The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: There was so much to like about the Grand Tour finale of the 2019 Madison Early Music Festival. But where were the high notes in Allegri’s legendary “Miserere”?

July 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fair is fair.

Before he talks about last Saturday night’s conclusion of the successful 2019 Madison Early Music Festival – which marked its 20th anniversary — The Ear has a confession to make: He generally prefers later Baroque music and he generally prefers instrumental music to vocal or choral music.

That said, he nonetheless had a memorable and very enjoyable time on the “Grand Tour” during the well-attended All-Festival concert. There was so much to like and to admire.

The concert used the conceit of a Grand Tour by a composite 17th-century traveler going to London, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris and Dresden to take in the local sights and local music, and included lesser-known composers such as William Lawes and William Child as well as such famous figures as Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli , Jean-Baptiste Lullyand Heinrich Schütz.

Like most journeys, this one – once again assembled in an ingenious scissors-and-paste job by early music specialist Grant Herreid (below) – had many entertaining and uplifting moments.

But it also had one big disappointment.

The Ear really looked forward to hearing a live performance  of the famous “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri (below) as a high point. But those haunting, ultra-high descant notes that give you goosebumps and that you never forget hearing just never materialized.

Maybe it had to do with the different ornamentation that the MEMF forces used. Maybe it was based on a different manuscript or score. Maybe there was no one capable of singing those spellbinding and unforgettable high notes.

Whatever the reason, The Ear’s hope for a live performance of the dramatic and iconic work were dashed and the famous, even classic, recorded versions – the 1980 recording by the Tallis Scholars is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — remain for him the unsurpassed standard.

The evening also had its ironies. That same night on the NBC TV news The Ear saw a story about “overtourism” in Europe and China. Venice, for example, has now shrunk to only about 50,000 unhappy residents who put up with some 20 million tourists a year.

But centuries ago, travel was a rare and exotic luxury of the wealthy and well-educated, not an affordable indulgence or curiosity by ever-expanding middle classes. And this metaphorical trip proved an ideal vehicle to sample 16th- and 17th-century music in England, France, Germany and Italy.

Combining high culture and low, Herreid chose witty and detailed travelogue texts that gave the audience the rich flavor of various cultures at the time.

Details mattered to the four sharp-eyed travelers on which this tour was based. So as “our hero” wandered, we got to hear about the “libidinous ladies” of Naples and the musical talented courtesans of Venice as well as the richly attired archbishop of Paris attending a feast day service in the newly finished Notre-Dame cathedral.

Such descriptions were well delivered by unnamed narrators (below) from the chorus and proved a refreshingly earthy and entertaining counterpoint to the more serious spiritual and religious music of the era.

Another big satisfaction was the exceptional quality of the ensemble playing – exhibited even in large amounts of less interesting music — by the many singers and instrumentalists on the stage of Mills Hall, and, at one point, in the hall’s balcony.

Whether the players and singers were conducted by Herreid or by assistant conductor Jerry Hui — a UW-Madison graduate who is now a tenured professor at UW-Stout — the music sounded tight, authentic and expressive.

As for more superficial pleasures, it is great visual fun watching such early versions of modern string, wind and percussion instruments being played — trombone-like sackbuts, oboe-like shawms, flute-like recorders and lute-like theorbos. (Below are cello-like viols.)

The players, both faculty and students, were particularly convincing on their own in the sound painting done to depict battle scenes and political upheaval. And who will ever forget the surprise of loud foot-stomping by all the performers and conductor?

Herreid was absolutely spot-on to keep the program to about 80 minutes with no intermission. It helped the audience stay in the spirit of the Grand Tour and added cohesion to the program.

The Grand Tour, in short, proved outstanding in concept and excellent in execution.

But was The Ear alone in missing to those high notes?


