The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A busy Sunday at the UW is highlighted by a FREE band concert and a public reception to mark the retirement of legendary band master Mike Leckrone

April 26, 2019
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ALERT: The Madison-based Avanti Piano Trio will give two FREE public concerts this weekend. The first one is TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, off the Capitol Square; the second one is on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 302 Wisconsin Avenue. Members of the trio are violinist Wes Luke, cellist Hannah Wolkstein and pianist Joseph Ross. The program includes works by Leon Kirchner, Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy and Johannes Brahms.

By Jacob Stockinger

As the semester and academic year come to a close, concerts usually get packed into the schedule.

This coming Sunday, April 28, is no different – except that one event is clearly the headliner.

Mike Leckrone (below, in a photo by UW Communications)  – the legendary and much honored director of bands and athletic bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – is retiring after 50 years.

Sunday marks a last appearance. He will conduct the UW Concert Band one last time and then be honored with a public reception.

The athletes and athletic fans love him. The students and band members love him. The alumni love him.

And, yes, the School of Music loves him. After all, not many band directors do what he did when he asked the late UW-Madison violin virtuoso Vartan Manoogian to perform the popular Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn with a band instead of an orchestra. But Manoogian agreed — and said he loved the experience.

Also, not many band directors could start an annual spring concert in Mills Hall with an audience of some 300 and then saw it grow decades later into a three-night extravaganza that packs the Kohl Center with some 50,000 people and gets seen statewide on Wisconsin Public Television.

One time years ago, The Ear — who was then working as a journalist for The Capital Times — interviewed Leckrone. It was a busy year when he and the Marching Band were going with the football and basketball teams to the Rose Bowl and the March Madness tournament.

Mike Leckrone was charming and humorous, open and candid. The interview was so good, so full of information and human interest, that it was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed statewide and nationally.

That’s how big Mike Leckrone’s fan base is. Other schools and bands envied him.

All honor, then, to this man of action and distinction who was also creative and innovative.

Here is more information – but, alas, no program — about the FREE band concert on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-band-spring-concert-2/

For really detailed biographical background about Mike Leckrone and his achievements, go to:

https://news.wisc.edu/mike-leckrone-a-legendary-career/

And here is a statement by Leckrone himself about his approach to teaching and performing as well as his plans for retirement. (You can hear an interview Leckrone did with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://ls.wisc.edu/news/hitting-the-high-notes

Now you may think Leckrone can’t be followed.

But just this past week, the UW-Madison announced that Corey Pompey (below) is Leckrone’s successor. Here is a link to the official announcement, with lots of background about Pompey:

https://news.wisc.edu/new-marching-band-director-to-take-the-baton/

What else is there to say except: Thank you, Mike!

On, Wisconsin!

As for other events at the UW on Sunday:

At 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform a FREE concert.  Darin Olsen, O’Shae Best and Cole Hairston will conduct. No program is listed.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Madrigal Singers (below top) will perform a FREE concert. Bruce Gladstone (below bottom, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct. No word on that program either.


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Classical music: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform its second-to-last concert with maestro Edo de Waart at the Wisconsin Union Theater next May

June 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater has announced some news:

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with conductor Edo de Waart and Principal Cello Susan Babini will perform in Shannon Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 21, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

edodewaart1

The program includes the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo, A Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra” by Ernest Bloch; and the Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Opus 55, by Sir Edward Elgar.

Ticket prices are as follows: General public tickets are $49, $45 and $25, Union Member and non-UW students tickets are $44, $40 and $25, UW Faculty and Staff tickets cost $46, $42 and $25, UW-Madison student tickets cost $15, and youth tickets (age 6-18) cost $20, limit 2 with the purchase of a full-priced ticket.

Tickets can be bought online, by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) or in person, see locations and hours here

This performance will be conductor and former music director Edo de Wart’s the second-t0-last concert as MSO’s chief conductor. (His final ones are performances of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler on the following weekend in Milwaukee ) He has served as conductor also for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

De Waart was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal, and was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia. He is also a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. De Waart also has vast experience in opera conducting, from the Santa Fe Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera to the Royal Opera House.

The performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.


Classical music: Let us now praise string teacher Janet Jensen, who retires after almost 50 years at the UW-Madison. Her final concert with the All-University Strings is Saturday afternoon at 4 in Mills Hall.

