday.

August 21, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

You might think of it as a form of musical archaeology: Recovering, reclaiming and exhibiting the time-honored tradition of improvisation that for centuries was essential to composers and performers alike.

Improvisations on a Theme” is a watchword that shapes the programs of the 2013 Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the concert presented by guest ensemble from New York, Open End (below), three of whose members will be in residence for a week at this summer’s festival.

Open End Ensemble BW

Essential to the Open End mission is the reclaiming of improvisation as the central skill of all musicians. Audiences at Open End concerts come to think of spontaneous creation as being part of a natural, ongoing dialogue between performers creating in the moment and a written body of work that continues to expand, to transform.

At home in venues from galleries and living rooms to concert halls, Open End seeks nothing less than to engage audiences in an experience that is wonderful, intimate, challenging and beautiful.

On this coming Sunday, August 25, at 4 p.m. Open End members Andrew Waggoner (violin), Caroline Stinson, (cello), and Molly Morkoski (piano) will present a program of recent works and improvisations in a program including music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell (below), Anna Weesner, Andrew Waggoner, and Bach, concluding with the premiere of a new work by Waggoner.

henry cowell

Waggoner has been characterized by The New Yorker magazine as “the gifted practitioner of a complex but dramatic and vividly colored style” His new piano quintet, inspired by the acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was written this summer for the 2013 Token Creek Festival and is dedicated to Co-Artistic Directors John and Rose Mary Harbison.

Then at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 27, and Wednesday, August 28, the Open End members will also participate in one of the Festival’s program of Shakespeare in scenes and songs. The program opens with the premiere of John Harbison’s “Invention on a Theme of Shakespeare” for solo cello and small ensemble, followed by scenes from Shakespeare plays accompanied by new incidental music, and songs and arias on texts from the same plays set by to music by composers from the Renaissance to the present day.

Songs will be offered by composers including Morley, Arne, and Henry Purcell; Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Hugo Wolf; and Francis Poulenc, Frank Bridge, Michael Tippett and John Harbison.

Shakespeare color

All performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. 

TokenCreekbarn interior

Concert tickets ($30, and $10 for students) may be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org

Violinist-composer Andrew Waggoner (below) recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Andrew Waggoner

Could you briefly introduce yourself and your work to people who don’t know you or haven’t heard about you?

I think the best way for people to approach me and my music is to know going into it is that the two paramount values for me in any musical exchange are strangeness and beauty.

I say “strangeness” because the most arresting, durable encounters we have with creative work are marked by a level of confusion, or of the numinous, of something that immediately strikes us as “other,” but that, hopefully, the work itself gives us the tools to sort out over the course of the experience.

“Beauty” is perhaps a little more self-evident, but it can manifest in myriad ways, of course, including beauty of form, of shape or dramatic arc. Much of the music I love most (J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Duke Ellington (below), Miles Davis, Harbison (really!), Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez) moves me at the level of the big shape as much as at that of surface sensuality.

That said, sensuality is hugely important to me, and when I feel I’ve found a unity of shape and surface beauty that makes a listener want to stay with a piece long enough to figure out where its strangeness is coming from and what it means, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course.

Duke Ellington at piano

What are the guiding principles – improvisation — and the performance goals behind the Open End Ensemble? How do they reflect your opinion of the state of contemporary classical music today?

The thing we most wanted with Open End was to have a group that played like a group — always the same players — and that could move easily between written-out music and free improvisation and not miss a beat.

We wanted the audience to hear the improvisations as pieces, and to hear the pieces as having the same level of listening and spontaneous response as the improvs. We make an issue of improv, in part, in order to get the audience to the point where they no longer hear it as unusual.

With regard to the state of things today, I’d just say that the only criterion we bring to programming a piece is whether or not we like it. If we believe in it, we play it. We have the luxury of not taking things on for any purpose other than what we want a program to sound like, how we want it to move, to flow.

If there are specific contemporary currents that seem not to flow through our programs, it’s most likely because we’re not interested in them.

What would you like the general public to know about your performances and specific programs (Ives, Cowell, Weesner, Waggoner’ world premiere and Bach; also Harbison’s Shakespeare music) and works at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival?

We like programs that mix contemporary works with 20th-century classics, along with different instrumental combinations that provide relief and perspective on each other.

In this way we’re no different from anyone else, it must be said, except that, again, there are no “isms” guiding our programming, so we can be very free about the kinds of combinations we find.

So the works by Charles Ives and Henry Cowell make a natural pair (culturally and temperamentally, and in their dogged sense of exploration), and they provide a nice come-down from the energy of the work by Anna Weesner (below), which is volcanic.

anna weesner

The improvs will work in some way yet to be discovered to bridge these different expressive worlds, with John and Rosie’s Bach offering both a stylistic distance and expressive weight specific to it — though listeners will recognize Cowell’s affectionate nod to Bach in his little pieces, so to some degree we go in widening gyres here.

The premiere of my own work, “Floating Bridge,” is a very personal homage to John and Rosie, to John and my (and Carrie’s) shared love of the award-wining Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, to the festival’s rural setting, and to Ellen Singer, a dear friend at our own rural festival, Weekend of Chamber Music, whom we lost this past spring. All these threads were evoked for me and somehow float together in Munro’s story, also called “Floating Bridge.”

The Shakespeare program will mash-up an astonishingly diverse group of Shakespeare songs with dramatic monologues, acted by Madison native Allison Shaffer (below), with Carrie and me improvising, joined by John at the piano. We’ve done this kind of thing a lot, and we love it. We have no idea how the musical environment for the texts will take shape. We’ll find that in the moment.

Allison Schaffer

How would you characterize the style and interest of your own compositions and particularly the work that you will premiere here in Madison?

My own work, as I mentioned earlier, hopefully offers the listener something strange and compelling that is made comprehensible through a surface that is beautiful, and often sensual.

One person’s beauty is another’s caterwauling, of course, so not everyone will hear this music in the same way I do. But I am working to make the music as powerful and communicative as possible, not by trying to anticipate everyone’s varied tastes and levels of musical experience, but simply by responding to my own work as a listener.

The old modernist dichotomy of composer vs. listener bores me, in part because it always was mostly, and has now become entirely, meaningless, and because it overlooks the obvious fact that composers are listeners too.

So that’s where I start with any piece: what do I want to hear, where do I want to go with this, how do I want this to make me feel? I can only really respond to those questions as a listener, as someone who will hear the piece in performance and judge it in those terms, not as the product of a wonderfully complex compositional process.

In terms of style, the composers referenced above have all had a profound effect on me. To that list, I’d add Copland and Messiaen; if one morphs all of those different characters (Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Copland, Messiaen, Miles Davis, Carter, Boulez, Harbison (below)) one might actually come up with something like Waggoner!

JohnHarbisonatpiano

What else would you like to say about yourself and the ensemble, about your programs and work, and about the festival?

We’re crazy excited to come out to Token Creek. For us it’s both an extension of our relationships to John and Rosie Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot)and to John’s music, and an expression of how we most love to work as a group: in intimate, imaginative settings, close to the audience, able to work with the energy they give us, to shape an experience that is site-specific. For us it’s really the ideal, and we get to do only a few times a year under very special circumstances. So this is a rare privilege.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot


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