The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.

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Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.

Bach1

But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-easter

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/ten-classical-music-pieces-for-easter.html

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards will begin paying singers in its summer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Plus a FREE performance of a rarely heard work by Couperin is on Good Friday at noon.

March 23, 2016
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ALERT: UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe has sent in the following note: “There is a great, free “concert” or performance on this Friday at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, from noon to 3 p.m. Singers Chelsie Propst and Christina Kay with organist Bruce Bengtson will be performing François Couperin’s “Leçons de ténèbres” or “Lessons in Darkness.” This work is rarely heard in performance at all, much less in this complete form. It is a fabulous piece and a great way to spend a Good Friday afternoon before Easter with its contemplative mood and its beautiful solos and duets. There will also be appropriate readings and some other music as part of the service. It is definitely worth hearing.” 

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is some good news for amateurs and semi-professionals who participate in community music-making and community theater.

For the first time in its 53-year history, the Madison Savoyards, Ltd. will pay its singers. (Below is a photo of the Three Little Maids from last summer’s production of “The Mikado.”)

Madison Savoyards The Mikado 2015

“It is an exciting next step for the organization, and will help us attract the best possible talent,” says newly installed Savoyards board president Shane Magargal. “For over 50 years, the Savoyards has kept these comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan alive in Madison. This move will help us continue to remain a vibrant part of the local theatrical community for years to come.” (Below, are photos of W.S. Gilbert on the left and Arthur Sullivan on the right.)

Gilbert and Sullivan

Auditions for the Savoyards’ summer production, The Gondoliers, will be held at Edgewood College on Monday, April 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Room Regina R5), and on Saturday, April 9 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Mazzuchelli Hall, Room 208).

To schedule a time, send your request via email to audition@madisonsavoyards.org

Information about what to prepare can be found at www.madisonsavoyards.org on the “Auditions” page.

The Gondoliers will run at Music Hall, in the UW-Madison campus at the base of Bascom Hill, on July 29, July 30, August 5 and August 6 at 7:30 p.m.; and July 31 and August 7 at 3 p.m.

There will be pre-performance dinners both Fridays at the University Club.

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas to Madison audiences since 1963, and is pleased to offer The Gondoliers for the fourth time in its production history. (At bottom is YouTube video with a brief excerpt from “The Gondoliers.”)


Classical music: Voces Aestatis will perform its second annual concert of 16th-century choral music this coming Friday night.

August 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the choral group Voces Aestatis (below) – which performs early and pre-Baroque music – send word:

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VO-ches Eh-STA-tees) – or Summer Voices — is a professional choir of 16 voices that specializes in choral literature from the Renaissance and earlier.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The choir will present its second annual concert in Madison on this coming Friday night, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Tickets are $15 at the door.

Director Ben Luedcke (above, far left in front row, and below) has prepared a concert that will feature both sacred and secular works from the 16th century.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) is an intimate and acoustically ideal performance space for this ensemble — which is a highly select group of Madison singers, hand-picked for their vibrant voices, blended tone and experience with early music, particularly the a cappella repertoire of the 16th century.

One of the few professional choirs in Madison, this group of paid singers only rehearses a handful of times, performing once per year.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The first half of the concert will begin and end with double-choir pieces by Jean Mouton, and the master of the polychoral sub-genre, Giovanni Gabrieli. Music by William Byrd (below) and Jean l’Heritier celebrate the glory of God.

William Byrd

Also included are works by Giuseppe Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso (below), with texts taken from the Song of Songs. Though sanctioned in the Old Testament as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, these biblical passages are infamous for their explicit erotic qualities and have been favorites of choral composers for centuries.

Music of Carlo Gesualdo and Antonio Lotti, with dramatic texts taken from the Tenebrae service of Good Friday round out the first half of the concert.

Orlando di Lasso

The second half features both English and Italian madrigals by Orlando Gibbons, John Bennet, Jacques Arcadelt, and Claudio Monteverdi (below). These highly sensual texts deal with lust as well as death, even questioning the meaning of our short lives.

Monteverdi 2

Video and audio recordings from last year’s concert are available on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogmeA8EYrW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQQ-cDhyFao

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzm2TmSEFjw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuRZ5b3NR6c

Voces Aestatis 2015 poster

 


Classical music: Easter is a great time to hear new versions of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as the old favorites. Listen to some Bach, Mahler and Osvaldo Golijov to mark the religious holiday. Plus, on Monday night, the Gustavus Adolphus College Orchestra performs Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Middleton.

March 31, 2013
4 Comments

ALERTS: Tomorrow, on Monday, April 1,at 8:30 p.m. and also on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in short concerts in Morphy Hall, the works of student composers at the UW-Madison will be performed. The concert is free and open to the public.  Also, on Monday night at 7 p.m., the student orchestra (below) from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., will perform at St. Luke’s (NOT Mark’s as I mistakenly wrote at first) Lutheran Church in Middleton. The group, which has toured four continents and played on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” will perform the Overture to Mozart‘s opera “Cosi Fan Tutte,” the first movement of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” for violin and viola; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Admission is a free-will offering.

Gustavus Adolphus symphony

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Sunday, March 31, is Easter, the day that marks the resurrection of Jesus from death after his Crucifixion on Good Friday. (Below is a 1635 depiction of the Crucifixion by Rembrandt)

passion

As always, it is a great time to acknowledge and listen to the great music that has been written with the highest Christian holiday as inspiration.

That can mean of course Johann Sebastian Bach and his Cantatas and Passions (below is the Passion Chorale from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”) as well as the B Minor Mass.

Appropriate music for Easter can also mean other composers from other periods from Mozart and Haydn in the Classical era to Liszt and Dvorak, Wagner and Mahler (below in a YouTube video is the final movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”), in the Romantic era to an early modernist like Francis Poulenc. And of course there is much more in all eras, especially the pre-Baroque.

Or course most, if not all, the religiously themed works were done by composers who were Christian or who converted to Christianity.

But when it comes to more contemporary works, especially by non-Christian composers, one can get stuck or baffled.

So some recent postings on National Public Radio (NPR) about the Jewish Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov (below) and his “Passion According to St. Mark”  (at bottom) is all the more timely and informative.

Osvaldo Golijov

Here is an interview NPR did with the celebrated and popular contemporary composer:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/03/17/173179261/how-does-a-jewish-artist-tell-the-ultimate-christian-story

And here is a link to 5 excerpts from other memorable Passion music that NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence” featured on Good Friday:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/03/27/175496458/the-good-friday-5-musical-passion-stories-you-must-hear

And finally here is a link a short interview with Golijov about the work plus a complete performance of Golijov’s work that was performed in Carnegie Hall and can be heard by streaming through the famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:

http://www.npr.org/event/music/173635212/carnegie-hall-live-golijovs-st-mark-passion

Happening listening.

I wish a Happy and Joyous Easter to all of you who celebrate it.

What is your preferred classical music to listen to on this important religious holiday?


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