April 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers know that The Ear is a big supporter of music education and amateur music-making.

All the more reason to honor Janet Jensen (below), then, who is retiring as the string pedagogue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Faculty

Jensen has spent almost 50 years teaching strings not only to specialists but also to music educators and amateur student musicians.

Her final concert with the All-University Strings (below) is this Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will also feature the Sonora Strings from the Suzuki Strings of Madison plus soloists John Povolny and Lili Kim as well as guest conductors Mikko Rankin Utevsky and Brandi Pease.

The FREE concert will feature string music by Johann Sebastian Bach (the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom); Antonio Vivaldi; John Rutter; Ernest Bloch; Edvard Grieg; Leonard Bernstein; and others.

Student musicians play violin during a UW Symphony Orchestra rehearsal at Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities building. The orchestra is one of several groups to be featured during "The Chancellor Presents UW Performing Artists of the Future," a music, drama and dance event to be held Saturday, Feb. 25, at Overture Hall. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller Date: 02/06 File#: D100 digital camera frame 3063

©UW-Madison University Communications. Photo by Jeff Miller

In a prepared statement, Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) said:

“This concert marks the 25th anniversary of my leadership. It also marks my retirement from the School of Music, where I’ve been a student, staff member and faculty member – an association spanning nearly 50 years.

Janet Jensen Katrin Talbot

“In my dual faculty roles of Professor of String Pedagogy and Associate Director I have had the opportunity to serve many populations – colleagues, music majors and non-majors – but I’ve found particular authenticity in the All-University String Orchestras and in bringing majors and non-majors together.

“That sense of authenticity derives from several sources. A former, and maybe future, public school music teacher, I realized that musical groups for non-music majors in fact serve the teachers, mentors and programs that produced them.

UW Symphony Strings cellos

“I’m a product of public education and the beneficiary of tenets of the Wisconsin Idea and University Extension programs, so it also became clear to me that such musical groups extend UW’s impact beyond the campus to the state borders and beyond.

“Deeply influenced by the values inherent in community music programs and life-long learning in music, I realized that providing a musical setting that could be balanced with multiple degrees and academic loads would better ensure that non-majors would opt to keep music in their lives — and, as they themselves become voters, parents and advocates, in the lives of others.”

Here is a link to a website posting with the compete program plus a very informative and even moving set of remarks by Jensen who discusses the program, her personal background and her commitment to a broad music education:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/all-university-strings-2/


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society seeks amateur photos from the public for a slide show to accompany Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in June. Plus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky gives a FREE viola recital Sunday night

April 9, 2016
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ALERT: Blog contributor and all-round musician — violist, conductor and singer as well as critic — Mikko Rankin Utevsky sends the following word:

Dear friends: I’m giving my senior viola recital this Sunday evening, April 10, the culmination of my four years of study here at the UW-Madison. On the program are a pair of powerful and evocative works from 1919: the Viola Sonata of Rebecca Clarke, and the Suite for Viola and Piano by Ernest Bloch. Pianist Thomas Kasdorf joins me for the program, which is at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes, off the Capitol Square, at 333 West Main Street. I hope to see you there!

P.S.: Thomas and I are giving another recital – with me singing this time – on Tuesday, May 10, at 7 p.m., also at Capitol Lakes. On the program are assorted songs by Samuel Barber, Kurt Weill, Charles Ives, Robert Schumann, and Claude Debussy, and the “Songs of Travel” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. If you can’t make this one, see you in a month!

By Jacob Stockinger

Multi-media concerts seem to be catching on, perhaps in an attempt to attract new and younger audiences.

Next season the Madison Symphony Orchestra will do two of them: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” with a hi-definition film made by NASA for the Houston Symphony Orchestra; and a Beyond the Score with “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, accompanied by photographs plus actors Jim DeVita and Brenda DeVita from American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

Doing mutli-media is nothing new for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which is always experimenting and looking for novel approaches to classical music. But the group is expanding how it is done in an impressively populist way.

Here is an announcement from The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which turns 25 this summer:

BDDS silver jubilee logo

SEASONAL PHOTOGRAPHS WANTED FOR A SPECIAL CONCERT AT THE OVERTURE CENTER THIS SUMMER.

Have you taken photos of your favorite time of year?

