The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open a new season with an impressive program impressively played

July 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willys never disappoint.

Last Friday night, the six Willy Street Chamber Players (below) opened their third summer season at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

And once again, even though The Willys are relative newcomers, it is hard for The Ear to imagine a more perfect or more enjoyable concert.

The large and enthusiastic audience (below), which has grown considerably over the past two years, seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovations, loud applause and overheard comments.

So what made The Willys’ concert so great and so enjoyable?

Start with the basics

It was summery and informal. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals felt entirely appropriate.

It wasn’t expensive. A $15 ticket seems very affordable compared to what so many other local groups charge.

It wasn’t too long. They played just three pieces – two short and one long — that lasted under 80 minutes. That way you can enter the zone; concentrate hard and focus while you stay in the zone; and then leave the zone for good with time to do other things, including attend the post-performance reception with cookies, ice cream and coffee.

Spoken informal introductions to the pieces – each given by a different player – served as program notes, and they were kept short and to the point. (Below is cellist Mark Bridges humorously explaining the complicated love life of Brahms and how it affected his composing the string sextet.)

The playing itself was exemplary. (It featured the six core members plus guest violinist Suzanne Beia, below front left, of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)

The Ear detected no sour notes, no false starts or stops, no uncertain passages or interpretation. The well-rehearsed Willys played with precision as well as heart.

The program was typical Willy fare. It mixed short and long, old and new.

The old classics were two: Hugo Wolf’s charming “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (below) and with the String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms, a long piece that received an energetic and thoroughly compelling reading.

But the star of the evening for The Ear came first: Jennifer Higdon‘s string quartet setting and contemporary take on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The riffs on the familiar tune by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (below) was new to The Ear and proved completely engaging, unmistakably modern-sounding yet accessible. (You can hear the Higdon work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Higdon string quartet (below) recalled an American tradition of using religious music for non-religious purposes. Think of how Charles Ives and Aaron Copland used old hymns and camp meeting songs, the most famous being Copland’s use of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

To be honest, a lot of new music just doesn’t speak to The Ear or reach him emotionally. It often makes him feel superfluous.

But The Willys have a knack for picking the right kind of new music that captures and holds The Ear’s attention, including the String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass, the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain and “Entr’acte” for string quartet by Caroline Shaw.

It is a gift The Ear hopes they keep as they choose other contemporary composers and new music to perform with tried-and-true classics.

And if you want to hear more, you can go to The Willys’ website for details about the two remaining concerts this summer plus a FREE family-friendly Community Connect appearance at the east side Goodman Center from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday. There they will play the works by Caroline Shaw and Daniel Bernard Roumain as well as “Tango for Four” by Astor Piazzolla and the Viola Quintet No. 1 in G major, Op. 111, by Brahms. (NOTE: An earlier mistake here and on the Willys’ website listed the String Sextet by Brahms rather than the Viola Quintet.)

The Willys complete the regular subscription season with performances at Immanuel Lutheran on two Fridays, July 21 (with music by Elvis Costello, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dmitri Shostakovich) and July 28 (with music by Franz Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Both performances are at at 6 p.m.

For more details about the performers and the programs, here is a link:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

You shouldn’t miss The Willys in concert.

But if you do, you should know that Madison’s classical music documentarian and chronicler, Rich Samuels (below), is recording all the concerts to play this fall on his Thursday morning radio program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9. Stay tuned for more information about air times.

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Classical music: This Friday night at 6 the Willy Street Chamber Players open their new summer season with music by Brahms, Wolf and Higdon

July 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past two years, the Willy Street Chamber Players have sure caught on.

That’s little wonder because they consistently turn in must-hear, top-quality performances with accessible but innovative programs that mix old and new works in a shorter-than-usual format. For all those reasons, The Ear named them Musicians of the Year for 2016.

This season The Willys have already performed a preview winter concert and a spring community concert at Warner Park. Then earlier this spring and summer, they warmed up, so to speak, by opening the Rural Musicians Forum season in Spring Green and then also played at the Marquette Waterfront Festival.

This Friday at 6 p.m. the Willys will open the three-concert regular summer season of 2017.

Here is an announcement:

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will begin their third annual Summer Series this Friday night, July 7, at 6 p.m. Join these energetic young chamber musicians for an exciting concert that has something for everyone.

“The concert will begin with two short works: “Amazing Grace” by contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jennifer Higdon (below) and the delightful “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf.

The special guest will be violinist Suzanne Beia – who performs with the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and is also concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Beia (below) will join the group in a performance of the gorgeous String Sextet No. 2 in G major by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Shanghai Quartet, performing live in Tokyo, play the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All this will take place in the beautiful sanctuary (below) of Immanuel Lutheran Church, on Lake Monona at 1021 Spaight Street.

“The concert will run about 80 minutes.

“It will be followed by a reception where guests can meet the musicians and share snacks provided by Festival Foods Madison and Let It Ride Cold Brew Coffee.

“Tickets are $15 and additional information about the group and its upcoming performances — including reviews and a schedule of the Community Connect series as well as a concert at Allen Centennial Gardens — can be found at www.willystreetchamberplayers.org.”

And here is a post with more details about this summer’s concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/classical-music-the-willy-street-chamber-players-announces-its-expanded-summer-season-and-its-another-appetizing-winner/


Classical music: Broadcasts of operas from the Met and string quartets by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet are featured on old media and new media this Saturday and Sunday. Plus, the 89th Edgewood college Christmas Concert is tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

December 2, 2016
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ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.

Tickets are $10, and seating is limited for this very popular annual event. Tickets should be purchased online in advance.

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.

SATURDAY

This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

Met from stage over pit

The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.

This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.

Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.

This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”

But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.

Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/Radio/Saturday-Matinee-Broadcasts/

met-manon-lescaut-anna-netrebko-cr-richard-termine-nyt

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.

The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”

But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-12-4-16/

sal-pro-arte-12-4-16

You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.

First Folio


Classical music: Rare repertoire for four pianos will be played at Farley’s House of Pianos on Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, Pro Arte Quartet gives a FREE concert tonight and tickets to pianist Christopher Taylor have SOLD OUT

October 25, 2016
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ALERT 1: The UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program is the “Italian Serenade” (1887) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73, (1946) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975); and the String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 (1895) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).

ALERT 2: Tickets to the piano recital of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations by Christopher Taylor this Friday night are SOLD OUT as of Monday morning.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about a set of unusual piano concerts this coming weekend:

In their only North American appearance, world-renowned pianists Daniel del Pino, Lucille Chung, Alon Goldstein and Roberto Plano will be heard this Friday and Saturday nights in the opening program of the third season of the Salon Piano Series.

Hosted by Tim and Renee Farley at Farley’s House of Pianos, the Salon Piano Series has quickly gained a reputation for unique and stimulating programs in the intimate and historic setting of the Farley showroom.

But never have four pianists been heard at once on four restored instruments.

“It’s an honor knowing the pianists chose our location for their only North American performance,” says Renée Farley, co-founder of the Salon Piano Series. “We thought of no better way to open our third season.”

The repertoire for the “Four on the Floor” concerts could hardly be more entertaining or appropriate for Halloween weekend: arrangements of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Carmen Fantasy” based on the beloved opera by Georges Bizet; Maurice Ravel’s own transcription for four keyboards of his “Bolero” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.

four piano concert sketches--sps--2016b.indd

For the first time, an SPS program will be heard twice, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, with both events beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Farley’s House of Pianos Showroom, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison. That is on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45.

For more information about tickets, the concerts and the artists, plus other artists and concerts in the Salon Piano Series this season, visit:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

For information about Farley’s House of Pianos, go to:

http://www.farleyspianos.com/index.html

THE ARTISTS

Daniel del Pino (below) is a leading Spanish concert pianist juggling an international recital career with teaching in the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.

Daniel del PIno square

The reputation of Lucille Chung (below), who often performs with her husband Alessio Bax, has grown steadily since her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. To date she has performed with more than 60 orchestras.

lucille-chung

Alon Goldstein (below, in a photo by Meagan Cignoli) is particularly admired for his artistic vision and innovative programming. The New York Times described a recent performance as “exemplary throughout, with his pearly touch and sparkling runs.”

alon-goldstein-cr-meagan-cignoli

Roberto Plano lives in Travedona Monate, Italy and teaches there at Accademia Musicale Varesina, which he founded.

robert-plano


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet welcomes back first violinist Leanne Kelso League and turns in an outstanding performance of an unusual program to kick off its new season.

September 21, 2015
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, a post about the Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet Joseph Morris was mistakenly released earlier today. It was and is scheduled to appear tomorrow, getting posted tonight at midnight. The Ear regrets the mistake and any inconvenience.

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 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

The Ancora String Quartet opened its new season at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night. An immediate feature of the event was the return of Leanne Kelso League as the group’s first violinist.

(In the photo below taken by John W. Barker, League is on the far left followed by violinist Robin Ryan, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt.)

Her absence on sabbatical for the past two seasons has prompted some experimentation, last season with two different guest first violinists. Each was individual, and brought individual new qualities with each shift.

But it was good to have League back again, bringing her powerful and incisive qualities of playing and leadership once more to the group.

Ancora Quartet 2015 JWB

The program was an interesting venture in relative novelties.

The opening work was the penultimate string quartet by Felix Mendelssohn (below), his Op. 44, No. 3. Mendelssohn’s chamber works, especially his quartets, are often kept in the shadows; but they deserve attention, especially this one. In E-flat major, it offers first two movements marked by stormy assertiveness. The third movement is a thing of warm beauty and slightly sad nostalgia, while the final movement seemed to establish a balance between the contrasting moods of what preceded.

The performance was superb, certainly belying the idea many have that Mendelssohn was just a lightweight composer. This is powerful music. That the Ancora performance was so strong and passionately articulated certainly owed a lot to League’s renewed participation.

mendelssohn_300

The surprise of the program, though, was the second of the three quartets by Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960, below). The chamber music by this Late Romantic or Post-Romantic Hungarian master is not often performed and recorded, but the Ancora performance made it clear it should be heard more often.

In D-flat major, this quartet dates from 1906, and shows its roots well back in 19th-century traditions. Its three movements are filled with beautiful melodiousness amid busy aggressiveness, and the work is, in effect, a kind of debate between such opposed spirits. (You can hear the lovely third movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The members of the Ancora — who also play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — gave it a superbly committed, convincing rendition. More, please!

ernst von dohnanyi

Finally, the quartet played one of the few chamber works by the Viennese Hugo Wolf (1860-1903, below in 1902), famous for his German Lieder or art songs. The Italian Serenade is certainly his most recurrent concert work, a piece of durable froth that is always a pleasure to hear, and provides an upbeat way to end a program.

Hugo Wolf 1902 photo

The Ancora String Quartet is scheduled to return on May 21.


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this coming Saturday night with a program of Mendelssohn, Dohnanyi and Hugo Wolf.

September 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ancora String Quartet will open its new season this coming Saturday night, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The historic building was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tickets can be purchased at the door: $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

The ASQ will welcome back first violinist Leanne League for its 15th Season.

Members of the quartet (below in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violinists Robin Ryan (left) and Leanne Kelso League (right), violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (top center) and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb (bottom center).

Barry Lewis

Members of the Ancora String Quartet play in other groups such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Whitcomb teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The fall program by the critically acclaimed quartet opens with the luminous and spirited Quartet, Op. 44, No. 3, by Felix Mendelssohn, followed by the darkly impassioned 2nd quartet of Ernő Dohnányi. The storm clouds are dispersed with the program closer, the sunny “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf. (The “Italian Serenade” can be heard in a YouTube video at bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.

Also of interest: The Ancora Quartet will also team up again with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie Quartet for a reprise of their performance a few years ago of the Octet by Felix Mendelssohn. The performance will be on Friday, Oct. 9, at the Fort Atkinson Club. For more information, visit: http://www.fortatkinsonclub.org/

 


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