The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform its ninth annual Baroque Holiday Concert this coming Saturday night

December 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, Dec. 7, the Madison Bach Musicians will present its ninth annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below, in  2014, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer).

The concert, using period instruments and historically informed performance practices, is again at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall Stadium. A pre-concert lecture by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson is at 7:15 p.m. followed by the concert at 8 p.m.

Advance-sale tickets are $35 at Orange Tree Imports and the Willy St. Co-op (East and West). Online advance-sale tickets are available at https://madisonbachmusicians.org. Tickets at the door at $38 for general admission and $35 for seniors. Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before the lecture.

The program features masterworks by Bach, Handel, Purcell and Torelli which, in their appealing Baroque way, explore the fusion of celebration, reflection and ultimate renewal often felt as the year’s end approaches.

MBM welcomes baroque trumpet virtuoso Kathryn Adduci (below), who will show how wonderfully vintage brass resounds in the magnificent Old World acoustics of the church.

Other performers are: Ariadne Lih, soprano (below); Lindsey Meekhof, alto; Ryan Townsend Strand, tenor; Michael Hawes, bass; Christine Hauptly Annin and Nathan Giglierano, violins; Micah Behr, viola; James Waldo, cello; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

Here are a couple of fun facts, provided by Stephenson, about each piece on the program.

Sound the Trumpet, by Henry Purcell (1659−1695, below)
1. This piece was composed in 1694, the year before Purcell died at the age of just 36. It is part of a birthday ode — Come Ye Sons of Art, Away! — for Queen Mary II of England, wife of King James II.
2. There is no trumpet in it at all, but the two voices implore the trumpet to play and they emulate trumpet-style writing with long, swelling notes mixed in with brilliant decorative flourishes.


Trumpet Concert in D major 
by Giuseppe Torelli (1658−1709, below)
1. Torelli was one of the most prolific trumpet composers of all time.
2. The baroque trumpet has no valves and is designed to play in one tonality at a time. Favorite baroque keys were D major and C major.

Comfort Ye and Every Valley from Messiah, by George Frideric Handel (1685−1759, below)
1. After the instrumental Overture to Messiah, this Recitative and Aria are the work’s first sung pieces.
2. Handel was 56 years old when he composed Messiah in 1741 in London; the work was premiered, however, in Dublin in 1742, much to the chagrin of Handel’s librettist Charles Jennens.

Cantata BWV 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (Exult in God in Every Land), by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685−1750, below)
1. Composed around 1730, this is one of the very few Bach cantatas requiring only one singer.
2. In Bach’s Leipzig church, where the work was probably first heard, the soloist would have been either a male falsettist (or castrato) or an exceptionally skilled boy soprano.

Contrapunctus XIX and Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before Thy throne I stand), from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, by J.S. Bach
1. According to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel (CPE), this fugue is the last piece his father wrote — though scholars hotly contest this claim.
2. In measure 195, Bach’s own name appears suddenly as a musical motive: B (B-flat in the German scale) – A – C – H (B natural) and the fugue has no ending but simply trails off in measure 239.

Grosser Herr, o starker König (Great Lord, O Powerful King) from Christmas Oratorio,BWV 248, by J.S. Bach
1. It features dance-like melodic figures in dialogue between trumpet and solo bass voice. (Heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
2. Text celebrates the birth of the savior, which makes the powers of the Earth irrelevant.

Cantata BWV 196, Der Herr denket an uns (The Lord thinks of us),by J.S. Bach
1. With its textual focus on blessings (from Psalm 115), the work is likely a wedding cantata.
2. Written probably when Bach was only 22 years old, the work is absolutely perfect in its structure and easy concision; its high-energy but quiet final cadence has a curiously modern, neo-Classical charm that might have made Stravinsky smile.

Chorale: Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe (What joy for me that I have Jesus),from Cantata, BWV 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life)by J.S. Bach
1. The famous opening figure in the strings is really just Bach’s ingenious obligato lead-in to a chorale tune that parishioners in his church would have instantly recognized.
2. This work has enjoyed tremendous popularity as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” since it was arranged for one and then two pianos in 1926 and 1934 respectively by English pianist Myra Hess. It has since been arranged for myriad combinations of instruments and voices.


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Classical music: This Friday night, Nov. 22, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet begins its 14-month complete cycle of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets. Here are programs and information about the six concerts

November 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

As you might have already heard, 2020 is a Beethoven Year. Musicians are already marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, below).

One of the big local events – unfolding over the next 14 months — is that the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will perform a complete, six-concert cycle of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets, which are considered to be a monumental milestone in chamber music and in the development of the genre.

