The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How did Baroque composer Telemann get overshadowed and why is he being rediscovered? Trevor Stephenson talks about his all-Telemann concerts this weekend

October 2, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Bach Musicians (MBM) will give two performances of a concert devoted exclusively to the music of Baroque composer Georg Philip Telemann (below).

The performances are: Saturday night, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, where MBM will be artists-in-residence this season; the second performance is on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 6, at 3:30 p.m. at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, in Middleton.

Tickets are $35 in advance and are available at the Willy Street Coop East and West, and at Orange Tree Imports. Tickets at the door are $38 for the general public; $35 for seniors; and $10 for student rush tickets that go on sale 30 minutes before each lecture. The lectures take place 45 minutes before the performance, at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m, respectively.

Why focus on the music of Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)?

Trevor Stephenson, the founder and director of the Madison Bach Musicians, talks about it in an email Q&A with The Ear:

Why does Telemann, who was so respected in his day, seem to get far less play, fewer performances and less mentioning today than his contemporaries Bach, Vivaldi and Handel?

Telemann was born in 1681 — three years after Vivaldi and four years before Bach and Handel. He was astonishingly prolific and it is estimated that he wrote more than Bach and Handel combined.

On top of this, he was very highly respected and was widely published and performed during his life. Remember, it was Telemann — not Bach — whom the Leipzig council wanted to hire for the music director position in 1723. But Telemann was enjoying his wonderful new post in Hamburg—a thriving port city — and was not about to go back to landlocked Leipzig where he had spent his student days.

At any rate, after the 18th century had passed and its music became somewhat marginalized, in the early 19th century it was Bach’s music, not Telemann’s, that suddenly re-emerged.

Bach’s tremendous emotional depth, contrapuntal mastery and ability to control large-scale forms in an almost heroic way spoke with greater urgency to the Romantic sensibility than did Telemann’s elegant craftsmanship. Indeed, 19th-century Bach scholars often mean-spiritedly used Telemann as a foil for Bach.

Telemann’s music nevertheless received a modicum of performances in the early 20th century, but in the 1980s and 1990s, as the Early Music movement really got rolling—and the level of period-instrument performance increased—it became apparent that Telemann’s music really was hot stuff!

Now his music is enjoying a wonderful and well-deserved revival.

What are the appealing and admirable qualities you see in Telemann’s music? Are there any drawbacks to his compositions?

Telemann had a wonderful sense of melodic invention — probably music’s analog to an artist’s ability to draw — and his tunes seem to flow out effortlessly. And although his output was opulent, he had an uncanny sense of form and how much weight – duration — any given musical scene could bear.

He also was a masterful musical polyglot, able to jump back and forth easily between Italian, French and German musical idioms; and like Bach, he was also adept at integrating them into a unified style—this integration of national styles was a frequently acknowledged goal of 18th-century composers.

Telemann’s limitations are apparent when he is juxtaposed with Handel, who could dramatically really take the roof off and who could also find the inner essence of the human voice, and Bach who, like Shakespeare, through a near alchemy of sound and meaning could consistently define and further what it means to be human.

How and why did you put this program together? What unifies it and what would you like the public to know about it?

Madison Bach Musicians’ concertmaster and assistant artistic director Kangwon Kim (below left with Emily Dupere) did the heavy lifting in putting together this wonderful program of Telemann’s chamber music. MBM will present three of Telemann’s programmatic or story works, one church cantata and three purely instrumental selections.

With narration and graphics, we’ll walk you through how he cleverly depicts scenes from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726, below), which had been in print only two years when Telemann wrote his topical Gulliver Suite in 1728. Telemann loved ludicrous irony, like the tiny Lilliputians dancing a heavy chaconne—which Telemann notates in a hilarious, confounding mass of 64th and 128th notes. And then there’s the Brobdingnagian giants doing their rendition of a light-footed gigue, rendered in loopy, cumbersome whole notes!

We’ll also present the marvelous Suite Burlesque based upon Cervantes’ Don Quixote (below): Quixote’s love for Dulcinea, his jousting with windmills, and how a crowd mocks Quixote’s faithful, world-weary servant Sancho Panza.

To top it off, guest artist mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below) will sing the droll and sweetly amusing cantata about the demise — brought about by the cat! — of a favorite and very artistic canary. Osowski will also sing the church cantata Weicht, ihr Sünden, bleibt dahinten (Yield, You Sins, and Stay Behind Me). Telemann wrote more than 1,000 church cantatas.

