The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Library of Congress has commissioned new music about the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to the world premieres from this Monday, June 15, through June 26

June 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The U.S. Library of Congress (LOC, exterior is below top and interior is below bottom) has started a new artistic project relevant to a public health crisis in both a historical era and the current times.

The LOC has commissioned 10 different short works, experienced in 10 different performance videos recorded at their homes — that pertain to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 from American composers and performers.

It is called The Boccaccio Project after the Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio (below), a 14th-century Italian writer who wrote “The Decameron,” a series of stories told by 10 people who fled from Florence, Italy, to find refuge in the countryside during the Black Plague.

The musical works will start being premiered on weekdays this coming Monday, June 15, at the Library of Congress website. The works will also be broadcast on social media including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The website, which now has a complete list of performers and works, will soon have a complete schedule of world premieres, running on weekdays from Monday, June 15, to Friday, June 26. Then the manuscripts will be transferred to the LOC archives.

Here is a link: https://loc.gov/item/prn-20-038/

Many of the names will be unfamiliar to the general public. But an excellent story about the background and genesis of the project, including music samples, can be found on National Public Radio (NPR), which aired the story Friday morning.

Here is a link to that 7-minute story (if you listen to it rather than read it, you will hear samples of the music): https://www.npr.org/2020/06/12/875325958/a-new-library-of-congress-project-commissions-music-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic

And here are some of the participants, who are noteworthy for their ethnic and geographic diversity:

Flutronix (below) includes flutist Allison Loggins-Hull, left, and composer Nathalie Joachim.

The work by composer Luciano Chessa (below top) will be performed by violist Charlton Lee (below bottom), of the Del Sol Quartet:

And the work by Damien Sneed (below top) work will be performed by Jeremy Jordan (below bottom):

The new project strikes The Ear as a terrific and timely undertaking — the musical equivalent of the photographic project, funded and staffed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during The Great Depression of the 1930s. That project yielded enduring masterpieces by such eminent photographers as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.

But several questions arise.

How much did the project cost?

Will the general public be able to get copies of and rights to these works to perform? One assumes yes, since it is a public project funded with public money.

And will this project give rise to similar projects in other countries that are also battling the pandemic? New art – literature, films, painting, dance and so on — arising from new circumstances seems like something that is indeed worth the undertaking.

Listen to them.

What works stand out for you?

What do you think of the project?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: During the COVID-19 pandemic, hosts at Wisconsin Public Radio suggest music that expresses gratitude and hope

May 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The various hosts of Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) — an indispensable companion during self-isolation at home — listen to a lot of music and think a lot about it, especially about its meaning and appeal to the public.

So it comes as no surprise that they have once again suggested music to listen to during the coronavirus pandemic and the mounting toll of COVID-19.

Almost two months ago, the same radio hosts suggested music that they find calming and inspiring. They did so on the WPR home page in an ongoing blog where they also included YouTube audiovisual performances.

Here is a link to that earlier posting, which is well worth reading and following: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Wisconsin+Public+Radio

This time, the various hosts – mostly of classical shows but also of folk music and world music – suggest music that inspires or expresses hope and gratitude. (Below is Ruthanne Bessman, the host of “Classics by Request,” which airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays.)

Here is the genesis of the list and public service project:

“At a recent WPR music staff meeting, we talked about the many ways music can unite us and about how music can express the gratitude we feel for people and things that are important to us, often much better than words.

“That discussion led to this collection of music, which we wanted to share with you. It’s eclectic and interesting, just like our music staff.”

The composers cited include some familiar names such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Benjamin Britten and John Williams.

But some new music, based on historical events and written by contemporary or modern composers, is also named. It includes works by the American composer Daniel Gawthrop (b. 1949, below top) and the Israeli composer David Zehavi (1910-1977, below bottom). Here are links to their biographies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_E._Gawthrop

https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zehavi-david

Sound-wise, it is quite an eclectic list that runs from solo harpsichord music to orchestral and choral music as well as chamber music.

Many of the performers have played in Madison at the Overture Center, with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, at the Wisconsin Union Theater, at the UW-Madison and on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.

They include: the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; cellist Amit Peled and pianist Eli Kalman, who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW-Oshkosh; conductor-composer John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers;  and superstars violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma along with Venezuelan pianist-improviser Gabriela Montero  in a quartet that played at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Here is a link to the new WPR suggestions: https://www.wpr.org/wpr-hosts-share-music-gratitude-and-hope

Happy listening!

If you read the blog or listen to the music, let us know what you think in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This Sunday afternoon, the Madison Symphony Orchestra takes listeners “Behind the Score” of the Symphony No. 5 by Prokofiev

January 16, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon, Jan. 19, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) and MSO music director John DeMain will present the story behind Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 with “Beyond the Score®: Sergei Prokofiev Symphony No. 5: Pure Propaganda?”

