The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Despite some flawed comparisons, the Madison Bach Musicians turn in brilliant performances in a concept program of “imitations” by Bach and Vivaldi

September 26, 2017
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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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

An unusual program opened the 14th season of Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night, and was repeated on Sunday afternoon at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

Instead of a string of compositions with few or no connections, there was a cumulative assemblage illustrating an overriding theme, as summed up in the title of “Imitation.”

To be sure, only two composers were involved: Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach. The focus was on their uses of imitative textures, including canon and fugue. There were 11 pieces in all, mostly — although not entirely — grouped in pairs, Vivaldi leading each.

The organization was fugue-like, too, beginning with two-part textures and culminating in nine parts. Thus, the nine players (four violins, two violas, two cellos and a harpsichord) were gradually built into the full company by the end.

The pairings did not evoke any direct parallelisms between Vivaldi (below top) and Bach (below bottom), though the former’s experimental and extroverted Italian style stood in regular contrast with Bach’s Germanic seriousness, even as each explored similar contrapuntal possibilities.

The entire concept of the program was intriguing. I did, however, find that two specific selections, both by Bach, did not fit well. They were given in transcriptions rather than as the composer intended. Thus, a fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier was delivered not on the keyboard, but by five string players.

To be sure, that transformation allowed the three-voice counterpoint to be heard more distinctly, but the fact remains that it was written for keyboard and Bach’s part writing deserved to be heard as he intended.

A more serious instance was the tantalizing idea of hearing Bach’s own transcription of a work by Vivaldi. The original was the Concerto in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11, a true concerto grosso, matching a concertino of two violins and cello against a full four-part string ensemble.

Now, Bach made transcriptions of a number of Vivaldi concertos, but presenting any of them in this context posed practical concerns for these players. In this case, Bach’s adaptation was for solo organ. Instead, we heard it with Bach’s organ transcription transcribed, in turn, into a concerto for nine players by one of the group’s violists, Micah Behr.

(You can compare Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins to Bach’s reworking of the same concerto for four harpsichords in the YouTube video at bottom.)

Again, this third-hand edition allowed for contrapuntal clarity, but it totally distorted Bach’s intentions as a transcriber himself.

That said, the performances were all brilliant. Visiting Baroque cellist Steuart Pincombe (below) was something of a star, but all musicians played wonderfully, sitting in a circle for closest interaction and without an intermission.

Still, reservations about this program aside, this concept or idea concert is worth trying again.


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform “imitative” works by Bach and Vivaldi this coming Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

September 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

In an original program that is organized much like the music it features, the early music group Madison Bach Musicians (below) will open their new season this weekend with a concert that offers a counterpoint of music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi — all done with period instrument and historically informed performance practices.

The two concerts are:

This coming Saturday night, Sept. 23, with a 6:45 p.m. pre-concert lecture by MBM founder, artistic director and keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below), and a 7:30 p.m. concert at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive in Madison.

This coming Sunday afternoon, Sept. 24, with 2:45 p.m. pre-concert lecture and a 3:30 p.m. concert at Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, in Middleton.

The guest soloist is Steuart Pincombe (below, in a photo by Ryan West), who plays the baroque cello. He will join the Madison Bach Musicians for this innovative concert – an dual exploration of fugues and imitation from the German Bach and the Italian Vivaldi — two masters of the Baroque.

The concert itself is structured much like a fugue. Starting from a single voice, selections alternate between pieces by Vivaldi (below top) and by Bach (below bottom) ―with each new section of the concert requiring an additional performer. (Sorry, no word on specific works except for the finale.)

The program culminates with the entire ensemble performing Vivaldi’s D minor Concerto Grosso alongside a string arrangement of Bach’s own transcription of the same piece. (You can hear the original by Vivaldi in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Advance-sale discount tickets cost $30 for general admission and at available at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Co-op, East and West.

Advance sale online tickets can be found at: www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $33 for the general public, and $30 for seniors 65-plus with Student Rush tickets costing $10 and going on sale 30 minutes before the pre-concert lecture.


Classical music: A piano recital next Sunday afternoon by college educator Father Robert Koopmann will benefit the Benedictine Women at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton. Reservations must be made by Wednesday.

July 15, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A piano recital by Father Robert Koopmann (below), a member of the Order of St. Benedict, called “Celebrating Benedict” will be presented next Sunday, July 21, at 4 p.m. in the Assembly Room, Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, Middleton. Here are links to the monastery’s website and to a map with directions on how to get there:

http://benedictinewomen.org

https://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=4200+county+highway+m,+middleton+wi&sll=43.091648,-89.485442&sspn=0.008321,0.022724&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=4200+County+Highway+M,+Middleton,+Dane,+Wisconsin+53562&ll=43.119468,-89.452057&spn=0.008317,0.022724&z=16&iwloc=A

Robert Koopmann

The 70-minute program includes the Prelude in G-sharp minor, Opus 32, No. 12; Prelude in E-flat major, Opus 23, No. 6; and the Prelude in C Major, Op. 32, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943); the Rondo in D Major, K. 485 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by César Franck (1822-1890); Intermezzo in B Minor, Op. 119, No. 1; Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2; and Capriccio in G minor Op. 116, No. 3, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); “Jeux D’Eau” (Waterplay or Fountain, played by Martha Argerich in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937); and Two Sacred Improvisations by the pianist Robert Koopmann, “Adoro Te Devote” and “Precious Lor.”

