The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon who performs with the Willy Street Chamber Players on Friday night

July 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Who is Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill)?

This week, he is the bassoonist who will perform Franz Danzi’s Quartet for Bassoon and Strings in D minor, Op. 40, No. 2 (ca. 1820), this coming Friday night, July 19, with the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below), who will also be joined by pianist Jason Kutz and violist Sharon Tenhundfeld..

(The concert is at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The program includes: the Allegretto for Piano Trio by Ludwig van Beethoven (1812); “Dark Wood” by American composer Jennifer Higdon (2001); and the rarely heard String Quartet No. 1  (1948) by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Admission is $15.)

A native of France, Vallon is one of the busiest musicians in Madison. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where he also performs individually, with faculty and student colleagues, and as a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet. He also frequently performs and conducts Baroque music with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Vallon attended the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prizes in bassoon and chamber music, and also earned a philosopher degree at the Sorbonne or University of Paris.

A versatile musician, Vallon played with famed avant-garde French composer Pierre Boulez and for more than 20 years was the principal bassoon of the well-known Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. He has also performed with major modern orchestras and conductors as well as with many period-instrument groups.

He gives master classes worldwide and also composes.

For a more extended and detailed biography, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/marc-vallon/

Vallon recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

What drew you to the bassoon (below) over, say, the piano or singing, over strings, brass or other woodwinds?

I played the piano as young kid but was not very interested in the mechanics of it, even if I had a strong passion for music. It was the day that my piano teacher brought to my lesson a friend of his to do a bassoon demo that I found the right medium for my passion.

I started practicing like a maniac and knew by the age of 14 that I was going to be a professional bassoonist.

What would you like the public to know about the bassoon, perhaps about the challenges of playing it and about the repertoire for it?

The bassoon does not offer more challenges than other wind instruments, but it is safe to say that an absolute perfectionist person should probably not play it.

It is an instrument capable of true beauties, yet it has its own character. You don’t conquer it, you work with it like you would work with a wonderful but temperamental colleague.

Bassoonists sometimes complain that our solo repertoire is not as rich in masterpieces as the clarinet’s or the flute’s. True, but in its 350 years of existence, the bassoon has amassed enough wonderful music to keep us busy for several lifetimes.

What would you like to tell the public about the specific Bassoon Quartet by Franz Danzi that you will perform, and about Danzi and his music in general?

The bassoon and strings quartet became popular in the last decades of the 18th century, a trend that lasted well into the Romantic era.

Sadly, many of these quartets are basically show-off pieces for the bassoonist while the strings players have to suffer through some often very dull accompaniment parts.

I like this one by Danzi (below) because it features the strings on the same musical level as the bassoon, creating an enjoyable musical conversation rather than a cocky bassoon monologue. (You can hear that musical conversation in the opening movement of the Bassoon Quartet by Danzi in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

As a performer and conductor, you are well–known for championing baroque music as well as modern and contemporary music. Do you have a preference? Do they feed each other in your experience?

What I always have enjoyed about playing contemporary music is the possibility to work with living composers because I often realized how flexible they are with their own music and how much they like the performer’s input. They’re often ready to compromise and veer away from the strict notation.

The approach when playing composers from the past is actually very similar in the sense that we have to remember how approximate music notation is. Baroque composers are not here anymore obviously, but the 17th and 18th centuries sources tell us clearly how much flexibility we, modern performers, have in our approach to their music.

When it comes to music pre-1800, we basically have a sketch on our music stands. I always want to remember this. (Below is a manuscript page of a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Do you have big projects coming up next season?

Always! I am putting together a contemporary program on March 27 in our new concert hall on campus. It is called ”Opening Statements” and will feature early works from major 20th-century composers.

On period instruments, I have Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and more Bach on my calendar.

Is there something else you would like to say?

A big Thank You to you, Jake, for being such a relentless and informed advocate of the Madison musical scene!


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Classical music: The critically acclaimed and popular Willy Street Chamber Players start their fifth summer series with a FREE community concert this Friday

July 2, 2019
2 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement for a remarkable and must-hear summer series of chamber music concerts that from its very beginning seems to have found a successful formula that resonated with the public  It relies on informality, affordable tickets, first-rate musicianship, short concerts, eclectic programs that mix classics with sure-fire new music, support for their local community.

