The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Chamber Choir plus instrumentalists turn in a beautiful and memorable performance of a too rarely heard “madrigal fable” by Gian Carlo Menotti.

May 17, 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. Barker also provided performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Madison Chamber Choir (below) delivered a true spring treat on Friday evening at the First Presbyterian Church downtown.

Madison Chamber Choir singers and players performing JWB

The curtain-raiser was a group of Four Pastorales by American composer Cecil Effinger (below), to texts by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. The poems are varied and sensitive, and are set with a good feeling for choral texture.

Cecil Effinger

The catch is that Effinger composed an obbligato part for a single instrument (oboe or, as here, clarinet) that is generally irrelevant musically and even a hindrance at times to choral projection and diction. It may have been partly the composer’s fault, but the diction could have been more clearly delivered, too. (Hit those consonants, folks!)

Diction issues were somewhat lessened, thanks to the composer’s care, in the major work of the concert.

Gian Carlo Menotti (below) was at a creative peak in 1956, when he created his work for 10 dancers, nine instrumentalists, and chorus, entitled The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, or the Three Sundays of a Poet. He called this a “madrigal fable,” using the Renaissance form of the “madrigal comedy,” in which action is conveyed without soloists but by the choir.

This Italian idiom of the late 16th-century was something Menotti apparently discovered as he mastered Renaissance polyphonic style for the choruses in his supreme opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954)—following his triumphs of The Consul (1950) and Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Gian Carlo Menotti

As always, Menotti wrote his own text, which reflects on the phases of the creative life (as represented by the three animals), but also satirizes the shallow understanding and reflexive faddism of ordinary folk. In the process, he showed how wonderfully he had mastered the elements of colloquial American speech patterns.

And, above all, he put this in music that combines hilarious comedy with extraordinarily moving poetry.

I know of only one prior performance of this gem of a work in Madison, by the UW-Madison Madrigal Singers, in April of 2001, and it included the dance dimension.

Dancers were not involved in this latest production, but the music still carried the work brilliantly. The nine instrumentalists (below, on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, cello, double bass and harp) were excellent.

Madison Chamber Choir Menotti iinstrumentalists JWB

The chorus of 33 voices (below) sang with superb sonority and ensemble. You could see them relishing the humor as well as the pathos.

Madison Chamber Choir singers Menotti 2 JWB

And credit is due for the church’s fine acoustics especially in furthering the richness of choral sound.

Conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and heads up the Madison Choral Project, led with confidence and obvious delight.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

It really pains me that so wonderful a work as this is so little known and — partly for practical reasons — so rarely performed. Nothing but gratitude is due these performers for bringing it to life for us this time. And the quite sizable audience expressed that gratitude in a prolonged ovation.

Madison Chamber Choir Menotti players and singers JWB

 


Classical music: The Madison Chamber Choir will perform Menotti’s madrigal fable “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore” this Friday night. On Tuesday night, The Empire Brass and organist Douglas Major perform at the Overture Center.

May 11, 2015
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A REMINDER: Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m, in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, the Empire Brass (below left) will perform a mostly Baroque program with guest organist Douglas Major (below right). Composers on the program include Johann Sebastian Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Henry Purcell and Michael Praetorius. Here is link to the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s website with the complete program and background information:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/empire

Empire BRrass with Douglas Major

By Jacob Stockinger

Larger groups and presenters such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra , the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the University Opera have finished their concert seasons.

Soon the major summer events — the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival and  Opera in the Park — will take place.

But not before smaller groups, who are still winding up their season, have finished.

The Ear has received the follow announcement:

Dear Friends,

I’d like to make you aware of an upcoming concert by the Madison Chamber Choir (below).

The concert is this Friday night, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.

Admission is a $10 suggested donation.

Madison Chamber Choir 1 BIGGER

The program features “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore” by the Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti (below), most famous perhaps for establishing the Spoleto Festival and for his Christmas TV opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” You can hear excerpts from the “Unicorn” in a YouTube video at the bottom.

The work is described as a “madrigal fable about an odd poet his strange pets and the shallow whims of his faddish neighbors.” Assorted guest chamber instrumentalists will join the choir for the cantata.

Gian Carlo Menotti

The artistic director of the Madison Chamber Choir is Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and directs the Madison Choral Project.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Here is a link to the choir’s website about the concert:

http://www.madisonchamberchoir.net/performances/

And here is a link to a sample of the choir’s singing:

http://www.madisonchamberchoir.net/media/

Menotti poster


Classical music: It’s a very busy week at the UW-Madison School of Music. Here is a roundup of the mostly FREE concerts, master classes and other events.

April 13, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You always know when we are coming down to the end of a semester or the end of the school year. The music events start stacking up over the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music likes planes stacked up over O’Hare.

Talk about Train Wreck Weekends! And this is just the UW. There is plenty more to come, as you will see here over the course of this week.

In a way, it is a testament to the vitality of the music scene here in the Madison area.

But it is also too bad to the degree that so many events almost guarantee that some audiences will be smaller than they might otherwise be because people just can’t keep up with so many things that are so closely scheduled that they compete with each other for listeners’ free time. And we are not even talking about big draws like the three performances of the annual concert and show by the UW-Madison Varsity Band.