Donations will be accepted at the door or online to support the mission of the Benedictine Women of Madison at Holy Wisdom Monastery (below). A light reception will follow the concert.

If you do plan on attending this concert, please let Mike know by this Wednesday, July 17 at mikesb@benedictinewomen.org or call (608) 836-1631, ext. 124 so that food and seating can be provided for all. More information is at the Holy Wisdom website.

Holy Wisdom Monastery Exterior3

Father Bob Koopmann is a longtime friend of the sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery. He is Professor of Music and President Emeritus, and has been on the faculty of Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota since 1975, where he has taught piano, music literature, and courses on creativity and the creative process.

He has performed as a piano soloist and accompanist, as well as in chamber ensembles and with orchestras throughout the USA and abroad, including 20 states, Europe, South Africa, Chile, Kenya, and Tanzania.

He has released a number of recordings since 1994. His doctorate is from the University of Iowa, with other degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Saint John’s University, and post-doctoral work with faculty from The Royal Academy (London) and The Juilliard School (New York).

Koopmann was president of Saint John’s University from 2009 until July 2012. He was on sabbatical for the 2012-2013 academic year, studying music, theology, and spirituality in Berkeley, California and New York City.

He will present a concert tour in Japan in August.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union announces its concerts for next season. Music by Vaughan Williams, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff will be performed. Plus, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens Madison’s summer music season starting this Friday night and is on WORT radio Thursday morning.

June 12, 2013
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ALERT: WORT (88.9 FM)  radio host Rich Samuels, a major friend of Madison’s active classical music scene, writes: “I’ll be acknowledging the beginning of Madison’s summer music season on my show Thursday morning with a 7 a.m. segment (pre-recorded) featuring flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below), co-founders and co-directors of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. They’ll be talking about the 22nd season of BBDS – called, fittingly, “Deuces Are Wild.” It kicks off this Friday night at the Overture Center’s Playhouse, as well as the Prairie Rhapsody benefit concert they’ll be presenting this Thursday evening at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton. I’ll be playing recorded highlights from last year’s BBDS offerings including (at 6:10 a.m.) the chamber transcription of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, which is said to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette. In the 7 a.m. hour I’ll also have an interview with Jim Latimer, director of the Capitol City Band. Its 45th season kicks off at Rennebohm Park on Thursday. In eight weeks, the band will be presenting its 800th concert. (Here is a link to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society website that includes the full schedule of concerts: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org)

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s Choral director Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) has announced the next season of the UW choral Union.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Here are the dates and the repertoire:

On Nov. 23-24 (Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.) the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (both below in Mills Hall) will perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace) and Relix Mendelssohn’s “Die Erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night). (At bottom is a YouTube video of the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra and UW tenor soloist James Doing performing the Final Chorus from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.”)

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m., the UW Choral Union will have one performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers,” done a cappella with no orchestra.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

The Ear has also heard that the Concert Choir will be presenting J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” on April 12, 2014. If it is anything like the same group’s fabulous performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor several years ago, it should be a memorable event.

For more details about the Choral Union and other choral groups on the UW-Madison campus, use this link to the UW School of Music: www.music.wisc.edu/choirs


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform music of Kenji Bunch, Mozart and Mendelssohn on Thursday, June 13, at the Prairie Rhapsody restoration and ecology benefit for the Benedictine Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

June 7, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each had what the other one needed or wanted, so a deal was reached.

On the one hand, the Benedictine sisters needed a music group to play for their annual Prairie Rhapsody benefit, held in at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M in Middleton, not far from Allen Boulevard off University Avenue.

Holy Wisdom Monastery Exterior3

On the other hand, the annual summer performers in The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society needed a place to stay and eat, rehearse and practice.

And so a deal was reached.

On Thursday evening, June 13 — the night before BDDS opens its June 14-June 30 season called “Deuces Are Wild!” — the Prairie Rhapsody benefit will host members of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (which earned Musician of the Year last year from The Ear) as performers along with food and walks around the beautiful grounds of the monastery.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 setting

In return, the BDDS players can stay and rehearse for a week at Holy Wisdom. (You may recall that the past two years featured outstanding performances by Trevor Stephenson and members of the Madison Bach Musicians in the spacious, airy and light-filled auditorium, below.)

