The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: More cold and snow are on the way today. Has any composer captured arctic austerity better than Debussy?

January 14, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Looks like more severe cold is on the way later tonight and tomorrow, this time accompanied by one to three inches of snow.

The Ear is sure a lot of readers know of and can suggest music that expresses such a wintry mood.

So far, the best and most haunting interpretation he has heard is “Footprints in the Snow” (Des pas dans la neige) by the French musical Impressionist Claude Debussy (below). It is the sixth of 12 in Debussy’s Preludes, Book 1.

A lot of versions by very famous pianists exist and can be found on YouTube.

But the moodiest ones that really attract the Ear are the slowest ones that imitate the motionlessness of severe cold and the austerity of snow – amounting to a kind of stasis or suspended animation. It can almost seem like Minimalism ahead of its time.

The best reading is done by the great Italian master Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below), who follows the composer’s tempo instructions of “slow and sad” very literally. It reminds him of the title of the first novel by the American writer Ann Beattie: “Chilly Scenes of Winter.” You can feel the sense of absence and frozen mystery.

Take a listen and tell us what you think or if you have other suggestions.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: New faculty conductor Chad Hutchinson makes an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra

October 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, Chad Hutchinson (below), the new faculty conductor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, made an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The ambitious program that Hutchinson put together says a lot about his priorities and instincts, and about his confidence in himself and the abilities of his student players, who performed superbly.  

The varied works came from the early 19th century, the mid-19th century, the early 20th century and the 21st century. And it seemed that each piece in the ambitious program was chosen to put the spotlight on a different section – percussion, brass, strings and winds.

Curiously, The Ear found the most successful pieces were the most traditional ones.

The Prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by Richard Wagner received the right mix of horn pomp and string zest. It made The Ear realize again how much more he prefers Wagner’s instrumental music to his vocal music. Let’s hear more Wagner preludes, since we are unlikely to hear more Wagner operas.

The orchestral transcription by Leopold Stokowski (below) of the piano prelude “The Sunken Cathedral” by Claude Debussy was the least successful work of the night. This is the second overblown and bombastic Stokowski transcription that The Ear has heard performed live in a month.

Clearly, Stokowski’s aesthetic was Bigger is Better. This particular transcription strips away the mystery, sensuality and subtlety, the watery softness,  of the original. It works more as an etude for orchestra than as an authentic expression of Impressionism.  The Ear’s objections are to the transcription, not to the performance, which was well voiced, precise and tightly controlled.

“Mothership” by the popular American composer Mason Bates (below), who wrote the recent successful opera based on the life of the late Apple guru Steve Jobs, proved an interesting foray into contemporary music culture. It was also the Madison premiere of the 2011 work.

The electronic music in the pulsating and highly atmospheric score, including the computer-generated disco dance beat, highlighted the percussion section and the UW’s new Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS), which collaborated with the symphony orchestra.

The dramatic work, a novelty that is pop-infused and resembles music by John Adams a little too closely, has its pleasing and engaging moments. But overall it seems a triumph of style over substance. (You can judge for yourself from the performance with Michael Tilson Thomas in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That said, Hutchinson nonetheless held the complex and coordinated score together, and the young audience seemed to take to the new music — a major achievement in itself.

Expect to hear many more contemporary works from Hutchinson, who says he is an unabashed champion of new music. He will include other living composers in many other concerts, including the next one on Nov. 4 and then again on Feb. 22.  

To these ears, the most impressive performance came in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven. In its day, the difficult and long work proved revolutionary and perplexing. More recently, more than 100 conductors named it the best symphony ever written. You can’t get more establishment than that.

Yet despite being so mainstream, the “Eroica” remains a difficult and challenging work, both technically and interpretively. And this performance succeeded on both counts. That is no small feat for a new conductor and his young students to pull off in the first six weeks of school.

Especially impressive was Hutchinson’s choice to skip any pause between the third movement and the finale. It worked dramatically to maintain momentum. Such exciting attacks should be a more common practice in performing symphonies and concertos as well as chamber music.

Hutchinson seems a congenial and humorous concert hall host. His pre-concert talk (below), which he is slated to do at all performances, was helpful and informative, even if he repeated some major points when he introduced  the actual performances. Hutchinson, intent on expanding the audience for classical music, is worth listening to.

Hutchinson may not possess an especially graceful or fluid podium presence that is pleasing to watch, but he gets results. Certainly both the student players and the large audience (below) seemed pleased and excited by these performances.