Now in their fifth year, the Willy Street Chamber Players (WSCP, below) have become an established part of the Williamson Street neighborhood.

Recently awarded the silver medal in Madison Magazine’s prestigious “Best of Madison” reader poll in the category of “Best Classical Music Group,” WSCP has received numerous accolades for its accessible and exciting performances, intelligent and fun programming, and dedication to community partnerships.

The group has also been named “Musician of the Year”for 2016 by this blog.

The Summer Series concerts are on Friday evenings at 6 p.m. in the sanctuary of the beautiful Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) at 1021 Spaight St. The church is right on Lake Monona in the Williamson Street neighborhood. Enjoy 60-90 minutes of inspiring and unforgettable live music, then go explore the neighborhood with the remaining daylight hours.

Following the performance, enjoy a reception provided by one of our Willy Street restaurant partners. (Past contributors have been the Underground Butcher, Let It Ride Cold Brew Coffee, Madison Sourdough, the Willy Street Co-Op, Festival Foods, Roman Candle Pizza and more.)

While you enjoy your snacks, chat with the friendly musicians and ask them about the performance, the pieces and the group. We love interacting with our awesome audience.

A season pass is $40. Admission to individual concerts is $15. For tickets and more infomation, got to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/2019-summer-series.html

COMMUNITY CONNECT – This is a FREE and family-friendly concert with all ages welcome for music, interactive learning, conversation and connections.

It takes place this Friday, July 5, at 6 p.m. at the Goodman Community Center (149 Waubesa Street on the east side), as is posted on the home website — NOT at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, which is listed in the printed brochure but is undergoing construction.

The program – “Growing Sound: A Sonic Exploration” – features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Corigliano, Antonin Dvorak, Friedrich August Kummer and Alberto Ginastera.

SUMMER SERIES 1

Friday, July 12, at 6 p.m. – Mozart and Mendelssohn

Prize-winning UW-Madison graduate Danny Kim, viola (below)

PROGRAM:

Mendelssohn: String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18 (1826)

Simon Steen-Andersen: Study for String Instrument No. 1 (2007)

Mozart: String Quintet No. 2 in C minor, K. 406/516b (1787)

SUMMER SERIES 2

Friday, July 19, at 6 p.m. – Bassoon and Strings

UW-Madison Professor Marc Vallon, bassoon (below)

PROGRAM:

Beethoven: Allegretto for Piano Trio in B-flat major, WoO. 39 (1812)

Jennifer Higdon: “Dark Wood” (2001)

Franz Danzi: Bassoon Quartet in D minor, Op. 40, No. 2 (ca. 1820)

Alberto Ginastera: String Quartet No.1, Op. 20 (1948)

SUMMER SERIES 3

Friday, July 26, at 6 p.m. – Christopher Taylor, piano (below)

PROGRAM:

Ernest Bloch: Three Nocturnes (1924)

Jessie Montgomery: “Voodoo Dolls” (2008)

Dvorak: Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81 (1887) with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor. (You can hear the first movement of Dvorak’s beautiful and melodic Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information, including background, biographies of the musicians, critics’ reviews, photos and how to support the Willy Street Chamber Players, go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org


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Classical music: Con Vivo turns in a polished performance of mixed and unusual repertoire, and allows a comparison of acoustics and seating distance to be made

January 20, 2016
5 Comments

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. He also took the performance photos, some at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and some at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Last Friday night, the chamber music ensemble Con Vivo (Music With Life) gave its winter concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Con Vivo core musicians

It was a large program of nine relatively short pieces, designed to allow eight members of the group to show off their skills in solos, in duets and in trio pairings.

Participants were: Robert Taylor, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Olga Pomolova and Kathryn Taylor, violins; Janse Vincent, viola; Derek Handley, cello; Dan Lyons, piano; and Don DeBruin, organ.

The opening and closing items—Mikhail Glinka’s Trio pathétique and Felix Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück No. 2, combined clarinet and bassoon with piano (below).