They encompass the styles of Beethoven’s early, middle and late periods, and often served as an experimental laboratory for musical ideas he used on other works. Each of the Pro Arte’s programs wisely features works from different periods, which makes comparisons and differences easier to understand. (You can hear Beethoven biographer Jan Stafford discuss the late quartets in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more about Beethoven’s string quartets, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:String_quartets_by_Ludwig_van_Beethoven

A Beethoven cycle is also what originally brought the Pro Arte Quartet from Belgium — where it was founded by students at the Royal Conservatory in 1912 — to Madison, where they performed it at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 1940. In fact, they were in the process of performing the cycle when they heard that their homeland of Belgium has been invaded by Hitler and the Nazis, and they could not go home.

Stranded here by World War II, they were offered a chance to be artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison. They accepted — and the quartet has remained here since, becoming the longest performing quartet in music history.

For more about the history of the Pro Arte (below, in 1928), go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte-quartet/

Current members of the Pro Arte Quartet (below from left, in a photo by Rick Langer) are: David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

PROGRAM I: Friday, Nov. 22, 8 p.m. in Collins Recital Hall

String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 “Serioso” (1810)

String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 130 (1825-6)

 

PROGRAM II: Friday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m., Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 74 “Harp” (1809)

String Quartet in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131 (1826)

 

PROGRAM III: Thursday, April 16 (NOT April 23, as was mistakenly listed in a press release), 7:30 p.m., Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (1806)

String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825)

PROGRAM IV: Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, 8 p.m., Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132 (1825)

 

PROGRAM V: Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, 8 p.m., Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 (1798-1800)

String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 (1826)

String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 (1806)

 

PROGRAM VI: Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, 8 p.m., Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall

String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 (1806)

String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 130 with the Great Fugue Finale, Op. 133 (1825)

 


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Classical music: A veteran reviewer bids farewell with a rave review of this summer’s last concert by the Willy Street Chamber Players and UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor

July 29, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a very special posting, the final review that will be written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker.

Barker (below), who is dealing with medical issues, is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who wrote for The Capital Times, Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who, until two weeks ago, hosted an early music show once a month on a Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gave pre-concert lectures in Madison.

Please use the comment section to join The Ear in thanking Barker for his many years of public service and wishing him well.

By John W. Barker

I had to miss the first concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on July 12; and the next one, on July 19, was cancelled because of power failures. But the final one, last Friday night, was well worth waiting for — one of the really memorable events of the year, I think.

The program, performed at the usual near East Side venue of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, began with some short items.

First, there was a set of Three Nocturnes (1924) for piano trio — violin, cello and piano — by Ernest Bloch. They contain elements of the Hebraic sound that Bloch cultivated but also had their own individualities, the first two contemplative and the third marked “tempestuoso.” Interesting was Bloch’s alternating uses of muting the strings.

After this came an example of the short pieces for string quartet by the contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery, her “Voodoo Dolls” (2008). Much is packed into this five-minute piece. A few lyrical touches aside, it sounded like a hoedown gone crazy, full of quite novel sounds, including rhythmic thumping on the wood of the instruments.

All that was a curtain-raiser to the big event of the program: the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak. This 40-minute work is one of the composer’s best-known chamber music compositions, and one of the standouts in the whole chamber music literature.

The very opening notes of the first movement bring a flood of warm well-being.  (After hearing just that, I commented, “I haven’t felt such happiness in months.”)

The fecundity and richness of invention pervaded the entire work. For me, its high point is the second movement, in which Dvorak (below) used the Czech formula of the dumka, a kind of folk music lament that is paced slow-fast-slow-fast. (You can hear the Dumka movement, played by the Jerusalem Quartet and pianist Stefan Vladar, in the YouTube video below.)

Dvorak liked to play viola in chamber music, and so he always wrote some good things for himself. The sublime passages for viola in this movement were played with such transcendent beauty by Rachael Hauser (below) – who is leaving Madison for New York City — that I felt I was hearing the composer’s voice directly. Put simply, this was one of the greatest examples of chamber-music performance that I have ever heard.

All of the players, many of whom play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  of course matched remarkable skill with humane vitality and vibrancy.

And a measure of the Willys’ standards was the fact that they were able to draw as a partner no less than that magnificent UW-Madison music school pianist, Christopher Taylor (below), who also performed the same Dvorak Piano Quintet in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he won a bronze medal. Much of his excellence here was demonstrated by the fact that he did not play the star, but joined with the Willys in perfect collegial integration.

This ends the Willy Street group’s fifth summer season. As a symbol of vibrancy and fresh spirit, they are among the most important of Madison’s classical music world today. They have drawn steadily growing audiences, and the house was truly packed for this concert.  We can only hope that they will continue to brighten that world in the years ahead.

I am now ending my time as a music critic. I can think of no more satisfying a final review to write than of the Willy Street Chamber Players.


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