In the end, the concert provided plenty of reasons to look forward to hearing more from Chad Hutchinson and seeing how he develops and leaves his mark on programming and performing at the UW.

Were you there as either a performer or an audience member?

What did you think of the concert and of Chad Hutchinson’s debut?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet will open its new season this Saturday night with music by Haydn, Dvorak and Ravel. 

September 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ancora String Quartet (below in a photo by Barry Lewis) will open its 17th season this Saturday night with a varied program. Members, from left, are: Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello.

The ASQ members play with many other professional groups, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians. Cellist Whitcomb teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on Madison’s near west side at 1833 Regent Street.

The stylistically varied program includes: The “Sunrise” Quartet, Op. 76, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; “Cypresses Nos. 2, 5 and 10 by Antonin Dvorak, and the String Quartet in F Major by Maurice Ravel.

Tickets at the door are $15 for the general public; $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

A post-concert reception to meet the members of the quartet is included in the ticket.

Another performance will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Kirk Denmark Theatre, UW-Rock County. The performance is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here are some program notes from the Ancora String Quartet:

“The opening recital features something for every musical taste.

“First on the program is a superb example of mature Haydn, from its exquisite opening theme depicting the rising sun — a favorite image among composers — to the fleet Finale which gets faster and ever faster, racing towards its triumphant conclusion.

“Dvorak first set the poetic cycle Cypresses for voice and piano, but his own transcription for string quartet retains the lyrical vocal style of these miniature character pieces.” (You can hear Cypress No. 2 at the bottom in a YouTube video. The Ear considers Dvorak’s “Cypresses” to be little gems that are literally small masterpieces that are not as well-known as they should be. They make great encores.)

“The Ravel quartet brings French Impressionism at its finest, with iridescent colors, jazzy rhythms and propulsive energy.”


Classical music: Next week, the Ancora String Quartet closes its 16th season with three concerts that contrast the German Romanticism of Beethoven and the French Impressionism of Saint-Saëns. This Saturday night, the Festival Choir of Madison sings about astrology and signs of the Zodiac

May 5, 2017
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ALERT: On this Saturday night, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, the Festival Choir of Madison will perform a spring program of choral music linked to signs of the Zodiac and astrology, Sorry, no word on the specific program. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and $6 for students. For more information go to: http://festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/a-musical-zodiac

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following note to post from the Ancorans, who are  among his favorite musicians:

You are invited to join the Ancora String Quartet (ASQ), below in a photo by Barry Lewis) for the closing concert program of our 16th season.

The performance takes place next Saturday night,  May 13, at 7:30 p.m., at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 regent Street. A champagne reception will follow.

French Impressionism and German Romanticism – Vive la difference! Whether you prefer Bordeaux or Riesling wine, you’ll enjoy our spring program.

On the program are the Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 153, by Camille Saint-Saëns (below top) and the Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below bottom).

Saint-Saëns’ second quartet reveals the lyricism and witty invention that earned him the nickname “the French Mendelssohn.” (You can hear the quartet’s beautiful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We follow this up with the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, written shortly after he finished his Ninth Symphony. From its wistfully dreamy first movement to the ethereally mysterious coda in the last, Beethoven charts a new course.

Tickets will be available at the door, and are for general seating. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place earlier.:

The first is on Monday, May 8, at 3 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House (below) in Stoughton. Admission is a free-will donation.

The other performance is on Friday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the MacDowell Music Club in Janesville. The concert is FREE and open to the public.

Members of the quartet (below, from left, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello. They represent professional experience playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison Bach Musicians and many other groups plus teaching privately and in the University of Wisconsin System.

For more information, including individual biographies and concert schedules, go to:

http://ancoraquartet.com


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this Saturday night with a new first violinist and works by Beethoven, Turina and Tchaikovsky

September 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed, Madison-based Ancora String Quartet welcomes its new first violinist Wes Luke – who replaces Leanne Kelso League — for the  launch of the string quartet’s 16th season.

The concert is this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” by the Spanish composer Joaquin Turina; and the String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11, by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

Tickets at the door are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

ancora-2016-group-1

Members of the Ancora (above from left) are: first violinist Wes Luke — who filled in for the past two seasons — plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and the Mosaic Chamber Players; second violinist Robin Ryan, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (she performs on both modern and early instruments) who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble; and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and frequently performs chamber music.