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Classical music: Saturday afternoon, Live From the Met in HD closes this season with an acclaimed production of “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” Here is a background story, two rave reviews, and next season’s 10 operas

May 10, 2019
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ALERT:The Brass Choirs of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will present an afternoon of brass music this Saturday afternoon, May 11, at 2:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, 455 North Park Street, in Madison. Directed by Tom Curry, the program features brass musicians from WYSO’s Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestras. The concert is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLC. Music to be played is by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Giovanni Gabrieli, Charles Gounod, Edward Elgar, Paul Hindemith, Alan Hovahaness and Karel Husa.

CORRECTION: The Madison Youth Choirs will perform its “Legacy” concerts this weekend in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center on Saturday and Sunday — NOT Friday, as mistakenly listed and then corrected in the original post, which is below: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/classical-music-the-madison-youth-choirs-will-explore-the-theme-of-legacy-in-three-concerts-this-saturday-and-sunday-in-the-capitol-theater-of-the-overture-center/

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday afternoon, May 11, the last production of this season’s “Live From the Met in HD” series, broadcast worldwide via satellite to cinemas, is Francis Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”

By all accounts, it would be hard to end on a higher, stronger or more darkly dramatic note, given the outstanding music and performance of the score as well as the superb acting. (There is a brief preview of short scenes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The world premiere of the opera took place in 1957 at La Scala in Milan, Italy. One of the most successful operas of the later decades of the 20th century,  “Dialogues of the Carmelites” is a rare case of a modern work that is equally esteemed by audiences and experts, according to program notes from the Metropolitan Opera.

The opera focuses on a young member of the order of Carmelite nuns, the aristocratic Blanche de la Force, who must overcome a pathological timidity in order to answer her life’s calling. The score reflects key aspects of its composer’s personality: Francis Poulenc (below) was an urbane Parisian with a profound mystical dimension, and the opera addresses both the characters’ internal lives and their external realities.

The opera takes place between 1789 and 1794 in Paris and in the town of Compiègne in northeastern France, the site of the Carmelite nuns’ convent.

Its historical basis is the martyrdom of a group of 16 Carmelite nuns and lay sisters from Compiègne, who chose to offer themselves as victims for the restoration of peace to France during the French Revolution.

The Met uses the classic John Dexter production of Poulenc’s devastating story of faith and martyrdom.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard (below right) sings the touching role of Blanche and soprano Karita Mattila (below left), a legend in her own time, returns to the Met as the Prioress.

The conductor for the performance is the Met’s highly acclaimed new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who also leads the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Orchestra of Montreal.

The high-definition broadcast of the live performance from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City starts at noon and runs until 3:10 p.m. with two intermissions. (It will also air at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio.)

The encore HD showings are next Wednesday, May 15, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The opera will be sung in French with supertitles in English, German and Spanish.

Tickets for Saturday broadcasts are $24 for adults and $22 for seniors and children under 13. For encore showings, all tickets are $18.

The cinemas where the opera can be seen are two Marcus Cinemas: the Point Cinema on the far west side of Madison (608 833-3980) and the Palace Cinema (608 242-2100) in Sun Prairie.

Here is a link to the Marcus website for addresses and more information. You can also use them to purchase tickets:

https://www.movietickets.com/movies

Here is a link to the Metropolitan Opera’s website where you can find the titles, dates, casts, production information and video clips of all 10 productions this past season — PLUS an announcement, with dates and titles, for next season’s 10 productions (which feature five new productions but no Verdi):

https://www.metopera.org/season/in-cinemas/

Here is a background story that focuses on the French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who leads the orchestra in this production and is the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/02/arts/music/met-opera-dialogues-des-carmelites.html

Here is a rave review of “Dialogues of the Carmelites” by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/05/arts/music/dialogues-des-carmelites-met-opera-review.html

And here is another rave review from New York Classical Review:

http://newyorkclassicalreview.com/2019/05/met-closes-season-with-a-riveting-devastating-carmelites/

