The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Festival will “harvest” gardens of music from next Saturday through Sept. 2

August 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer season for classical music in Madison has gotten busier and busier. But the summer still ends on the same high note — the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that is co-directed by John Harbison and Rose Mary Harbison.

Here is the announcement about this year’s festival, the 29th, that begins this coming weekend:

“The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “Harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

“Both garden and festival share much in common:  risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece —whether a piece of ground or a piece of music — is capable of such nourishment, abundance and variety.

“In the musicians’ garden, with its unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables — but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drive us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below). “Each planting retains certain elements and adjusts others with the hope of increased productivity. But so many of the adjustments made in hope of improvement do not work, but create new problems, require new approaches.  What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Here are this year’s Concert Programs. Please note something new this year: All weekend concerts start at 4 p.m.

Program I: ROOTS – Music of Bach and Primosch. On Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4 p.m.

“Continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) in cantatas and instrumental works, and its reflection in the music of James Primosch (below bottom), one of the few composers in our time able to grasp both the possibilities and responsibilities available in sacred music in a tradition inherited from Bach.”

Program II: NEW GROWTH – The Kepler Quartet (below, with composer Ben Johnston, and playing Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7 in the YouTube video at the bottom) on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“A recital of beautifully alluring micro-tonal music “in between the notes.” The attractive and intelligible musical surface, and our experience hearing it, belies the at-times complex compositional methods.

“We are impressed by the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The recital will be augmented with a demonstration and discussion by the Keplers.

Works are by Ben Johnston, Stefano Scodanibbio (below top), Henry Cowell (below middle) and Harry Partch (below bottom).”

Program III: CORNUCOPIA – Saturday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m.

“Schumann’s beloved and timeless song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love) with tenor Frank Kelley (below) and his impassioned, enigmatic and exuberant Piano Trio in D minor anchor this program.

“The program also includes the Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Piano Sonata in E Major by Franz Joseph Haydn sonatas and the world premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, “In Early Evening,” to poems by Louise Gluck.”

The ARTISTS are Mark Bridges, cello; Laura Burns, violin; Ryne Cherry, baritone; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, portative organ and piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Frank Kelley, tenor; The Kepler Quartet; Karl Lavine, cello; Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; James Primosch, piano; Brek Renzelman, viola; Eric Segnitz, violin;  Janice Weber, piano; and Sarah Yanovitch, soprano.

Performances take place in the Festival Barn (below top and bottom), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). 

The charming and rustic venue — indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts — is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended, and casual dress is suggested. Ample parking is available.

Tickets are $12-$32, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-festival-2018-harvest-tickets-47217166817

For more information about the performers and specific works on programs, call (608) 241-2525 or go to www.tokencreekfestival.org

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Token Creek Festival has been called “ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields.” (Photo below is by Jess Anderson.)

“Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming; a deep engagement with the audience; and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a  comfortable refurbished barn.”


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Classical music: Two performances of the annual Winter Choral Concert, to benefit the homeless, are this Sunday afternoon at 2 and 4. Other UW groups also perform during a busy end-of-semester week

November 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

As always happens towards the end of a semester, the tempo of the performances at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music picks up and accelerates.

One highlight this week is two performances of a traditional choral concert.

Under conductor and UW choral program director Beverly Taylor (below), six of seven UW-Madison choirs — Chorale, Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, University Chorus, Women’s Chorus, Masters Singers – will perform their annual winter concert twice this Sunday afternoon.

The two performances, at 2 and 4 p.m., will be at Luther Memorial Church, located at 1021 University Avenue.

Consider arriving early since these concerts are often very well attended.

Choirs will perform choral works as individual ensembles and jointly.

Holiday carols are part of the program and concert-goers are invited to sing along.

Sorry, but no composers or titles of works have been provided.

Professor John Chappell Stowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will perform organ music for the season.

A free-will offering is accepted at the end of the program with proceeds after expenses donated to “The Road Home,” an organization that provides housing and food to homeless families.

THURSDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, guest artists flutist Patricia Surman (below) and pianist Michel Keller will give a FREE recital. There is no word on the program, but if you want to know more background about the two musicians, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-recital-patricia-surman-flute/

FRIDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW bassoonist Marc Vallon (below top, in a photo by James Gill) will perform a FREE program called “Breaking New Ground” that features the music of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Anton Webern and Yannis Xenakis among others. UW pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will also play the last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

For the complete program, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/breaking-ground-with-marc-vallon-and-friends/

 

SATURDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings (below in a photo by Jeff Miller of the UW-Madison), which is made up of students from all fields and not just music, will perform a FREE concert under conductor Matt Chan. No word on composers or works on the program.

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Wingra Wind Quartet will perform on “Sunday Live at the Chazen.” Admission is free.