Con Vivo 2016 bassoon, clarinet and piano

A corresponding combination of clarinet, viola and piano (below) was mustered for two of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83.

Con Vivo 2016 viola, clarinet and piano

In string groupings, two violins (below) played one of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonatas (you can hear an example in a YouTube video at the bottom), and, with piano added, Three Duets by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Con Vivo 2016 two violins

Violin and viola rendered the Little Suite for Autumn by Peter Schickele (the real person behind “P.D.Q. Bach”).

Franz Danzi’s Duet, Op. 9., No. 1, called for viola and cello (below), while George Crumb’s Sonata was for solo cello.

Con Vivo 2016 viola and cello

And, for good measure, there was a duet by Clifford Demarest for piano and organ.

Con Vivo 2016 organ and piano

The program was certainly varied. It ranged from deeply diluted pseudo-Copland (Schickele) and unabashedly entertaining trivia (Shostakovich) through Telemann’s contrapuntal wit and Danzi’s artful string contrasts (though too deeply caught up in the viola’s upper register), to the varied colors of winds and piano.

Surely the most striking piece was Crumb’s sonata, a tough work that is not easy listening but provocatively interesting, and was dazzlingly played by Handley.

Rather a throwaway, though, was the Demarest duet, in which the powerful organ sound all but totally overwhelmed the piano.

As it happened, this group gave the same program (less the Demarest) at the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center the evening before.

I found it a good opportunity to compare the contributions of differing acoustics to chamber music listening. For such experience, I like to sit very close to the players, and I could do this at the Thursday performance, and in a modestly sized hall with fine acoustics for music.

But the First Congregational Church is a long, deep hall, and I sat about halfway back in it. Its reverberations can add a nice bloom to projected sound, but also some blur.

This was certainly the case where the two wind instruments tended to meld. And when the viola was at the piano, at the back of the chancel, it almost disappeared at times, while other two-string combinations were not always crystal clear.

I have had growing concerns about First Congo as a venue for chamber music, and I should think the Con Vivo folks must think about this. And listeners should, also. Clearly, where you sit for intimate music-making has its effects.

For all that, I enjoyed the group’s program in each setting, and renewed my admiration for their artistry and enterprise.

 


Classical music: The concert by Con Vivo this Friday night features duets from the Baroque age through the 20th century

January 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo (Music With Life, below) will perform a chamber music concert entitled “Noah’s Ark” on this Friday night, Jan. 15, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

The “Noah’s Ark” program features duets of many instrumental combinations. Featured composers include Felix Mendelssohn, Mikhail Glinka, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Danzi, Max Bruch and Peter Schickele, to name a few. (Sorry, no specifics on the duets to be performed.) Also on the program is the hauntingly beautiful Sonata for Solo Cello by George Crumb. (You can hear the Crumb sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature designed to spread a little cheer for the winter season.

Con Vivo 2015

In remarking about the concert, artistic director Robert Taylor said, “With this winter concert we are excited to continue our 14th season with an exploration of duets. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music from the Baroque to the 20th century.”

Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

For more information visit:

http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org/concert-info.html


Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season with a joyous and revelatory exploration of string trios with winds.

September 15, 2013
1 Comment

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 concert 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 88.9 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 Ancora String Quartet (below) opened its 2013-14 season with a concert Friday night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Regent Street.

Not only was the venue unusual for the group, but so too was its configuration. First violinist Leanne League has chosen to take a leave of absence from the group this season, reducing the ensemble to a trio — Robin Ryan, violin, Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola, and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

And so, a necessity became an opportunity, Whitcomb recruited some of his fellow faculty colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to help the Ancora players design of program of what we might call the string trio-plus-one.

As demonstrated in the concert, the trio-plus-one could represent a lot of literature. The most common plus-one has been the piano — in a genre developed in the late 18th-century and continuing virtually to the present, yielding a magnificent literature of “piano quartets” in their own terms.

But the plus-one with the string trio (below) could be other instruments, notably winds, and a considerable literature for such combinations was developed at the same time, though its popularity diminished through the 19th-century.