Here are links to a synopsis and program notes:

https://www.metopera.org/discover/synopses/dialogues-des-carmelites/

https://www.metopera.org/season/2018-19-season/dialogues-des-carmelites/

And here is a Wikipedia history of the hi-def broadcast series that gives you more information about how many cinemas it uses, the enormous size of the worldwide audience – now including Russia, China and Israel — and how much money it makes for The Met.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Opera_Live_in_HD


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Classical music: The new period-instrument group Sonata à Quattro makes its debut and excels in early Baroque music

July 13, 2018
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ALERT: The All-Festival Concert that closes this summer’s 19th annual Madison Early Musical Festival will take place in Mills Hall on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $20 for the general public, $10 for seniors and students. Here are two links where you can find more specific information, including composers and works on the program:

https://memf.wisc.edu/event/all-fest-2018/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/classical-music-this-saturday-the-19th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-memf-starts-a-week-long-exploration-how-the-500thanniversary-of-the-lutheran-reformation-in-changed-western-music-part-2/

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.

By John W. Barker

Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) is becoming another powerhouse in our musical scene. Already a spark plug of the Ancora String Quartet, and now the director of the annual “Bach Around the Clock” bashes, she has organized a new ensemble, Sonata à Quattro, which made its debut on Wednesday night at Pres House.

This was done under the aegis of the current Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) as a “fringe concert” — in the manner long-established by the Boston Early Music Festival. Plus, the concert’s theme was “The Lübeck Connection,” clearly tying it to the MEMF.

The music was early Baroque, almost entirely from the 17th century.

The first half presented pieces by seven composers, including, among the better-known ones, Michael Praetorius, Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schütz, Heinrich Ignaz Biber and Antonio Vivaldi.

In the earlier pieces, the instruments were not originally specified at all — and one of them was in fact purely vocal. But the later ones clearly displayed the definition of the early string ensemble.

Indeed, the basic players — besides the backup harpsichord — were seated (below) in what is now familiar in the configuration of the latter-day string quartet, with the subtle suggestion that the earlier sonata à quattro genre was its natural predecessor.

The presence here of Vivaldi—besides Gabrieli, the only Italian among these Germans, and of later date—seemed a bit incongruous, but his familiar Sinfonia ‘al Santo Sepolcro’ actually illustrated well the mature à quattro texture. (You can hear the Vivaldi in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And a most impressive conclusion for this first half of the program was the fascinating eight-part Sonata in A minor by the sadly neglected Samuel Capricornus (1628-1665)—its eight-voice scoring not serving as a double choir but as a richly textured study in contrasting high with low parts.

For this first half, the core performers were Nathan Giglierano and Christine Hauptly Annin, violins; Fischer-Hoyt, viola; and Charlie Rasmussen, cello, with harpsichordist Daniel Sullivan.

They were joined along the way by gambist Phillip Serna (below top) who performed later on violone; and, for the Capricornus also violinist Thalia Coombs (below second), violist Micah Behr (below third) and viola da gambist Eric Miller (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

The program’s second half was devoted entirely to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude (below, ca. 1637-1707), the big star of the MEMF constellation.

First we had a Trio in B-flat from his Op. 2 collection, then a slightly French-style solo harpsichord Suite in D minor from Daniel Sullivan (below top).

Finally, we had two solo cantatas, sung by Kristin Knutson (below bottom), whose lovely soprano voice blended beautifully with the instruments.

This new ensemble will continue with concerts scheduled ahead for the coming season. But certainly this appearance represents a beautiful, and perfectly timed, introduction in a concert of true delight.


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Classical music: The early music, period-instrument group Sonata à Quattro plays a very varied “fringe concert” during the Madison Early Music Festival this Wednesday night

July 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new early music, period-instrument group Sonata à Quattro (below, in a photo by Lori Skelton) will perform a “Fringe Concert” during this year’s Madison Early Music Festival of a program called “The Lübeck Connection.”