Visual artist Lisa A. Frank will be creating photographic scenery for this year’s “Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society” concerts at the Overture Center for the Arts.

The program on June 25 will include the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. For this concert, a photo collage of the four seasons – like Frank’s spring image of bird eggs and feathers in a nest and the fall image of gourds – will be projected on a large screen behind the musicians.

(You can get a sense of it from the popular YouTube video at the bottom, which features the “Spring” section of the four string concertos that make up “The Four Seasons.)

Lisa Frank Spring Birds eggs

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Lisa Frank (below) invites amateur photographers of all ages to participate in this concert by sending up to 5 of your best shots depicting any aspect of any season.

Lisa Frank

The images can be in jpeg, tiff or Photoshop format. If your photograph is included, you may be asked to resend a higher resolution image. (Below is a summer photo of a flower and butterfly.)

Lisa Frank Summer Butterfly

All featured photographers will receive a video of the final result.

Up to 100 photos will be selected.

Send your photographs by Sunday, April 18 to:

lisafrank@lisafrankphotography.com

And here is a link – with information about programs, performers, venues and tickets — to the new summer season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary or Silver Jubilee:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org


Classical music: John W. Barker reviews conflicting concerts by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the choral group Voces Aestatis.

August 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a two-fer or double 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

Scheduled train-wrecks are, sadly, all too familiar in the regular music season, say in October and April. But at the very end of August? Absurd! Unacceptable!

And yet there it was. Last Friday night, August 21, we had two concerts needlessly set at loggerheads. One had been scheduled for months; the other was hastily set and on terms that had little to do with the risks of spoiling the logical audience for both.

The two events were: the second and final summer concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and the only summer concert by the new choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Voices of Summer).

Feeling the need to report on both, I was boxed in and forced by circumstances to review one concert directly and the other though its dress rehearsal.

That is grossly unfair to the disadvantaged choice, the MAYCO concert, for obviously the ensemble needs to be judged on its definitive public performance. Still, rehearsals are themselves often fascinating, and so I hope my approach is not without merits of it own.

MAYCO

The MAYCO rehearsal (below, in a photo by John W. Barker; other performance photos were taken by The Ear) was held on Thursday morning, August 20, in the venue of the concert itself, Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

The program is one that was connected to that of the earlier concert this summer, on June 20, in that each explored approaches to the Baroque ensemble idiom of the concerto grosso and brought together examples old and new.

MAYCO rehearsal 2015 JWB

This second program opened with an outstanding example of a Late Baroque masterwork, the fifth of George Frideric Handel’s great set of 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6.

Conductor and ensemble founder, Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) showed his fresh and enterprising approach in so many ways.

Mikko Rankin Utevsky MAYCO 8-15

He used the supplemental wind parts that double merely the string voices but are authentic survivals. He opposes first and second violins, allowing the concertino’s trio of soloists a proper place in the texture. He had the players (save for cellos) stand for the performance, rather than sit. (In the rehearsal, too, he himself conducted while playing the viola part.) The performance stressed vitality and vigor, and showed that the 19 string players could make a quite coherent ensemble sonority.

By contrast, the second work was a modern counterpart, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings and Piano, the latter played by UW-Madison student Jason Kutz (below). Composed in 1925 — and followed by a second one some years later — this is a remarkable example of neo-Classicism, in which a Baroque form and mentality could be recast in 20th-century harmony.

Bloch knew that the piano could not match the harpsichord as an “authentic” continuo instrument: while he often uses it to reinforce the string bass line, he gives it roles across the texture, while even allowing it tiny solo moments. The style is richly varied, with elements of folk dances, and an overall suggestion of the neo-Hebraic sound with which he was becoming identified.

Jason Kutz MAYCO

The final work was Franz Joseph Haydn’s beloved Symphony No. 94 in G major, the “Surprise.” Utevsky showed a thorough command of the score’s varieties and possibilities, exploiting them with some fine subtleties.

At the dress rehearsal and at the performance, Utevsky also gave two of his conducting students Maynie Bradley and Majestic Lor (below top and bottom respectively)  the chance to lead parts of the slow movement, as an introduction to actual podium experience — a wonderful idea!

Maynie Bradley

Majestica Lor

This has been the MAYCO’s fifth summer season. Utevsky promises to be back leading it at least one more year. He deserves every encouragement to arrange the extension beyond that, as an extension of this wonderful program he has created to allow talented young student players to have orchestral experience.

SUMMER VOICES

The conflicting choral concert was held Friday night in St. Andrew’s Church on Regent Street.

The group “Voces Aetatis” (Voices of Summer) is in its second season and offered a single concert. The group consists of 16 mixed voices, four singers to a part. They are devoted to “early” choral music, predominantly from the Renaissance, an age that offers particularly superlative choral writing just waiting to be exploited. Conductor Ben Luedcke has shaped them into a finely balanced ensemble, with beautifully nuanced overall sound.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The first (and larger) part of the program was devoted to sacred music by eight composers, chronologically: Jean Mouton (1459-1522), Jean Lhéritier (1480-1551), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1512), Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), and Antonio Lotti (667-1740). Of the last two, Gesualdo is a very late Mannerist, while Lotti is really a Baroque composer, represented by his retro-polyphonic warhorse, the eight-voice Crucifixus. Otherwise, the selection represented some prime Renaissance art.

The selections sounded lovely — and all the same. Director Luedcke (below) takes everything at a consistently smooth and stately pace, often rather too slowly to get at the textual and spiritual meanings. Only the Gesualdo Tenebrae motet conveyed any propulsive power. Pieces by Byrd and Gabrieli should have surged in excitement, but did not.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

The program’s second part was devoted to madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), John Bennet (1575-1614) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Now, the problem is that madrigals are not (and were not) intended as choral music. The particular attention to the texts the composers so carefully set is simply steamrollered by the blurred diction of a sizable chorus.

The ideal is one singer per part, and it is a pity that Luedcke did not pull out individual singers from the ensemble in varying combinations of such limited scale.

The obscured clarity of the Italian texts was bad enough, but was disastrous in the English pieces. The words to The Silver Swan (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Orlando Gibbons (below), offered as an encore, and to his What Is Our Life? were totally lost — a particular injustice since the latter sets an ironic poem attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh as he awaited execution, with interesting Shakespearian parallels. To render the words unintelligible is no way to treat madrigals, however prettily.

Orlando Gibbons

This ensemble has so much potential, and is a brave vehicle for an area of musical literature too little performed. One hopes it can mature in future years to the effectiveness of which it is capable.

And without competing with another event for attendance.

 


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will perform music by Handel, Haydn and Bloch this Friday night.

August 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s multi-talented friend Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) -– who is a singer, violist and conductor -– writes:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below) closes its fifth season with works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ernest Bloch and George Frideric Handel in a program titled “Concerto Grosso II: Surprise!”

The concert is this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Music Hall on Bascom Hill. Tickets are $7 at the door (students are admitted by donation). The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), and co-sponsored by the UW-Madison School of Music.

This concert will also feature the most returning players in five seasons — fully 20 of the 30-odd members of the orchestra have performed with the group before, some throughout all five years.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

The program opens with a Concerto Grosso by Handel — Op. 6, No. 5 in D major — whose contributions to the form (which has been our theme for the season) were many and varied. This one opens with a majestic French Overture, followed by a light-footed Presto, a weeping Largo, a graceful Minuet, and a spirited Allegro to close.

handel big 2

Trevor Stephenson (below top), of the Madison Bach Musicians, joined the orchestra this past weekend for a wonderful workshop on the music of Handel as part of our new historical performance program, which also included coaching on Haydn with UW-Madison bassoon professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill).

Trevor Stephenson Explains

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Next up is another Concerto Grosso, the first by Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch (below top). Written in 1925 for piano obbligato and string orchestra, it is an exciting and powerful work encompassing a broad emotional range. Our piano soloist is Jason Kutz (below bottom), currently finishing his master’s degree at the UW-Madison School of Music with Professor Martha Fischer.

Ernest Bloch in 1915

jason kutz at piano

Our second Haydn symphony of the summer closes the concert, the famous “Surprise”  Symphony, No. 94. I’m excited to explore both ends of his career this season.

Our last program opened with his Symphony No. 6 (“Le Matin” or Morning), written for the Esterhazy family; the “Surprise” belongs to his final series of 12 “London” symphonies. Everyone is well acquainted with the slow movement — heard at the bottom in a YouTube video — but how many people remember the fantastic Finale?


