The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Youth Choirs will perform music of Madison’s nine sister cities this Sunday afternoon and evening

December 8, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

“This semester, Madison Youth Choirs singers (below) are embarking on a musical journey across the globe as they explore and perform compositions connected to the diverse cultures inhabiting Madison’s nine sister cities: Ainaro, East Timor; Arcatao, El Salvador; Camaguey, Cuba; Freiburg, Germany; Kanifing, The Gambia; Mantua, Italy; Obihiro, Japan; Tepatitlán, Mexico; and Vilnius, Lithuania.

“As we study the wide variety of musical forms that emerged from these nine regions and think about the reasons we’re drawn to establish sister city relationships, we’re examining both the common forces that drive the creative expression of artists from all cultures and the unique contributions that artists from our sister cities have made to the worldwide musical canon.

“We invite you to join us for a culminating winter concert series celebrating these international choral connections.

WHERE

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concerts, “Sister Cities

First Congregational United Church of Christ

1609 University Ave., Madison

WHEN

Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017

1:30 p.m. Girlchoirs

4:00 p.m. Boychoirs

7:00 p.m. High School Ensembles

Tickets available at the door: $10 for general admission, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7. A separate ticket is required for each performance. 

This concert is generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC):

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community. Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

“SISTER CITIES” PROGRAMS

Sunday, December 10, 2017, First Congregational Church, Madison

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

“Now We Are Met” by Samuel Webbe

“Sakura” Traditional Japanese folk song

“Tecolote” Spanish lullaby, arr. Victoria Ebel-Sabo

“S’Vivon” Traditional Jewish folk song, arr. Valerie Shields

Con Gioia

“Peace Round” Traditional round, text by Jean Ritchie

“Shepherd’s Pipe Carol by John Rutter

“Murasame” by Victor C. Johnson, text: 11th-century Japanese poem

“Guantanamera” Cuban folk song, text by José Marti

Capriccio (below)

“A Circle is Cast” by Anna Dembska

“Ich will den Herrn loben alle Zeit” by Georg Philipp Telemann, arr. Wallace Depue

“Ma come bali bene bela bimba” Traditional Italian, arr. Mark Sirett

“Soran Bushi” Japanese folk song, arr. Wendy Stuart

“Yo Le Canto Todo El Dia” by David L. Brunner

4:00 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs

“Dance for the Nations” by John Krumm, arr. Randal Swiggum

Purcell (below)

“La Nanita Nana” by José Ramon Gomis, arr. David Eddlemann

“Es is Ein Ros entsprungen” by Melchior Vulpius

“Sakura” Traditional Japanese folksong, arranged by Purcell choir members

Britten  (below)

Two Elegies by Benjamin Britten

  1. Old Abram Brown
  2. Tom Bowling

“No che non morira” (from Tito Manlio) by Antonio Vivaldi

Holst

“O Rosetta” by Claudio Monteverdi

“O là, o che bon echo” by Orlando di Lasso

“We Are” by Ysaye Barnwell

Combined Boychoirs

Chorus of Street Boys from Carmen by Georges Bizet

“Kimigayao” (The National Anthem of Japan) Melody by Hiromori Hayashi

7:00 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Gwyneth Walker

Liebeslieder Walzer by Johannes Brahms, text by Georg Friedrich Daumer

  1. Wie des Abends (from Opus 52) (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
  2. Vogelein durchrauscht die Luft (from Opus 52)
  3. Nein, geliebter, setze dich (from Opus 65)

Ragazzi

“Bar’chu” by Salamon Rossi

“The Pasture” (from Frostiana) by Randall Thompson

“Mogami Gawa Funa Uta” by Watanabe/Goto, based on folk materials, arr. Osamu

Shimizu

Cantabile

“Angelus ad pastores ait” (from Sacrae Cantiunculae, 1582) by Claudio Monteverdi

“Gamelan” by R. Murray Schafer

“Mata del Anima Sola” by Antonio Estévez

Cantabile and Ragazzi (below)

“The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” Traditional carol from Trinidad, arr. Stephen

Hatfield

Combined Choirs

“Dance for the Nations” by John Krumm

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Classical music: After 20 years, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble still delivers performances to relish of Baroque vocal and instrumental music

November 28, 2017
2 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 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 photographs.