The one performance-only concert is a multimedia examination of the Russian composer’s musical celebration of the end of World War II. (You can hear the second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The presentation stars American Players Theatre actors James Ridge (below top), Colleen Madden (below second), Marcus Truschinski (below third) and Sarah Day (below bottom).

Along with MSO pianist Dan Lyons (below), the concert experience features visual projections, photos and musical excerpts.

Then in the second half comes a full and uninterrupted performance of the Symphony No. 5 by the orchestra conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad).

“This is one of the great offerings of Beyond the Score,” says DeMain. “Three generations of great Russian composers influenced Sergei Prokofiev (below) from childhood into his adult years, helping him create the most popular of his big symphonies, his fifth.

Adds DeMain: “I have so much fun working with the great actors from the American Players Theatre as they interweave the backstory with the orchestra. The visuals for this production are spectacular. After intermission, we play this wonderful symphony in its entirety.”

Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 was published in 1944. Taking inspiration from his experiences in America and his return to the Soviet homeland after the war, Prokofiev expresses the heroic, beautiful and strong nature of the music.

This Beyond the Score production joins Prokofiev at the end of World War II and discovers his inspiration for Symphony No. 5.

Incorporating war video footage and propaganda photos, the program presents the historical context behind the classical piece turned masterpiece.

CONCERT, TICKET AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. The symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations.

Program notes are available online for viewing in advance of the concerts: http://bit.ly/msojan20programnotes

  • Single Tickets are $16-$70 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/beyond-the-score-2020-prokofiev/through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

ABOUT BEYOND THE SCORE®

For newcomers to classical music and longtime aficionados alike, each Beyond the Score® presentation is a dramatic exploration of a composer’s music.

Through live actors, stunning visual projections and virtuosic fragments of live music performed by members of the orchestra, the compelling story of the composer’s life and art unfolds, illuminating the world that shaped the music’s creation. Beyond the Score presentations weave together theater, music and design to draw audiences into the concert hall and into a work’s spirit.

The popular program seeks to open the door to the symphonic repertoire for first-time concertgoers as well as to encourage an active, more fulfilling way of listening for seasoned audiences.

At its core is the live format of musical extracts, spoken clarification, theatrical narrative, and hand-paced projections on large central surfaces, performed in close synchrony.

After each program, audiences return from intermission to experience the resulting work performed in a regular concert setting, equipped with a new understanding of its style and genesis.

Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Score®

Exclusive funding for this concert is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

 


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Classical music: This week’s “Just Bach” concert on Wednesday afternoon features Halloween fare as well as instrumental and vocal music typical of Johann Sebastian

October 29, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

BOO!!

But this time it’s all treat and no trick!

This month’s FREE concert in the new midday series of Just Bach (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) falls on Wednesday – that is, on Halloween!

In keeping with the spooky holiday, this week’s Just Bach concert will feature one of the traditional pieces of classical music used on Halloween: the mighty and well-known Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ. (You can see an abstract and fascinating animated graphic depiction of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The FREE concert runs from 1 to 2 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church (below) at 1021 University Avenue. The audience is permitted to eat lunch and drink refreshments during the midday concert.

Two other works are on the program.

One is the Suite No. 5 in C minor for solo cello, played by James Waldo (below). A discerning friend of The Ear heard Waldo play a different solo cello suite at a concert last month by the Madison Bach Musicians, and said it was probably the finest interpretation he had ever heard. And he has heard a lot of them.

The last work will be the Cantata No. 163 “Nur Jedem das Seine,” or “To Each His Own,” with singers and instrumentalists performing on period instruments with historically informed performance practices.

For information about the series, go to: https://justbach.org

Specifically, if you want to know more about the dates and programs, go to:

https://justbach.org/concerts/

And if you want to know more about the performers, go to: https://justbach.org/about-us/

Finally, if you want to know more about the background and genesis of the new concert series, here is a link to a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Just+Bach


Classical music: A FREE recital by the Del Sol string quartet on Monday night honors pioneering composer Ben Johnston

May 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following announcement:

The San Francisco-based ensemble the Del Sol Quartet will give a FREE public recital on Monday night, May 21, in Madison in honor of pioneer composer, teacher and mentor Ben Johnston (below).

For more information about the composer, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Johnston_(composer)

The recital is on the occasion of Johnston’s upcoming induction into the American Academy of Arts and Lettershttps://artsandletters.org/pressrelease/2018-newly-elected-members/

This FREE performance will be held in the new Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, on Monday night at 7 p.m.

The program will feature Johnston’s two most popular string quartets: the Fourth Quartet (based on the beloved theme “Amazing Grace”); and the Tenth Quartet (also based on a popular folk melody). In addition there will be works by some of Johnston’s contemporaries. (You can hear the Fourth Quartet of Ben Johnston in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Johnston, 92, has made his home in the Madison area for the past 11 years, where he continues to advance the field of microtonal music composition and performance, most notably initiated in the U.S. by music legend Harry Partch, with whom Johnston studied for several years. Partch’s seminal work, “Genesis of Music,” was first published in Madison by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1949.