The theme of this year’s MEMF, which is taking place all this week, focuses on music in the fabled choir library at St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck (below). All the works on the program were written by composers represented in that library. The program will run 90 minutes with one intermission.

The concert takes place on this Wednesday night, July 11, at 7:30 p.m., at Pres House, 731 State St.

Tickets will be available at the door, for general seating, at $20 for general admission and $10 for seniors, students and MEMF participants. Cash, check or charge will be accepted. A marzipan reception follows.

The first half of the program of Baroque music from the 17th and 18th centuries includes works by Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schütz, Michael Praetorius, Hermann Schein, Johann Staden, Heinrich Biber, Antonio Vivaldi and Samuel Capricornus.

The second half is all-Dietrich Buxtehude (below). You can hear a section of Buxtehude’s Trio Sonata in B-flat Major, Bux259, which is on the program, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The ensemble (seen at the top of this story) is composed of violinists Nathan Giglierano and Christine Hauptly Annin; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; cellist Charlie Rasmussen; and harpsichordist Daniel Sullivan.

Additional musicians include soprano Kristin Knutson, violinist Thalia Coombs, violist Micah Behr, and Phillip Serna and Eric Miller on violas da gamba.

You can get more information and follow the group on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/sonataaquattro/

One other performance of this program will take place. It is this coming Sunday, July 15, at 7 p.m. in St. Matthias Episcopal Church, 11 E. Main St., in Waukesha. For information, go to: https://stmatthiasepiscopalchurch.ticketleap.com/the-lubeck-connection


Classical music: Madison Youth Choir’s sixth annual Boychoir Festival is this Saturday. Plus, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet performs this Sunday at the Chazen Museum of Art

January 29, 2016
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ALERT: This month’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, to start at 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, features the Wisconsin Brass Quintet from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music

The program includes music by  Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.

Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-feb.-7-with-the-wisconsin-brass-quintet

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:

“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m. 

(Below is a photo of middle school singers, conducted by Margaret Jenks, from last year’s festival. You can also hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Boychoir Festival 2015 Elem School Choir

“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”

“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”

The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:

COMBINED CHOIRS

Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum

YOUTH CHOIR

Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion

Banaha — Congolese folk song

MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR

Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum

“Riflemen of Bennington  Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum

 HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR

Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano

Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler

THE MADISON BOYCHOIR

Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors

Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)

COMBINED CHOIRS

Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason

“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)

Boychoir Festival 2014 Middle School Choir

“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”

About 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.”

For further information, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: The Wisconsin Brass Quintet performs a FREE concert Thursday night on the UW-Madison campus.

October 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet, which is marking its 43rd anniversary this season, will give a FREE and PUBLIC performance this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.

The program includes: the Canzona per sonare No. 2 by the Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1554-1612); “In the Zone” by UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch (b. 1963); the Brass Quintet by Ira Taxin (b. 1950); and Rounds and Dances for Brass Quintet by Jan Bach (b. 1937)

Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet are (below in a photo by Michael R. Anderson, left to right): Mark Hetzler, trombone; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Curry, tuba; John Aley, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn. 

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Here is some background about the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

Founded in 1972, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is a faculty ensemble-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The quintet’s musical expertise has been acknowledged by Verne Reynolds, Jan Bach, Karel Husa, John Harbison, Daron Hagen and many other composers.

In addition to performing with the WBQ, the players have also been members of the American Brass Quintet, Empire Brass Quintet and Meridian Arts Ensemble. Quintet members John Stevens and Daniel Grabois and former member Douglas Hill have also composed many works for the group.

With extensive performances throughout the Midwest and nationally, including appearances at New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall, the quintet’s educational programs and master classes have been presented in such prestigious settings as The Juilliard School and the Yale School of Music.

The quintet performs annual live radio broadcast concerts on Wisconsin Public Radio. Its three CD recordings, on the Summit, Mark and Crystal labels, feature music by John Stevens, Douglas Hill, Verne Reynolds, Daron Hagen, John Harbison and Enrique Crespo.

An earlier LP recording features the only recording of Jan Bach’s “Rounds and Dances” and Hilmar Luckhardt’s “Brass Quintet.” Each of these works was composed for the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, in keeping with the WBQ’s commitment to commissioning and performing new music of the 20th and 21st centuries. (You can hear the Wisconsin Brass Quintet perform a commissioned work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Barry Kilpatrick writes for the American Record Guide: “I’ve reviewed over 250 brass recordings in the past five years, and this is one of the very best. The WBQ is a remarkable ensemble that plays with more reckless abandon, warmth, stylistic variety and interpretive interest than almost any quintet in memory.”


Classical music: A vocal concert this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore the world of 17th century Venice. Plus, the Wisconsin Gazette compares the Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” this weekend with “The Marriage of Figaro” in Milwaukee in May.

April 25, 2013
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ALERT: In the latest issue of Wisconsin Gazette, Madison arts writer Mike Muckian, with some help from The Ear, has written a contrast-and-compare story about two of Mozart’s finest operas:  “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” The first is being staged this weekend in Madison by the Madison Opera, and the second in May in Milwaukee by the Florentine Opera. Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera, discusses her production of “Don Giovanni” — which she calls her favorite opera. (Below is a rehearsal photo by James Gill from a rehearsal of Madison Opera’s “Don Giovanni.”) Performances are this weekend in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Here are links, first to the story and then to the Madison Opera’s website with information about the opera, the production and tickets:

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/dueling-mozartsbreaktwo-operas-show-contrasting-sides-of-the-master.html

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/don_giovanni/

madison opera don giovanni 1 James Gill

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today’s posting is by guest blogger Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

Few young musicians in Madison, or anywhere for that matter, are as talented or as diverse in their interests as Jerry Hui. He directs and sings in an early music vocal group Eliza’s Toyes and also sings with the Madison Bach Musicians. He is a founding member and director of New MUSE (New Music Everywhere), a University of Wisconsin-Madison student group that performs and promotes new music and stages flash mobs. And he is a composer who wrote and produced an Internet opera, “Wired For Love,” as his doctoral thesis at the UW School of Music. He also incorporates the more modern aesthetic of using art to promote social progress.

For more information about Jerry Hui, visit: http://jerryhui.com

Jerry recently offered to write a preview of the concert by Eliza’s Toyes this weekend – an offer too good to refuse. Here is it, complete with links to YouTube videos so you can sample much of the repertoire:

By Jerry Hui

This weekend, the Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be presenting a new and ambitious early music concert that will showcase secular music by various composers from Venice of the early 17th century, all tied together in dance and semi-improvisatory comedy theater, in a program titled “Casino Royale: A Venetian Music-Comedy.”

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Two performances will take place on the same weekend: On this Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in downtown Madison at James Madison Park, 302 East Gorham Street; tickets at the door are $15 for the public, $10 for students); and the on Sunday, April 28, at 4 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; free admission, with donations accepted accepted).

Gates of Heaven

Venice (below, in a map from the 17th century) was a thriving city-state. Its unique geographical location in the Mediterranean guaranteed its success from maritime trade, and the wealth that was bestowed upon countless merchants.

Map of 17th century Venice

As the capital city of the Republic of Venice — a state so prosperous that it was known as La Serenissima (“the most serene”) — Venice was well-known for its treasures and splendors. Naturally, this city of riches would attract people from all walks of life: merchants, bankers, aristocrats, artists, craftsmen, thieves and gamblers.

Gambling is an ancient activity as old as human history. Some civilizations, like the Romans, permitted social gambling during holidays and festivities, and otherwise forbade it. But who was to forbid what many desired? More than a friendly diversion, it could be a shortcut to luxury, a chance to change, an opportunity to enter the highest of society. (Below is a painting by Caravaggio portraying a dishonest card game.)

Caravaggio Cardsharps

Venice, being the city of all things sumptuous, was among the first in Europe to be swept by the popularity of playing cards and lottery. Dice games were played on the squares, in street corners, in stores, and in private homes. Noblemen, even when gambling was explicitly banned, ran games in their private spaces, known as the “ridotti” (from ridurre, meaning to reduce, close or make private).

In 1638, after decades of inability to rein in the betting, the Venetian Great Council finally chose a creative solution. Not only would they legalize gambling, they would also open the Ridotto: the first legal, state-sanctioned public gambling house ever in Europe.

Our program draws its inspiration from the opening of Ridotto. All musical pieces were written by composers working in Venice in the first few decades of the 17th century, including: Ippolito Baccusi, Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Salamone Rossi and Marco Uccellini.

We are performing two pieces from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, subtitled the “Madrigals of War and Love,” published in 1638:  “Non partir ritrosetta” (http://youtu.be/C31WBUOax3M) is a passionate trio, imploring a lover to stay. “Dolcissimo uscignolo” (http://youtu.be/njOBmL1DBCM), on the other hand, is an introspective lament of unrequited love.

Monteverdi 2

Giovanni Gabrieli (below), the composer and famous organist of San Marco, needs no introduction. However, our selection comes not from his more frequently performed sacred music. Instead, we chose his lesser-known secular madrigals. “Quand’io ego giovinetta” is a funny story about an old man’s misadventure in love. “O che felice giorno” (http://youtu.be/khXVHY7k3No?t=7m20s) depicts a celebratory wedding party, written with splendid double-choir counterpoint that is more common in his sacred music.

Giovanni Gabrieli

Many pieces in our program are by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish-Italian composer and violinist. (Below is a score by Rossi from Venice, the same city where Shakespeare set “The Merchant of Venice” with it theme of how Jews were treated in Renaissance Italy.) Whereas music history classes often bring up his unusual polyphonic setting of Song of Solomon in Hebrew, we will showcase many of his short madrigals written for 2-3 voices (such as “Volò ne tuoi begli’occhi” http://youtu.be/0MkUOVuWWvw). His instrumental pieces are playful and fiery; we’ll be playing many of his dances and sonatas, such as this “Gagliarda detta la Turca” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrkWHxpvibw&feature=share&list=PL9CECBC6113A4F7F9), or “Sonata settima sopra ‘Aria di un Baletto” (http://youtu.be/3jpNlwJTb7M).

salomone rossi score

In addition, we are venturing into the uncharted area of comic theater: all the music is tied together in a skit, semi-improvised in the Italian street-performance tradition of commedia dell’arte (below).

commedia dell'arte cast

In this style, drama is driven by stock characters in masks: Pantalone the miser; Il Dottore the know-it-all; Harlequin the deviant servant; the young lovers and so on. Our scene takes place in one of the ridotti of Venice. Come to our concerts, and join them in their wild and funny adventures through music, comedy, and dance!

Eliza’s Toyes (below) is a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists focusing on sharing the joy of early music in unusual and creative programs.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 2

Started as an ad-hoc group during Madison Early Music Festival (http://madisonearlymusic.org), Toyes has recently performed at Wisconsin Public Radio’s  “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series, and is now in its fifth season as a regular performance ensemble.

The musicians include: Deb Heilert (soprano); Chelsie Propst (soprano; as “Isabella” in this production); Sandy Erickson (alto, recorder); Peter Gruett (alto/tenor; as “Il Dottore”); Jerry Hui (director, tenor/bass, recorder; as “Ottavio”); Mark Werner (bass; as “Pantalone”); Melanie Kathan (recorder; as “Harlequin”); Doug Towne (lute/theorbo); and Eric Miller (viol).

For more information, visit: http://toyes.info


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