The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Critics for The New York Times name their favorite works by and performers of Richard Strauss. Plus, catch the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Early Music Festival on radio this Sunday.

January 3, 2015
Leave a Comment

HERE ARE TWO ALERTS FOR SUNDAY:

At 10 a.m, on WORT FM 89.9: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) under the direction of Mikko Utevsky will be featured in an hour-long broadcast this coming Sunday (January 4).

The “Summer Voices” concert was recorded live last August 22 at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Included are interviews with MAYCO founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky and guest soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below).

The program includes: the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the cantata “Knoxville Summer of 1915” by American composer Samuel Barber; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The hosts of Musica Antiqua yielded the final hour of their early music show so that WORT can provide these young musicians with the station’s largest classical music audience.

MAYCO 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller and Mikko Uevsky

Then at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area and online at wpr.org): Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) will broadcast a concert of 16th-century Renaissance music from Italy inspired by “I Trionfi” by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). The concert was designed and conducted by Grant Herreid, and was performed at the Madison Early Music Festival’s concluding All-Festival Concert (bel0w) in July 2014 at Luther Memorial Church in Madison. This recording is part of WPR’s new program, “Wisconsin Classical.”

Listen to station 88.7 FM at 1 p.m.or stream it online at http://www.wpr.org/

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the public’s favorite Late Romantic composers is Richard Strauss, seen below in old age in a photo by H. Hoffmann and Ullstein Bilderdienst.

Richard Strauss  old CR H. Hoffmann Ulstein Biulderdienst

Writing about Strauss is timely, if belatedly so, because 2014 was the 150th anniversary year of his birth.

But better late than never.

Strauss composed in every genre, from orchestra and opera to chamber music, and the last part of his career was controversial because of his involvement with Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

What is your favorite work by Richard Strauss?

Your favorite performances and performers?

Your favorite recordings?

Various critics for The New York Times recently offered their own year-end takes on those questions.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/arts/music/richard-strauss-recordings-recommended-by-critics.html?_r=0

And here is my favorite Strauss music — the Suite from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier” in a YouTube video — although it is also hard to beat “Four Last Songs” for soprano and orchestra:


Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival turns 15 with a perfect opening concert by the Toronto Consort that explored the Italian Renaissance and the musical legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

July 15, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Early Music Festival started as an idea.

So, what better way to mark its 15th anniversary than by exploring perhaps history’s greatest Man of Ideas -– Leonardo da Vinci?

Leonardo da Vinci

And that is exactly what happened during the opening concert last Saturday  night by MEMF, which this year is exploring Italian music from 1300 to 1600.

memf banner 2014

The festival — complete with workshops, lectures and concerts -– is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It started as a way to help fill the summertime void of classical music. But now summer is its own season when it comes to classical music in Madison, and much of that success is due to MEMF’s success.

Co-founders and co-artistic directors UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below) had every reason to be proud and moved -– and they were, visibly and audibly.

Paul Rowe, Cheryl Bensman Rowe MEMF 2014

This summer, because Mills Hall is under construction, MEMF has had to turn to other venues, chiefly the nearby Luther Memorial Church at 1021 University Avenue and Music Hall on Bascom Hill.

The opening concert “The Da Vinci Codex” was held at Luther Memorial, and the church seemed close to full, meaning almost 400 listeners attended. This alternative venue actually seemed an improvement in that it offered a warm and acoustically superior environment with sets and a building that complemented the religious beliefs and art of that era’s music and culture.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

The program was set up by a fine and well-attended lecture and slide show given by UW-Madison art professor Gail Geiger (below). She examined the heretofore underestimated role of music in Leonardo’s life and career as a painter, drawing master, poet, engineer, inventor and all-round genius.

MEMF 2014 Gail Geiger

MEMF Gail Geiger slide show Leonardo

What the audience then heard was a two-hour concert in which no false note was sounded, no false step was taken.

The performer was the Toronto Consort, making its Madison debut. It proved an outstanding and thoroughly professional group of eight persons (below) who are multi-talented in their ability to sing, to play instruments and to recite narration dramatically, expressively and convincingly. They were not afraid to entertain and as well as to inform. (You can hear a sample of similar music performed by the Toronto Consort in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Toronto Consort MEMF 2014

The Ear was especially impressed by the tightness of the scissors-and-paste presentation and the uncanny way the Toronto Consort spoke to and engaged with the audience, who laughed and applauded thunderously.

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience Toronto Consort

The program’s effectiveness came from the terrifically seamless and smooth narrative thread, the story that centered on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci. It was unifying and used primary sources (Leonardo’s notebooks and letters) and secondary sources like the proto-art historian Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives” and other historians or critics. (Below is David Fallis, the artistic director, tenor and narrator.)