Thus, this program offered three “quartets” in which the added instrument was, successively a clarinet, a flute and a bassoon.

string trio  violin, viola and cello

Given the comparatively stronger projection of each of these instruments, the texture tended to become that of a kind of concerto, with the three string instruments turning into a kind of mini-orchestra in support of the prominent “soloistic” writing for the plus-one.

Works of this kind were not concert pieces, in our terms, but were written and published in considerable quantities, for use in cultivated household parlors or elite salons. They were played by musicians who ranged from skilled amateurs to accomplished professionals. The works were not idle fluff, either, but ones carefully crafted and often posing considerable technical challenges.

That was clear in the opening work, one of particular substance, a Quartet in C major for Clarinet and Strings by Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847). Baermann  (below) was perhaps the most admired and influential clarinet virtuoso between Mozart’s buddy, Anton Stadler, and the admired friend of Brahms, Richard Mühlfeld. Baermann was a friend of Carl Maria von Weber, who wrote concertos and chamber music for him, much influenced by the player’s style and skills.

Heinrich Baermann

The writing for the clarinet here is full equally of virtuosic and lyric demands, which were met beautifully by clarinetist Christian Ellenwood.

Ancora Quartet with clarinetist Christian Ellenwood CR John W, Barker - Version 2

Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831, below top) was a student of Franz Joseph Haydn, and for a while his rival. His name is forever linked with the makers of fine pianos, which members of his family became, while he was also active as a music publisher.

Ignaz Joseph Pleyel

Pleyel wrote large amounts of chamber music, and his Quartet in A major for Flute and Strings is a piece of charm and vivacity. Flutist Robin Fellows (below bottom) was the deft soloist in this.

Ancora Quartet with flutist Robin Fellows CR John W. Barker

Franz Danzi (1763-1826, below), an almost exact contemporary of Beethoven, was a prolific composer in just about every form and idiom, though he is particularly remembered as one of the pioneering composers of wind quintets.

Franz Danzi

But Danzi enjoyed selective advancing of individual wind instruments, as exemplified in the final item on the program, his Quartet in B-flat major for Bassoon and Strings. (The first movement is in a YouTube video at the bottom.) This was the only four-movement work on the menu, one full of good tunes and amiable spirit. Its bubbling humor was brought out by Carol Rosing (below), but the writing for the violin also gave Robin Ryan chances to show off as a friendly partner/competitor.

Ancora Quartet with bassoonist Carol Rosing CR John W. Barker

This entire program, attended by over 100 people, was an absolute joy to hear, and surely a revelation to many about how much unjustly neglected music there is for this “quartet” of string trio-plus-one.

The season ahead offers a wonderful chance for the Ancora players to explore such literature further.


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet will perform a FREE concert of rarely heard quartets for winds and strings this Friday night at 7:30 p.m..

September 12, 2013
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past decade, the Madison-based Ancora String Quartet (below) has received critical acclaim and established a solid reputation as part of the Madison chamber music scene. For more information, visit: http://ancoraquartet.com

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

Usually the Ancora plays at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, where its members have been artists-in-residence for several years. The members (above) are Robin Ryan and Leanne Kelso League, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello..

But not this time.

And usually the Ancora performs as a typical string quartet with two violins, a viola and a cello.

But not this time.

The concert of the Ancora takes place tomorrow night, Friday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, across from Randall Elementary School.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

There is no admission charge, but free will offerings will be accepted.

Because a usual member of quartet cannot play the date, some distinguished area wind players have stepped in.

The program includes:

Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 40, No. 3, by Franz Danzi (below top, 1763-1826) with bassoonist Carol Rosing (below bottom), a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who studied with Richard Lottridge and who plays with the Beloit-Janesville, Oshkosh and Madison Symphony Orchestras.

Franz Danzi

Carol Rosing

Quartet in A Major, Op. 56 No. 3, by Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831, below top) with flutist Robin Fellows (below bottom), who teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

Ignaz Joseph Pleyel

Robin Fellows

INTERMISSION

Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, by Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847, below top and in a different work in a YouTube video at the bottom) with clarinetist Christian Ellenwood (below bottom), who teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

Heinrich Baermann

Christian Ellenwood


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