The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW trombonist Mark Hetzler explores Stravinsky with new music and alumni musicians in a FREE concert on FRIDAY night. Plus, you can hear FREE Brahms at noon this Friday

October 12, 2017
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ALERT: The music of Johannes Brahms will be featured at this Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. Performers are Wes Luke and Valerie Sanders, violin; Ina Georgieva and Marie Pauls, viola; and Rachel Bottner, cello. (No word on specific works, but it sure sounds like a string quintet is on the program.) The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

And more Brahms (below) fits into the question The Ear recently posted about what explains why we are hearing more music by Brahms these days. Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/classical-music-are-we-hearing-more-brahms-if-so-why/

By Jacob Stockinger

The always adventurous and inventive UW-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler (below) will once again perform an experimental and innovative FREE concert this FRIDAY night (NOT Saturday night, as incorrectly listed on here before) at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

“Solitude and Stravinsky“ is an exploration of social isolation and a reimagining of Igor Stravinsky’s popular Neo-Classical “Pulcinella” Suite (which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom).

According to the website at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music: “This concert will showcase landmark works by contemporary composers and an experimental performance by the quartet combo Mr. Chair, with special guests and alumni Jason Kutz (piano, below top), Ben Ferris (double bass, below bottom) and Mike Koszewski (drums).”

Here is the full eclectic program:

Allemande, Suite No. 2 in D Major for Solo Cello……J.S. Bach

Brass Atmosphere…..Matthew Burtner

Disegno…….Anders Eliasson

Caravaggio….John Stevens (below)

  1. Realism; 2. Shadow;  3. Vulgarity;  4. Light

Luminous….Mark Engebretson

Onyzx Quartet…..Jason Kutz

PULCINELLA RE-IMAGINED……Igor Stravinsky (below)

Introduzione (Domenico Gallo)

Scherzino (Giovanni Battista Pergolesi)

Serenata (Pergolesi)

Allegro assai (Gallo)

Allegro alla breve (Pergolesi)

Largo (Pergolesi)

Tarantella (Count Unico Wilhelm Wasserader/Fortunato Chelleri)

Gavotta (Carlo Monza)

Andantino (Alessandro Parisotti)

Minuetto (Pergolesi)

Finale (Gallo)

For a biography of Mark Hetzler and his previous projects, including his many recordings, prizes and guest appearances, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/mark-hetzler/


Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.

AndrewSewellnew

  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.

ilya-kaler

  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!

william-boyce

handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: “The Willies” –- the Willy Street Chamber Players -– excel in fabulous Bach and Mendelssohn at the last concert of the new group’s inaugural season. Don’t miss the second season next summer.

August 3, 2015
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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. 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

Surely the greatest and happiest surprise of this summer’s music season is the sudden emergence of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a group of mostly string players that almost seems to have popped up out of the ground spontaneously.

Willy Street Chamber Players logo

They have introduced themselves in four concerts on successive Fridays this month—experimenting with shorter-length, one-hour programs, and giving three of them at 6 in the evening, and one family concert at Friday noon.

Each concert has drawn progressively larger audiences at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top) on Spaight Street, on the city’s near East Side.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Willy Street audience

Most important, the group involves a bevy of former University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music students who play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and who are simply brimming over with talent and with the joy of making music together.

Their final concert this season, on last Friday night, officially offered two works. As a “thank you” to the increasing number of sponsors and a swelling public, however, the group also gave a glowing performance of the Gavotte movement from the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (below). (You can hear the tuneful Grieg played by a much larger and far less intimate chamber orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

edvard grieg

The Grieg prefaced their playing the first full-length work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

As now properly recognized, the Bach concerto is a work for nine solo string players (three each of violins, violas, cellos — below top, second and third in that order respectively) with basso continuo from the harpsichord (below bottom).

The intricacy of the part writing, especially involving constant interaction of the six upper parts, is particularly well appreciated when one can actually watch the players, who presented the music with a splendid combination of dash and discipline. (And they solved the notorious problem of what to do with the two-chord middle “movement” by adding only the tiniest violin cadenza on the first chord—very sensible and responsible.)

Willy Street Bach violins

Wiily Street Bach violas

Willy Street Bach cellos

Willy Street Bach harpsichord Jason Kutz

The final, and larger, work on the program was the Octet in E-flat by Felix Mendelssohn. This is the creation of an astoundingly precocious 17-year-old genius, and by general agreement it is a virtual miracle of composition.

Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s recourse to such a demanding scoring was not without precedent. He composed this in 1825. At about the same time, in the years 1823-47, the violinist-composer Louis Spohr (below) wrote four “Double Quartets” opposing two discrete string quartets against each other.

Louis Spohr

And, quite frequently, in his writing Mendelssohn does adopt the same strategy, pitting two distinct groups against each other. But he also explores the possibilities of eight-part texture, rich in contrasting colors and contrapuntal invention. It both is, and is more than, a simplistic double quartet.

Our eight Willy Street players did position themselves (below) as two opposing string quartets — with the cellists out in front, for a novel emphasis on the bass line.

Wily Street Mendelssohn Octet

Once again, it was such a benefit to watch these players engage each other in so many different ways. And with what spirit! Here was the music of a teenage genius, played by eight young players who threw their youthful élan into their work with unbounded passion. Yet there was also discipline, and the most careful nuancing of each player’s lines.

I would say that this is possibly the best performance I have ever heard of this work, certainly in live concert—something up to the highest professional and artistic standards.

