By Jacob Stockinger
It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.
Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.
So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.
Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.
The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.
The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.
No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.
The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.
The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:
And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:
From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.
The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.
Here is a link to more information:
At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For information, go to:
At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.
The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.
Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:
Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?
Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?
Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.
The Ear wants to hear.
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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
By Jacob Stockinger
The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.
Take this weekend.
At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.
But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.
Here is a roundup:
From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.
All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:
At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.
You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the program and the group’s history. Here is a link:
For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:
And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:
Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.
At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.
Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:
At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.
Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.
Here is a link with more information:
Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:
Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.
Admission is $45.
Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.
Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.
You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Grace Presents, now entering its seventh year offering FREE public concerts at Grace Episcopal Church (below), located at 116 West Washington Avenue on the Capitol Square, will host resident organist Mark Brampton Smith with violinist Maureen McCarty on this Saturday, Nov. 19.
The concert begins at noon and ends at 1 p.m. Audience members are invited to bring their lunch.
The program — an asterisk indicates that both the violin and organ will play — includes:
Psalm 19: “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” by Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)
Partita on “Werde munter, mein Gemüte” (Sing not yet, my soul, to slumber) by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
*”Ornament of Grace” by Bernard Wayne Sanders (b. 1957)
Variations on ‘Cwm Rhondda’ by Mark Brampton Smith (b. 1954) Introduction – Allegro – Duo – Reflection – Finale
*Meditation from “Thaïs” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Concerto in a minor, after Vivaldi (BWV 593) – Johann Sebastian Bach Allegro
Toccata and Fugue in d minor (BWV 565) – Johann Sebastian Bach
The final concert of 2016 will feature the widely renowned Russian Folk Orchestra on Dec. 10.
Mark Brampton Smith Biography:
Mark Brampton Smith (below) serves as the current organist at Grace Episcopal Church. Mark began his church music career as a boy soprano at St. Paul’s Parish on K Street in Washington, D.C., eventually serving on the music staff of churches in seven states. He holds degrees in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan.
As an organist, Mark won prizes in the Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor, and American Guild of Organists National Competitions, and he’s performed solo recitals at venues such as Overture Hall. As a collaborative pianist, Mark has worked with numerous singers, instrumentalists, and ensembles, including the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, University of Michigan choirs, Colgate University Chorus, and currently the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.
Maureen McCarty Biography:
Maureen McCarty (below) began the violin in the Madison public schools, and played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for many years. She received a BA in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While working on her degree, she performed as a musician with American Players Theatre for five seasons. She has extensive orchestral experience playing in such local ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, as well as various orchestras in five Midwestern states, the Barcelona City Orchestra and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria in Spain.
Maureen returned to UW-Madison for a teaching certificate in music education in 1999, and taught strings and general music for students in grades 3-12 in Monona Grove during her fifteen years in the district. Recently retired from public school teaching, she now teaches privately, performs with the Camerata String Quartet, tutors Spanish, and takes photographs for her local newspaper. Formative violin teachers include Eva Szekely, Sharan Leventhal, Thomas Moore and Vartan Manoogian.
For more information, visit www.GracePresents.org
By Jacob Stockinger
To mark his 40th year in Madison, piano teacher Bill Lutes will give three FREE recital programs in the coming weeks. They are:
• This Sunday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m., in the Capitol Lakes Grand Hall (below)
• Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Oakwood Village West Auditorium (below)
• Friday, Dec. 16, at 12:15-1 p.m. p.m. at First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House (below) — Schumann and Schubert only.
The program will for the first two recitals will be:
• Sonata No. 49 in E-flat major by Franz Joseph Haydn
• “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann
• Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert
Lutes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is an independent piano teacher in Madison. His name may also be familiar because he was a host, producer and music director for Wisconsin Public Radio for over a decade as well as a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he did his master’s degree with the late pianist Howard Karp.
In addition to teaching piano, Lutes performs with his pianist-singer wife Martha Fischer, who teaches at the UW-Madison, and he gives music talks at various venues around the city. The couple is known for performing Gilbert and Sullivan and for hosting and participating in the annual Schubertiades at the UW-Madison.
“The motivation for this program is first and foremost to express my gratitude to my friends and family, colleagues, students and the community for my rich life in Madison,” Lutes says. “I cannot begin to name all the people I’ve come to know and love in this beautiful city, which has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities.”
Adds Lutes: “I thought it would be a good idea to play a solo program of music I love to say “Thank you.’”
ALERT 1: Tonight at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison trombonist Mark Hetzler will give a FREE recital with pianist Vincent Fuh. Hetzler will perform a retrospective of pieces he has recorded over the past 14 years, representing five different recordings. Music from the following recordings from his Summit catalogue will be represented in this recital: American Voices (2002); Serious Songs, Sad Faces (2003); 20th Century Architects (2004); Three Views (2012); and Blues, Ballads and Beyond (2015).
Hetzler will repeat this concert on Thursday, Nov. 17 in Fond du Lac, at St. Patrick’s Church, 41 E. Follett Street, as part of the Searl Pickett Chamber Music Series.
For more information go to: http://www.markhetzler.com/
ALERT 2: Tomorrow afternoon, Sunday, Nov. 13, at 4 p.m., Dan Broner, the music director at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, will give a FREE organ recital at the FUS Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive. The program features the Trio Sonata No. 4 in E minor, “Sleepers Wake!” and the Prelude and Fugue in A major by Johann Sebastian Bach; Prelude, Fugue and Variations by Cesar Franck; and “Dorian Chorale” and “Litanies” by Jehan Alain. Donations will be accepted.
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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served 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.
By John W. Barker
The clavichord was an instrument of subtle importance in the 18th century. It was a kind of alternative to the harpsichord in several ways. For one, its strings were not plucked, as in a harpsichord, but hammered, as in its descendants, the fortepiano and the subsequent pianoforte or just plain piano.
The clavichord, moreover, was really an instrument for private use, for practice, study and composing work, rather than for concert use, beyond the most intimate of audiences. (You can hear a sample, using J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Local builder and restorer, Tim Farley has made several clavichords before, but this one is a relatively large one. Notable is its incorporation of wood from a number of old pianos, and some rare maple wood that had been submerged in water for a long time. Out of these elements he has created an instrument of great beauty and elegance, as well as of distinctive artistic usefulness.
To introduce this new instrument to Madison’s musical community, Tim and his wife Renee, the reigning royalty of the remarkable Farley’s House of Pianos on the city’s far west side, chose not to do so in their usual salon, as it is too commodious and not noise-free.
Instead, they brought it to the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 6. A program of four works was played on it by David Schrader (below), an early music specialist who teaches at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
An audience of about 45 attended. I suspect many were surprised by how tiny (not tinny!) was the instrument’s sound—much more pale than what they would have expected from a harpsichord. Modest as is the Gates of Heaven hall, it was still a bit larger than ideal. Nevertheless, the audience followed the performance intently, and I heard no complaints from anyone afterwards about inaudibility.
The music chosen was entirely from the 18th century. It began with the Partita No. 5 from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Clavierübung or Keyboard Works. On these terms, we heard it as Bach might have played it himself for his own pleasure—or as a student might do for study.
The two middle works were from the other end of the century. An extended Sonata, K. 330, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would in its time have been played on the fortepiano, or even harpsichord, and sounded rather pallid this way.
But a two-movement Sonata in G minor by Franz Joseph Haydn, full of introspective feeling, worked well on the clavichord as highly personal expression.
Balancing the opening with J. S. Bach was the closing work, a three-movement Sonata in A minor (Wq49), a relatively early work by Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, his most influential son. C.P.E. Bach was famous as an expressive player, and for music of inward probing.
I had hoped to hear Schrader demonstrate on this new instrument its feature of Bebung, a capacity for quasi-vibrato quivering on sustained notes that the clavichord’s action famously allowed the player to exploit. There was some of that, but Schrader explained that such an effect did not work on many pitches, limiting its possibilities.
Listeners for whom this type of instrument is unfamiliar surely found this program illuminating, while this instrument’s excellence was a further reminder of what craftsmanship Tim Farley (below, seated at the clavichord he built) has brought to Madison.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear sees Lang Lang — the world’s highest paid classical pianist — and Yundi Li and all the Chinese winners of major competitions, and he reads that there are more piano students in China than in all of Western Europe, North America and South America combined.
But the path to such success wasn’t easy.
In fact it was downright tragic during the Cultural Revolution waged by Chairman Mao Zedong – with dramatic stories and figures that may be worthy of an opera or two. (Below is a poster from the Cultural Revolution.)
Anyway, weekends are a good time for reading longer pieces.
So here is a fine and eye-opening story The Ear liked. It comes from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It even ponders the question of whether the more cerebral and intellectual Johann Sebastian Bach will soon replace the more dramatic and emotional Ludwig van Beethoven as China’s favorite classical composer.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.
The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.
Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.
Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:
During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.
But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.
Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:
You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?
I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.
I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.
As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.
That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.
In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.
Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.
Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?
I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.
García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.
As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.
What about the works by Mozart and Copland?
Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.
The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.
And the music by Tina Davidson?
The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.
What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?
I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.
Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.
If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?
That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.
Why did you commission 27 short encores?
I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.
How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?
The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.
I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.
This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.
Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.
You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?
I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.
Is there anything else you would like to say?