The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.

brahms3

The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music Q&A: Science and music will meet again this Friday night in a FREE lecture-concert at the second SoundWaves program at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

October 21, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, this season’s second SoundWaves event will take place. It is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The curator of the unusual program that combines science and music is University of Wisconsin-Madison horn professor Daniel Grabois. Besides teaching, he also performs in the Gretzler band with his colleague UW trombonist Mark Hetzler, the Meridian Arts Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

For some background about the program and the first concert-lecture in September, which featured songs by Gustav Mahler, here is a link to a terrific interview with Grabois on the UW School of music blog “Fanfare”:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

Grabois (below) recently offered The Ear a Q&A about this week’s lecture-concert and about the program in general.

Here it is:

Daniel Grabois 2012  James Gill

What is SoundWaves?

SoundWaves is a series I started last year. Each of our events takes on a theme, and explores it from various scientific angles (all aimed at the layman), then from a musical angle (I do that part), followed by a music performance relating to the theme.

The idea is for the public to learn about the world we live in, and to see how music fits in as well. Most of our presenters are UW faculty scientists and performers. At SoundWaves, they have an opportunity to share their knowledge in a non-technical way for people who are curious.

What kind of themes does SoundWaves tackle?

Our first event was called “Music to Our Ears.” We had a physicist talk about what sound is, a hearing expert talk about how the ear works, a neuroscientist discuss how the brain processes the ear’s signal, and a psychologist talk about how sounds affect our emotions.

We then performed the Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms (below), a patently emotional piece of music.

Doing that as our first event taught me that flow was really important: each lecture had to set up the next one. Other themes last year were Measurement, Tools, and Sequences. The theme of our October event is Groups and Their Behaviors.

brahms3

Who is speaking and performing this Friday?

An entomologist will discuss bee communication. A mathematician will introduce us to group theory. A researcher from the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (you have to love the UW!!!) will talk about his research regarding how groups of objects function in the physical world (through physics and chemistry), then what that tells us about group behavior in primates (including humans). And I’ll be talking about how musical groups function, specifically with regard to musicians’ body language.

After that, Linda Bartley (UW clarinetist, below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), Christopher Taylor (UW pianist, below bottom) and I will perform part of the Reinecke Trio for Clarinet, Horn (that’s me) and Piano. (A performance of Reinecke’s Trio on a YouTube video is at the bottom.)

Linda Bartley Talbot

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Where is this project going?

Good question. I got a wonderful grant from the Chester Knapp Charitable Bequest to put on eight events this year, which I have to admit is a lot. But I’m having no trouble finding scientists to collaborate with, and I’m having a great time.

The biggest benefit for me is meeting all these great new people and learning lots of interesting stuff from them. Also, we’ve been having big audiences, and I love getting our School of Music faculty out of our building for performances in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller of the UW). WID is located at the corner of Orchard and University and is an amazing building).

WID_extr11_1570

What other themes will you be taking on this year?

Color, newness, rhythm, wood, repetition and metal.

How do you come up with themes?

I just sit down and think, “What do I want to know?” It’s pretty easy, since there’s so much I don’t know! And, here at UW, there’s a scientist available to answer just about any question you could think to ask.

For example, the instrument I play, the French horn (below), is made out of metal, but when push comes to shove, I have basically no idea what metal is, how it is manufactured, why making instruments out of it is a good idea, and so on. The music for the event on metal is planned already, and when I am ready to start lining up scientists, I’ll head straight to the Materials Science department, then Chemistry, maybe Engineering, and so on.

Once the theme is chosen, my questions about the theme lead me straight to the right science people. And I have to tip my cap to Laura Heisler (the program director at WID), who knows tons of scientists and has put me in touch with many brilliant people.

French horn

Is the science hard to understand?

NO!!! Our basic ground rules are: no jargon, no technical stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary. Last year, a chemist explained what DNA really is, and I think we all got it!

Where can people get more information?

Go to http://www.warf.org/home/news-media/campus-programs/soundwaves/soundwaves.cmsx for a list of our events. They all start at 7 p.m. Everything is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. In the WID building, right in the middle of the giant ground floor is a big round space called the DeLuca Forum (below), where we have our events.

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Why should people come?

The UW-Madison has brilliant scientists and musicians. Come hear what they have to say and play, and learn about our world.


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