According to program notes: “Beethoven’s charming and lyrical early quartet shows him bridging the divide between the Classical and Romantic eras; Turina’s dramatic tone poem fuses French Impressionism with musical elements from his native Seville; and Tchaikovsky’s first quartet includes the poignant Andante Cantabile, which moved writer Leo Tolstoy to tears. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.


Classical music: UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger wins a national grant for her new opera and just completed a residency with the Richmond Symphony

May 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Artemisia, a new opera based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), is a recipient of an OPERA GRANT FOR FEMALE COMPOSERS from OPERA America, the nation’s leading champion for American opera.

Laura Schwendinger 2

The awards were announced last week and are supported by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Seven composers and seven opera companies were awarded a total of $200,000.

Artemisia, Schwendinger’s new opera is based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 –1656), and an important follower of Caravaggio with her father Orazio.

Artemisia was the first women member of the Accademia del Arte, Florence. When 16, Artemisia was raped by Agostino Tassi, while studying with the elder painter. Tassi was sentenced to prison, after Artemisia’s father Orazio pushed for Tassi’s prosecution, but Tassi never served time in prison.

The case overshadowed Artemisia’s achievements for years. However, today she is regarded as one of the greatest painters of her time. Below top is her “Woman Playing a Lute” (1609-1612) and her self-portrait (ca. 1630).

Laura Schwendinger Artemisia Gentileschi Self-Portrait as a Lute Player

Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait c1630

The opera is a co-commission by Trinity Wall Street Novus, N.Y., and by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco, California.

Librettist Ginger Strand (below), is a writer and author of four books including her acclaimed new book “The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic” from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

ginger strand

Composer Schwendinger has just returned from her successful residency with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, where her “Waking Dream” was played on their 2016 Altria Masterworks Series, with principal flutist Mary Boodell as flute soloist and Steven Smith conducting at the Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Arts Center.

Her residency was made possible through Music Alive: New Partnerships, a residency program of New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. During her week-long residency, Schwendinger gave presentations of her music to hundreds of high school students at seven schools in the Richmond area.

Laura Schwendinger Richmond Symphony brighter

She also heard a rehearsal of her Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra commission “Animal Rhapsody,” as well as being interviewed on WCVE Public Radio Richmond and discussing “Waking Dream” in a pre-Richmond Symphony concert interview with Maestro Smith. (You can hear her discuss the work with Smith in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to the interview:

http://ideastations.org/music/classical/composer-laura-schwendinger-visits-richmond-symphony

Laura Schwendinger Richmond WCVE interview with Mike Goldberg

“Waking Dream” received a glowing review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Clarke Bustard wrote:

“Laura Elise Schwendinger’s “Waking Dream” for flute and orchestra, being performed this weekend by the Richmond Symphony and its principal flutist, Mary Boodell, audibly echoes the Debussy — might even be heard as an “answer song” to the prelude — and not just because the flute is the lead voice of both pieces. Some of Debussy’s trademark orchestration techniques, such as single high notes dotting a soundscape of very low tones, shimmering string figures that evoke rippling water and pregnant or resonant silences, are what make “Waking Dream” sound so dreamy. The elaborated fanfares that are among solo flute’s chief contributions to the piece also harken back to Debussy and the Impressionists.”

Here is a link to the full review:

http://www.richmond.com/entertainment/music/article_6b058f07-7c76-5419-8bf8-4836e1117a9a.html


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform a FREE concert this Sunday afternoon to help bring neglected Jewish music “out of the shadows” of history. Part 2 of 2.

August 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society write:

The U.S. component of a major international research project, “Performing the Jewish Archive,” led by the University of Leeds, in England, has attracted significant funding to shine new light on forgotten works by Jewish artists.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison and the City of Madison are uniquely situated as the sole hosts for the global project’s performance events within the United States; one of the premier public research-intensive universities in the world, located in a community that lives and breathes diverse arts, while striving for social change.

Out of shadows poster

Here, in Madison, under the leadership of Teryl Dobbs, Chair of Music Education at the UW-Madison, “Out of the Shadows: Rediscovering Jewish Music, Literature and Theater” will be a full-day event held on this Sunday, August 30, 2015.

Local partners include the UW-Madison School of Music, Mosse-Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies, the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture, and the Arts Institute at UW-Madison; and the Bach Dancing andDynamite Society.

Yesterday The Ear posted the schedule of all FREE events.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/classical-music-the-uw-madison-and-the-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-will-hold-free-events-this-coming-sunday-to-help-bring-neglected-jewish-music-and-culture-out-of-the-shadows/

Today’s post focuses on the classical music in the event:

The Ear’s friend Jeffrey Sykes of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society writes:

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is proud to partner with Performing the Jewish Archive’s “Out of the Shadows” event by performing neglected and suppressed Jewish music from the early 20th Century.

The FREE concert will be held this Sunday 2:30-4:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes music from two composers who died at Auschwitz. Erwin Schulhoff’s flute sonata is a passionate mix of impressionism and jazz. Dick Kattenburg’s quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano is an irrepressible romp full of Gershwin-esque melodies and harmonies.

Robert Kahn (below) is a composer from an earlier generation whose work was suppressed by the Nazis. We perform his gorgeous song cycle “Jungbrunnen” (The Fountain of Youth) for soprano, violin, cello and piano.

Robert Kahn

The program concludes with two works by the Viennese wunderkind Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below). Already well-known in Austria, Korngold had begun to compose music for Hollywood movies. He was working California in 1938 when the Anschluss took place, and he never returned to his homeland.

We begin with three beautiful songs he composed for his mother and continue with his Suite for piano left-hand, two violins and cello based on those songs. A thrilling and important composition, the Suite was written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold BW piano

Adds BDDS flutist Stephanie Jutt:

Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944, below) barely got started before his career and his life ended at Auschwitz at age 24. A supremely gifted young composer, bursting with originality and ingenuity, his love of jazz and the popular idioms of the day make his music irresistible – by turns a bit of Stravinsky, a bit of Wizard of Oz, a bit of Duke Ellington. His two dozen complete works were hidden in the attic where his mother had kept them, and were discovered by his sister, Daisy.

Dick Kattenburg

The music of Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942, below) has become widely known over the last 20 years. Denounced as “Entartete Musik” (degenerate music) by the Nazis, he died in Wülzburg concentration camp. During the 30 years of his active career he wrote sonatas, quartets, sextets, jazz piano pieces, stage music, an opera, eight symphonies, and at least one oratorio.

Schulhoff, like Kattenburg, also fell in love with American jazz, and his flute sonata of 1927 reflects the infectious American rhythmic vitality with his great interest in the traditional music of Czechoslovakia.

Erwin Schulhoff

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performers are: Emily Birsan, soprano; Stephanie Jutt, flute; Parry Karp, cello; Leanne League, violin; Axel Strauss, violin; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano.

PROGRAM

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942): Flute Sonata (1928). Jutt, Sykes

Robert Kahn (1865-1951): Seven Songs from Jungbrunnen, op. 46, for soprano and piano trio (1906). Birsan, League, Karp, Sykes

Dick Kattenburg: Quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano. Jutt, Strauss, Karp, Sykes.

Intermission

Erich Wolfgang Korngold 
(1897-1957): Three Songs, op. 22, for soprano and piano (1930). Birsan, Sykes

Erich Wolfgang Korngold 
(1897-1957): Suite, op. 23, for piano left hand, two violins, and cello (1930). Strauss, League, Karp, Sykes

For more about the performers, visit bachdancinganddynamite.org.

Here are biographies of the performers:

Founding Artistic Director STEPHANIE JUTT (below) is professor of flute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. She is a winner of the International Pro Musicis Competition.

Stephanie Jutt in Gustavino at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Founding Artistic Director and pianist JEFFREY SYKES (below) is a faculty member of the University of California-Berkeley. He is a member of the San Francisco Piano Trio.

jeffrey sykes

Soprano EMILY BIRSAN (below) has completed her third year as a member of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, she is appearing with the Boston Lyric Opera this year.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

Cellist PARRY KARP (bel0w) is artist-in-residence and professor of chamber music and cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet for the past 37 years.

Parry Karp

Violinist LEANNE KELSO LEAGUE (below) is assistant concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. She also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is a member of the Ancora String Quartet.

Leanne League profile

Violinist AXEL STRAUSS (below), winner of the International Naumburg Award, is professor of violin at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal. He is also a member of the San Francisco Piano Trio.

Axel Strauss


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 2015
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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, who also took 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 for 12 years hosted 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

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.

MAYCO Karp CR JWB

What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org


Classical music: French composer Maurice Durufle’s quietly glorious but rarely performed Requiem will be sung for FREE twice this Sunday, March 29, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Plus, the UW Hunt Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Janacek and Mendelssohn on Thursday night at 6:30 in Morphy Hall.

March 25, 2015
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ALERT: This Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the Hunt Quartet will perform three great string quartets: the String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” by Leos Janacek; and the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn.

The quartet is made up of four graduate students (below) at the UW-Madison School of Music. Here is a link to the event with impressive biographies and other information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/hunt-quartet-recital/

Hunt Quartet 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friend Dan Broner, the music director of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, has sent the following note to The Ear: 

On Sunday, March 29, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the Society Choir of the First Unitarian Society of Madison will be joined by guest singers and instrumentalists in two performances of a masterpiece by French composer Maurice Durufle (below): his Requiem, Op. 9

Maurice Durufle full frontal BW

Both performances will take place in the modern Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams).

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) was a celebrated French organist and composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with the two most important French organist-composers of the day, Charles Tournemire and Louis Vierne, and he surpassed them both.

Durufle (below) won every major prize – in organ, harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint and fugue, and composition. In 1939 he gave the world premiere of Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and in the 1940s he was named Professor of Harmony of the Conservatoire. It was his exceptional penchant for self-criticism, however, that led to Durufle publishing only 13 works: six organ pieces, two works for orchestra, a chamber piece, and four choral compositions.

He kept re-writing and revising his compositions for years after they were completed. As a result Durufle is a relatively unknown composer to the general public, but is admired by composers and singers for the impeccable craftsmanship and sublime beauty of his work.

Durufle at organ

The Requiem for choir, soloists, orchestra and organ was completed in 1947 and is based on Gregorian chants from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. Stylistically it is influenced by the 20th-century organ music of Tournemire and Vierne, the Impressionist school of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the elegant Romanticism of Gabriel Faure, Renaissance polyphony and above all Gregorian chant. These elements form a tapestry held together by Durufle’s command of harmony and structure.

Durufle wrote three different accompaniments for the work: the original for large orchestra, a version for organ accompaniment, and one for organ and chamber orchestra.  It is this last version that we will be using for our performances. (Below is a photo of Dan Broner conducting the choir. At bottom, you can hear the fourth movement, the Sanctus, as performed by Robert Shaw and the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Sorry, but I don’t know why there is no video to accompany the audio.)

fus choirs

The concert will also introduce the new Allen digital organ gifted by William Wartmann (below) in memory and honor of his late wife, Joyce Wartmann, and her lifelong friendship with retired FUS Assistant Music Director and Organist, Eva Wright.

SONY DSC

Joining the Society Choir will be guest singers from the Meeting House Chorus and community; baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and soprano Heather Thorpe (below bottom), who directs the FUS Children’s Choir.

Schubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Heather Thorpe

Retired UW-Madison professor and Concertmaster of the Madison Symphony, Tyrone Greive (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will lead the string section, which will be joined by three trumpeters, timpani and harp, all conducted by FUS music director Dan Broner.  Linda Warren (below bottom) will be the harpist and the guest organist will be Sheri Masiakowski, a doctoral student of UW organist, John Chappell Stowe.

Tyrone Greive Talbot

linda warren

I hope you will be able to join us on March 29 to experience some of the most beautiful music ever penned for choir and orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will teach a class on the piano music of Claude Debussy in January and February. The deadline to register is Jan. 20.

January 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our good friend Trevor Stephenson — who is usually an eloquent and humorous advocate of early music as a keyboardist who founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians — will be offering a class at his home-studio about the piano music of the early 20th-century French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy (below).

Claude Debussy 1

The class will take on four Monday evenings: January 26, February 2, 16 and 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Those who know Trevor Stephenson (below top) know that he is an articulate and witty explainer, a fine teacher who can reach listeners on all levels. And he will use a 19th-century piano that is close to the kind the Debussy himself used (below bottom).

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Stephenson ca 1850 English parlor grand

TOPICS include:

. Debussy’s life and musical influences

. Construction and tonal qualities of the 19th-century piano

. Modes, whole-tone scales, harmonic language, tonality

. Touch, pedaling, sonority

. Fingering approaches

. Programmatic titling, extra-musical influences, poetry and art

REPERTOIRE includes:

. Suite Bergamasque (with Clair de Lune), Preludes Book II and Children’s Corner Suite

. Two Arabesques, Reverie and Estampes (or “Prints,” heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the magical and great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1977 in Salzburg, Austria.)

The course is geared for those with a reading knowledge of music.

The classes will be given at Trevor Stephenson’s home studio (below). It is located at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison WI 53705 on Madison’s west side.

Schubert house concert

Enrollment for the course is $150.

Please register by January 20, 2015 if you’d like to attend. Email is: trevor@trevorstephenson.com

 


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