The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Karp family turns in a memorable and moving 40th annual Labor Day concert that also took listeners back in time

September 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you missed the free 40th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Tuesday night in Mills Hall, you missed more than music. You missed the kind of event that makes for long and precious memories.

Sure, you can nitpick the program and the performers, who also included daughter-in-law violist Katrin Talbot (below right) and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below left), who performs with the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

You could ask, for example, which cello transcription worked better – the Violin Sonatina, Op. 100, by Dvorak or the Violin Sonata No. 10, Op. 96, by Beethoven. (The Ear votes for the Dvorak.)

And you could also ask which performer stood out the most. (The Ear thinks that is the great-grandmother and matriarch pianist Frances Karp playing in a Mozart piano quartet. At 90, Frances still possesses beautiful tone, the right volume and balance, and the necessary technical chops. They say there is nowhere to hide in Mozart, but Frances Karp did need any place to hide. Her Mozart was, simply, sublime.)

But, in the end, those kinds of questions and critiques really seem beside the bigger point.

What mattered most was the sheer enjoyment of hearing a family perform live some wonderful music by Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak and Schumann (the passionate Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, Op. 70, played by Lynn Harrell in the YouTube video at the bottom).

And what mattered more as The Ear thought about it was the kind of time travel the concert involved.

There were two kinds, really.

One had to do with having watched the various performing Karps – clearly Madison’s First Family of Music – over four decades. It was touching to realize that The Ear has seen cellist Parry Karp, to take one example, evolve from son to husband to father to grandfather. And through it all, the music remained.

In today’s culture of short attention spans, that kind of constancy and persistence — through the inevitable ups and downs of 40 years — is something to celebrate, admire and cherish.

Time travel happened in another way too.

The Ear first watched Frances Karp accompany her son Parry (below top), then watched son Christopher Karp accompany his older brother Parry (below bottom). And it called to mind the days when – before radio or recordings – families made music together in their homes.

Historically, that’s how many great composers and much great music got started. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn played piano duets with their gifted sisters, Nannerl and Fanny, respectively. Jean Sibelius played duets with his sister. And there were surely many more. Hausmusik, or “house music,” played a vital role.

And this is how it felt at the traditional Karp family concert. We felt invited into a loving, close and gifted musical family who were performing as much for each other as for the audience.

We could use more of that.

The musical and the familial mixed so beautifully, so convincingly, that all one can say after the event is “Thank you” with the ardent wish to hear them again next year.


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Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players wrap up their third season this Friday night at 6 with music by Mozart, Schubert and Osvaldo Golijov

July 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below) wrap up their third summer series.

The 90-minute performance is at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., on Madison’s near east side.

A post-concert reception will be held with snacks from the Underground Food Collective and the Willy Street Coop.

Tickets are $15 at the door.

The program is typical for the relatively new group – a small ensemble making big waves — in that it features regular members with a guest performer, and also mixes old music and new music, sometimes with an unusual twist.

The program offers three works.

The dramatic “Quartettsatz” (1820), or “quartet movement,” by Franz Schubert (below) was intended be a part of another string quartet. It never found that home, and now exists as a popular work on its own. (You can hear it played by the Amadeus Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994), by the eclectic contemporary Argentinean-American composer Osvaldo Golijov (below, in a photo by Kayana Szymczak for the New York Times), has proven to be among contemporary music’s more popular works. (It has been performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

As you can gather from the title, it has Hebraic or Yiddish elements typical of Golijov, who is Jewish and has lived in Israel, and it possesses an appealing klezmer sound. The featured soloist is guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (below)

Ending the concert is the popular and supremely beautiful “Sinfonia Concertante” for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was composed originally for a string orchestra and is usually performed that way.

But The Willys, always inventive, will use an anonymous “house music” reduction for string sextet that was done in 1808, almost 30 years after the composer’s death.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has done many similar reductions of piano concertos by Mozart and symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn with great success.

So The Ear is very anxious to hear this transcription or arrangement, which could make yet another great masterpiece even more accessible with smaller forces at less expense.

To The Ear, it has all the makings of yet another MUST-HEAR concert by a MUST-HEAR group.

See you there.


Classical music: Lesson 1 from the 2015 season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing.

July 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.

The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressionsTalk about a hard-working group of performing artists!

BDDS poster 2015

Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.

Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.

I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.

(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)

The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.

BDDS 2015 Mozart C minor piano concerto

Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.

The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.

BDDS 2015 Brahms Serenade 1

Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.

It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.

But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.

To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!

What do you say?

The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.


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