The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Prize-winning harpsichordist Joseph Gascho will perform J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Scarlatti and Rameau this Saturday night

February 23, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Joseph Gascho will give the Fourth Annual Mark Rosa Harpsichord Recital at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday night, Feb. 24, in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Gascho (below), who won the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition in 2002, will perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Domenico Scarlatti and Jean-Philippe Rameau. (Except for the three-part “Ricercar” from J.S. Bach’s “The Musical Offering” — heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — no specific works have been mentioned.)

The featured instrument is the elegant 18th-century style French double-manual harpsichord made by Mark Rosa in Madison in 1979.

Admission is at the door: $20 for the genera public, $10 for seniors and students.

In 2014, Gascho joined the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance in 2014 as an assistant professor. Gascho enjoys a multi-faceted career as a solo and collaborative keyboardist, conductor, teacher and recording producer.

Featuring his own transcriptions of Bach, Handel, and Charpentier, his recent debut solo recording was praised in the American Record Guide for “bristling with sparking articulation, subtle but highly effective rubato, and other kinds of musical timing, and an enviable understanding of the various national styles of 17th and 18th century harpsichord music.”

As a student of Webb Wiggins and Arthur Haas, he earned masters and doctoral degrees in harpsichord from the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Maryland, where he also studied orchestral conducting with James Ross.

Recent highlights include performing with the National Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra, and conducting Mozart’s “Idomeneo” for the Maryland Opera Studio.  He has also conducted numerous operas from Monteverdi to Mozart for Opera Vivente.

At the Oberlin Conservatory’s Baroque Performance Institute, Gascho conducts the student orchestra, coaches chamber music, and teaches basso continuo. A strong proponent of technology in the arts, he has used computer-assisted techniques in opera productions, in a recent recording with the ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith and percussionist Glen Velez, and in his continuo classes.

Classical music Q&A: Handel’s keyboard music is rich, underperformed and underappreciated, says harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson, who performs an all-Handel solo recital this Sunday.

January 19, 2012

ALERT: The Ear has received the following message to pass on from cellist Andrea Kleesattel of Classical Revolution Madison. “Hello everyone! We are changing the time of our first Classical Revolution event of 2012 on this Sunday to 11:30-1 p.m.  at the Fair Trade Coffee House (below), 418 State St.  (We’ll play music by Vivaldi, Brahms, Debussy, Prokofiev and Piazzolla.) Originally we had planned on 11-12:30 p.m., but this semester we’re going to be starting a little later (because it’s Sunday morning).  Also, we are no longer playing at the Brink on February 21st. Be sure to check out our website for the latest on dates, times and locations.  Also, we are currently planning repertoire for our shows this semester. Let us know if there is a piece you’d like to play or hear — otherwise you will be left to our artistic discretion. That’s all for now.  As always be in touch if you’d like to play something — we love your involvement! Here is a link:

By Jacob Stockinger

Early music keyboardist Trevor Stephenson is devoting his next intimate house music concert (below), this Sunday afternoon at 3, to solo keyboard works of George Friderich Handel.

The concert is at the home of Trevor and Rose Stephenson at 5729 Forsythia Place, on Madison’s west side, off Old Middleton Road.

Tickets are $35 and light refreshments are served. Reservations are required, and the seating capacity is 40. Last I heard, only a few seats remained. For information about seating availability, contact or call (608) 238-6092.

Stephenson (below) – who is a virtuoso explainer as well as an accomplished performer – agreed to an email interview with The Ear about Handel:

What pieces by Handel will you play?

I’ll play the Passacaglia from the Suite No. 7 in G minor; the Suite in D minor; the Gavotte in G major; the Sonatina in B-flat major; a collection of small works called “Impertinence”; and the Suite in E major, which ends with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” Variations.”

How does the keyboard music by Handel (below) compare in quality and variety to his more famous works — the concerti grossi and chamber music, the operas and oratorios?

I think most people would agree that Handel’s home turf is the opera and oratorio genres. His music has an innately public sensibility and he is so comfortable addressing a large audience. In every note of his music he tells us, convincingly, that we are all in this together. I always think of him as something of music’s version of FDR.

This orator’s voice is present in the solo keyboard music as well, though Handel often tempers this with explorations of the keyboard’s penchant to soliloquize. Handel (below) was a great keyboard player and improviser—particularly on the organ, which of course is a grander and more public medium than the harpsichord. The keyboard suites provide us with a window onto how he might have sounded as a soloist.

How does Handel’s solo keyboard works compare to those of his contemporaries such as the suites and partitas, preludes and fugues, of J.S. Bach and the sonatas of Scarlatti?

Like Bach—and unlike Scarlatti—Handel’s music is a fusion of three main styles: Italian, for melodic richness and invention; German, for contrapuntal and harmonic structure; and French, for taste, ease, and grace.

Handel’s use of the three styles is of course different from Bach’s, but in short, Handel’s trademark is what can be called “jeweled melodies” (coming largely from the Italians)–-tunes that are so perfectly constructed and catchy that they can bounce around in your head for weeks on end.

Handel’s Suites, like Bach’s, often start with a Prelude, followed by an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande; while Bach is pretty consistent in writing Gigues for concluding movements, Handel will sometimes forego the gigue and end with a surprise, like the set of variations (known as “The Harmonious Blacksmith,” below) at the end of the E major suite.

How does Handel’s keyboard music differ is style, substance and technical difficulty from, say, Bach and Scarlatti? And why do you think haven’t they been performed as often?

Handel’s keyboard music doesn’t have as much technical audacity and display as Scarlatti’s, and not as much contrapuntal density as Bach’s, but it requires a unique set of skills. As a player, you need to have your Handel Hands ready.

Handel has a wonderful sense of chord spacing that feeds the dramatic progression of the piece—he knows when to be thick and when to be thin.

But I think beyond this he also requires of the player that they be very versed in how to play stylistically at the harpsichord: how to listen for the particular sonority of the instrument, how to roll chords (even when not indicated) either slowly or quickly, up or down, and how to lift and place the agogic accents so that the line and meter get their full expression.

Do you think Handel’s keyboard music deserves a rediscovery? What drew you to Handel and why did you choose to program an all-Handel solo keyboard program?

Handel is a wise and wonderful composer, and his genuine theatricality provides the listener with catharsis. Perhaps better than anybody else, he can “take the roof off.”

When Handel returned in mid-life to his boyhood home in Halle, Germany  — a kind of celebrity visit (a la Mark Twain goes back to Hannibal, Missouri) — J. S. Bach dropped everything and took a long carriage ride to Halle, only to find that Handel had just left. I think Bach wanted to meet a man who could write like that.

Music education news: The third annual Madison Boychoir Festival – with a FREE public concert – takes place this Saturday at Edgewood High School and Edgewood College. Plus, Madison Youth Choirs names Boris Frank as its new Executive Director.

January 12, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

More than by taking piano or string lessons, chances are that most children and young people are first exposed to the joy of making music, and of classical music, through singing. The human voice, after all, is the original instrument.

So it strikes The Ear as worthwhile for the public to know about a major event in music education that will take place this weekend in Madison. Kids today just don’t get enough good press about their achievements — unless maybe it is in sports.

The Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) and the Edgewood College Music Department will present their third annual Madison Boychoir Festival on Saturday, January 14.

The event is a day-long celebration of high-quality choral music for young singers. The gathering will culminate in a FREE AND PUBLIC festival concert (below, a photo of the 2011 concert) at 4:30 p.m., with over 300 boys in grades 2-12, at Edgewood High School‘s Wilke Gymnasium, 2219 Monroe St., on Madison near west side.

Here are a comment and a press release from Michael Ross, artistic director of Madison Youth Choirs, with more details:

“The Madison Youth Choirs and Edgewood College are excited to be helping create a strong culture of singing and music education, especially during this time of increasing budget cuts to school music programs. With the support of the incredibly dedicated music teachers from throughout the area we are working to build not only future musicians, but more importantly future music enthusiasts and audience members.”

Adds Ross:

“This is an amazing gathering of hundreds of young singers. “The festival welcomes singers from throughout Dane County and Southern Wisconsin. (Registration for this year is already closed.)

Singers are placed into one of three festival choirs, based on their age:

Choir 1: 2nd-5th graders, hosted by MYC’s Purcell Choir, conducted by Margaret Jenks.

“Choir 2: 6th-8th graders, hosted by MYC’s Britten and Holst Choirs, conducted by Randal Swiggum (below).

“Choir 3: 9th-12th graders, hosted by MYC’s Ragazzi Choir, conducted by Dr. Albert Pinsonneault and Michael Ross.

“Conductors (a workshop from 2011’s festival is below) will work with singers on vocal technique, teach music for the festival’s afternoon concert (no advance preparation for the festival is necessary for the participants), encourage singers to meet new people, and most importantly generate enthusiasm about choral music and excitement about the uniqueness of singing in a choir.

“Rehearsals will take place in classrooms throughout the Edgewood College campus and will be open for observation by music educators, voice teachers, parents and chaperones in attendance. The young singers have not prepared works in advance, so the complete program is not known yet.

The combined festival choirs (300+ boys, grades 2-12) will perform: “Shosholoza,” a traditional South African song, arranged by Albert Pinsonneault, and “Plato’s Take” by Randal Swiggum.

“Plato’s Take,” was written for the first Madison Boychoir Festival. Its text comes from Plato (it is sung in Ancient Greek) and the translation is “Of all the wild animals, the boy is the hardest to handle.”

Also, the high school men’s choir will likely perform the oldest known round (that we have written evidence of), “Sumer is icumen in,” from the 13th century.

“The Madison Boychoir Festival is generously supported by Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional support from Edgewood College.

“About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Madison Youth Choirs strives to create a community of young musicians dedicate to musical excellence through which we inspire enjoyment, enhance education, and nurture personal, musical, and social development, by the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature.

“To this end, we focus on the process and provide singers a rich rehearsal experience where thoughtful discussion and activities lead to larger connections and a music education that becomes a springboard for understanding the world.”

The Ear thinks this is a big leap, but a very laudable goal.

In related news, the Madison Youths Choirs has named Boris Frank (below) as its new executive director.

Says Michael Ross, the group’s artistic director: “We’re also excited about having Boris join us. I really feel we’re sort of a secret in Madison — although we have doubled in size over the last 10 years and will serve over 450 kids this year.

“I look forward to working with Boris to not only increase our public profile, but also diversify funding sources–all in service to being a part of building a strong music education for kids in the Madison area.”

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