The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs a varied holiday concert of all-classical music this Saturday night

December 15, 2016
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice to post:

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “O Wondrous Mystery” this coming Saturday night, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison.

Tickets are $15 (for students, $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (East, West and North locations).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Explore the magic and mystery of the holiday season with the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, whose program highlights the beloved Latin chant ”O magnum mysterium” in musical settings by Tomas Luís de Victoria and Francis Poulenc. (You can hear Poulenc’s setting, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Rounding out the performance are the remainder of Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets along with seasonal works spanning five centuries by William Byrd, Heinrich Schütz, Johannes Brahms, Herbert Howells and Bob Chilcott, plus the world premiere of “Methinks I See a Heavenly Host” by Peter Bloesch (below).

Peter Bloesch

The 50-voice choir will be joined by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below top) of Grace Episcopal Church, and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program annotator J. Michael Allsen (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who will accompany the Schütz selections on the sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Mark Brampton Smith

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms; a cappella masterworks from six centuries; and world premieres.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

Advertisements

Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.


Classical music: It’s Christmas Eve — a good time to revisit how the Wisconsin Chamber Choir imaginatively and successfully used many versions of the “Magnificat” to combine the holiday seasonal and the musically substantial  

December 24, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificat audience

The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.

Marys magnificat

The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.

Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).

That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.

Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)

Then we had settings of the Latin text.

First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.

Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin,  who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.

Andy Olson oboe

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.

This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).

Arvo Part

English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.

The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).

Peter Bloesch

stephen paulus

Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).

Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.

The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.

Mark Brampton Smith

It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.

For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:

http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an unusual holiday program of several settings of the “Magnificat” as well as two world premieres this Saturday night. Plus, today is the 245th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven.

December 16, 2015
Leave a Comment

ALERT: Today is the 245th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). You’re sure to hear a lot of Beethoven on the radio. And maybe you will play some Beethoven. Why not let The Ear and other readers know what is your favorite symphony, piano sonata, concerto and string quartet or other chamber music work? Leave your choice in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video, if that is possible.

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) is known delivering first-rate music in first-rate performance, often with some original twist or take or concept.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

This weekend of this holiday season is no different.

On this Saturday night, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an ambitious and unusual holiday concert called “Magnificat.”

The performance is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below), at 116 West Washington Avenue, where it joins Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

MBM Grace altar

Tickets are $15 (students $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports.

Featured performers include Andy Olson, oboe; Laura Burns, violin; Eric Miller, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ

BACKGROUND AND PROGRAM NOTES

Here is more information from the Wisconsin Chamber Choir:

“My soul magnifies the Lord…”

Marys magnificat

It is how Mary’s song of praise, from the Gospel of Luke, begins. And it is one of the oldest Christian hymns, known as the Magnificat. (The hymn’s title comes from first word of the Latin version, Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will offer Mary’s song in English, Latin, German and Church Slavonic, with music by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Arvo Pärt, Herbert Howells and two world premieres by the Iowa-based composer, Peter Bloesch.

Widely regarded as the greatest German composer before Bach, Heinrich Schütz’s double-choir “German Magnificat” was his very last composition. In this piece, Schütz (below) brings the vivid imagery of the Magnificat text to life in some of his most inventive and compelling music.

Heinrich Schutz

Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, known as “the Catholic Bach,” was the official church composer to the Catholic court in Dresden. A master of counterpoint like Bach, Zelenka frequently utilized energetic, syncopated rhythms and daring harmonic progressions in his music, qualities on display in his Magnificat in D-major for soloists, choir, and instruments.

jan dismas zelenka BIG use

From Bach himself, the WCC presents three charming, rarely heard movements that Bach inserted into his own “Magnificat” setting for performances during the Christmas season. (NOTE: You can  hear Bach’s complete “Magnificat” with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bach1

Complimenting these choral works by Bach, Zelenka and Schütz, organist Mark Brampton Smith performs solo organ works by Baroque composers Johann Pachelbel and Johann Kindermann.

