The Well-Tempered Ear

Songs by Black composers trace their cultural realities in a free online UW performance TONIGHT of “Verisimilitudes.” Plus, the five winners of this year’s Beethoven Competition perform Sunday.

April 24, 2021
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ALERT: This Sunday, April 25, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. the five winners of this year’s Beethoven Competition at the UW-Madison will perform in a winners’ concert. Included in the program are the popular and dramatic “Appassionata” Sonata, Op. 57, and the famous and innovative last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op 111. Here is a link to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMF0Hd1MJwMg. Click on “Show More” and you can see the full programs and biographical profiles of the winners.

By Jacob Stockinger

The concert could hardly be more timely or the subject more relevant.

Think of the events in and near Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S.; of the Black Lives Matter movement and social protest; of the political fight for D.C. statehood and voting rights – all provide a perfect context for an impressive student project that will debut online TONIGHT, Saturday, April 24, at 7 p.m.

The one-hour free concert “Verisimilitudes: A Journey Through Art Song in Black, Brown and Tan” originated at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. It seems an ideal way for listeners to turn to music and art for social and political commentary, and to understand the racial subtexts of art.

Soprano Quanda Dawnyell Johnson (below) created, chose and performs the cycle of songs by Black composers with other Black students at the UW-Madison.

Here is a link to the YouTube video: https://youtu.be/-g5hjeuSumw

Click on “Show More” to see the complete program and more information.

Here is the artist’s statement: 

“Within the content of this concert are 17 art songs that depict the reality of the souls of a diasporic people. Most of the lyricists and all of the composers are of African descent. In large part they come from the U.S. but also extend to Great Britain, Guadeloupe by way of France, and Sierra Leone.

“They speak to the veracity of Black life and Black feeling. A diasporic African reality in a Classical mode that challenges while it embraces a Western European vernacular. It is using “culture” as an agent of resistance.

“I refer to verisimilitude in the plural. While syntactically incorrect, as it relates to the multiple veils of reality Black people must negotiate, it is very correct. 

“To be packaged in Blackness, or should I say “non-whiteness” is to ever live in a world of spiraling modalities and twirling realities. To paraphrase the great artist, Romare Bearden, in “calling and recalling” — we turn and return, then turn again to find the place that is our self.

“I welcome you to… Verisimilitudes: A Journey Through Art Song in Black, Brown, and Tan”

Here, by sections, is the complete program and a list of performers:

I. Nascence

Clear Water — Nadine Shanti

A Child’s Grace — Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson

Night — Florence Price (below)

Big Lady Moon — Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

II. Awareness

Lovely, Dark, and Lonely — Harry T. Burleigh

Grief –William Grant Still (below)

Prayer — Leslie Adams

Interlude, The Creole Love Call — Duke Ellington

III. The Sophomore

Mae’s Rent Party, We Met By Chance –Jeraldine Saunders Herbison

The Barrier — Charles Brown

IV. Maturity

Three Dream Portraits: Minstrel Man, Dream Variation; I, Too — Margaret Bonds (below)

Dreams — Lawren Brianna Ware

Song Without Words — Charles Brown

Legacy

L’autre jour à l’ombrage (The Other Day in the Shade) — Joseph Boulogne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges, below)

The Verisimilitudes Team

Quanda Dawnyell Johnson — Soprano and Project Creator

Lawren Brianna Ware – -Pianist and Music Director

Rini Tarafder — Stage Manager

Akiwele Burayidi – Dancer

Jackson Neal – Dancer

Nathaniel Schmidt – Trumpet

Matthew Rodriguez – Clarinet

Craig Peaslee – Guitar

Aden Stier –Bass

Henry Ptacek – Drums

Dave Alcorn — Videographer

Here is a link to the complete program notes with lyrics and composer bios. And a preview audio sample is in the YouTube video at the bottom: https://simplebooklet.com/verisimilitudesprogramnotes#page=1


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus guest artists premiere a virtual online Christmas concert this Wednesday night. It runs through Dec. 31. Plus, PBS Wisconsin will rebroadcast the 2018 holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 20.

December 15, 2020
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ALERT: Tomorrow — Wednesday, Dec. 16 — Wisconsin Public Radio will mark the 250th birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. The day’s programming is sure to feature many of the composer’s most popular works as well as some neglected ones. Which Beethoven work most moves you? Leave word in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will premiere its FREE virtual and online holiday concert of “A Madison Symphony Christmas.”

This special new one-hour concert production will feature vocalists Kyle Ketelsen and Emily Secor; the Madison Symphony Chorus; the Madison Youth Choirs; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Ensemble (below), with performances and accompaniment by John DeMain and Greg Zelek on piano and the Overture Concert Organ, respectively.

This concert is offered for FREE upon registration and will be available for viewing through Dec. 31, 2020.



Featured music includes Joy to the World, Peace Carol, O Holy Night, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Christmas Hope and more — plus the traditional sing-along where you can join the MSO singing to a medley of favorites from your home.

To register and find out more information about the individual and group performers (below), go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-virtual-madison-symphony-christmas-2020/

In addition, you can relive the 2018 Madison Symphony Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m. on your local PBS Wisconsin station.

For more information about the one-hour program and performers, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas-2018-re-broadcast/


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The 10th annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians is next Saturday night and will be virtual and online

December 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, Dec. 12, the Madison Bach Musicians will present their 10th annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below is a photo of a previous year’s holiday concert). 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s one-hour concert will be a virtual web event.

The program features Baroque masterworks by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Arcangelo Corelli, Joseph Dall’Abaco, Jean Daniel Braun and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. It was recorded Dec. 1-6 in several acoustically superior venues.

Links to the MBM holiday program can be purchased at $15 per household at https://madisonbachmusicians.org. Patrons purchasing the link can view the program the evening of Dec. 12 and anytime afterward through Friday, Dec. 26.

Festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. with MBM director Trevor Stephenson’s 30-minute pre-concert lecture about the repertoire, the composers and the period instruments.

At 8 p.m., viewers will see the 60-minute, high-definition video of the concert portion of the program, followed by a 30-minute Zoom Q&A session with the musicians from their homes. Questions for the Zoom session should be submitted by email to MBM manager Karen Rebholz at madisonbachmusicians.manager@gmail.com.

The concert begins with a selection of nine pieces from the Schemelli Songbook. Georg Schemelli collaborated with Johann Sebastian Bach (below, 1685-1750) in assembling this magnificent collection of spiritual songs, published in Leipzig in 1736. Bach provided most of the bass lines and wonderful harmonizations.

Grammy Award-winning soprano Estelí Gomez and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (both below) perform this set in the beautiful chapel at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

From the sanctuary of Grace Episcopal Church, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, baroque cellist James Waldo (below) will perform Bach’s magisterial Solo Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major

UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music bassoon faculty member Marc Vallon (below top, in a photo by James Gill) and esteemed baroque cellist Martha Vallon (below bottom) team up in the Collins Recital Hall of the UW”s Hamel Music Center for a Duo Sonata by Jean Daniel Braun (1703-1738).

Marc will also play a solo bassoon transcription of two Fantasias, originally for solo flute, by Telemann (1681-1767). Martha will perform the meditative Capriccio no. 4 in D minor by Dall’Abaco (1710-1805).

The program concludes at The Crossing in Madison with MBM concertmaster violinist Kangwon Kim (below top), violist Micah Behr (below bottom) and cellist James Waldo joining in a medley of holiday favorites.

They include Greensleeves variations over a ground (repeated bass line); three movements from Christmas Music for Instruments by Charpentier (1643-1704); the Adagio from the Christmas Concerto Op. 6, No. 8 by Corelli (1653-1713), which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottomand two beloved carols — Lo How a Rose and Sussex Carol – in arrangements by Micah Behr.

MBM wishes to thank Geneva Campus Church for their collaboration in filming this portion of the program as a contribution to their weekly services.

 


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UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra gives a FREE hybrid online concert this Thursday night by mixing both recorded and live performances

November 18, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most interesting and innovative responses to the limitations imposed on live concerts by the coronavirus can be heard this Thursday night, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m.

That is when the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra – playing under the baton of director Oriol Sans in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center — will perform a short concert that features both live performances and pre-recorded performances in the same piece.

The reason for the hybrid is public health precautions, the same reason why no in-person audience will be allowed.

String players can play with masks and social distancing, as the same orchestra showed in a previous virtual concert (below) this semester.

But brass and woodwinds prohibit wearing masks and involve the spraying or draining of saliva – an obvious risk for the spread of COVID-19.

So, presenting the full symphonic experience of the Beethoven piece will be accomplished by a combination of pre-recorded and live music, all performed by UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians. 

The concert will last about 90 minutes with no intermission.

Here is a direct link to the YouTube channel of the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music: https://youtu.be/af6hjmW1cQw

The program is:

“Fuga con Pajarillo” (Fugue with Pajarillo Dance) by the Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero (below, 1928-2007), who was known for blending folk songs and dances with classical music. You can hear the string version of the orchestral piece in the YouTube video at the bottom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldemaro_Romero

The famous Allegretto second movement from Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

“Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite III” by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (below, 1879-1936)    

    I. Anon.: Italiana

    II. Jean-Baptiste Besard: Arie di corte

    III. Anon.: Siciliana

    IV. Lodovico Roncalli: Passacaglia

For more information about the program and the names of the student performers, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-3/

 


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Today is Veterans Day. Here is some appropriate music by Beethoven to mark it. Can you guess which piece? What composer or music would you choose?

November 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 – is Veterans Day.

It started out as Armistice Day in 1918 when the end of World War I was declared to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day to mark the service of all veterans – not just those who died in the line of duty, as is celebrated on Memorial Day.

You can find a lot of choice of classical music to play for Veterans Day. Here is one link to a compilation that features patriotic songs and marches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJepYzH1VUY

But The Ear settled on Beethoven (below, in an 1815 portrait by Joseph Willebrord Maehler).

Can you guess which piece?

It is not the memorable funeral marches on the Piano Sonata in A-Flat, Op. 26, or the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

It is also not the “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” in the String Quartet, Op. 132.

And it is not “Wellington’s Victory” or the “Egmont” Overture or the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” with its triumphant fast movements.

Instead it is the second movement of the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. (You can hear it see it represented graphically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That is the very well known Allegretto movement with its repetitious and almost hypnotizing, soaring theme. It seems like a funeral march, full of introspection, poignancy and sadness, that is a bit brisker and more lyrical than usual.

It is so popular, in fact, that it has been used as a soundtrack in many movies, including “The King’s Speech” and has inspired works based on it including the “Fantasia on an Ostinato” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano.

If it seems an unexpected choice, you just need to know more about its history.

It was composed 1811-1812, and Beethoven correctly considered it one of his finest works. So did Richard Wagner who famously described as the “apotheosis of the dance” for the infectious rhythms throughout the symphony.

At its premiere in Vienna, in his introductory remarks Beethoven said: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Beethoven (below, in 1815 as depicted in a paining the Joseph Willibrord Maehler) premiered the symphony at a charity concert in 1813 to help raise money for the Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau while fighting against France during the Napoleonic Wars.

It was so popular with the first performance that the audience demanded and received an immediate encore performance of the second movement.

Here is a Wikipedia link to the history of the symphony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)

To this day, the Seventh Symphony, so charged with energy, remains for many people, conductors and orchestral players their favorite Beethoven symphony.

It is ironic that Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Paul de Hueck) performed the Seventh Symphony at the last concert he ever conducted – at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1990. He took the second movement at a slower-than-usual tempo and many have criticized Bernstein, who was in terrible health, and have suggested that he was using it as a funeral march or homage for himself. 

They may be right. But in retrospect the choice of Bernstein – who died two months later — finds a certain justification in the original motive for the entire symphony and especially the second movement.

Listen for yourself.

Then tell us what you think.

Does this movement justify it being played on Veterans Day?

What music would you choose to mark the day?

What do you think of the Symphony No. 7 in general and the second movement in particular?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Season 3 of the free monthly Just Bach concerts begins at noon TODAY virtual and online. Each concert will be available for the following week. Here is the 2020-21 schedule

September 16, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Just Bach monthly concert series – featuring singers as well as period instruments and historically informed performance practices — to post:

“We are thrilled to share the timeless beauty of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) with music lovers in Madison and beyond for another year.

“Our host venue, Luther Memorial Church at 1021 University Ave., has resumed their weekly ‘Music at Midday’ concert series: https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday/

“As part of this series, the one-hour Just Bach concerts will take place at noon on the third Wednesday of each month. Here are the dates for the new 2020-21 season: today Sept. 16; Oct. 21; Nov. 18; Dec. 16; Jan. 20; Feb. 17; March 17; April 21; and May 19.

“Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is still too risky to have an in-person audience. So Music at Midday concerts will be virtual and online, posted on the Luther Memorial website.

“In addition, Just Bach concerts will be posted on the Just Bach website, the Just Bach Facebook page, and the Just Bach YouTube Channel.

“The concert footage should be available online for at least a week following the concert. At least that is the plan.

“Viewing the concerts is FREE, but we ask those who are able, to help us pay our musicians with a tax-deductible donation.

“Today’s concert program opens with the Pastorale in F, BWV 590, performed by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below).

“Violinist Kangwon Kim (below), concertmaster and assistant artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, will continue, with the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, with the famous Chaconne, for solo violin, BWV 1004 (see a brief preview in the YouTube video at the bottom).

“Co-founder and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt  (below) will lead the final chorale sing-along, from Cantata 99, Was Gott tut, das isn wohlgetan (What God does, is well done).

“The chorale sheet music (below) will be displayed on the screen, and Mark Brampton Smith will accompany on the organ. Cantata 99 is a timely choice. It was composed for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, which is next Sunday, Sept. 20.

“We need this soul-centering music now more than ever. We invite the music community to join us today and other Wednesdays for a wonderful program of J.S. Bach.”

Sept. 16 program:

  • Pastorale in F, BWV 590
  • Partita in D Minor for solo violin, BWV 1004
  • Chorale: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does, is well done)

Performers: Kangwon Kim, violin 1; Mark Brampton Smith, organ

For more information go to: https://justbach.org and Facebook.org/JustBachSeries

 


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Classical music: Here is how the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) plan to continue lessons and performances this fall despite the coronavirus pandemic

August 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has just received the following updates from an email newsletter about the upcoming season of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Over more than 50 years, WYSO has served tens of thousands of middle school and high school students in southcentral Wisconsin and northern Illinois. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the WYSO Youth Orchestra play a virtual performance from the past season of the famous finale from Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture.)

After many weeks of planning, and in consultation with Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) and the McFarland School District, WYSO is excited to announce a fall semester plan that will mark a safe return to in-person music-making—and our first season at the McFarland Performing Arts Center (below) https://www.wysomusic.org/the-wyso-weekly-tune-up-april-17-2020-wysos-new-home/

We had a brief delay last Friday when PHMDC released Emergency Statement #9 delaying in-person start dates for all schools in Dane County. We checked in with the Public Health agency and they re-affirmed that WYSO is not a school —and the 15 students maximum-sized groups outlined in this plan are absolutely perfect. It is time to set up the tents!

The WYSO season will begin on the weekend of Sept. 5, when the winds and brass students from all three full orchestras (Youth, Philharmonia and Concert) will begin their fall rehearsals outside under two enormous tents in the McFarland High School parking lot (below). The 60 winds and brass students will be divided into approximately nine or 10 cohorts, who will meet in two-hour blocks on Saturdays and Sundays.

With a single cohort of masked and socially distanced students spread out within the 40′ x 60′ tent, with “bell covers and bags” for their instruments, the season will not look like any previous WYSO Fall.

If you’ve not been involved in the new science of aerosol transmission, this whole scenario might seem very curious. The reasoning is simple: The winds and brass instruments have been singled out as more problematic since you have to blow into them to make music. The blowing releases more “aerosols,” the tiny droplets that can transmit the coronavirus.

However, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have recently released the first results from a five-month study and have found that the following actions bring down the transmission risk considerably:

  1. Social distancing 9 to 15 feet apart.
  2. Adding bell covers and bags (below) for the instruments (essentially the instruments have to wear masks as well as the students).
  3. Playing outside, which reduces risks due to the increased air circulation.

Because we are in Wisconsin, the “outdoor” location shortens the season for the winds and brass players so by beginning the season on Sept. 5 and ending on the weekend of Oct. 24, they can just squeeze in an 8-week cycle.

Meanwhile, the WYSO string and percussion players, approximately 300 in number and representing all five orchestras, will begin their fall season indoors on Oct. 17, after McFarland moves to a hybrid model for the school year.

The string players will be divided into 15-student cohorts by orchestra, with a wonderful mix of violins, violas, cellos and basses in each group, and with the groups spread throughout one wing of the high school in large music rooms and atriums.

The percussionists have been scheduled into the new Black Box Theater and they are excited to begin playing on the brand new marimbas and timpani so recently acquired by WYSO through a gift from an incredibly generous anonymous donor.

Everything has been carefully scheduled so that at any given time there will not be more than 125 students, conductors and staff in the building.

Start and end times have been staggered. The large beautiful spaces at McFarland will easily hold the socially distanced and mask-wearing players. And the orchestras will again be scheduled into Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons. Even the WYSO Chamber Music Program (below) has been scheduled into the intricate puzzle.

The rest of this exciting fall story has to do with adding incredibly talented professional musicians to lead some of the cohorts and the amazing repertoire available for groups of 15 musicians, whether they play winds, brass, strings or percussion.

From Mozart’s “Gran Partita” to Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 2 and 6; from Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite” to Bartok’s Divertimento, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings — there is almost an “embarrassment of riches” of exciting, seldom-played repertoire, to quote WYSO Music Director Kyle Knox (below). And this fall, that repertoire will be right in WYSO’s wheelhouse.

WYSO will video-capture this year’s Fall Concerts of students playing in the beautiful McFarland Performing Arts Center to 800 empty seats and let you know the exact Fall Concert dates as we get closer. Click here for additional information.

While WYSO is incredibly excited about our in-person plan for rehearsals and playing music together, we have also drawn up two alternate plans, and know that not everyone will be able to participate in-person.

WYSO Registration is underway, and we are asking those who cannot participate in the McFarland experience to let us know their needs through the registration process, so that we can create the best virtual experience possible for those involved. Tuition payment is not due at registration.

To register, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org/members/wyso-registration-form/

 


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Classical music: Grace Presents HD offers a free virtual online concert by the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players this Saturday at noon

August 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist and UW-Madison graduate student James Waldo has sent the following announcement about a FREE virtual online concert by Grace Presents, which he coordinates.

The hi-def, one-hour concert by the critically acclaimed and popular Willy Street Chamber Players (below) is at noon (CDT) this Saturday, Aug. 22.

Says Waldo:

“This is a pre-recorded event, and as such, I had the singular pleasure of sitting in the room while these fantastic musicians recorded their program. This event is not to be missed!

“Grace Presents HD brings you free, crystal-clear performances by local Madison musicians in the nave of historical Grace Episcopal Church – located downtown on the Capitol Square — from the comfort and safety of your own home.

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will have a video premiere that will be available on the Grace Presents YouTube channel on this Saturday, Aug. 22 at noon CDT. (This virtual concert is available for a limited time only!)

You can see and hear a preview of the concert in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Artists in the Willy Street Chamber Players are: Paran Amirinazari, artistic director, violin and viola; Eleanor Bartsch, violin and viola; Mark Bridges, cello; and Lindsay Crabb, cello, five-string cello.

You can find more information about the chamber music ensemble, including a link to a post in which The Ear named them as Musicians of the Year for 2016, at: http://willystreetchamberplayers.org

As is typical for The Willys, the program reflects diversity and includes both classical masters and contemporary composers:

Schubert: String trio in B-flat major, D. 47

Tania León (below) – Four Pieces for Solo Cello: II. Prayer

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber – Passacaglia

George Walker (below) – “Bleu”

J.S. Bach – Solo Cello Suite No. 6 in D major: I. Prelude and IV. Sarabande

Kimo Williams (below): “Quiet Shadows”

Beethoven: String Trio in G major, Op. 9, No. 1 / I. Adagio-Allegro

“We will be hosting a Zoom meet-and-greet with our guest artists following the performance. If you’d like to attend this virtual gathering, please RSVP to Grace Presents Program Coordinator James Waldo (gracepresents@gmail.com) for more information.

“Here is biographical background: The Willy Street Chamber Players (WSCP) are dedicated to creating community through classical music. Established in 2015, the group has become a fixture of the Willy Street neighborhood’s vibrant cultural scene.

“Recently awarded a gold medal in Madison Magazine’s prestigious “Best of Madison” reader poll, WSCP has received numerous accolades for its accessible and exciting performances, intelligent and fun programming, and community partnerships.

“Today, the group consists of four core members. Led by Artistic Director and violinist Paran Amirinazari, each player brings a fresh, imaginative take to classical music.

WSCP convenes each July – this summer’s concerts were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic — to present their popular summer concert series at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street. For these programs, the group has collaborated with many well-known guest artists from Madison and beyond.

“In addition, WSCP presents an array of events throughout the year including the admission-free Community Connect series that aims to bring classical music to inclusive spaces.

“WSCP has also performed at many other popular Madison venues including Marquette Waterfront Fest; Summer Serenades at Memorial Union Terrace; the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin compound in Spring Green; the Madison New Music Festival; and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).”

OTHER DETAILS

Video recording and editing has been done by: https://www.microtonemedia.com/

Audio engineering has been done by Bruce Kasprzyk.

Grace Presents is supported in part by generous project grants from Dane Arts, the Madison Arts Commission, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) and the Grace Episcopal Development Fund Trust as well as individual gifts and in-kind support.

 


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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