TUESDAY

Guest artists the Elaris Duo (below) will give master classes Tuesday night, April 14. The violin class with Larisa Elisha will be from 6-7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and the cello class will be with Steven Elisha from 8-9:30 p.m. They perform a concert Wednesday night at 8 in Mills Hall. See below.

elaris duo

WEDNESDAY

A FREE concert will be given by the UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall under the direction of Javier Calderon (below top). Sorry, The Ear has received no word about the program. For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/uw-guitar-ensemble-2/

$2 Broom, a FREE concert of electro-acoustic improvised music by students will be held in Music Hall, under the direction of UW-Madison horn professor Daniel Grabois (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill). For more information when it is posted, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/2-dollar-broom-2015/

A FREE concert by guest artists the Elaris Duo — husband-and-wife cellist and violinist — in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. The program includes works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Zoltan Kodaly and Erwin Schulhoff. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/elaris-duo-guest-artists/

Javier Calderon color

Daniel Grabois 2012  James Gill

THURSDAY

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes the String Quartet in A Major, K. 464, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the String Quartet No. 4 by Leon Kirchner; and the early String Quartet in C Minor by Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 18, No. 4. For more information about the concert and the Pro Arte Quartet, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/pro-arte-quartet_4_16/

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

FRIDAY

At 2 p.m. in Room 1629 of the Humanities Building, Brazilian percussionist Ney Rosauro (below) will give a master class that is open to the public. For information about the artist, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/master-class-with-brazilian-percussionist-ney-rosauro/

ney rosauro

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the Mad City Brass Quintet, made up of UW-Madison students, will perform a FREE concert of music by UW-Madison professor emeritus of tuba and euphonium John Stevens (below) as well as by Billy Joel, Michael Kamen and Andre Lafosse. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/mad-city-brass-quintet/

john stevens lon gprofile with tuba

At 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, the UW-Madison Concert Choir, Chorale, and Madrigal Singers will perform. Bruce Gladstone will conduct. The joint concert of the three choirs is themed “O Beauty” but each ensemble will have its own section. (Below is the Concert Choir performing.)

The choirs will perform together on the following large works: Blest Pair of Sirens by C.H.H. Parry and Missa “O Pulchritudo” by Gian-Carlo Menotti.

These will be performed with UW-Madison Professor John Chappell Stowe on organ.

For information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/uw-concert-choir-chorale-and-madrigal-singers/

Concert Choir 2

SATURDAY

At 3:30 in Morphy Recital Hall, the Perlman Trio (funded by local philanthropist Kato Perlman) and two guest artists (below in a photo by Tori Rogers) will perform a FREE concert. The piano trio members (three in the front) are SeungWha Baek, piano; Valerie Sanders, violin; and Daniel Ma, cello. Guests are Keisuke Yamamoto, violin, and Jeremy Kienbaum, viola.

The program includes: Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Hoboken XV: 29, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Piano Quintet in D Major, Op. 51, by Anton Arensky; and the Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8 (original version) by Johannes Brahms. For information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/perlman-trio-recital/

Perlman Trio (left three) and guests CR Tori _Rogers

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Low Brass Ensemble will offer a FREE concert. Sorry, no other details are available. When they are, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/low-brass-ensemble/

At 6 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. UW-Madison bassoonist-conductor Marc Vallon (below top, in a photo by James Gill) and Madison Bach Musicians founder, director and keyboard player Trevor Stephenson (below bottom) will host a demonstration of early music practices and period instruments, featuring performers from the Madison Bach Musicians. The event is part of the year-long “Rediscovering Rameau” music festival.

Later this week there will be two semi-staged performances of Rameau’s 1748 ballet-opera “Pygmalion” that Stephenson and the Madison Bach Musicians will give at the First Unitarian Society of Madison this Friday night at 6:45 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:45 p.m. Go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/pygmalion-madison-bach-musicians/

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

At 6:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the gala concert of the 12th annual Madison Flute Festival, “Flutes Down Under,” will take place. Admission is $5 for those not taking part in the day-long festival. It is held by the Wisconsin Flute Club and the flute studio of UW Professor Stephanie Jutt, who is Principal Flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and also a co-founder and co-director of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The Madison Flute Club is winding up a fund-raising drive — nearly $15,000 — for the purchase of a contra bass flute. This instrument was made by Eva Kingma in the Netherlands, and is in transit now. This instrument will be the first contra bass flute in Wisconsin.

The Madison Flute Club also recently sponsored a composition contest for the contra bass flute, and the winning piece will be performed at the Flute Club’s Spring Recital May 9 at Midvale Lutheran Church.

At the conclusion of the Flute Festival this week, the public is invited to hear a performance featuring the family of low flutes. This concert will present pieces by Gary Shocker, Vaughan McAlley and many other composers writing for the low flutes. Attendees will hear performances on alto, bass, contra bass and subcontrabass flute –an extremely rare instrument.

Other festival events take place at the UW-Madison Pyle Center. The festival features guest artist Peter Sheridan (below), low flutes specialist visiting from Australia.  Activities include flute choir reading sessions, master class, performances, presentations, vendors and competitions featuring monetary prizes. For more information, go to: http://www.madisonfluteclub.org/FluteFestival.html

and

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/gala-concert-wisconsin-flute-festival/

British Flute Society Convention 2010

SUNDAY

At 3:30 p.m., the winners of UW-Madison’s annual Beethoven Piano Sonata Competition will perform. A reception will follow. The event is made possible by the generosity of former UW-Madison Chancellor Irving Shain (below bottom). For word on the winners and the sonatas to be performed, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/beethoven-competition-recital/

Beethoven big

Irving Shain

 


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