I find it difficult to express fully my excitement over the sudden creation of this marvelous pool of young musicians. They have made it clear that this was just their first season: they are planning to return next summer, with some possible activities in between.

For member biographies, news and other information, here is a link to the group’s website:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

With minimal promotion so far, based on simple word-of-mouth publicity, The Willies — as I call them — have already found a swelling and enthusiastic audience.

Madison’s lovers of highest-class chamber music should take note, support and attend. How can I say it better? They are simply fabulous! It is an enormous blessing to any community that is lucky enough to generate such players!


Classical music Q&A: Handel’s keyboard music is rich, underperformed and underappreciated, says harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson, who performs an all-Handel solo recital this Sunday.

January 19, 2012
2 Comments

ALERT: The Ear has received the following message to pass on from cellist Andrea Kleesattel of Classical Revolution Madison. “Hello everyone! We are changing the time of our first Classical Revolution event of 2012 on this Sunday to 11:30-1 p.m.  at the Fair Trade Coffee House (below), 418 State St.  (We’ll play music by Vivaldi, Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev and Piazzolla.) Originally we had planned on 11-12:30 p.m., but this semester we’re going to be starting a little later (because it’s Sunday morning).  Also, we are no longer playing at the Brink on February 21st. Be sure to check out our website for the latest on dates, times and locations.  Also, we are currently planning repertoire for our shows this semester. Let us know if there is a piece you’d like to play or hear — otherwise you will be left to our artistic discretion. That’s all for now.  As always be in touch if you’d like to play something — we love your involvement! Here is a link: www.classicalrevolutionmadison.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Early music keyboardist Trevor Stephenson is devoting his next intimate house music concert (below), this Sunday afternoon at 3, to solo keyboard works of George Friderich Handel.

The concert is at the home of Trevor and Rose Stephenson at 5729 Forsythia Place, on Madison’s west side, off Old Middleton Road.

Tickets are $35 and light refreshments are served. Reservations are required, and the seating capacity is 40. Last I heard, only a few seats remained. For information about seating availability, contact trevor@trevorstephenson.com or call (608) 238-6092.

Stephenson (below) – who is a virtuoso explainer as well as an accomplished performer – agreed to an email interview with The Ear about Handel:

What pieces by Handel will you play?

I’ll play the Passacaglia from the Suite No. 7 in G minor; the Suite in D minor; the Gavotte in G major; the Sonatina in B-flat major; a collection of small works called “Impertinence”; and the Suite in E major, which ends with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” Variations.”

How does the keyboard music by Handel (below) compare in quality and variety to his more famous works — the concerti grossi and chamber music, the operas and oratorios?

I think most people would agree that Handel’s home turf is the opera and oratorio genres. His music has an innately public sensibility and he is so comfortable addressing a large audience. In every note of his music he tells us, convincingly, that we are all in this together. I always think of him as something of music’s version of FDR.

This orator’s voice is present in the solo keyboard music as well, though Handel often tempers this with explorations of the keyboard’s penchant to soliloquize. Handel (below) was a great keyboard player and improviser—particularly on the organ, which of course is a grander and more public medium than the harpsichord. The keyboard suites provide us with a window onto how he might have sounded as a soloist.

How does Handel’s solo keyboard works compare to those of his contemporaries such as the suites and partitas, preludes and fugues, of J.S. Bach and the sonatas of Scarlatti?

Like Bach—and unlike Scarlatti—Handel’s music is a fusion of three main styles: Italian, for melodic richness and invention; German, for contrapuntal and harmonic structure; and French, for taste, ease, and grace.

Handel’s use of the three styles is of course different from Bach’s, but in short, Handel’s trademark is what can be called “jeweled melodies” (coming largely from the Italians)–-tunes that are so perfectly constructed and catchy that they can bounce around in your head for weeks on end.

Handel’s Suites, like Bach’s, often start with a Prelude, followed by an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande; while Bach is pretty consistent in writing Gigues for concluding movements, Handel will sometimes forego the gigue and end with a surprise, like the set of variations (known as “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” below) at the end of the E major suite.

How does Handel’s keyboard music differ is style, substance and technical difficulty from, say, Bach and Scarlatti? And why do you think haven’t they been performed as often?

Handel’s keyboard music doesn’t have as much technical audacity and display as Scarlatti’s, and not as much contrapuntal density as Bach’s, but it requires a unique set of skills. As a player, you need to have your Handel Hands ready.

Handel has a wonderful sense of chord spacing that feeds the dramatic progression of the piece—he knows when to be thick and when to be thin.

But I think beyond this he also requires of the player that they be very versed in how to play stylistically at the harpsichord: how to listen for the particular sonority of the instrument, how to roll chords (even when not indicated) either slowly or quickly, up or down, and how to lift and place the agogic accents so that the line and meter get their full expression.

Do you think Handel’s keyboard music deserves a rediscovery? What drew you to Handel and why did you choose to program an all-Handel solo keyboard program?

Handel is a wise and wonderful composer, and his genuine theatricality provides the listener with catharsis. Perhaps better than anybody else, he can “take the roof off.”

When Handel returned in mid-life to his boyhood home in Halle, Germany  — a kind of celebrity visit (a la Mark Twain goes back to Hannibal, Missouri) — J. S. Bach dropped everything and took a long carriage ride to Halle, only to find that Handel had just left. I think Bach wanted to meet a man who could write like that.


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