Classical music: The early music group Ensemble Musical Offering of Milwaukee will make its Madison debut this Sunday in an all-Handel program. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s FREE “Final Forte” concerto competition is tonight at 7 on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, and University of Wisconsin-Madison violist Mikko Utevsky performs a FREE recital Thursday night at Capitol Lakes.

March 26, 2014
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ALERTS:  Our good friend and frequent contributor Mikko Utevsky writes: Dear Friends, I am giving a viola recital this Thursday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community (333 West Main Street, near the Capitol Square). The program includes works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ernest Bloch (the Suite Hebraïque), and viola sonatas of Johannes Brahms (Op. 120, No. 2) and Darius Milhaud (No. 1). I will be joined by pianists Jeff Gibbens and Adam Kluck. I hope the short notice will not prevent some of you from joining me there. Best, Mikko

Also, The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s “Final Forte” young artist competition will be broadcast LIVE tonight at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

For more details, here is a link to a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/classical-music-education-can-you-pass-nprs-bach-puzzler-also-wednesday-night-is-the-free-concert-and-live-broadcasts-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-final-forte-concert-of-high/

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

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 hosts 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 

Here’s a Handelian heads-up, and with a Madison accent!

The Milwaukee-based Ensemble Musical Offering is to make its first appearance in Madison on this Sunday afternoon, March 30, at 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s new and crisply designed Atrium auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are $15, payable at the door, and available in advance from www.ensemblemusicaloffering.org or by calling (414) 258-6133.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The group, whose supplemental title is the Midwest Bande for Early Music, was founded in 2000 by harpsichordist and director Joan Parsley.  As she herself defines the ensemble: “Its mission is to foster appreciation for early music, circa 1580-1750, through professional performance on period instruments, educational activities, and community outreach.”

Winner of several grants, the ensemble not only performs regularly in its home city, but supports the Greater Milwaukee Baroque Festival, which is a competition for students of string and keyboard instruments, plus a one-week Summer Baroque Institute. 

The instrumental membership of the ensemble (below) consists of about 10 players — divided between strings and winds — including harpsichord.  All play baroque instruments, and use the one player per part approach.

Ensemble Musical Offering

For their Madison appearance, the EMO will present a program aptly titled “Hallmarks of Handel.”  It will contain a balanced survey of the great composer’s instrumental and vocal music. 

The most familiar music will be the G-major Suite, the third and last division of George Frideric Handel’s beloved and popular “Water Music” (at bottom in a YouTube video played on modern instruments by Sir Neville Marriner and the Acadmey of St. Martin in the Fields) — the set that features only woodwinds, without brass, against the strings.

handel big 3

There will also be no less than two of the Op. 3, Concerti Grossi, Nos. 4 and 6, which give strong roles to winds (as well as harpsichord in the latter).  It will be interesting to hear these works, usually treated as “orchestral,” in this more intimate chamber-music character.

One more instrumental work is a composite of music that Handel used in his opera “Ottone.”  Because of the prominence of the bassoon in the scoring, it will be presented in this program as a Sinfonia for Bassoon, Strings and Continuo.

The other side of the program is vocal, and touches upon what was, for Handel, his major areas of composition, his Italian operas and English oratorios.  There will be two arias drawn from Handel’s first London triumph, “Rinaldo,” composed in 1711.

The oratorio realm will be represented indirectly.  The program will allow a rare opportunity to hear examples of some two-dozen chamber duets and trios, with continuo, that Handel composed over the years to Italian texts, following patterns set by role model Agostino Steffani.

Handel seemed to use these brief, three-movement mini-cantatas as tryouts of some vocal ideas, and he then incorporated many of those ideas into larger works. The two to be offered, composed in July 1741, contain musical germs that Handel allowed to blossom as three choral movements in “Messiah,” composed later that year.  Listeners will surely be surprised and delighted to recognize those inimitably Handelian ideas in their first form.

Though headquartered in Milwaukee, the EMO draws upon musicians from beyond their city, as, indeed, so many early music groups do — witness the Madison Bach Musicians.  For EMO, there is a particular reliance on personnel from around our state, and from Madison in particular.

Thus, two admired Madison early music players are involved: Baroque violinist Edith Hines (below top) as leader of the strings, and Teresa Koenig (below bottom), a specialist in Baroque wind instruments.

Edith Hines BW

Theresa Koenig

In addition, this program offers two sopranos for the vocal pieces, each with a Madison connection. Sarah Richardson is currently a doctoral candidate at the UW School of Music, studying with University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and baritone Paul Rowe.  And Chelsea Morris Shephard, who has sung with the Madison Bach Musicians, will be remembered as a finalist in in last summer’s Handel Aria Competition for the Madison Early Musical Festival.

Sarah Richardson

CHELSEA Shephard

Such a rich menu of Handel is bound to appeal to lovers of this fabulous composer’s wonderful music, and attract those who should be such lovers.

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Classical music: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin excels in a concert of songs, poetry and chamber music to a small audience hurt by competing concerts.

February 18, 2014
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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 took the performance photos. 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 hosts 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

The Sound Ensemble Wisconsin is one of a number of new and enterprising chamber groups that has been developed in Madison in recent years.

This one is in its second season, and offered its second concert of that season in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Sunday night.

The group’s premise is to seek “a provocative and original approach to chamber music.”

Something of that aim was represented in the unusual seating plan set up in the auditorium, with double ellipses (below) surrounding the performing space.

SEW setup Barker

Further, for this concert, the approach was to match a number of vocal and instrumental pieces with readings of the poetry that provided the inspiration or even the very texts for the selections.  These were read by Katrin Talbot (below, far right), herself a poet, as well as an admired photographer and violist.

SEW Katrin Talbot Barker

The first half of the program offered (though not in this order) some songs. One, by Debussy, “Nuit d’etoiles” (Starry Night) , was sung by soprano Rachel Eve Holmes (below right) with pianist Jess Salek.  They were joined by violinist Mary Theodore, the group’s guiding spirit, and cellist Maggie Townsend to present one of Franz Joseph Haydn’s settings of Scottish folk songs.

SEW songs Barker

Without the soprano, this trio went on to present the Three Nocturnes of Ernest Bloch. The trio in turn yielded to a quintet (below), with Susanne Beia and Mary Perkinson, violins, and Chris Dozoryst and Jen Paulson, violas, joining Townsend in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Nocturne and Scherzo for String Quintet — for which Holmes returned to sing the English folksong, which inspired that gentle and thoughtful music.

SEW sextet Barker

The high point came as the closing music, Arnold Schoenberg’s string sextet (below), “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), with cellist Parry Karp, acting as a last-minute substitution for Karl Lavine, joining the previous quintet.

In the past I have found that I much prefer the original chamber form of this remarkable 1899 work over the more commonly heard adaptation of it for string orchestra; though, to be honest, one does not often have a chance to hear either in live performances.  The chamber version allows the richly complex six-part writing to be heard more clearly, without the lush overload of the orchestral version. (You can hear it for yourself at the bottom in the YouTube video of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center playing the opening of “Transfigured Night.”)

SEW Schoenberg sextet Barker

I have also found that this outpouring of late-Romantic, hyper-chromatic polyphony makes particular sense when one can experience this music not only played close-up, as in this concert, but also in plain view.

The result is that one can really see as well as hear which instrument is doing what as the piece unfolds.  I note, in fact, that, thanks to this hearing, I understood better than before the important role of the first viola, even amid the propelling forces of Beia and Karp. All the players were caught up in a unified and impassioned performance that was simply riveting.

It was a pity that barely 30 people turned up as an audience.  Perhaps that was due to so much competition, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra concert among other things.

Still, those who attended certainly came away feeling richly rewarded by this experience, and with heightened awareness of the stimulating contributions to the Madison chamber music scene that SEW is making.

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Classical music: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin performs music and poems about love and night this Sunday evening. Plus, three guitarists perform new music for FREE this Friday at noon.

February 12, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark auditorium of the historic First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright will feature guitarists Jamie Guiscafre (below), Chris Allen and Chris Murray in new music of Margaret Brouwer, Dan Cosely, Guiscafre and Justin Merritt.

Jaime Guiscafre

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement violinist and SEW founder Mary Theodore about an appealing and unusual combined concert and poetry reading that is coming up this Sunday afternoon:

“Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (below are some SEW musicians) follows November’s highly successful opening to their second season, “Sound Stories,” with a concert on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 5:45 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the historic landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Performers for this concert are SEW musicians violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Chris Dozoryst, Jen Paulson, violinist Mary Perkinson, pianist Jess Salek, violinist Mary Theodore, Maggie Townsend, and guest artists cellist Karl Lavine and soprano Rachel Eve Holmes.