By John W. Barker

On Nov. 26, 1997, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble gave its first public performance.

On Sunday afternoon, exactly 20 years later to the very date, the group (below) presented a concert at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in honor of this distinguished anniversary.

This ensemble is the longest-lasting, still-continuing group in Madison devoted to early music. Despite the arrival three years later of the Madison Early Music Festival, the WBE gave the very first start to building an audience here for this literature. (You can hear a typical concert in the lengthy YouTube video at the bottom.)

Working under Sunday afternoon time pressures, the group offered a particularly rich and diversified program, employing a total of seven performers: one singer, mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo, with instrumentalists Brett Lipschutz (traverso flute), Monica Steger (recorder, traverse flute, harpsichord), Sigrun Paust (recorder), Eric Miller (viola da gamba), Max Yount (harpsichord), and founder Anton TenWolde (cello).

There were nine items on the program.

Sañudo (below) had in some ways the amplest solo role, singing five pieces: a cantata aria by Luigi Rossi; a long cantata by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair; a late villancico by Francisco de Santiago; and two particularly lovely songs by Jacopo Peri.

All these she sang with her usual devotion to textual as well as musical subtleties—making it a little sad that the provision of printed texts could not have been managed.

One solo sonata by Benedetto Marcello was for recorder and continuo, while one double sonata (below), a particularly delightful one by Georg Philipp Telemann for two recorders, and another one by the obscure Jacob Friedrich Kleinknecht rounded out these ingredients.

Along with continuo assignments, Eric Miller (below) played an extensive viol da gamba suite by Marin Marais.

Active in his own varying assignments, Lipschutz (below) bubbled with skill and charm in a set of variations for flute on a Scots folk melody, taken from a published collection credited to a mysterious Alexander Munro.

The program pattern was generally familiar, with each of the performers having a say in the choice of selections, notably their particular solos. In this sense, the group acts as a collective, as TenWolde likes to say, rather than an operation exclusively shaped by him.

As it has been defined and employed over two decades now, this organizational format has given so much for both performers and audiences to relish.

But, to be sure, there is more to come. So we will check back in another 20 years.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble celebrates its 20th anniversary with concerts this Friday night in Milwaukee and Sunday afternoon in Madison

November 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here, as elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world, the period instrument movement has become more and more mainstream over the years.

The instruments and the historically informed performance practices have expanded.

The repertoire has also grown, extending both back to Medieval and early Baroque music and forward to the Classical, Romantic and even more modern periods.

Historical research into early music, along with performances and recordings, has influenced even modern music groups such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which now sound lighter, clearer and faster when they play Handel operas, Bach concertos and Beethoven symphonies.

Twenty years ago, the Madison Bach Musicians did not exist. Neither did the Madison Early Music Festival or the fully developed early music program at the UW-Madison.

But the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) was there, having grown out of other period instrument ensembles and performers who pioneered the long-lived and now very successful early music revival.

And the WBE, with changes in personnel, continues strong.

This coming Sunday you can help celebrate the ensemble’s 20th anniversary by attending a concert of mixed baroque chamber music.

The concert is on this Sunday, Nov. 26, at 2 p.m. in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), at 1833 Regent Street on Madison’s near west side. (The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will also perform the same program in Milwaukee this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles Allis Museum. See the WBE website, below, for details)

Performers are Brett Lipshutz, traverse flute; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Sigrun Paust, recorder, Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger; traverse flute and harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students.

A free reception will be held after the concert at 2422 Kendall Ave., second floor.

The program is:

Luigi Rossi – “Io lo vedo, o luci belle” (I see, O beautiful lights)

Georg Philipp Telemann – Trio Sonata for two recorders and basso continuo, TWV 42:F7 (The two opening movements can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Marin Marais – Pièces de viole, movements from Book 2  (viol pieces)

Jacopo Peri – “Solitario augellino”(lonely little bird) “O miei giorni fugaci”(O my fleeting days)

Alexander Munro – Bony Jeane, from A Collection of the Best Scots Tunes Fited to the German Flute  (1732)

INTERMISSION

Benedetto Marcello – Sonata for recorder and basso continuo, Op. 2, No. 1

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair – “Les Syrenes” (The Sirenes)

Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht – Sonata in G major for two flutes and basso continuo

Francisco de Santiago – “Ay, como flecha la Niña Rayos” (Like Arrows, the Girl Rays)

For more information, call (608) 238-5126 or email info@wisconsinbaroque.org, or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org


Classical music: Saturday night brings the Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet to the Wisconsin Union Theater and a concert of chamber works by the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble. Plus tonight’s concert by the Madison Choral Project is at 8:30 p.m. — NOT 7:30 as originally announced.