Mark Brampton Smith

The spritely Bogoroditse Devo (the Russian equivalent of the Latin Ave Maria) by Arvo Part (below top) opens the second half of the program, followed by a glorious, Romantic version of the “Magnificat” sung in Church Slavonic. The musical setting is composed by César Cui (below bottom), a close associate of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.

Arvo Part

Cesar Cui

Representing the Magnificat text in English is the setting for Gloucester Cathedral, composed in 1946 by Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

The WCC’s program concludes with a set of seasonal carols by the late Grammy-nominated Stephen Paulus (below top) and Peter Bloesch, a multifaceted composer from Iowa City with extensive experience in choral music, holiday pops arrangements, and film and television scores, including collaborations with Mike Post on TV hits “LA Law” and “Law and Order.”

stephen paulus

The WCC will present two world premieres by Peter Bloesch (below): an original version of the medieval carol, Out of Your Sleep Arise and Wake, and a virtuoso, eight-part setting of the beloved French melody, Ding Dong, Merrily on High.

Peter Bloesch

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the artistic director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform “Welcome Yule,” a concert of six centuries of holiday music, including Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” this Friday night.

December 16, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “Welcome Yule,” featuring the well-known “Ceremony of Carols” (at bottom is an excerpt in a YouTube video) by British composer Benjamin Britten.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

Benjamin Britten

The concert is this Friday night, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below in exterior and interior photos), at the intersection of West Washington Avenue and Carroll Street on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Advance tickets are $15 for the public and $10 for students; at the door, the prices are $20 and $12, respectively.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

Welcome Yule! traverses six centuries of music in celebration of Christmas.

Benjamin Britten’s cheerful Ceremony of Carols, (accompanied by harp) is paired with Renaissance motets by Giovanni di Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Raffaella Aleotti, and a set of rousing medieval carols.

After intermission, we pay tribute to the late Stephen Paulus (below top), who died this year, with his bright and uplifting Ship Carol, accompanied by harp, followed by a rarely-heard Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Herbert Howells (below bottom), originally composed for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. Howells’ visionary music is accompanied by organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Here is a link to a post The Ear did about Stephen Paulus,who had many links to Madison. Be sure to read some of the local reader comments:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/classical-music-american-composer-stephen-paulus-dies-at-65-the-festival-choir-of-madison-performed-many-world-premieres-by-him-and-will-perform-the-all-night-vigil-by-tchaikovsky-this-coming-saturd/

stephen paulus

herbert howells autograph

Also on the program are inspiring works by contemporary composers Jean Belmont Ford and Wayne Oquin; a lush jazz arrangement of Silent Night by Swiss jazz pianist Ivo Antognini; and a Christmas spiritual by Rosephanye Powell.

Advance tickets are available for $15 from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10.

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world premieres.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, is artistic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


Classical music: As the semester ends, choral music concerts -– most of them FREE -– stack up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here is a summary for this week and next.

November 12, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the semester is approaching, and the situation is once again typical.

The choral concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are starting to stack up the same way that singers walk on stage and start filling up risers.

Every semester, it seems, the choral music performances get backed up and squeezed into the last few weekends of the semester.

To help you fill in your calendars and datebooks, here is a summary of the major groups and concerts.

THIS FRIDAY

The UW Madrigal Singers and Chorale will both give FREE concerts at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave.

luther memorial church madison

Bruce Gladstone (below) will conduct the groups.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

Here are some notes from the UW-Madison School of Music website and calendar:

“With a Merry Noise” features sacred music from 20th-century England.”

Here are the programs:

Chorale

“Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem” (1910) by Charles Villiers Stanford (below top, 1852-1924)

“O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem” (1941) by Herbert Howells (below bottom, 1892-1983)

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

herbert howells autograph

Madrigal Singers

“The Twelve” (1965) by William Walton (below, 1902-1983)

William Walton color

INTERMISSION

Combined Ensemble

“Pilgrim’s Journey” (1962) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) (A cantata adapted from Vaughan Williams’ opera “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (1951) based on the allegory by John Bunyan.]

With UW-Madison faculty members John Chappell Stowe, organ; Bruce Gladstone, conductor.

