The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet performs an all-Italian program four times this month starting this weekend and returns as an ensemble-in-residence at the First Unitarian Society of Madison

September 3, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

The Ancora String Quartet (below) opens its 19th season with a program of works by three Italian composers more usually associated with opera, or solo violin music, than with string quartets.

Members of the Ancora String Quartet (ASQ, below from left in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violins Wes Luke and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

Violin virtuoso and composer Antonio Bazzini (below) led a rockstar’s life, touring Europe and hobnobbing with Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. He later settled in Milan, winning first prize in the Milan quartet competition in 1864 with this piece. The Scherzo shows Mendelssohn’s influence, and the Andante sostenuto delivers breathtakingly beautiful passages of lyrical romance and tender passion.

Opera great Giaocomo Puccini wrote Chrysanthemums (Crisantemi) in one night, upon hearing the news of the death of his friend the Duke of Savoy in 1890. The six-minute piece expresses the composer’s sorrow, in themes that bring to mind the poignant melodies of “Madama Butterfly.” (You can hear “Chrysanthemums” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The String Quartet in E Minor (1873) by Giuseppe Verdi (below) opens with restrained moodiness, but the drama quickly leaps off the page. Written to pass the time while waiting for the delayed opening of his opera “Aida,” this quartet demonstrates Verdi’s mastery of purely instrumental writing — although the cello solo in the Trio of the Scherzo could pass for a tenor aria. The work ends, surprisingly, with an elaborate fugue.

The quartet is gearing up for four performances in September, listed below.

In related news, the Ancora String Quartet, like the Madison Bach Musicians, will become a Resident Ensemble at the First Unitarian Society of Madison (FUS) starting this fall. We are pleased to reconnect with our FUS audiences, and hope our Regent Street fans will make the trip as well.

Here is the September schedule of the Italian program:

  • This Friday, Sept. 6, from noon to 1 p.m. in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday with host Norman Gilliland. WPR is Madison station WERN 88.7 FM. The ASQ will perform the entire Bazzini quartet.
  • This Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors and $6 for students.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8, at 3 p.m. at FUS, Landmark Auditorium, Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. Tickets at the door are $15, $12 and $6.
  • Next Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at the Germantown Community Library, N112W16957 Mequon Rd., in Germantown. The concert is FREE and open to the public.

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Classical music news: Chamber music doesn’t come more exciting than Mendelssohn’s String Octet. Hear it this Saturday and Sunday performed by the Ancora String Quartet and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie Quartet.

May 16, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear thinks one of the most exciting and enjoyable pieces of chamber EVER written is the Octet for two string quartets written by Felix Mendelssohn (below) in 1825.

I still hold very fond memories of two performances by the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet, one of which was performed with the acclaimed Emerson String Quartet at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

There is an inherent element of competition as well as teamwork  that only adds to the excitement of a performance.

This weekend on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon you can hear the Ancora String Quartet (below) team up with guest artists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet to perform the Octet by Mendelssohn plus Prokofiev’s String  Quartet No. 1. A champagne reception follows the performance Saturday evening.

Tickets for general seating will be available at the door for $15; $12 for seniors, students and FUS members; and $6 for children under 12.

In addition, the quartet’s co-founder and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt has also started a blog to go with the group’s website.

Here is a link to the Ancora’s website, which has more information and biographies:

And here is a link to the new and welcome blog:

Finally here is the press release about this weekend’s upcoming concerts.

“Please join the critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet for the final concert of our 11th season.  In this season, entitled The Musician and His Muse, we are exploring the fascinating working relationships between four master composers and the violinists who inspired, critiqued, and ultimately premiered their now-famous string quartets.

Our May 19 and 20 recital program includes works by Prokofiev (below), the String Quartet in B minor, Op. 50, composed in 1930-31; and by Mendelssohn, the Octet; there will be an examination of their working relationships with Antonio Brosa and Eduard Rietz, respectively.

‘The program features the famous Mendelssohn Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, (composed in 1825 for Rietz’ 23rd birthday), for which we will be joined onstage by The Rhapsodie String Quartet (below), of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program.  We are delighted to play with our respected colleagues, and have added an extra performance to accommodate the anticipated increased demand for tickets.

The pair of recitals will take place on Saturday, May 19, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 2:30 p.m., in the Landmark Auditorium, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. That is also where the Ancora Quartet remains artists-in-residence.

Tne Ancora Quartet (below, at the FUS) consists of violinist Leanne Kelso League and Robin Ryant; violist Marika Fisher Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. The Rhapsodie Quartet  consists of violinist Suzann Beia and Laura Burns; violist  Christopher Dozryst; and cellist Karl Lavine.

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