The concert includes non-programmatic works for string band: the dramatic and Corelli-esque Sonata à 6 in F minor for two violins, two violas, cello and continuo; and the sparkling Sinfonia Spirituosa (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom). I will also perform some fascinating Fantasy miniatures for solo harpsichord, and will give a pre-concert lecture at both events.

For more information about the program, the performers and tickets, go to: www.madisonbachmusicians.org


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Classical music: ECM Records finally streams its entire catalogue of award-winning artists and recordings

November 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed and award-winning independent label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by the Grammy-winning producer Manfred Eicher (below).

Known for its penchant for the contemporary and even avant-garde, Eicher’s label was nonetheless a conservative hold-out when it came to the newer technology of digital streaming.

The old technology has its points besides superior sound quality. When you got an ECM CD, you usually also got one of their terrific black-and-white photographs, often a square-format landscape, as a cover. (ECM even published a book of its photographic covers.)

But as of this past Friday, ECM finally gave into the inevitable and streamed its entire catalogue. Its rationale was that it was more important for its music and musicians to be heard than to remain loyal to certain platforms.

ECM also cited the pressure from unauthorized uploads to YouTube and bootleg versions of its recordings as the reason for the decision.

So as of yesterday, ECM, which has won many awards for individual titles and artists, will be available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Tidal and other streaming services.

ECM is known for its popular and critically acclaimed jazz artists including pianist Keith Jarrett (below, of “The Köln Concert” or The Cologne Concert) and saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (“Officium”). But it also included classical chamber music groups such as the Keller Quartet, the Trio Medieval, the Danish Quartet and others.

ECM is also known for championing contemporary classical composers (Arvo Pärt, below, who is the most performed contemporary composer, as well as Tigur Mansurian, Lera Auerbach, Gyorgy Kurtag and Valentin Silvestrov among others) and some outstanding crossover classical musicians, including Jarrett, a jazz great who has also recorded Bach, Handel and Shostakovich on both piano and harpsichord.

The Ear especially likes violist Kim Kashkashian and Harvard pianist Robert Levin (a frequent performer at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival) in sonatas of Brahms. He is also fond of Alexei Lubimov in various piano recitals as well as the many recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Janacek and Robert Schumann by the superb pianist Andras Schiff (below). In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Schiff in a live performance of the Gigue from Bach’s Keyboard Partita No. 3.)

And there are many, many more artists and recordings worth your attention. Here is a link to an extensive sampler on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ECMRecordsChannel

Who are your favorite ECM artists?

What are your favorite ECM recordings?

What ECM downloads do you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) turns 20 and will give three performances of “Bells of Christmas” this coming weekend. Plus, there is a FREE concert of women composers on Friday at noon and a FREE community string quartet concert on Thursday night

December 7, 2016
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ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Sarah Gillespie, French horn, and Susan Gaeddert, piano, in music by women composers: Fanny Hansel, Clara Schumann, Kay Gardner and Andrea Clearfield. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

ALERT 2: The Hunt Quartet, made up of UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert at the Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound Street, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev,  the String Quartet in G Major Op. 77, No. 1, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement) by Anton Webern.

The string quartet is a joint community outreach project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is funded by Kato Perlman. It plays at many local schools. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/hunt-quartet/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following information:

It’s the 20th anniversary of Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) and we’re celebrating!

Our Bells of Christmas concerts will feature some best-loved pieces from the past along with exciting new ones that will showcase our ringers’ and soloists’ talents. MACH’s founder and Director Emerita, Susan Udell (below, front center with baton), will be conducting the December concerts to bring an air of fun-filled nostalgia and continuing excellence to our programs.

madison-area-concert-handbells-susan-udell-in-front-center

Performances are on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (bel0w), 2100 Bristol Street, Middleton. The center adjoins Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

There is another performance on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona.

Tickets in advance are $12 for adults and $9 for students 16 and under; and $9 for seniors; at the door, tickets are $15 and $12 respectively.

Advance tickets are available at Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports.

Advance tickets can also be ordered. Go to http://www.madisonhandbells.org

To pay with check or money order, you can order by mail — please print an order form and mail with payment to MACH. Advance ticket prices apply.

Group tickets (10 or more) can be ordered in advance for $10 per person, whether adult, student or senior. These are not available at the door; to order, please print an order form and mail with payment (check or money order)

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are program notes written by Susan Udell:

“The Bells of Christmas” opens with the timely reminder that Christmas is Coming before an array of pieces that unfold the events of Christ’s birth. “Wake, Awake,” a stirring arrangement of Philipp Nicolai’s “Wachet Auf,” is replete with giant chords, flowing passages, and the resonance of bass chimes as the city of Jerusalem is made aware of the Savior’s importance.

Next, an arrangement of the 17th century French tune “Picardy,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” features mysterious random ringing of bells and hand chimes while the melody is intoned. This evolves into a burst of fiery 16th-note passages and a maestoso statement of the tune before subsiding into the sound of silence punctuated by random chimes once more.

A lively Caribbean tune, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy,” arranged by one of the handbell world’s top composers and arrangers, Hart Morris, gives a change of pace with its syncopation and moments of percussive instruments.

madison-area-concert-handbells-big-bells

The noted English composer John Rutter’s “Angels’ Carol” follows, sung by our favorite guest vocalist from the past, Carrie Ingebritsen, and our own Rachel Bain; their voices blend beautifully with a liquid handbell accompaniment to give the angels’ message from that long-ago night.

Another favorite soloist, Barbara Roberts, takes the leading part in an excerpt from Benedetto Marcello’s sonata for flute that has been combined in a Gigue with “Forest Green”, an alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A bell tree duet of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” follows, played by MACH members Caitlin Ristow and Karen Paschke.

Then it’s time for an audience sing-along in Christmas Carol Fest III. “How Great Our Joy” closes the first half of the concert with variations on the carol “While By My Sheep” and then another opportunity for the audience to sing as “Joy to the World” affirms the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago.

After a brief intermission, renowned handbell composer Cynthia Dobrinski‘s arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” brings sobering and dramatic music that climaxes in a joyful affirmation that, despite all, God will prevail. Carrie Ingebritsen will help illuminate what the music portrays as she sings the verses accompanied by the bells. (You can hear a sample of Cynthia Dobrinski’s music for handbells in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-area-concert-handbells-playing

An energetic “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows, based on tunes by Louis Bourgeois and George Frideric Handel, also arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. Next, her arrangement of “On Christmas Night All Children Sing” (Sussex Carol) brings us to a light-hearted celebration of the holiday as seen through the eyes of children.

Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s famed “Nutcracker Suite” is then represented as our MACH ringers present a challenging, full-bodied arrangement of its March as transcribed by noted handbell composer William Griffin.

Former MACH member, Janet Rutkowski, returns as handbell soloist for “The Tin Soldier,” an amusing rendition of that well-known tune. Then the ever-popular “Up on the Housetop” details the gifts children anticipate at Christmas and depicts Santa’s arrival, descent of the chimney, and filling of stockings before he departs in a flash of sound.

Our concert concludes with a joyful, foot-stomping “Caroler’s Hoedown,” created and arranged by Valerie Stephenson, who received her graduate degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison many years ago.

We hope you will join our 20th year’s celebration by attending one of our concerts. We will recognize past ringers and Board of Directors members in our programs as a special tribute of thanks for their support over the years.


Classical Music: At Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts, The Ear always learns as he listens. Here are some lessons from last weekend that will no doubt reappear this coming weekend.

June 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This summer, The Ear has yet to see a missed opportunity or hear a false note from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which seems headed for a perfect season.

I find that each of the two weekend programs that the BDDS offers in three venues for three weekends each summer usually rewards me with a generous share of pleasure plus important lessons and pleasant surprises. Little wonder, then, that the BDDS has had its best second weekend ever last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover.

Last weekend certainly did offer much pleasure, plus many lessons and surprises, with the “Take a Hike” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” programs. And there is no reason to think that this coming weekend’s two programs — “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It” — won’t do the same.

So here are some quick looks backward that are likely to serve as good looks forward.

Here is a link for more information about performers, date and times, programs and tickets:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

An avid amateur pianist myself, I get to hear terrific pianists whom I can emulate and who inspire me to practice and play better.

Almost every concert features BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes, who teaches at University of California-Berkeley and California State University-East Bay. Sykes never disappoints. He is a master of different styles, color and dynamics — in short, an ideal collaborator.

And last weekend, this Pianist for All Seasons demonstrated yet another skill with his improvised embellishments and ornamentation on themes and passage work in a well-known Mozart piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488).