Soloists for Pilgrim’s Journey are: Sara Guttenberg, soprano; Josh Sanders, tenor; and Paul Rowe, baritone.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

NOTES FROM THE UW SCHOOL OF MUSIC

England experienced an oft-called musical renaissance in the last half of the 19th century. Composers like Hubert Parry (below), Charles Stanford and others at the Royal College of Music sought to raise the standard of composition and find a true “English voice.”

The works on this concert, though stylistically varied, display a characteristic “Englishness,” and offer a look at four very important composers who not only helped change the face of music in Great Britain, but who also wrote sublime and glorious works.

The three shorter works were all written as church anthems. Vaughan Williams’ “Pilgrim’s Journey” started life as an opera and was adapted into its present cantata format for performance as a non-staged work.

hubert parry

THIS SUNDAY

On Sunday night, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Choir (below bottom) will present a FREE concert, under director Beverly Taylor (below top), called the “Style Show.”

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

It features works of different periods from the Renaissance to the present and showing where they overlap and imitate each other.

The composers include Orlando Gibbons, Robert Pearsall, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gyorgy Orban and John Harbison (represented by his jazz arrangements). Featured are serious and happy motets, several extended works, folk songs and close harmony.

Concert Choir

NEXT WEEK

On Friday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University Chorus and the UW Women’s Chorus will give a FREE concert.

Anna Volodarskaya and Sarah Guttenberg will conduct.

Here is the program:

Three Madrigals                          Emma Lou Diemer (below)

Praise His Holy Name                  Keith Hampton

Ruhetal                                            Felix Mendelssohn

Exsultate justi in Domino            Ludovico da Daviana

Emma Lou Diemer

UW CHORAL UNION AND UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

On Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and Sunday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union (made up of campus and community singers) and the UW Symphony will perform under the baton of Beverly Taylor (all seen below).

Tickets are $15 for the public; $8 for seniors and students.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

Program:

Antonin Dvorak                      Te Deum

Ralph Vaughan Williams          Flos Campi 

Featuring Professor and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm

Giuseppe Verdi                       Te Deum

“Presented will be the buoyant, robust and beautiful Te Deum by Antonin Dvorak (performed for the first time by Choral Union); the languorously beautiful Flos Campi by Ralph Vaughan Williams for wordless chorus and solo viola, and the dramatic Te Deum by Giuseppe Verdi set for very large orchestra.

The two Te Deums are very different settings of an ancient liturgical song of praise.

The Flos Campi (below in a YouTube video) features violist Sally Chisholm (below), a member of the Pro Arte String Quartet and Professor of Music at UW-Madison.

Sally Chisholm

Ticket info here

 

 

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir turns in an outstanding performance of music by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and his musical “friends.” But the fine singing deserved an orchestra, not just organ and violin, for the famous Serenade to Music.

June 3, 2014
1 Comment

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 every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Robert Gehrenbeck and his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) gave an entirely English choral program as the conclusion of their season on last Saturday night.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

And, despite the heat, and the frightfully uncomfortable pews of Grace Episcopal Church on the Square — not to mention the competition of the Con Vivo chamber music concert — a considerable audience turned out to hear it.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW audience

The program took as its theme “Ralph Vaughan Williams (below, 1872-1858) and Friends,” highlighting the work of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, but one whose music still has not been taken up sufficiently in our country. (When was the last time you heard one of the great nine symphonies of “VW” played by an American orchestra?)

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

The beginning of the program was rightly dominated by Vaughan Williams. After an elaborate Psalm setting, titled “A Choral Flourish,” a Latin motet by Thomas Tallis (below, ca.1505-1585) provided context for VW’s great a cappella Mass in G Minor—though, alas, only its first two movements. Like the composer’s famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, the writing cleverly opposes soloists, and small and larger groupings against each other. (I note for the record that there were a few moments of intonation problems.)

Thomas Tallis

Next came an English hymn by Imogen Holst (below top, 1907-1984), daughter of VW’s dear friend and colleague, Gustav Holst, and an anthem from an Anglican service by Herbert Howells (below bottom, 1892-1983), one of VW’s devoted disciples.

Imogen Holst

herbert howells autograph

The “Psalm tune” by Thomas Tallis (if with a modernized English text imposed) was a noteworthy gem, familiar, of course, as the subject for VW’s Tallis Fantasia, already mentioned, followed naturally by another of VW’s elaborate settings of Psalm 90, “Lord, Thou has been our refuge”—again, a piece that juxtaposed a small group (vocal quartet, below) against a larger (full choir).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW 4 solists

Following the intermission, three of VW’s arrangements of examples from his favorite source, English folksongs, these about sailors.

There followed the one serious mistake of the program: VW’s Serenade to Music. This is a lovely setting of Shakespeare’s wonderful tribute to music in lines from Act V of The Merchant of Venice. It was composed in 1938 to honor conductor Sir Henry Wood and his orchestra, featuring 16 singers with whom he had worked. VW allowed the 16 solo lines to be adapted for full chorus, and Gehrenbeck’s compromise was to have 13 singers in the choir sing specifically solo lines, while their joint parts were taken by the full choir.

shakespeare BW

It was a shaky compromise, hindered by the fact that some of the choir soloists were not quite equal to their assigned solos. Most disastrous of all, however, was the substitution for the orchestral role of a solo violin and organ.

Violinist Leanne League (below top), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, fiddled very beautifully, and organist Mark Brampton Smith (below bottom) played well. But violin and organ do not an orchestra make. This piece just should not have been attempted this way in this program. (You can hear an orchestral version of The Serenade to Music, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult,  at the bottom in a YouTube video. Be sure to read the listener comment about the Serenade to Music reduced Sergei Rachmaninoff to tears.)

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW Leanne League

Mark Brampton Smith

Two short and supposedly humorous pieces about animals, composed by Elizabeth Maconchy (below, 1907-1994) were awfully trivial: I would gladly have sacrificed them for the rest of the Vaugah Williams’ Mass in G Minor.

elizabeth maconchy

Finally, to restore some balance, there were three folksong arrangements by Gustav Holst (below, 1874-1934) himself—the last of them, the “Blacksmith’s Song,” familiar to many in its alternate treatment as a movement in Holst’s Suite No. 2 for Band.

Gustav Holst

One thing that concerned me throughout was the question of section organization. Up to Imogen Holst’s piece, the chorus was grouped by voice parts. But thereafter the singers were repeatedly scrambled, breaking down such part groupings. This is a practice now favored by many choral directors, who will use the argument, among others, that such scrambling furthers blending.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

But blending can be achieved at the price of structural clarity. In much of the program’s music there was a great deal of unison writing, or very simple chordal writing, and the strength derived from the blending was truly powerful.

But in other cases, the interaction of parts was muddled. The prime example was the sturdy Tallis Psalm: its “tune” is in the tenor part, which should have had a united prominence but was instead dispersed and diluted.

I have raised this issue before, and I will continue to do so, no doubt to much scoffing.

That issue aside, the program demonstrated the wonderful choral sound that Gehrenbeck (below) has developed with these 33 singers. They sing their hearts out for him, but in suavely balanced ensemble that is a joy to hear.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

It is clear by now that Gehrenbeck, who directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has set a new standard for choral singing in Madison, and has a lot to offer us in times ahead.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music Q&A: Choral director Robert Gehrenbeck talks about his favorite works by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can hear some of them when the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — which unveils its 2014-15 season here — performs works by Vaughan Williams and his followers this Saturday night. Part 2 of 2.

May 30, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will wrap up its current season with a special concert of “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Friends.”

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Nov 17, 2012 Bethel Lutheran

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on this Saturday, May 31, in the acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church, West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

The soloists include violinist Leanne League and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Admission is $15, $10 for students.

One of the best-loved choral composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams was renowned not only for his compositions, but also for his friendship and advocacy on behalf of countless other musicians.

The concert features some of Vaughan Williams’ best-known works including, “Serenade to Music,” Mass in G Minor, and the powerful anthem, “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge.”

Vaughan Williams shared a passion for collecting folksongs with his close friend Gustav Holst, whose heartfelt setting of “I Love My Love” will be heard alongside several of Vaughan Williams’ own folksong arrangements.