SEW group

“Sound Stories:  Of Love and Night” features 60 minutes of vocal and instrumental works based on nocturnal themes, many based on love poems or ballads. It seems like a program matched to Valentine’s Day weekend.

The program includes Ernest Bloch’s Nocturnes for Piano Trio (1924); Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ Nocturne and Scherzo for String Quintet (1906); and songs by Franz Joseph Haydn and Claude Debussy. The concert features Arnold Schoenberg‘s “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night) for String Sextet (1898), based on Richard Dehmel‘s poem of 1896. (The work can be heard performed under the direction of Pierre Boulez in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Poems by Richard Dehmel and Walt Whitman will be read by Katrin Talbot (below), a Madison violist and poet and SEW’s Artist-in-Residence for the 2013-14 season.  Talbot will also read the English translation for Debussy’s “Nuit d’Etoiles” (Starry Night).

Katrin Talbot face on

The performance will take place in the new Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at the First Unitarian Society.  Beginning at 5:45 p.m., the event will be timed with the sunset and last a little over an hour with intermission.

Tickets are $10 with cash, check or charge at the door.

Please note: Coming soon, SEW will be collaborating with Chef Dan Bonanno and Katrin Talbot for a truly unique and delicious event at “Pig in a Fur Coat” on Sunday, March 2, at 6 p.m.  More information and tickets are available at www.sewmusic.org.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

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Classical music: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet opens its new and very busy season this week with two FREE concerts of music by Mozart, Milhaud, Fritz Kreisler and Brahms plus a taping for Wisconsin Public Television.

September 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) – which became the world’s first artists-in-residence in the world when they agreed to stay at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1940 — kicks off its new season with two FREE concerts this week and much more this fall.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

On Sunday, the Pro Arte Quartet returns to “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in a live broadcast over Wisconsin Public Radio.

The Pro Arte – which celebrated its historically unprecedented centennial two seasons ago — will perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Prussia” String Quartet in D Major, K 575, Darius Milhaud’s Quartet No. 7 and the rarely heard Quartet in A Minor by the Viennese violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler who is best known for his miniature works, transcriptions and pastiches.

fritz kreisler

Then at 7:30 p.m. on next Thursday, Oct. 3 in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte will perform a FREE and MUST-HEAR concert in Mills Hall. It will perform the same Mozart and Kreisler quartets as above, but the Milhaud will be replaced by the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 51, No. 1, by Johannes Brahms.

brahms3

Also, stay tuned for word about an airing date for the program that the Pro Arte is recording this coming Monday night for Wisconsin Public Television.

The by-invitation-only TV concert has a program that features a prelude by Ernest Bloch (at bottom in a YouTube video) and the famous “Adagio for Strings” quartet movement – later transcribed for string orchestra at the request of famed conductor Arturo Toscanini (below top)  — by Samuel Barber (below bottom).

Many people forget that the Pro Arte Quartet gave the world premiere of the famous “Adagio for Strings” — the slow movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11 —  in Rome in 1936.

Toscanini Conducts

barber 1

Also watch for news this fall of an Albany Records CD release — with a local release party — of the four commissions (two string quartets and two piano quintets)– that the Pro Arte Quartet commissioned for its centennial two seasons ago. The CD was engineered by the multiple Grammy Award-winner Judith Sherman (below).

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

The two string quartets were composed from Walter Mays (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom), who is also the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Walter Mays mug

JohnHarbisonatpiano

The two piano quintets were composed by Paul Schoenfield (below top) and William Bolcom (below middle) and featured the celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom).

Paul Schoenfield BW klezmerish

William Bolcom gesturing.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Then at its FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, the Pro Arte will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission: a String Quartet by the contemporary Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The Pro Arte originally started, you may recall, at the conservatory in Brussels.

Benoit Mernier 1

And finally, next May, the Pro Arte Quartet travels to Europe – to its home city of Brussels, Belgium, as well as London and maybe Paris – to perform works from its centennial commissions.

And there is still more to come, including a book about the Pro Arte Quartet by the retired UW-Madison historian turned music critic and guest writer for Isthmus and for this blog John W. Barker (below).

John-Barker

 


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