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial Toronto Consort David Fallis, artistic director, tenor, narrator

The performers moved easily from historical accounts of Leonardo in Florence, Milan and France to contextual music that illustrated Leonardo –- the ultimate Renaissance Man — from birth to death. And it proved thoroughly enjoyable and often deeply moving. You did not have to be a fan of early music to be taken in by the contagious melodies and harmonies, the catchy inflections and rhythms, the facts of an amazing life and career.

Just watching these complete professionals perform took us into their world because they are full-body performers who used hands, feet and facial expressions to convey the emotional meaning of the music and get the audience to connect with the music and with them. It felt like Renaissance jazz, so free and yet also so disciplined and practiced was the performance. It is what The Ear likes to call “the well-rehearsed surprise” and is a hallmark of all great performances that are virtuosic and make what is hard seem easy or effortless. (Below is Katherine Hall, viola da gamba player and soprano, singing.)

MEMF 2014 Toronto Consort Katherine Hill soprano and viola da gamba

There is much more left of the 15th Madison Early Music Festival to hear, including “Songs of Love” by the instrumentalists and vocal ensemble Ex Umbris in Music Hall tonight at 7:30 p.m. tonight; plus other concerts including the second annual Handel Aria Competition in Music Hall on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m., as the MEMF home website mistakenly said at first, and the always impressive All-Festival Concert, which focuses this year on the Trionfi of the poet Petrarch, on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church. FREE pre-concert lectures by experts in art, music and history take place at 6:30 p.m.

Here is a link to a schedule and descriptions of events, with times, places and participants:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

Unlike many of Leonardo’s ideas, which were adventurous and even prophetic if uncompleted, MEMF has moved from idea to reality.

The Ear has no doubt, and every hope, that it is here to stay, and that it will continue to evolve and grow.


Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival starts Saturday. It turns 15, puts early Italian music in the spotlight and adds FREE noontime lectures while enhancing the second annual Handel Aria smack-down and using new venues. Part 2 of 2.

July 8, 2014
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups, free noon-time lectures and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide a larger context, The Ear asked University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results has been posted in two parts, yesterday and today.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/classical-music-the-weeklong-madison-early-music-festival-gets-more-national-attention-as-it-marks-15-years-the-festival-kicks-off-on-saturday-and-focuses-on-italian-early-music-and-art-from-1300-to/

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How does Italian music from that period differ from its counterparts in, say, Germany, France and England? How does it set up and participate in the artistic qualities we identify with the Italian Renaissance? What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world, and what is its legacy today?

Paul: Italy was the leading artistic, educational and philosophical country in Europe until the mid- to late-17th century. Its influence continued to be felt long afterwards. The musical language of Italy spread throughout Europe because many composers came to study in Italy before returning home and because it was the center of publishing.

Many of the developments in music such as polyphony, virtuosic solo writing, opera, monodic song and improvements in instrument-making took place in Italy or in other areas where Italians settled. Italy gradually lost its position of cultural leadership. It was replaced first by France and then by Germany.

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

Monteverdi and Palestrina (below) are probably the most well-known of the major composers from Italy at this time. Others who should be better known are Cipriano de Rore, Luzzaschi, Caccini, Gesualdo, Lassus, Tromboncino, Landini and many others.

Giovanni Pierluigi  da Palestrina

Can you tell us about the program “Trionfi: The Triumphs of Petrarch” for the concluding All-Festival Concert on Saturday, July 19?

Cheryl: Grant Herreid, who is a member of Piffaro, has been a part of the MEMF faculty since the beginning. When we chose the topic for this year, he had a wonderful selection in mind for the July 19 program. I’ve included his notes, which describe the All-Festival Concert that Grant designed for our 15th season.

TRIONPHI: A Poet’s Vision of Love and Truth — Petrarch’s Triumphs Expressed in Music of the Italian Renaissance

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374, below), considered the father of humanism, was the most influential poet of the Italian Renaissance. Autobiographical, composed and revised over 30 years, his Trionfi, or “Triumphs,” is a series of poems composed in terza rima (the same form and meter as Dante’s “Inferno” in “The Divine Comedy”) in which the poet witnesses a succession of triumphal entries or trionfi, each featuring an allegorical figure more powerful than the first: Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity.

The idea of the succession of trionfi or triumphs was a popular theme in Italian art and literature of the 15th and 16th centuries, and may even have influenced the development of tarot and playing cards (trionfo = “trump”). Many bridal chests were depicted with scenes from the trionfi, and in Florence troupes of young men and women acted out the battle of Cupid and Chastity on decorated wagons during the festivities of Carnival and Calendimaggio (May Day). Two of these “canto carnascialeschi” or “carnival songs” have come down to us without their musical settings, and are incorporated into our performance set to other carnival tunes of the early Renaissance.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

The music chosen to illustrate the Trionfi runs the gamut of musical styles of the 1500s, from light-hearted “frottole” and carnival songs by Bartolomeo Tromboncino and others, through the rise of the polyphonic madrigal as cultivated by Cipriano da Rore and Orlando di Lasso, to Francesco Cavaliere and the beginnings of monody. Some pieces are actual settings of passages of Petrarch’s poem itself, including Wert’s “Nel tempo che rinnuova,” the anonymous “Dura legge d’amor” and Lassus’ “Passan vostri triumph.’ Portions of the Trionfo di Morte are sung to 16th-century melodic formulae designed for reciting terza rima or other kinds of verse.