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

Says Holy Wisdom’s director development Mike Sweitzer-Beckman: “I think it will be fantastic for Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society to stay here and rehearse here for the week. It should be interesting to mix things up a little bit since we try to maintain a very quiet, serene space most of the time.”

Adds BDDS’ Executive Director Samantha Crownover: “We’re thrilled to embark on this partnership. We are performing in the Prairie Rhapsody for them and they are hosting all of BDDS (food, lodging, rehearsal space) for our entire week 1. We’re excited to spend some quality time in the beautiful setting of Holy Wisdom!”

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Holy Wisdom architecture

I have attended the event and it is well worthwhile — both enjoyable and constructive for a good cause. Here are details of the Prairie Rhapsody benefit, which benefit prairie restoration efforts and ecological work on the grounds of the monastery:

The benefit starts with a reception of eating, drinking and and socializing (below) at 5:30 p.m. There will be a silent auction. Then the concert runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Complimentary chocolates are available after the performance.

Tickets can be purchased on the Holy Wisdom website for $50 per person ($25 is tax-deductible) or you can download the registration form and return it to Benedictine Life Foundation, 4200 County Road M, Middleton, WI 53562. Space is limited, so it is suggested that you  register as soon as possible.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 socializing

According to BDDS, the program of music, with co-founders and co-directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (both below in a photo by C&N Photographers) at the center, is likely to feature contemporary composer Kenji Bunch’s “New Moon and Morning” for flute and string quartet; Mozart‘s “Kegelstatt” Trio in E-flat, K. 498, for clarinet, piano and viola; and Felix Mendelssohn’s Sonata in C Minor (the opening is in a YouTube video at the bottom) featuring Yura Lee on viola.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

Here are links to the Holy Wisdom Monastery and to the Prairie Wisdom Benefit:

http://benedictinewomen.org

http://benedictinewomen.org/support-our-work/prairie-rhapsody-benefit-concert/

And here is a link to the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s homepage, which starts its summer season next weekend. The webpage has a full listing of performance times, venues, programs and performers as well as ticket information, CDs and photos:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org


Classical music news: Holy Wisdom’s “Prairie Rhapsody” environmental benefit concert is this Thursday evening and features an all-Baroque program.

June 25, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every summer, the Holy Wisdom Monastery (below) in Middleton (4200 County Road M) puts on “Prairie Rhapsody.” It is a benefit event designed to raise money for environmental restoration and preservation, and features light snacks and refreshments as well as terrific live music.

This year, the event will be held on this Thursday, June 28, with refreshments at 5:30 p.m. and the concert – featuring keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below) and the Madison Bach Musicians plus special guests – at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $50 with $25 being tax-deductible. To sign up just follow the link below or call Mike Sweitzer-Beckman at (608) 836-1631 x124.

The Ear attended last summer’s concert and found it a restorative event. The grounds, full of wild flowers, and the handsome building are beautiful; the refreshments are tasty and plentiful; the socializing and conviviality are easy and welcome; and the music is first-rate and lovely.

Here is a link to the glowing review I wrote and posted last year:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/classical-music-review-music-preservation-and-land-conservation-make-an-outstanding-match-at-the-prairie-rhapsody-concert/

For more information and reservations, visit:

http://benedictinewomen.org/support-our-work/prairie-rhapsody/

Here is the more information about the event and program from Trevor Stephenson himself, who has performed at Holy Wisdom’s “Prairie Rhapsody” several times:

“Holy Wisdom Monastery is a wonderful space — spiritually and acoustically — and a great cause! On the program I’ll be joined by outstanding Canadian-American soprano Erin Cooper Gay from Toronto (who is making her Madison debut!) and the stellar Anna Steinhoff (below, in 2011) on viola da gamba.

“We’ll perform music by Bach, Handel, Scarlatti (both Alessandro and Domenico, father and son), Purcell, Marais and Monteverdi.

“Also, I’ll give a talk about the composers and the repertoire.”

The program features four harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (in D minor, “Pastorale,” K. 9, E major, K. 380, F minor, K. 238, and  F minor. K. 239); Three Spiritual Songs by Johann Sebastian Bach
(“Gib dich zufrieden,” “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist 
Dir,” and “Dir, Jehovah, will Ich singen”) as well as his Sonata in G major for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1027; “If music be the food of love, play on (third version) by Henry Purcell; “Quel Sguardo Sdegnosetto” by Claudio Monteverdi; the Air and Variations (“The Harmonious Blacksmith”) plus three opera arias by Handel; the Chaconne for solo viola da gamba by Marin Marais; and a song by Alessandro Scarlatti.

The double-manual harpsichord played in the concert was made in 2010 by Norman Sheppard of Madison. It is modeled on an early 18th-century German instrument made by Mietke of Berlin.


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