The program includes: “Piano Piece” by Richard Strauss and arranged by Marc Vall0n; Wind Quintet by Theodor Blumer; “Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for Woodwind Quartet” by Elliott Carter; “Opus Number Zoo” by Luciano Berio.

Members (below, from left, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) are: Marc Vallon, bassoon; Timothy Hagen, flute;  Alicia Lee, clarinet; Aaron Hill, oboe; and Joanna Schulz, horn.

You can digitally stream the concert live by going to this website: https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-the-wingra-wind-quintet/

For more background about the Wingra Wood Quintet, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

At 1 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band (below top), under conductor Scott Teeple, will perform a FREE concert.The program features UW trombonist Mark Hetzler (below bottom). The program includes “Psalm for Band” by Vincent Persichetti (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)  “Silver Lining” by Anne McAninch, a UW doctoral student in composition; and “Falling” by Mark Hetzler.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform a FREE concert. No word on the program.

MONDAY

At 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW Early Music Ensemble, under director Jeanne Swack will mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (below) by performing music of Telemann, Johann Joachim Quantz, Barbara Strozzi and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. No word on a specific program. For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/early-music-ensemble-3/


Classical music: Despite overly traditional staging, the Madison Opera’s “Carmen” beguiled and bewitched through the outstanding singing

November 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy attended Sunday’s sold-out performance of “Carmen” by the Madison Opera and filed the following review, with photos by James Gill:

By Larry Wells

When I learned that Madison Opera was going to produce Bizet‘s “Carmen,” I was not surprised. It is annually one of the most frequently performed operas internationally, and it is a surefire vehicle for filling seats. It is safe.

On the other hand, once one watches repeated performances of an old favorite, the appeal can diminish. One advantage of an opera is that novel approaches to the production can prevent a warhorse from becoming stale.

I would love to say that the approach both musically and dramatically to this production of “Carmen” broke new ground, but it did not. In fact, the production was as traditional as could be. (Below is the main set, rented from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

I attended a performance of “Carmen” in Tucson a couple of years ago, and the conductor Keitaro Harada breathed new life into the familiar music through interesting tempi and finely nuanced dynamics.

Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo  by Prasad) conducted the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a perfectly fine and occasionally uplifting manner, but there was little new to learn from his approach. The purely instrumental entr’actes shimmered, but during the rest of the opera the singing was at the forefront.

Maestro Harada (below), whom Madison should be actively courting, is currently conducting “Carmen” in Sofia, and the accompanying publicity clip in the YouTube video at the bottom (bear with the Bulgarian commentary) shows that the production is unconventional in its approach although it clearly is still “Carmen.” I would have enjoyed something other than the ultra-traditional staging and sets experienced here in Madison.

At times the production was so hackneyed and hokey that I chuckled to myself – ersatz flamenco dancing, the fluttering of fans, all of the cigarette factory girls with cigarettes dangling from their lips, unconvincing fight scenes, annoying children running across the stage, dreary costumes that hardly reminded me of Seville. And I could go on.

Yet “Carmen” has a way of drawing one in despite oneself. The music is marvelous, and the singing was uniformly excellent.

The four principals were luminous both in their solo pieces and ensembles. Cecelia Violetta López as Micaëla (below right) was lustrous in her two arias as well as in her duet with Sean Panikkar’s Don José (below left).

Panikkar started the performance off with little flair, but from the time he became besotted with Carmen toward the end of the first act he was on fire. He then maintained a high degree of passion and zest in his vocal performance.

Corey Crider (below right) was a wonderful Escamillo, singing his toréador role with great élan despite his unfortunate costumes.

And Aleks Romano (below) as Carmen made the most of her complex character. Her singing was luscious, and her acting – particularly her use of her expressive eyes – was terrific.

Likewise, the lesser roles – Thomas Forde as Zuniga, Benjamin Liupaogo as Remendado, Erik Earl Larson as Dancaïre, a radiant Anna Polum as Fransquita, and Megan Le Romero as Mercédès – were equally well sung. The ensemble work in the quintet at the end of Act II and in the card scene was outstanding.

The chorus (below) sounded terrific throughout, although the women’s costumes and the stage direction made the choristers appear ludicrous as times.

When all is said and done, “Carmen” still beguiled me by drawing me into its characters’ complex psychologies and motivations. Likewise, its music still bewitched me in much the same way as Carmen inexplicably bewitched hapless Don José (below).

But I seem to always wish for more – more compelling productions, more daring music making, more risk-taking.

I do look forward to this coming spring’s production of “Florencia en el Amazonas.” The recording is captivating, and the opera’s performances have pleased a wide variety of audiences by all accounts. And it is something new. Hallelujah!

Did you go to “Carmen”? 

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


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