April 21, 2017
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URGENT  CORRECTION: The time for tonight’s performance of “Privilege” by the Madison Choral Project has been moved from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. due to noise from a nearby football game in Camp Randall Stadium. For more about the concert, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/classical-music-madison-choral-project-gives-concert-of-new-music-focusing-on-the-social-and-political-theme-of-privilege-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

THIS JUST IN: Hi Jake: We’ve got cellist Karl von Huene and bassist John Dowling at the Malt House, at 2609 East Washington Avenue on the corner of Milwaukee Street,  again this Saturday, from 3-5 p.m. Karl says the pieces they’ll play are by J.S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, Arcangelo Corelli, S. Lee, F. J. Haydn, G.F. HandelDmitri Kabalevsky, and Francesco Durante. It should be fun! Cheers, Bill Rogers

BIG ALERT: This is a reminder that, in this busy week of music, one stand-out concert is by the Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. It will perform the annual Fan Taylor Memorial Concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. (You can hear a sample of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 they will play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The acclaimed quartet will perform music by Bach, Bizet, Debussy, and Villa-Lobos as well as 17th-century Spanish music from the age of the novelist Cervantes  For more information about the group, the program and tickets ($10-$48), go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/los-angeles-guitar-quartet/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will give a concert of baroque chamber music on Saturday night, April 22, at 7:30 p.m.

It will take place in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street.

Members of the WBE are: Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Nathan Giglierano, baroque violin; Brett Lipshutz, traverse flute; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Monica Steger, traverse flute and harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

The program includes:

Georg Philipp Telemann – Quartet for two traversi, recorder and basso continuo, TWV 43:d1

Mr. De Machy – Pièces de Violle, Suite No. 3 (Pieces for Viol)

Francesca Caccini – “Lasciatemi qui solo” (Leave me here alone)

Quentin – Trio Sonata for two traversi and basso continuo, Op. 13, No. 3

INTERMISSION

Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger – “Interrotte Speranze” (Vain Hope)

Johann Christoph Pepusch – Trio Sonata for recorder, violin and basso continuo

Georg Philipp Telemann (below) – Nouveaux Quatuors (Paris Quartets), No. 6 in E minor

Giulio Caccini – “Odi, Euterpe” (Hear, Euterpe)

Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students.

A post-concert reception will be held after the concert at 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor.

For more information, go to: www.wisconsinbaroque.org


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble plays a concert of familiar and unfamiliar baroque chamber music this Sunday afternoon

February 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble — an acclaimed and veteran group specializing in early music performed on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices — will give a concert of baroque chamber music on this coming Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

The concert is in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below are exterior and interior views), 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

Members and performers in the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble include: UW-Madison professor Mimmi Fulmer – soprano; Nathan Giglierano – baroque violin; Brett Lipshutz – traverse flute; Eric Miller – viola da gamba; Sigrun Paust – recorder; Consuelo Sañudo – mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger – traverse flute and harpsichord; Anton TenWolde – baroque cello; and Max Yount – harpsichord.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Consuelo Sanuda, Monica Steger JWB

Tickets at the door are: $20 for the general public; $10 for students.

For more information, call (608) 238 5126, or email: info@wisconsinbaroque.org, or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

A FREE post-concert reception will be held at 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor.

The program features:

Giovanni Legrenzi – “Ave Regina Coelorum” (Hail, O Queen of Heaven)

Jacques Morel – Chaconne en trio, from “Livre de pieces de viola” or Book of Pieces for Viol)

Jean-Baptiste Lully – “Plaite de Vénus sur la mort d’Adonis” (Lament of Venus on the Death of Adonis)

Georg Friedrich Handel (below) – Sonata for violin and basso continuo, Opus 1, No. 3 (You can sample the lovely opening movement, played by Simon Standage on violin and The English Concert’s director Trevor Pinnock on harpsichord, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

handel big 2

Intermission

Georg Philipp Telemann (below) – “Hemmet den Eifer, verbannet die Rache” (Restrain Your Zeal, Banish Your Revenge)