Works by Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams’ students Imogen Holst and Elizabeth Maconchy will demonstrate Vaughan Williams’ influence on succeeding generations.

Finally, selections from the motets and anthems of Thomas Tallis exemplify Vaughan Williams’ debt to his English predecessors, notably Tallis’ “Third Mode Psalm Tune,” the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

Joining the WCC in this performance are violinist Leanne League, associate concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Advance tickets are available for $15 from http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10.

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn; of a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and of world-premieres. Dr. Robert Gehrenbeck, who teaches and directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.

Gehrenbeck recently agreed to an email Q&A about the upcoming concer.

Yesterday, Part 1 appeared. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/classical-music-qa-choral-director-robert-gehrenbeck-talks-about-how-british-composer-ralph-vaughan-williams-sparked-two-renaissances-or-revivals-you-can-hear-the-results-when-the-wisconsin-cha/

Today’s post features the second and last part of the Q&A.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

What are your favorite works –- choral or otherwise — by Vaughan Williams, ones you would recommend to those listeners who don’t know him?

Many discussions of Vaughan Williams’ body of works start with his visionary orchestral work, the “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” from 1910. The “theme” of this work is a choral psalm tune in the Phrygian mode by Tallis (below) that Vaughan Williams discovered while working as music editor for the 1906 “English Hymnal.” (The WCC’s concert includes this Tallis work in its original form, using words from the English Hymnal.)

Not only did Vaughan Williams borrow Tallis’ melody, but, more importantly, his harmony, which is full of jarring cross relations, such as E-minor juxtaposed with E-major. Throughout his “Fantasia” — and throughout his career —Vaughan Williams exploited and extended this harmony based on what I like to call “consonances in unusual relation” (that’s a quote from the Grove Dictionary article on an obscure English composer named Alan Bush).

Thomas Tallis

Unlike his contemporaries who developed increasingly chromatic music around the same time, Vaughan Williams stuck with simple triads but subjected them to various sorts of modern treatments, especially by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated chords, as in the 1910 Fantasia.

Finally, the form of this piece is not, as one might expect, a theme and variations scheme, but rather a free, rhapsodic meditation on the ethos of Tallis’ tune, somewhat in the style of an Elizabethan keyboard fantasia by William Byrd.

So it is that in this work, we have the characteristics of Vaughan Williams’ mature style in a nutshell — a melody-based form that develops freely, rather than predictably, whose harmonic language is based on new, modally inspired ways of using common chords.

The overall effect is mysterious, awe-inspiring, and revelatory. The young Herbert Howells (below) was so awestruck by the premiere performance that he spent the rest of the night pacing the streets of Gloucester, trying to digest what he had heard.

herbert howells autograph

As I mentioned above, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, and several of these are favorites of mine, particularly the first, sixth, and ninth. His first symphony is a choral-orchestral masterpiece (following the examples of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler). It’s called “A Sea Symphony,” with a libretto based on the poetry of Walt Whitman (below).

Completed the year before the Tallis “Fantasia,” this score gives voice to the muscular, optimistic humanism of Whitman’s poetry in triadic eruptions that stir the soul. I don’t claim to know all of Vaughan Williams’ music by any means, but, like many others, I am also a fan of his sixth symphony, composed in the aftermath of World War II and premiered in 1948, soon becoming the most popular English symphony of all time. The change in Vaughan Williams’ style during the 40-year period between his first and sixth symphonies is startling.

Walt Whitman 2

The sixth provides a good rebuttal to those who claim that Vaughan Williams remained a reactionary, rather than a modern composer. It’s full of dissonance and gnawing ostinatos that create an atmosphere of unease and dislocation, which seemed to fit the post-Hiroshima age — including our own times — extremely well.

The long final movement is marked “pianissimo, senza expressivo” (very quietly, without expression) throughout, eventually dissolving into a weird undulation between two unrelated triads, E-flat major and E-minor. Such a concluding movement is exactly the opposite of what traditional symphonic form leads listeners to expect. It’s one of the most eerie moments in the entire symphonic repertoire.

I’m afraid I’ll have to save a discussion of other orchestral works for another day, but I do want to mention a few additional favorite choral works: the war-time oratorio “Dona Nobis Pacem” (another Whitman libretto), the rarely heard oratorio “Sancta civitas” (libretto from the Book of Revelation), and the late “Three Shakespeare Songs” for unaccompanied choir. Several other favorite works of mine are on the WCC’s concert, so I’ll discuss them next.

shakespeare BW

What would you like the public to know about the specific composers and works on the program, and why you chose them?

We are looking forward to performing what I think is Vaughan Williams’ most inspired setting of William Shakespeare, his “Serenade to Music,” composed in 1938. Vaughan Williams adapted his libretto from Lorenzo’s meditation on the power of music to mediate between human passion and the harmony of the spheres in “The Merchant of Venice,” Act V

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony….

Thus begins Vaughan Williams’ one-movement nocturne featuring some of his most lovely melodies, exquisite modulations, and ethereal scoring. The original version was for 16 solo singers and orchestra, so we will alternate between multiple soloists from the choir with the full chorus singing the tutti passages. Our fabulous organist, Mark Brampton Smith (below top), is responsible for most of the orchestration, Leanne League, who is the associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and a violinist with the Ancora String Quartet, is joining us to perform the original solo violin part. (You can hear “The Serenade to Music” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Brampton Smith

leanne league

The remainder of our program draws on the rich a cappella repertoire of Vaughan Williams and several of his followers.

We’re doing two movements from his incredible Mass in G minor, which he wrote in 1921 in response to the revival of the sacred music of Byrd and Tallis at Westminster Cathedral. We’ll precede that work with an actual motet by Tallis, “Mihi autem nimis.”

In addition to the Serenade, the second half of our program features folk song settings by both Vaughan Williams and his closest friend, Gustav Holst (below), including Holst’s justifiably famous “I Love My Love,” based on a Dorian-mode tune. This piece is one of the absolute masterpieces in the genre of choral folksong arrangements.

Gustav Holst

From Vaughan Williams’ numerous additional “friends” (composers who were all literally good friends of his) we have chosen Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst’s daughter Imogen Holst (below top) and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom). Howells is represented by the “Jubilate” movement from his “Collegium Regale Service,” a set of Anglican canticles he composed in 1945 for King’s College in Cambridge.

The flowing melodies, modally flavored harmonies and Howells’ expert control of pacing in this work are all reminders of Vaughan Williams’ influence. Imogen Holst (below) was the only child of Gustav and Isobel Holst, and an important composer, conductor, writer, and organizer of musical festivals in her own right. Her teachers included both Howells and Vaughan Williams, and she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten during her later years.

We will perform Holst’s “Hymne to Christ,” a luminous setting of a poem by John Donne.

Imogen Holst

Finally, Elizabeth Maconchy was another of Vaughan Williams’ students and a classmate of Imogen Holst. Maconchy (below) is best known for her chamber music, but also composed operas and a significant body of choral music. We have chosen two movements from a 1979 work called “Creatures,” settings of poems written for children about various animals and their foibles.

The music of “Cat’s Funeral” is an example of the English predilection for “consonances in unusual relation” that I mentioned earlier. The string of unexpected, descending minor triads that opens this movement creates a mood of exaggerated pathos perfectly matched to the poem. The other movement is “The Hen and the Carp,” a humorous dialogue that doubles as social commentary.

elizabeth maconchy

What are the current plans and future projects including programs for next season, for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir?

We are very excited about our upcoming season. On December 19, 2014 we will present “Wolcum Yole,” a Christmas-themed concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” and on April 18 and 19, 2015, we will perform Brahms’ “German” Requiem with full orchestra. Also featured on the April concerts will be the world premiere of a piece we have commissioned from English composer Giles Swayne, called “Our Orphan Souls.” Swayne has chosen an excerpt from chapter 114 of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” as his text, and his piece will be scored for two soloists and choir with alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Swayne (below, in a photo by Alice Williamson) plans to begin writing this piece next month, and I’m eagerly anticipating receiving the completed score in the fall. An interesting connection to our current season is that Swayne’s first composition teacher was Elizabeth Maconchy, who was his mother’s cousin.

giles swayne CR Alice Williamson

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music education: The Madison Youth Choirs perform the 11th Annual Spring Concert Series this Sunday afternoon and night. They will premiere a new work about Shakespeare’s “Macbeth by UW-Madison alumnus Scott Gendel.

May 14, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Sunday afternoon and evening, May 18, 2014, the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC, below) will ends the celebration of their 10th anniversary and celebrate the return of spring with a lively concert series featuring several groups whose membership total over 300 talented young singers.

madison youth choirs

All concerts will take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison.

Tickets are $10-$20, and can be purchased in three ways:

1. online at www.overturecenter.com

2. By phone at (608) 258-4141

3. In person at the Overture Center box office, 201 State St., Madison, Wisconsin.

Throughout this season, focused on the theme “Arts & Minds,” MYC’s singers have discovered connections between visual and vocal expressions of human creativity, using both mediums as a lens to explore the world.

Concert selections will include works from a wide variety of musical eras and cultures, including classical pieces by Bach and Vivaldi, traditional folk songs in Hebrew and Japanese, and contemporary pieces by Cindy Lauper and Eric Whitacre (below), creator of the “Virtual Choir,” which has become a global phenomenon on YouTube.

Composer conductor Eric Whitacre, in rehearsal and concert at Union Chapel, Islington, London

MYC’s boychoirs will make history with the world premiere of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus Scott Gendel’s “Sound and Fury,” featuring text from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

This ambitious new work by Gendel  will be a fitting prelude to the boychoirs’ upcoming summer tour to Scotland, where they will perform in the invitation-only Aberdeen International Youth Festival (below).

Aberdeen International Youth Festival Opeing Ceremony

For more information about Scott Gendel, visit:

http://scottgendel.com

Scott Gendel color headshot

Continuing its commitment to celebrating the work of outstanding local music teachers, MYC will also present the Music Educator of the Year Award to Jan Vidruk. Ms. Vidruk (below center ) is a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education who has inspired young people in music and movement classes for over 40 years.

Jan Vidruk (center)

Here is the Concert Information, Schedules and Programs for Sunday, May 18, 2014

1 p.m. – Choraliers (below in a photo by Cynthia McEahern

Hashivenu…Traditional Hebrew

Bee! I’m Expecting You… Emma Lou Diemer

Ae Fond Kiss… Traditional Scottish, arr. Kesselman

The Duel… Paul Bouman

Kojo no Tsuki… Traditional Japanese, arr. Snyder

Madison Youth Choirs Choraliers CR Cynthia McEahern

Con Gioia (below in a photo by Karen Holland)

For the Beauty of the Earth… John Rutter

The Jabberwocky… Jennings

Tres Cantos Nativos dos Indios Krao… Leite

Annie Laurie… arr. Rentz

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

Capriccio (below in a photo by Mike Ross)

Hark! The Echoing Air… Henry Purcell

Hotaru Koi… Ro Ogura

The Seal Lullaby… Eric Whitacre

Niska Banja… Traditional Serbian, arr. Nick Page

Madison Youth Choir Capriccio CR Mike Ross

4 p.m.: Purcell

Gloria Tibi (from Mass)… Leonard Bernstein

Simple Gifts… Traditional

Orpheus with his Lute… Ralph Vaughan Williams

Laudamus Te (from Gloria in D Major)… Antonio Vivaldi

Britten

The Lord Bless You and Keep You … John Rutter

Er Kennt die rechten Freudenstuden … Johann Sebastian Bach

Holst

The Bird…William Billings

The Cowboy Medley…arr. R. Swiggum

Anthem (from Chess)…Anderson/Ulveas, arr. R. Swiggum

Ragazzi  (below in a photo by Dan Sinclair)

dominic has a doll… Vincent Persichetti

Si, Tra i Ceppi… George Frideric Handel

Fair Phyllis… John Farmer

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi HS CR Dan Sinclair

Madison Boychoir (Purcell, Britten, Holst — below in a photo by Karen Holland — and Ragazzi combined)

Sound and Fury (world premiere)… Scott Gendel, text from Macbeth

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?… Traditional, arr. R. Swiggum

Madison Youth Choirs boychoirs Purcell, Britten and Holst CR Karen Holland

7:30 p.m. High School Ensembles

Cantilena

How Merrily We Live… Michael Este

Salut Printemps… Claude Debussy

Hope… Andrew Lippa

Hope is the Thing… Emma Lou Diemer

Ragazzi

dominic has a doll… Vincent Persichetti

Si Tra i Ceppi… George Frideric Handel

Fair Phyllis I Saw Sitting…John Farmer

Cantabile

Cruel, You Pull Away Too Soon… Thomas Morley

Chiome d’Oro… Claudio Monteverdi

Mountain Nights… Zoltan Kodaly

Las Amarillas…Stephen Hatfield

Time After Time… Cyndi Lauper, arr. Michael Ross

Cantabile and Ragazzi

Come Thou Fount of Ever Blessing…arr. Mack Wilberg

A Hymn for St. Cecilia…Herbert Howells (heard at bottom in a YouTube video)

This project is supported by American Girl’s Fund for Children, the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the Kenneth A. Lattman Foundation, American Family Insurance, Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, charitable arm of The Capital Times, and BMO Harris Bank. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

ABOUT THE MADISON YOUTH CHOIRS (MYC)

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral education, MYC inspires enjoyment, learning, and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC welcomes singers of all ability levels, challenging them to learn more than just notes
and rhythms. Singers explore the history, context, and heart of the music, becoming “expert noticers,” using music as a lens to discover the world. MYC serves more than 500 young people, ages 7-18, in 11 single-gender choirs.

In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually. MYC also collaborates with professional arts organizations including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Ballet, and Madison Opera, while continually supporting and recognizing the work of public schools and music educators throughout the area.

In summer 2014, MYC boychoirs will travel to Scotland for their first appearance at the invitation-only Aberdeen International Youth Festival.

For further information about attending or joining, visit  http://www.madisonyouthchoirs.org       contact the 
Madison Youth Choirs at info@madisonyouthchoirs.org, or call (608) 238-7464

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music: The Madison Youth Choirs and the Overture Concert Organ will join forces in a varied concert Saturday night in Overture Hall.

May 6, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in the Overture Center, the Madison Youth Choirs (below top) will join forces with Samuel Hutchison (below bottom), the organist and curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

mso youth choirs

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi cr Karen Holland

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The vocal talents of the choirs will blend with the beautiful custom-built Klais Organ (below).

Overture Concert Organ overview

Hutchison will perform both solo and collaborative works, displaying the diverse repertoire at the hands of the modern organist.

Early pieces from the Baroque period will share the program with works by living composers.  In all, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Louis Vierne, Herbert Howells (below and at the bottom where you will find a YouTube video of his “Sarabande” for Easter Morning), Francis Poulenc, Jean Langlais and John Rutter will be performed.

Single tickets are $20, and a $10 student rush will be offered on the day of the performance.

herbert howells autograph

Here is a link to more information, including the specific works on the extensive program and how to join the choirs:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/youthchoirs

The Madison Youth Choirs, under the direction of Michael Ross (below), are no strangers to Overture Hall. In December, the ensemble performed in the three sold-out Madison Symphony Christmas concerts.

 

Michael Ross

Conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said he is excited about the upcoming performance: “I can never say enough about the good work that Michael Ross is doing with the Madison Youth Choirs. They are an essential and beloved part of our Christmas concerts.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a link to the Madison Youth Choirs, which are celebrating their 10th anniversary and many members of which will travel -– by invitation only — to the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, in Scotland, this summer. (Below is a  photo of the Opening Ceremony of the festival.)

http://www.madisonyouthchoirs.org

Aberdeen International Youth Festival Opeing Ceremony

This organ and choir concert is sponsored by the Friends of the Overture Concert Organ and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Next Page »

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,099 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,734,584 hits
%d bloggers like this: