The Well-Tempered Ear

This Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir presents a free online parking lot concert of “Car Carols” with an emphasis on African-American composers

December 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

Join the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) this Saturday afternoon, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. for Car Carols, a unique holiday concert featuring live, socially-distanced performances of music by African-American composers and seasonal favorites.

Choir members will sing from their individual cars using wireless microphones (below), listening to the sound of the whole choir via their car radios. The audience is invited to join our Facebook event or listen in live on YouTube.

There is no charge to view the live-stream, but donations would be welcome. 

You can find the concert on this Saturday, Dec. 12, a 2 p.m. via the following links: live on YouTube at  https://youtu.be/ZonVn1cvgb8, or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1561155960751974/

This unusual concert format was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the WCC is grateful for the opportunity to continue singing together in safe ways.

Since September, the choir has been rehearsing as a Parking Lot Choir, generating local media coverage from WKOW-TV at https://wkow.com/2020/10/13/wisconsin-chamber-choir-making-adjustments-to-prepare-for-performance/ and Madison Magazine, whose story was headlined “Forget tailgates, parking lots are for choir practice: https://www.channel3000.com/forget-tailgates-parking-lots-are-for-choir-practice/

This past September and October, smaller groups from the WCC assembled on Saturday mornings at the Warner Park Pavilion to rehearse in widely spaced formations. 

They wore specially designed singers masks, and occasionally harmonized with nearby sandhill cranes that seemed unsure what to make of the a cappella music floating through their habitat. 

Recordings by five distinct small ensembles  — minus the cranes — will be aired during the Dec. 12 Car Carols broadcast, in addition to live singing by the Parking Lot choristers. 

The Car Carols repertoire highlights music by African-American composers spanning nearly a century. Idiomatic pieces in the style of spirituals and contemporary gospel alternate with “non-idiomatic” motets and anthems by Nathaniel Dett (below top), William Dawson, Undine Smith Moore (below middle) and Carlos Simon (below bottom, with an oral self-portrait in the YouTube video at the bottom).

 

The remainder of the Parking Lot Choir selections consists of carol arrangements by WCC favorites — the late Stephen Paulus (below) and Peter Blotch — and feature virtual harp and violin accompaniment.

Live and virtual performers will also unite to sing Craig Hella Johnson’s moving arrangement of the songs I Love You and What a Wonderful World

Interspersed between the live Car Carols will be a wide variety of pre-recorded selections, including the world premiere of WCC member Linda Palmer’s arrangement of Sussex Carol, plus music by Johannes Brahms, John Rutter, 17th-century female composer Chiara Cozzolani (below), and Tleycantimo choquilia, a carol from colonial-era Mexico, sung in Spanish and Nahuatl. 

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

Artistic director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks. WCC members have acknowledged Gehrenbeck for his intrepid conducting in freezing temperatures during Parking Lot Choir rehearsals.

 


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Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir celebrates its 10th anniversary with one of the best concerts of the year

July 20, 2018
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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. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Summer Choir (below) celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday night at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Each year’s program has had a theme, and for this one it was “Old Wine in New Bottles”— though it might as well have been the other way ‘round.

The idea, though, was that the selections showed their composers looking back to the techniques and tastes of earlier generations while writing new music. Conductor Ben Luedcke (below) introduced each work to explain how such approaches worked out.

The first half of the program was devoted to four works, dating from three different centuries.

Two were by contemporary composers. A setting in English of the Psalm text “By the Waters of Babylon” by Sarah Riskind (below top) was followed by Amor de mi Ami, a tribute to his wife, in Spanish, by Randall Stroope (below bottom).

Each work had instrumental additions — in the first, piano with cello, in the second, just piano) which personally I found unnecessary. Riskind’s choral writing is attractively full and quite idiomatic, while Stroope achieves a natural lyricism. I would be interested to hear just the choral parts alone for each work. (Editor’s Note: You can hear the work by Randall Stroope in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These two items were framed by music of earlier epochs. The Geistliches Lied (Spiritual Song) by Johannes Brahms showed his ability to create his own version of both pre- and post-Baroque polyphony. And Mozart’s Psalm setting Laudate pueri, from one of his Vespers collections (K. 339), showed his assimilation of Baroque counterpoint.

Bruce Bengtson played the part Brahms included for organ (or piano), and he also played the organ reduction of the orchestral part for the Mozart.

It was partly the acoustics, but also a weakness in diction that made the words in those four pieces all but indistinguishable, in whatever language was being sung—my one serious criticism of the performances.

The second part of the program was devoted to the first of the numbered Mass settings by Anton Bruckner. In some ways, such large-scale sacred works were studies for his majestic symphonies yet to come.

In this Mass No. 1 in D minor, Bruckner saw himself in the line of earlier Austrian church music, but anyone expecting bald imitations of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven would be disappointed.

In his dense and highly chromatic writing — something like a step beyond Schubert — Bruckner created some very fascinating music. It reached really exciting power in the Credo, and the words “dona nobis pacem” at the conclusion had a deeply moving sense of serenity.

The choir, of 68 mixed voices, was joined for the Bruckner by four soloists — Chelsie Propst, Jessica Lee Timman, Peter Gruett, Christian Bester (below on the left) — who sang their parts handsomely, and by an orchestra of 30 players, who provided strong and sturdy support.

Luedcke deserves particular praise for giving a chance to hear the Bruckner Mass, which was thought to be its Madison premiere. It climaxed a really enterprising event, one that I think will stand as among the Best Concerts of the Year.


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