Jacob Friedrich Kleinknecht – Sonata for traverso and basso continuo, Opus 1, No. 2

Giacomo Carissimi – “Rimante in pace ormai” (Remain in Peace Henceforth)

Georg Philipp Telemann – Quartetto in G major, TWV 43:G6

georg philipp telemann

For more information about the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, go to: http://wisconsinbaroque.org


Con Vivo performs rarely heard chamber music by Milhaud, Medtner and Zemlinsky this Sunday afternoon. Plus, a FREE concert of flute music is this Friday at noon

February 9, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison features Danielle Breisach and Taya König-Tarasevich playing music for baroque and modern flutes. They will play works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jacques-Martin Hottetere and Yuko Uebayashi. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

“Con Vivo! … music with life,” (below) continues its 15th season with a chamber music concert entitled “Capital Europeans” on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, at 2:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall Stadium.

con-vivo-2016

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

The winter concert, called, “Capital Europeans,” features pieces from three distinct European composers, each with his own style.

Representing Paris, the program includes selections from the Organ Preludes by French composer Darius Milhaud.

darius milhaud

Representing Vienna is the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano by Austrian composer Anton Zemlinsky. (You can sample Zemlinsky’s Clarinet Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Alexander Zemlinsky

The concert will end with a piece that was 46 years in the making: from Moscow, the Piano Quintet for strings and piano by Russian composer Nikolai Medtner (below).

nikolai-medtner

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the concert.

Adds Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor: “With this concert, we are performing a Sunday matinee with three unique composers, each with his own musical language. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”

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.

con-vivo-on-the-balcony

For more information about Con Vivo and its upcoming concerts, go to: http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org


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: Madison Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” proved a musical and theatrical delight from beginning to end. Plus, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs Saturday night

April 22, 2016
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.

Jacques Offenbach seated

The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.

I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.

First, the singing.

The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.

The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Doll Olympia Jeni Hauser CR James Gill

Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith CR James Gill

The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Adriana Zabala The Muse JAMES GILL

Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit).  For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Harold Meers on right CR James Gill

The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set CR James Gill

The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.

And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Gondola CR James Gill

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith in cape CR James Gill

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, and Maestro John DeMain is a treasure whom Madison is extremely fortunate to have. His sense of timing and dynamics is a wonder.

My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.

So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/tales-of-hoffman-madison-opera/


Classical music: Red Priest aims to revive the excitement of Baroque classics. It performs music by Handel, Bach and Telemann this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

February 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The group is called Red Priest – the nickname given to the red-haired violinist and popular Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who taught music at a girls’ school in Venice.

But during its Madison debut appearance, the group will not be playing music by Vivaldi. The focus will shift to Handel, with some Bach and Telemann thrown in.

Red Priest (below) performs this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

0288-Joan Solo Tour Press Image FINAL

Compared to various rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Cirque de Soleil  for its flamboyant presentation of centuries-old classics, the group’s program is called “Handel in the Wind” – recalling the famous song “Candle in the Wind” by chart-topping rocker Elton John.

But that seemingly unorthodox approach, according to Red Priest, fits right in with the true underlying aesthetic of Baroque music, which is too often treated as rigid and codified, predictable and boring.

For more information and background, including the full program, critics’ reviews and how to get tickets, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/red-priest.html

Red Priest member and recorder player Piers Adams (below) — whom you can also hear talking about  “Handel in the Wind” in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently took time from his very busy schedule to give a Q&A to The Ear:

Piers Adams

What makes your approach to Baroque music unique and different from standard playing or from the early music approach that features the period instruments and historically informed performance practices?

Actually we do use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, albeit mixed in with some more modern aesthetics. The instruments are a mixture of originals (the cello dates from 1725, in original baroque set-up), close copies (violin and harpsichord) and modern instruments (most of my recorders, which are heavily “souped up” versions of baroque originals).

We differ from the mainstream baroque groups by doing everything we can to bring the music to life — not just in a “Here’s how they used to do it” sense, but rather by “This is how we’re going to do it!”

As musicians who like to live (or at least, to play) on the edge, that means we’re naturally drawn to some of the more extreme and colorful characters and performance practices from the Baroque era, mixed in with our own ideas drawn from interest in other musical genres, such as folk, world and rock music.

red priest on stage

How and why did you come up with that approach? Why do you focus on Baroque music? Is there something special to say about Baroque music?

After years of bowing down to the authority of the early music movement — which has a habit of policing anyone who disagrees with its creed or who wants to show a bit of individuality — it was a wonderful realization that in fact it’s OK to do one’s own thing!

As soon as we made that break, we found ourselves on the edges of that rather safe (but dull) world of historically accurate re-creation and in a genre of our own, where anything goes as long as it’s musically satisfying to us and to the audience.

In fact, much of the most satisfying playing does come from “following the rules,” where the rules tell us to perform with wild abandon and heartfelt expression in every note!

Baroque music is a wonderful place for experimentation and co-creation -– perhaps more so than any other area of classical music, because so much is already left to the performer to decide, and because arrangement and transcription were such important aspects too.

Baroque music also has a harmonic and rhythmic structure that many people can relate to, perhaps closer to modern-day pop and rock than the more harmonically complex music of the later Classical and Romantic periods.

red priest jumping

Why are you emphasizing George Frideric Handel in your Madison program? In your view, is his music underrated or underperformed? How important or great is Handel?

We have toured the US close to 40 times, and try to bring something new with us where possible. The latest creation is a transcription of music from Handel’s “Messiah,” which we’ve converted into a colorful instrumental journey, bringing out the drama in a very different way from the normal choral performance.

Handel is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, but this is the first time we have created a project around his music. I don’t know why we waited so long, as he wrote some amazing tunes!

handel big 3

How would you compare Handel to Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, whose music you will also be performing?

Handel’s music is in some ways simpler than Bach’s, which tends to be very dense and complex, but both can produce moments of high drama and great beauty.

Telemann was above all a great craftsman, and in his day was considered the greatest composer of all, but now is held in rather lower esteem than Bach and Handel – maybe partly because of his frequent reliance upon gypsy folk melodies in his works.

The pieces we have chosen bring out the characters of these three great Baroque masters.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

We’re greatly looking forward to this, our first visit to Madison!


Classical music: This Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio — the biggest friend of classical music in the state — will broadcast the fifth annual holiday concert by the Madison Bach Musicians that took place last Saturday night.

December 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night saw one of those unfortunate train wrecks.

And making it even more unfortunate was that it came at holiday time, when music takes on special meaning and seems more festive or celebratory.

The conflict centered on two very worthwhile concerts by two very reliable groups.

The first was the fifth annual Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians at the First Congregational Church of Christ, seen below in a photo by Kent Sweitzer.

The program featured two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, a recently discovered “Gloria” Cantata by George Frideric Handel; and the Christmas Concerto in G minor by Arcangelo Corelli plus chamber music by Georg Philipp Telemann. (You can hear the lovely Corelli concerto performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link with much more information as well as an interview with MBM founder, director and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-explains-why-baroque-music-sounds-so-good-at-holiday-time-his-madison-bach-musicians-will-perform-their-annual-baroque-holiday-concert-of-bach-corelli-and-telemann/

Madison Bach Musician -Baroque Holiday 2015 cr Kent Sweitzer

The second concert was a single performance – there used to be two – by the UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra with graduate student and guest soprano Tyana O‘Connor, all under the baton of Beverly Taylor, in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

That program was all 20th-century and featured the Overture to “The Wasps” by Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Symphony of Psalms by Igor Stravinsky; and the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

Here is an interview about the program with Beverly Taylor who is the choral director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/classical-music-the-uw-choral-union-and-uw-symphony-orchestra-will-perform-an-all-20th-century-program-of-works-by-vaughan-williams-stravinsky-and-poulenc-this-coming-saturday-night-plus-conductor/

The Ear couldn’t go to both and went to the memorable Choral Union concert, which I will comment on tomorrow.

But veteran critic John W. Barker (below), who writes for Isthmus and often for this blog, did go to the Madison Bach Musicians and filed this rave review:

http://isthmus.com/music/baroque-holiday-madison-bach-musicians/

John-Barker

Thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio – the biggest friend of classical music in the state – you can hear most of the Madison Bach Musicians’ concert (the Bach, Handel and Corelli) this Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

The broadcast may be delayed and not live. But it is NOT too late for the holidays!

The Ear will be tuning in.

If you also missed it, perhaps you will too.


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