Winner of numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, Johnston spent most of his career at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He had a significant role in some of the Contemporary Arts Festivals, which were annual events in the 1960s. His service, as composition teacher and mentor there, led to an honorary doctorate from that institution. He is also the author of “Maximum Clarity,” published by the University of Illinois Press.

Hailed by New York Times critic Mark Swed as “probably [America‘s] most subversive composer …able to make both radical thinking and avant-garde techniques sound invariably gracious,”Johnston’s diligent dedication recently resulted in the release of the third CD by the Milwaukee-based Kepler Quartet https://www.keplerquartet.com/ on the New World Music label https://www.newworldmusic.com/

The three CD series encompasses all of Johnston’s string quartets and took 14 years of painstaking collaboration to bring to fruition, receiving high acclaim internationally. Johnston has been well-known in experimental music circles since his second quartet came out on Nonesuch Records in 1969.

Hailed by Gramophone as “masters of all musical things they survey” and two-time winner of the top Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the Del Sol String Quartet shares living music with an ever-growing community of adventurous listeners.

Del Sol (below) was founded in 1992 at Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada and is recognized as a “vigorous champion of living composers,” focusing on music that reflects the cultural diversity of the community, advocating works by both world-renowned and emerging composers, and collaborating across disciplines. Del Sol has commissioned and premiered over 100 works by a diverse range of composers.

The Quartet has performed on prominent concert series nationwide, including the Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Symphony Space, Cabrillo Festival, Other Minds Festival, and Santa Fe Opera.

The quartet conducts an active educational program in the San Francisco Bay Area, in addition to regular residencies at universities and music schools across the country.”

For more information, go to: http://delsolquartet.com/


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Classical music: Turning chaos into order. Conductor Beverly Taylor explains what makes Haydn’s “The Creation” special and fun to listen to. The UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra with soloists will perform it on Sunday afternoon.

April 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the campus-community UW-Madison Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and soloists will perform the oratorio the “The Creation” by the Classical-era master Franz Joseph Haydn.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

First, The Ear wants to clear up any confusion about the date of the performance – which is ONE-TIME ONLY. (In the past, the Choral Union usually gave two performances.) The performance was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Then it was moved to Saturday night and then, after a conflict with the Jewish Passover was seen, moved back to Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are $15 for the general public, $8 for students. For more information about tickets, the work and the performers, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union2/

Beverly Taylor, director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who will conduct the performance, agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

What is the place of Haydn’s “The Creation” is the choral literature? Was it influential? Popular?

It’s considered wonderful and innovative. Its choruses are magnificent, and the opening depiction of Chaos is unlike anything that had been heard up to that time.

It was written late in Haydn’s career, and showed many aspects of his wonderful talent, including musical depictions of non-musical things—water, birds, dawn — and has terrific pacing of the extended choruses building to majestic climaxes.

The premiere was enthusiastically received. It was indeed popular, although the composer’s late masses also deserve great attention. The other vocal works by Haydn (below), such as “The Seasons,” are more slowly paced, and although they contain great music, they are not often felt to be as compelling as “The Creation” with its easy-to-follow sequence of creative days.

Haydn

Are there special moments or parts of the work you would like to point out to the public? How about special aspects of the performance?

Yes! One thing to do is to listen with an open mind to Chaos. (You can preview “Chaos” in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.)

When I first heard a dull performance of it years ago, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I took a good look at it: It contains chaotic oddities — a horn suddenly blaring loudly with no reference to other instruments, a trilling flute that never resolves its trill, bassoons and clarinets who play bubbling and pointless arpeggios until it all settles down to begin the first day of the Creation (famously depicted below by the British artist and poet William Blake).

Creation and God William Blake

There are also delightful musical depictions and sound paintings of weather that can be confusing unless you know that the orchestra depicts the weather before the bass tells us about it. That way hail won’t sound like snow! The same holds true for the description of animals — we hear the leaping stags before our singer tells us.

There will be terrific moments in the work — orchestral playing, fabulous choral singing. And there will be wonderful solo work by our experienced alumni and faculty artists soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), tenor James Doing (below second), bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz (below third) and baritone Benjamin Li (below bottom). It’s a pleasure to make music with them.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

Benjamin Li 2016

Composer John Harbison says that Haydn is the most neglected of all the great composers. Why do you think Haydn isn’t thought of more highly and performed more often?

Among musicians, Haydn is certainly thought of highly, and many people enjoy his work, especially the element of surprise in his work — sforzandos, sudden silences, changes of rhythm.

But many of his works are chamber works designed for smaller rooms and audiences. And in our modern life, the size of the orchestra and special instruments and added theatrical elements often attract more people. Haydn’s chamber works are fabulous, but sometimes subtle. However, they repay well those who pay attention to them.

The Creation poster 2016

What else would you like to say about the composer, this particular work or this performance?

Haydn was influenced by and had influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, on all the European composers. But what inspires audiences — including, we hope, ours — is the immediacy of the beauty of the music. You don’t need special training to jump right in and listen.


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