Finally, attesting to its popularity, many characters and themes of the Trionfi are featured in songs and madrigals of the 16th century, including the frottole “Nui siam tutti amartelati,” “Alla guerra” and “Huom terren caduco et frale”; and the early monody by Cavaliere “Il tempo fugue.” The lauda (devotional song) collected by Serafino Razzi, “Dolce Dio,” reflects in its simplicity the poet’s final vision of a world conquered by Eternity, in which Time stands still. In the midst of this vision of Eternity, we rejoice with Claudio Monteverdi‘s setting of Psalm 116.

Program notes by Grant Herreid (below)

Grant Herreid

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers, performances or programs that you especially recommend to the general public?

Paul: This will be a great summer to explore all things Italian with a special emphasis on poetry and painting. Music is always at the center of things at the Madison Early Music Festival, but there were so many other cultural and philosophical developments that this will be a great summer to learn about other aspects of Italian culture.

Cheryl: This is a difficult question to answer, because I am so enthusiastic about everything we have to offer this summer! That said, everyone should be aware that there are new artists at MEMF this summer.

The Toronto Consort is new to MEMF, as is the group Trefoil (below), a hearty trio of medieval minstrels! On Friday, July 18, in Music Hall, Trefoil (at bottom in a YouTube video playing 13th-century Spanish music at a concert on Wall Street) will be performing their program “Dio Mio! That’s Amore!” that features musical works of the trecento and the Italian fixation upon love.

Trefoil

Countertenors Drew Minter (below top) and Mark Rimple (below middle) and soprano Marcia Young (below bottom) have appeared with leading early music ensembles around the country, and it’s the first time we’ve had two countertenors appear on one program.

drew minter

Mark Rimple with lute

Marcia Young

There are special lectures on Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon that are not repeated as pre-concert lectures, but all the daytime lectures from 11 a.m. to noon are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Several University of Wisconsin-Madison professors will be lecturers, including John W. Barker (below), Professor Emeritus of History, who has written music criticism for Isthmus and The Well-Tempered Ear.  Besides the lectures, we have a fun dance event with a live band, featuring dances of the Italian Renaissance. (Costumes are welcome!) The European court dance specialist will be teaching the dances, and she is a delightful presence, all week long!

John-Barker

Please check out our web site to get full descriptions about everything that is happening: www.madisonearlymusic.com

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cheryl: The electrical system in Mills Concert Hall is being overhauled this summer, and this has been our biggest obstacle. We almost used the Wisconsin Union Theater, which would have been really exciting, because we would have been the first group in there after the renovations at the Union. But the cost was prohibitive.

So we decided to use Luther Memorial Church (below top) for the Saturday, July 12, Toronto Consort performance, the Sunday, July 13, LIBER concert, and the final All-Festival Concert on Saturday, July 19. We will be in Music Hall (below bottom) for the other concerts; Ex Umbris on Tuesday, July 15; the second annual Handel Aria Competition on Thursday, July 17; and Trefoil on Friday, July 18.

luther memorial church madison

MusicHall2

The singers in the finals of the second Handel Aria Competition (below is a photo of the first competition last year that featured just a harpsichord accompaniment) will be accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble this year. We had a higher number of applicants this year from all over the country and several from Europe.

Handel arias Winnie Nieh

Also, Piffaro (below), the Renaissance Wind Band, will have their only performance in Edgerton at the Wartmann Prairie, on Friday, July 11, which will benefit the Edgerton Arts Council. MEMF artists have appeared on this benefit concert for the past 11 years. William Wartmann, a great patron of the arts in Rock and Dane counties, invited us to start this series and help raise scholarship funds for students in the Edgerton area to attend summer music programs.

piffaro indoors

Paul: Since this is our 15th year, we will be celebrating some of our past events and planning for new things in the future. We are excited about several new developments that we feel will set us up well for the next 15 years.


Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival gets more national attention as it marks 15 years. The festival kicks off on Saturday and focuses on Italian early music and art from 1300 to 1600. Part 1 of 2.

July 7, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?

Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Toronto Consort

Leonardo da Vinci

In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals.

MEMF was again the only Wisconsin music festival listed on May 14, 2014 in the The New York Times story “Birds Aren’t The Only Music Amid Nature.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/arts/music/birds-arent-the-only-music-amid-nature.html

Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.

Boston Early Music Festival boston early music festival overview hall

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?

Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.

There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.

Bob Wiemken

MEMF 14 2013 Piffaro instruments

We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.

monteverdi

Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.

The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different?  What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?

 

 


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,205 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,091,572 hits
%d bloggers like this: