The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You be the critic. Was there a specific piece or an entire concert of holiday music that you especially liked – or disliked — this year?

December 26, 2018
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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

Well, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and Christmas are over and we’ve just about made it through another holiday time, with Kwanzaa and New Year’s still to come.

Holiday music, especially choral music, is undeniably popular during holiday season.

Year after year, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas program (below is a photo by Peter Rodgers)  – which uses local and ethnically diverse talent and well as imported guest vocal artists — usually comes close to selling out three performances in Overture Hall.

And year after year for a decade, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Festival Choir plus guest soloists (below) sell out their one performance of “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton.

Plus, there are lots of other holiday events – including the Madison Bach Musicians with Baroque chamber music favorites and the Madison Choral Project with spoken word narration and new music as well as programs of traditional carols and hymns– that drew good crowds or even full houses.

There are so many holiday music events, in fact, that it can often be hard to choose.

So here is what The Ear is asking: You be the critic.

Please tell us if there was a particular piece of music you especially enjoyed – say, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” or violin concertos by Arcangelo Corelli – music you really liked or disliked?

For next year, what do you recommend that people should keep an eye and ear out for, including programs on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television as well as on other TV and radio stations?

Similarly, was there a specific program or event – an entire program or concert – that surprised you for better or worse?

Given the limited time that most people have during the holidays, what holiday concerts should people plan on attending or avoid next year?

Often the public trusts other audience members more than they trust professional critics.

So here is a chance for you to be a critic and to direct the public’s attention as well as to thank certain performers and groups for what you see as the Best Holiday Music of 2018.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah” marks 10 years with another sold-out performance and two new soloists this Friday night. Then starting Saturday, it’s on to “The Nutcracker”

December 6, 2018
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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

There is no more iconic piece of classical music for the holiday season than the oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel. (You can hear the famous “Hallelujah” Chorus in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For 10 years, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the WCO Chorus, the Festival Choir and four guest soloists (all forces from a previous performance are in the photo below) have been bringing the masterwork to Madison. And it usually plays to a full house.

This year’s performance once again takes place at 7 p.m. this Friday night, Dec. 7, at the Blackhawk Church, 8629 Brader Way in Middleton. And once again, all 800 seats are sold out.

For more information, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah-1/

“It is very successful and has become a real tradition,” says WCO’s Chief Operating Officer Sue Ellen McGuire. “We have people and families who come year after year.”

But that does not mean each year’s performance, both acclaimed by critics and popular with the public, is a repetition of the previous year’s.

True, some things carry over, such as the longtime soprano soloist Sarah Lawrence and bass soloist Peter Van de Graaff (below), who is also the overnight resonant voice of classical music on Wisconsin Public Radio via The Beethoven Satellite Network.

“It is such a great masterpiece that I feel I can play around with it somewhat and make each year’s performance distinctive and different,” says WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below). Some years, he says, he cuts out or adds certain choruses; or changes the intermission break; or alters the makeup of the instruments or choruses; or uses different soloists, or continues to adapt to and adopt early music practices.

Take this year. For the first time, the performance will include two singers who competed in the annual Handel Aria Competition held in Madison: mezzo-soprano Johanna Bronk (a finalist in 2017), and tenor Gene Stenger (bottom left, the second prize winner and audience favorite in 2017).

“It’s a no-brainer and a natural fit to use the world-class talent that takes part in a local event,” says Sewell, who is also the music director of the symphony orchestra in San Luis Obispo in California.

And for those of you who wonder what the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra does after Concerts on the Square end in the summer and before its Masterworks series starts in January, the answer is marking the holidays.

In addition to “Messiah,” the WCO will accompany the Madison Ballet’s performances of Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” that take place between Dec. 8 and Dec. 26 in the Overture Center. For details and tickets, go to: https://www.madisonballet.org/nutcracker/


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir perform Handel’s “Messiah” this Friday night

December 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was originally intended to be performed at Easter. But is there any piece of holiday music more reliable or more central to the Christmas repertoire than “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below bottom)?

It seems neither the performers nor the public ever tires of it. (You can hear the iconic “Hallelujah Chorus” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. “Messiah” returns for its eighth year at Blackhawk Church (below) past Madison’s far west side and located in Middleton.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), choirs and soloists will all perform under WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below).

Returning will be last year’s vocal quartet with the combined WCO Chorus and Festival Choir of Madison (below) under directors Scott Foss and Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov.

Tickets are $27. The event usually sells out.

For more information about how to obtain tickets as well as photos and extensive background about the soloists, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah/


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs its usually sold-out Christmas concerts this weekend

November 28, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and music director John DeMain will kick off the holiday season with the much-loved tradition — A Madison Symphony Christmas — with three concerts this coming weekend in Overture Hall.

mso-christmas-concert-stage

The holidays will be celebrated with a variety of music from the Hallelujah Chorus by George Frideric Handel (at the bottom in a YouTube video) to exciting Gospel selections. Highlights will also include Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, selections from Magnificat by John Rutter and holiday classics including Baby, It’s Cold Outside and The First Noel.

Performing with the MSO will be soprano Sylvia McNair (below), star of Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera, along with the Madison Symphony Chorus, directed by Beverly Taylor.

sylvia-mcnair-2016

In addition, Madison Youth Choirs (below top), directed by Michael Ross and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below bottom, in a photo by Bob Rashid), directed by Tamera and Leotha Stanley, will be featured during the program.

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

Mt Zion gospel Bob Rashid

No Christmas concert would be complete without a sing-along. To conclude the concert, audience members will be invited to join with the MSO and guest artists to sing beloved holiday carols.

MSO John DeMain in Santa Hat

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive 45 minutes before the concert begins to join the Madison Symphony Chorus (below) as they lead a selection of Christmas carols in the festively lit lobby at Overture Hall.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

NOTE: These concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged. 

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/christmas, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Club 201, MSO’s organization for young professionals, has continued to fulfill its mission for the past 11 years as the premiere organization promoting classical music and networking opportunities to the young professionals’ community in Madison. Tickets are $35 each and include world-class seating in Overture Hall, an exclusive after-party to be held at Fresco, one drink ticket, and a cash bar. Conductor John DeMain, as well as musicians from the symphony, may also be in attendance to mingle with Madison’s young professionals during the after-party.

The deadline to purchase tickets is Thurs., Dec. 1, pending availability. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other events throughout the 2016-17 season by visiting the Club 201 page on the MSO’s website at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org

Major funding for the December concerts is provided by: American Printing, Nedrebo’s Formalwear, BMO Wealth Management, Hooper Foundation/General Heating & Air Conditioning, Maurice and Arlene Reese Family Foundation, National Guardian Life Insurance Company, and An Anonymous Friend. Additional funding is provided by: Colony Brands, Inc., J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., Hans and Mary Lang Sollinger, and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Here are the Top 10 things to know about Handel’s “Messiah.” The Madison Bach Musicians will perform it with period instruments this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

April 4, 2016
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ALERT:  Tomorrow on Tuesday, April 5, there will be two on-air events about the Madison Bach Musicians’ performances of Handel’s “Messiah”: On Wisconsin Public Radio’s Midday program on WERN (88.7 FM) noon-12:30 p.m., MBM director Trevor Stephenson will be Norman Gilliland’s guest. They’ll play and discuss selections from “Messiah.” Then MBM will perform two arias from “Messiah” live on the CBS affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 “Live at 4” program 4-5 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform the well-known oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below). The performances feature period instruments and historically authentic performances practices.

handel big 3

Here are the details:

FRIDAY: 6:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 7:30 p.m. concert

SUNDAY: 2:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 3:30 p.m. concert

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Avenue, Madison, near Camp Randall Stadium.

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

The forces and period instruments MBM has assembled for this event are similar in many respects to those used by Handel in the world premiere of “Messiah” in Dublin in April of 1742.

For more information, including a complete list of performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/april-8-10-2016/

The concerts feature an all-baroque orchestra ─ with gut strings, baroque oboes, natural trumpets and calf-skin timpani ─ plus eight internationally-acclaimed soloists, and the Madison Boychoir (part of Madison Youth Choirs), which will collaborate in the “Hallelujah” Chorus and Amen, under the direction of early-music specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), professor of bassoon at the University of Wisocnsin-Maidson School of Music.

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

Pre-concert lectures at both events will be given by MBM founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who is as entertaining as he is enlightening.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Advance-sale discount tickets are: $33 general, $28 students and seniors (65+). They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West)

You can also buy advance sale tickets online at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $35 general, $30 students and seniors (65+), Student Rush: $10 on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID required) Visit or call www.madisonbachmusicians.org at 608 238-6092.

To prepare you to appreciate the oratorio, here is Trevor Stephenson’s Top 10 list of things – a la David Letterman — that you should know about it:

TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HANDEL’S ‘MESSIAH

#10. Its title is “Messiah” not “The Messiah”

#9. Handel, at 56 years of age, wrote Messiah in just 24 days in the late summer of 1741.

#8.  Some of the pieces ─ like “For unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” ─ Handel borrowed or adapted from pieces he had composed earlier, usually by laying the new text over the existing musical material. This technique, known as “parody,” was employed by most composers as a way of recycling good musical material.

#7. The original words to the tune we know as “For unto us a child is born” were  (Italian) “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, cieco Amor, crudel Beltà” — meaning roughly “No, I won’t trust you, blind Love, cruel Beauty” (Hear the YouTube video at bottom.)

#6. Messiah premiered in 1742 in Dublin, Ireland two weeks after Easter (March 25 that year) on April 13. By uncanny dumb luck, this 2016 period-performance of Messiah by MBM will also take place two weeks after Easter (March 27) on April 8 and 10.

#5. Handel divided this oratorio into three parts. Part I: a world in need of salvation; the promise that salvation is on the way; arrival of the savior in the world; Part II: Christ’s passion and crucifixion, descent to hell and resurrection, beginnings of the church, triumph of truth over death (Hallelujah); Part III: Faith and the world to come; the awakening of all souls (The Trumpet Shall Sound), paean to the Lamb of God; closing, majestic meditation on Amen.

MBM Messiah poster

#4.  In a baroque orchestra the string instruments use gut strings—made from dried and carefully processed sheep intestine. Gut strings assist in the performance of baroque music in two important ways: 1) because gut as a material is very supple, the tone it produces is naturally “warm” in an acoustic/aesthetic sense; therefore, vibrato is not necessary in order to produce a pleasing sound and the player’s attention can focus more on pitch. 2) Gut strings, because they are very textured, produce a natural friction with the hair of the baroque bow which ensures that the instant the player’s bow hand moves the pitch is in the air. This optimizes the sense of directness in performance.

#3. The harpsichord and organ were used as continuo instruments in baroque music. MBM will be using both instruments in the upcoming Messiah performances. 18th-century keyboard tunings were generally of the un-equal/circulating variety known as Well Temperaments, as in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” of Johann Sebastian Bach. In these tunings, every tonality has a unique acoustic color, ranging from the transparently clear and harmonious keys (C major, A minor and other keys near the top of the circle of fifth, unencumbered by accidentals), then shading all the way down to the lugubriously opaque and gnarled keys in the basement of the circle of fifths, like G-flat major and E-flat minor. Notice in Messiah the contrast between the acoustical openness of the initial Sinfonia in E minor (one sharp) and the rigid density of the passion-of-Christ choruses near the beginning of Part II, “Surely, He hath borne our griefs” and “And with His stripes we are healed” both in F minor (four flats). 18th-century temperament will bring such differences into keen relief.

#2. Messiah was very successful and greatly admired in Dublin at its premiere. When Handel led performances of it in London several months later, the reception was much cooler. Nevertheless, from there on the popularity of Messiah grew steadily and it was performed often in Handel’s lifetime under his direction. Though much of Handel’s music was widely published in his lifetime, Messiah was not published until a few years after Handel’s death in 1759.

#1.  In Messiah, the balance between the sense of play and sense of purpose is unrivalled (though a different animal in many ways, a blood brother of Messiah in the movie domain might be The Wizard of Oz). Indeed, it is almost as if in Handel’s world, these two elements — play and purpose — do not oppose, but rather fuel each other. Handel’s descendent in this regard is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose also could consistently fuse melodic joy with harmonic and theatrical pacing, pushing scene after scene ever-higher until it seems the roof opens to the realms of limitless joy.


Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus to hold auditions for Handel’s “Messiah” next Wednesday, Oct. 1. Rehearsals start Oct. 29 for performances on December 11, 12 and 13.

September 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The following announcement comes from our friends at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus announces auditions for its 2014 performance of George Frideric Handel’s Baroque oratorio “Messiah.” (You can hear the most famous chorus — the Hallelujah Chorus —  at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)

This year, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, will perform “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below top), the Stoughton Opera House (below middle) and the Al Ringling Theater (below bottom) in Baraboo.

BlackhawkMessiah

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Al Ringing Theatre

Come be a part of the six-year tradition of “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.

Auditions will be held next Wednesday, October 1. Rehearsals begin October 29. If you are interested, contact wcoauditions@gmail.com with your name, phone number and email address to set up an audition time. You can also call (608) 257-0638.

Note:  Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.  Performances are December 11, 12 and 13.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Rural Musicians Forum in Spring Green is planning two performances of a “Sing-Out Messiah,” and is recruiting singers as well as listeners. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will give two full professional performances of “Messiah.”

November 18, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Store windows aren’t the only sign that the holidays are fast approaching, especially with Thanksgiving falling so late this year.

Performances, partial or complete, of the Baroque masterpiece oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below) are another sure sign. It brings joy, as you can see and hear  in the food court flash mob video of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from YouTube at the bottom, which has over 42 MILLION hits.

handel big 2

If you want to hear a complete concert performance, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) and soloists, all under the baton of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) – the WCO itself used to do annual Sing-Out Messiahs at holiday time — is offering one in Middleton on Dec. 13 and another in Stoughton, at the gloriously restored Stoughton Opera House (below), on Dec. 14.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Here are links for details:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiah/

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiahinstoughton/th

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

Andrew Sewell BW

But if you want to sing “Messiah” yourself, you might consider attending a rural one of two Sing-Out Messiahs to be given by the Rural Musicians Forum in Dodgeville on Dec. 6 and in Spring Green on Dec. 8.

In fact, you might consider becoming part of the community chorus.

Below are two posters that tell the story. You can enlarge them to zoom in on whatever information you want or need.

And here are details:

Handel’s Messiah is a world-wide event that awes singers and listeners with its thrilling emotional impact and an uplifting message.  This year the Rural Musicians Forum is sponsoring SING OUT MESSIAH – an opportunity for the community to join in singing beloved choruses of the MESSIAH with soloists, instrumentalists and a rehearsed choir.  The public concerts will be held on December 6 at the Dodgeville United Methodist Church and on December 8 at Spring Green’s St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

In preparation for the concerts, singers in the community are invited to join the community-based choir directed by the noted teacher and conductor Greg Dennis, to rehearse on three occasions  prior to the public events.  Rehearsals are scheduled for November 24, December 1, December 5.  There are no auditions, and the choir is open to singers in all parts and with any level of experience.  A full listing of the selections to be sung can be found on the RMF website. 

Rehearsals will be held at Christ Lutheran Church (below) in Spring Green. Singers should provide their own scores. A limited number of copies will be available for  purchase at Arcadia Books in Spring Green, and Cook’s Room in Dodgeville. All rehearsals will begin at 7 p.m.

christ Lutheran Church in Spring Green

For more information, contact Kent Mayfield, Artistic Director, ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com or check the RMF website www.ruralmusiciansforum.org.

You can visit the Rural Musicians Forum at: http://ruralmusiciansforum.org

Rural Messiah 2013 poster 2

Rural messiah 2013 poster 1


Classical music: Hallelujah for Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” So, what makes it great? Why and how does it work its magic? NPR answers those questions and more. Plus, you can listen to two versions — both Andre Rieu and a flash mob — of the great chorus.

December 24, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

HAPPY  CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!

It is just about impossible to imagine the holiday season without the “Hallelujah Chorus” by Handel (below), which has been a powerful and popular hit since it was first composed and performed.

handel big 2

This year will be no different.

The ‘Hallelujah Chorus” will be sung and listened to countless times in the coming day in private  homes, in houses of worship, in social institutions, even as a joyous food court flash mob proves (below), a video that has had over 40 million hits — so pass it on as a holiday gift!

But what is its hold on us and where does the hold come from?

NPR’s excellent classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” re-posts a “Performance Today” talk from 2008 in which Rob Kapilow answers those questions as part of an ongoing occasional series, “What Makes It Great?”

Now, some families observe the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve, and other open the presents on Christmas Day.

The Ear will do both for you.

So here is my Christmas Eve present – a close look at and listen to Georg Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” perhaps the most popular piece of classical music ever written for the holidays. (There will be another present to open on Christmas Day.)

Here it is:

http://www.npr.org/2008/12/23/98517850/the-pure-power-of-handels-hallelujah-chorus

What do you think makes the “Hallelujah Chorus” so great to sing and to listen to?

Happy singing! Happy listening (to the up tempo version below led by Andre Rieu that has had over 2 million hits)! And Merry Christmas!


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