BDDSrehearsalJeffrySykes

This weekend Sykes will play by himself in piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak with the San Francisco Piano Trio of which he is a member. He will also perform duets and trios with his BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt. Particularly noteworthy is that this weekend, Sykes will again be joined by fellow pianist Randall Hodgkinson (below) in works for one piano, four hands, one by Darius Milhaud with a Charlie Chaplin movie to accompany it.  Hodgkinson teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and Wellesley College, and he is really good.

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Still, the real piano treat last weekend was tango pianist – and also music arranger -– Pablo Zinger (below), a native Uruguayan who now lives in New York City. Zinger once arranged music for and performed the works of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. And it was in two evenings of Piazzolla’s tangos that Zinger displayed his amazing skills.

I watched how carefully he pedaled, never overdoing it. I listened to how well he balanced volume with other instruments. I heard his unfailing ability to execute complex rhythms and to quickly but naturally change tempi. I listened to what seemed an undeniably classical keyboard technique that allowed him to play multiple voices independently, as in a Bach fugue. Articulate and laconic, Pablo Zinger (below top, he is talking; below bottom, he is playing) proved nothing short of a master instrumentalist, not just some generic dance-band pianist. I don’t think I will ever forget his rendition with BDDS of Astor Piazzolla’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Oblivion,” which you can hear in a comparable chamber music arrangement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger talks

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger playing

I get to hear first-rate, terrific artists from out-of town.

Some of the performers who were familiar from past BDDS seasons included husband-and-wife cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier, who both play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They are terrific separately and together, as when they played the only Concerto for Two Cellos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (below) whose appealing works we hear played live too infrequently.

Beth Rapier and Anthony Ross BDDS 2014

Violinist Carmit Zori, who is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn (NY) Chamber Music Society, never fails to impress me with her sound and her expressiveness. This was especially true is the Romance, Op. 23, for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach, which I had never heard before. (You can hear it below in a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who also discusses the American violinist Maud Powell to whom the Romance was dedicated and who gave the world premiere of the work. Barton Pine will perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next season.)

The Beach Romance also reminded me of what a great strategy it is to open a concert with a slow piece to help get the audience into The Zone. In a way, it seems like back to the future, back to Baroque-era sonatas that went Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast rather than the Classical-era style of Fast-Slow-Fast in their sequence of movements. More concert programs should do the same.

Carmit Zori BDDS 2014

Clarinetist Alan Kay, who performs in New York City and who teaches at both the Mannes School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, proved simply sublime in the great “autumnal” Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms as well as other pieces. What tone, color and control the man has. He made klezmer-like passages both howl with laughter and lament with moans.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

I get to hear unknown or neglected repertoire, both old and new.

Last weekend, as I said earlier, one gem was the Romance for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach; another was the chamber music arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel of a Mozart piano concerto. I also liked a pampas- or gaucho-inspired work by Alberto Ginastera for cello and piano. Contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s string quartet and clarinet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was breathtaking.

This weekend I will get to hear music by composers I have never even heard of: Philippe Gaubert (below top), who, I suspect, sounds a bit like Gabriel Faure, and will feature virtuoso flutist Stephanie Jutt, BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director ; plus another Argentinean composer Angel Lasala (below bottom)  and William Hirtz (below bottom right with pianist Jon-Kimura Parker on the left), who are also complete unknowns to me. That adds excitement.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Angel Lasala

John Kimura Parker (left) and composer William Hirtz

I learned that the importance of dance forms in music survives.

In Baroque suites like the French and English Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Concerti Grossi of George Frideric Handel and of various Italian composers, you find the allemande, gigue, minuet and sarabande among other dance forms.

In the Romantic era, it was the waltz, the polonaise, the mazurka, the polka and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak and Hungarian Dances of Brahms.

Right into that tradition fits the Tango or, more precisely, the “new tango” or “nuevo tango.”

I could go on, but, you get the idea.

I find the Bach Dancing and Dynamite programs extremely well planned and then extremely well executed. And I am not alone, as repeated standing ovations demonstrate (below left at the Stoughton Opera House, below right at The Playhouse in the Overture Center).

To miss music and performances as fine as these is to cheat yourself.

And that just doesn’t make sense, does it?

BDDS 2014 Standing ovation in Stoughton

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

 

 


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