The Well-Tempered Ear

November’s “Just Bach” FREE online concert is this Wednesday morning at 8 instead of noon. It features two favorites: “Air on the G String” and the Concerto for Two Violins

November 17, 2020
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This Wednesday, Just Bach again shares the timeless beauty of the music by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) from their home in the nave of Luther Memorial Church (LCM), 1021 University Avenue.

The group participates in LMC’s weekly ‘Music at Midday’ concert series at https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday. (Please note: Now that the concerts are online instead of in person, the videos will be posted early Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m., instead of at noon. They will remain online indefinitely so viewers can see them at their convenience.).

As part of this series, Just Bach concerts take place on the third Wednesday of each month. Remaining concerts are: Nov. 18, Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21 and May 19. The programs last approximately 30 minutes. 

It is still too risky to have in-person audiences. So in addition to the Luther Memorial website, they will be posted on:

The Just Bach home website at: https://justbach.org/concerts/

The Just Bach Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/JustBachSeries

And the Just Bach YouTube Channel, where previous concerts are still posted, at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but the group asks those who are able, to help pay the musicians with tax-deductible donations at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7A4R7CA8VDRMG&source=url

PLEASE NOTE: New this month will be a half-hour live ZOOM post-concert reception on this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. CST. Those who would like to join us and chat with the performers can follow this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87144868956?pwd=aHUrR3BNZFF5Y1hlVG1EWkNvMklkQT09

The November concert opens with Just Bach co-founder, UW graduate student and nationally concertizing soprano Sarah Brailey (below), who will provide welcoming remarks and an overview of the program.

Our guest artists this month (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are a quartet of string players from the Madison Symphony Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Xavier Pleindoux; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Lindsey Crabb. Also performing is harpsichordist John Chappell Stowe, a professor in the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Dave Parminter is the videographer.

League and Pleindoux (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) will play the solo parts in the familiar and beautiful Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (the ‘Bach Double’), BWV 1043.

Madison Symphony Orchestra audiences will remember their gorgeous performance of this piece at a Christmas Spectacular concert a couple of years back. (You can hear the beautiful and poignant slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The ensemble will continue with a movement from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, the serenely transcendent “Air on a G String.”

Sarah Brailey returns to lead the final chorale from Cantata 139, composed for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, which happens to be this coming Sunday. The stirring title, Dahero Trotz der Höllen Heer! translates as “Therefore Defiance to the Host of Hell.”

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the screen, as Stowe accompanies on the organ. 

 


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Classical music: This Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum of Art, you can attend or live stream a FREE sampler of the upcoming Bach Around the Clock festival

February 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

It’s March – time for Bach!

Every March, the 12-hour FREE Bach Around The Clock (BATC) festival (below top, the Suzuki Strings of Madison) takes place in Madison on a Saturday near the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom) on March 31, 1685.

This year BATC is on Saturday, March 28, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street.

And every year the Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen concert series invites BATC to send a representative sampling of musicians to perform at the UW-Madison’s Chazen Museum of Art on the first Sunday in March, giving the public a taste of the offerings from the festival.

This year the Chazen program on this Sunday – tomorrow, March 1 – features: the Madison Youth Viol Consort in four chorales; pianist Tim Adrianson (below top) playing the English Suite No. 6 in D Minor (you can hear Murray Perahia play the opening Prelude in the YouTube video at the bottom); violist Dierdre Buckley and pianist Ann Aschbacher playing the Gamba Sonata No. 1 in G Major; and BATC’s Ensemble-in-Residence, Sonata à Quattro (below bottom in a photo by Barry Lewis, attached), performing Cantata 209, Non sa che sia dolore (He knows not what sorrow is).

Doors at the Chazen Museum of Art’s Elvehjem Building open at noon, and the concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3.

Admission is free and open to the public, and the event will be live audio-streamed on the Chazen website.

Here is a link to the page on the Chazen website, with more information and the streaming portal:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-3-1-20/

For more information about Bach Around the Clock, including the full and complete schedule of amateur and professional performances, go to: https://bachclock.com or facebook.com/batcmadison

 


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Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform its ninth annual Baroque Holiday Concert this coming Saturday night

December 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, Dec. 7, the Madison Bach Musicians will present its ninth annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below, in  2014, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer).

The concert, using period instruments and historically informed performance practices, is again at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall Stadium. A pre-concert lecture by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson is at 7:15 p.m. followed by the concert at 8 p.m.

Advance-sale tickets are $35 at Orange Tree Imports and the Willy St. Co-op (East and West). Online advance-sale tickets are available at https://madisonbachmusicians.org. Tickets at the door at $38 for general admission and $35 for seniors. Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before the lecture.

The program features masterworks by Bach, Handel, Purcell and Torelli which, in their appealing Baroque way, explore the fusion of celebration, reflection and ultimate renewal often felt as the year’s end approaches.

MBM welcomes baroque trumpet virtuoso Kathryn Adduci (below), who will show how wonderfully vintage brass resounds in the magnificent Old World acoustics of the church.

Other performers are: Ariadne Lih, soprano (below); Lindsey Meekhof, alto; Ryan Townsend Strand, tenor; Michael Hawes, bass; Christine Hauptly Annin and Nathan Giglierano, violins; Micah Behr, viola; James Waldo, cello; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

Here are a couple of fun facts, provided by Stephenson, about each piece on the program.

Sound the Trumpet, by Henry Purcell (1659−1695, below)
1. This piece was composed in 1694, the year before Purcell died at the age of just 36. It is part of a birthday ode — Come Ye Sons of Art, Away! — for Queen Mary II of England, wife of King James II.
2. There is no trumpet in it at all, but the two voices implore the trumpet to play and they emulate trumpet-style writing with long, swelling notes mixed in with brilliant decorative flourishes.


Trumpet Concert in D major 
by Giuseppe Torelli (1658−1709, below)
1. Torelli was one of the most prolific trumpet composers of all time.
2. The baroque trumpet has no valves and is designed to play in one tonality at a time. Favorite baroque keys were D major and C major.

Comfort Ye and Every Valley from Messiah, by George Frideric Handel (1685−1759, below)
1. After the instrumental Overture to Messiah, this Recitative and Aria are the work’s first sung pieces.
2. Handel was 56 years old when he composed Messiah in 1741 in London; the work was premiered, however, in Dublin in 1742, much to the chagrin of Handel’s librettist Charles Jennens.

Cantata BWV 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (Exult in God in Every Land), by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685−1750, below)
1. Composed around 1730, this is one of the very few Bach cantatas requiring only one singer.
2. In Bach’s Leipzig church, where the work was probably first heard, the soloist would have been either a male falsettist (or castrato) or an exceptionally skilled boy soprano.

Contrapunctus XIX and Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before Thy throne I stand), from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, by J.S. Bach
1. According to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel (CPE), this fugue is the last piece his father wrote — though scholars hotly contest this claim.
2. In measure 195, Bach’s own name appears suddenly as a musical motive: B (B-flat in the German scale) – A – C – H (B natural) and the fugue has no ending but simply trails off in measure 239.

Grosser Herr, o starker König (Great Lord, O Powerful King) from Christmas Oratorio,BWV 248, by J.S. Bach
1. It features dance-like melodic figures in dialogue between trumpet and solo bass voice. (Heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
2. Text celebrates the birth of the savior, which makes the powers of the Earth irrelevant.

Cantata BWV 196, Der Herr denket an uns (The Lord thinks of us),by J.S. Bach
1. With its textual focus on blessings (from Psalm 115), the work is likely a wedding cantata.
2. Written probably when Bach was only 22 years old, the work is absolutely perfect in its structure and easy concision; its high-energy but quiet final cadence has a curiously modern, neo-Classical charm that might have made Stravinsky smile.

Chorale: Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe (What joy for me that I have Jesus),from Cantata, BWV 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life)by J.S. Bach
1. The famous opening figure in the strings is really just Bach’s ingenious obligato lead-in to a chorale tune that parishioners in his church would have instantly recognized.
2. This work has enjoyed tremendous popularity as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” since it was arranged for one and then two pianos in 1926 and 1934 respectively by English pianist Myra Hess. It has since been arranged for myriad combinations of instruments and voices.


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Classical music: What is good music to listen to on Labor Day and to honor work? Here is a list to choose from. Can you add more?

September 7, 2015
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REMINDER: The 37th annual Labor Day Concert by the Karp Family will take place tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Admission is FREE. The program includes works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Benjamin Britten as well as William Shakespeare.

Here is a link to a recent post with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/classical-music-the-37th-annual-karp-family-labor-day-concert-is-this-monday-night-and-includes-works-by-bach-beethoven-and-britten-as-well-as-shakespeare/

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2015. (Below is a famous work photo by American photographer Lewis Hine.)

working Lewis hine photo

How can you celebrate it in music?

Here is a list of classical music that pertains to labor.

http://www.musiclassical.net/labor.html

And here is a poll from famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

Below is “The Fruits of Labor” by famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Diego Rivera The Fruits of Labor

Finally, here are links to three previous posts about Labor Day that The Ear did.

The first one is from 2014, when the day seemed a good occasion to remember all the other unnamed people besides performers — from the box office and administration to the stage — who make the musical performances we enjoy possible:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/classical-music-labor-day-is-a-great-time-to-remember-all-the-anonymous-people-behind-the-scenes-who-make-concerts-happen-and-who-bring-us-the-music-we-love/

The second post is from in 2013 and talks about the hard work of creating art and performing it  — such as required from a huge symphony orchestra (below) or a small ensemble or an individual. It also features other lists and something fitting from the “Farewell Symphony” by Franz Joseph Haydn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/classical-music-on-labor-day-let-us-remember-and-celebrate-the-hard-work-and-solidarity-or-cooperation-of-making-and-delivering-art-by-listening-to-the-finale-of-haydns-farewell/

general_orchestra_helgeson

The final posting is from 2010 and features lots of reader suggestions as well as Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/classical-music-poll-what-is-good-music-for-celebrating-labor-dayc/

What music would you suggest listening to on Labor Day? Tell us in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Giuseppe Verdi’s hammer-pounding “The Anvil Chorus” from the opera “Il Trovatore” usually ranks high on all the lists and suggestions.

So for this year’s Labor Day, here it is in a YouTube video at the bottom, in a lively and visually engaging and muscular performance from “Live From the Met in HD”:

 

 


Classical music: Acclaimed organist Janette Fishell plays music by J.S. Bach and other Romantic and modern composers in her Madison and Overture Hall debut this Friday night.

March 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you thought that the Madison Symphony Orchestra only programmed orchestral music, you would be very wrong.

The MSO also programs chamber music, such as string quartets, and even organ recitals on the Overture Concert Organ.

Take this Friday night, for instance.

Here is how a press release from the MSO puts it:

“How many concerts does it take to play the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)?

Bach1

Internationally renowned organist Janette Fishell (below) found out that 21 was the magic number when she performed the complete cycle of Bach’s organ music.

Now she will bring some of this magic to Madison.

The third installment of the 2013-14 Madison Symphony Orchestra Overture Concert Organ series will feature  Fishell, an internationally renowned organist, as she makes her Overture Hall debut in a recital this Friday night, March 21, 2014, at 7:30 p.m. at the Overture Center. 

Single tickets are $20, and a special $10 student rush will be offered on the day of the performance.

Janette Fishelle

The program, entitled “Bach and Beyond,” will include organ music composed as far back as the early 1700s, and as recently as 1976, displaying the wonderfully diverse repertoire at the hands of the modern organist. (Below is photo of the beautiful, custom-built Klais concert organ in Overture Hall.)

Overture Concert Organ overview

Three pieces by J.S. Bach are included on the program: the Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 535; selections from the Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1001; and the Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Major, BWV 552 (you can hear it at the bottom in a YouTube video). The works will exhibit the Baroque style in which the organ, on which Bach was a master, flourished.

Fishell will then move on to three works composed in the late 1800s or later:  Ethyl Smyth’s “O Trauerigkeit, O Herzeleid”; Lionel Rogg’s Partita sopra “Nun Freut Euch”; and Louis Vierne’s Organ Symphony No. 3 in F-sharp minor, Op. 28. The works will display the intriguing evolution of organ music in recent centuries.

Janettte Fishell has been described as “…a tour de force” (The Diapason) and “…fabulous…flawless!” (comments from a National Convention of the American Guild of Organists). She is a seasoned recitalist, having performed in many of the world’s greatest concert venues in Tokyo, Cambridge, Berlin, Budapest and Prague.

She has been featured at five national conventions and five regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists, and is professor of music and chair of the organ department at the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

The concert is sponsored by John and Christine Gauder, with additional funds from Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s series of four organ concerts begins this Friday night. Also, the Oakwood Chamber Players perform on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.”

October 10, 2013
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ALERT: This Sunday, Wisconsin Public Radio’s live statewide broadcast “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. will feature the Oakwood Chamber Players of Madison. Sorry, but no word on the program yet. And there is still no listing of upcoming SAL concerts and performers on the new WPR website.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 2

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO)’s 2013-2014 Overture Concert Organ Season will start this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. In Overture Hall. (Below is a photo of the custom-built Klais organ in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.)

The series includes four diverse performances from the MSO’s principal organist, several dynamic guest artists, and the impressive Madison Youth Choirs.  Each concert will be in Overture Hall, where the MSO’s concert organ resides.

Overture Concert Organ overview

CONCERT 1

The first concert this Friday at 7:30 p.m. features solo works performed by Samuel Hutchison (below, in a photo by Joe DeMaio), the MSO’s principal organist and curator.

Highlighting the concert will be Hutchison’s transcription of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin,” and his interpretation of Julius Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm (the fugue is in a YouTube video at the bottom).  Considered one of the pinnacles of Romantic organ composition, the sonata’s furious fugue and thrilling conclusion make for an unforgettable sonic experience.

Works by Gabriel Pierné, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Marco Enrico Bossi will also be performed.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

CONCERT 2

On Friday, Nov. 8, sister violinists Alice and Eleanor Bartsch (below top and bottom, respectively) will join Hutchison in a program for organ and violins. The program features J.S. Bach’s Double Concerto and Vivaldi’s Double Concerto in D Minor. The sisters are a powerful pairing: both are members of the MSO’s first violin section and have impressive performance resumes.  Each sister has also won prestigious competitions at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

In addition to performing with the Bartsch sisters, Hutchison will present solo works for organ by composers Marcel Dupré, Herbert Howells, Josef Rheinberger, Tomoso Vitali, and others.

Alice Bartsch

Eleanor Bartsch

CONCERT 3

On Friday, March 21, the third Overture Concert Organ Performance will feature internationally renowned organist Janette Fishell (below), making her Overture Hall debut.

Fishell is a seasoned recitalist, having performed in many of the world’s greatest concert venues in Tokyo, Cambridge, Berlin, Budapest, and Prague.  She has been featured at five national conventions and five regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists, and also holds a professorship and chair in Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

The program, entitled Bach and Beyond, will include the music of J.S Bach, Miloš Sokola, Ethyl Smyth, Lionel Rogg, and Louis Vierne.

Janette Fishell CR Forrest Croce

CONCERT 4

On SATURDAY, May 10, the final Concert Organ performance will feature dozens of guest artists as Samuel Hutchison takes the stage with the Madison Youth Choirs Saturday.

Michael Ross, artistic director for the Choirs, has received significant praise from MSO Conductor John DeMain: “I can never say enough about the good work that Michael Ross is doing with the Madison Youth Choirs; they are an essential and beloved part of our Christmas Concerts.”

Works by John Rutter, J.S. Bach, Lili Boulanger and Herbert Howells will be performed.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi cr Karen Holland

General admission for the above Overture Concert Organ performances is $20. Season subscriptions to all four concerts are available for $63 through TODAY, Oct. 10, at madisonsymphony.org. Other organ events for the 2013-2014 season include Free Community Hymn Sings Saturday, Nov. 16 (11 a.m.) and March 8 (11 a.m.), as well as a Free Community Christmas Carol Sing Sunday, Dec. 1 (7 p.m.).

Organist Nathan Laube (below) will also join the Madison Symphony Orchestra April 4-6, 2014, to perform Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante.” 

Nathan Laube at console

The organ series is made possible by major funding from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and from the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the backdrop of all MSO concerts in Overture Hall.


Classical music Q&A: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. FUS music director Dan Broner discusses how the programs come together. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner on Tuesday night.

September 30, 2013
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REMINDER: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs a FREE concert tomorrow, on Tuesday night, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall. The program, under conductor James Smith, features Robert Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo and Finale,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and Richard Wagner‘s “Siegfried Idyll.” 

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has so much fine free music to offer listeners, especially at the University of Wisconsin School of Music through the Faculty Concert Series and various student groups.

But one of the most enjoyable events is also one of the most low-profile.

I am speaking about the weekly Friday Noon Musicales (below) that take place in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society’s historic Meeting House, near University Hospital, at 900 University Bay Drive off, just University Avenue on the city’s near west side. 

FUS1jake

It is not surprising that the Friday Musicales exist because the Unitarians in Madison — which has the highest concentration of Unitarians in the U.S. —  always place a major emphasis on music, as did its famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (An excerpt from an All-Mozart Sunday is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

You can bring lunch, drink coffee or tea, or, as I do, eat before and take along a small dessert.

But so often the midday music concert is itself the dessert, the real treat. Imagine the fun of hearing live music for a daytime break. It is like a parenthesis, a time-out or an oasis in the day. Often I have walked into the concert with less enthusiasm and energy than I left with. The music recharges me and provides a spark to get through the rest of the day.

The setting and presentation are informal. But I have found the audiences very appreciative and generally quiet and well-behaved, though sometimes the knitters and readers, especially if they are in the front rows, strike me as rude and disrespectful to the performers.

I have heard singers and solo pianists, string trios and string quartets, all kinds of soloists and ensembles and music.

The Musicale series starts again this week, this Friday Oct. 4. So The Ear asked the First Unitarian Society’s music director Dan Broner to provide some background.

The many-talented Broner (below) not only plans the concerts and performers, he also plays the pianist himself as an accompanist in many of the concerts.

Here is Dan Broner’s email Q&A with The Ear:

Dan Broner BIG mug

How long have the Free Friday Noon musicales been held? Are they expensive to put on and how are they funded?

They have been held since 1987. They are an outreach program to the community and funded by the First Unitarian Society’s operating budget. The costs are that portion of my salary for administering and performing in the series, plus piano tuning and minimal utility expenses.

The musicians donate their services, and the 45-minute concerts (they run 12:15 to 1 p.m.) are free and open to the public.

How successful have they been? What is the typical attendance and how it is trended in recent years? Do certain kinds of concerts (instrument, voice, program, performer) attract a bigger or smaller audience?

The Musicales attract listeners of all ages, but are particularly attractive to seniors, and workers who can attend during their lunch break.

They regularly attract between 50 and 75, numbers, which have been consistent for the past 11 years of my tenure.

Attendance would most likely be higher if it we had more parking. But we share the lot with the Meeting House Nursery School, which limits availability.

Generally instrumental performances attract a larger audience, and more well-known artists will generate a larger crowd as well.

What do you hear from the public as a reaction to the concerts?

Almost every week I will receive favorable comments from attendees who enjoy the Musicales. Some have stated that they are their favorite musical events.

The Musicales are scheduled between October and May and many folks have said that they are eager for the season to begin.

How do you line up artists and programs? Do they come to you or you come to them?

Many artists contact me. They are attracted by the historic Frank Lloyd Wright landmark venue (below): the architecture, acoustics and the fully restored 1889 Steinway Model A grand piano.

Often they are students and teachers from the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other area universities who would like a trial run of recitals they are preparing.

Every summer I send out an email to every artist who has performed in the series and many elect to perform again.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

Are there special programs you would like to point out for the current season?

There are many intriguing musicales this season, but a few do stand out for me personally. I’m eager to hear the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (below top), who is playing on Dec. 6. I always enjoy hearing the fine violinist, Kangwon Kim (below middle), and I look forward to collaborating with her on the Johannes Brahms’ Sonata in G for Violin and PIano on Friday, Jan. 10.

The fine Chicago area virtuoso pianist Mark Valenti will be performing at the Musicales for the first time on Jan. 31. Madison native pianist Kathy Ananda-Owens, from the St. Olaf College music faculty, plays on Feb. 7 and the Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet (below bottom), which is always fun, performs on March 14.

Garrick Olsen 2

Kangwon Kim

Black Marigold

Is there anything else you would like or add or say?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this unique series. We welcome new listeners and musicians interested in performing.

Please join us for the first Musicale on this Friday, October 4, at 12:15 p.m. Violist Shannon Farley (below), with guitarist Christopher Allen and pianist Greg Punswick, will be performing music of J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Cesar Franck.

Shannon Farley viola FUS


Classical music: Why am I turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more often? Too many second-rate composers and works? Too much harp music? Too many ads and promos? What do you think? Plus, UW baritone Paul Rowe sings Baroque cantatas this Sunday afternoon.

September 20, 2013
21 Comments

REMINDER: In a FREE concert this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below) will perform a promising and appealing concert of cantatas for solo voice and instruments composed between 1600 and 1720. Performers include John Chappell Stowe, harpsichordist and organist; Eric Miller, cellist and viola da gambist; and Alice Bartsch and Madlen Horsch Breckbill, violinists.

The program includes: Small Sacred Concertos by: Ludovico da Viadana (1564-1645) “Salve, Regina” and “Cantemus Domino” from Cento concerti ecclesiastici (1602); Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), “Ich liege und schlafe,” SWV 310 from “Kleine Geistliche Konzerte,” Op.9 (1639); Secular Cantatas by: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764): “Thetis” (1718); George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “Cuopre tal volta il cielo” (circa 1708); and J. S. Bach (1685-1750): “Amore traditore,: BWV 203 (circa 1720).

Paul Rowe

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a Friday morning as I am writing this.

And I just turned off “Morning Classics” on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Again.

WPR Logo

That saddens and disappoints me because I have long loved and listened to WPR, and I almost always write as a close friend rather than a critic. The WPR people I know and have met, from director Mike Crane to many of the show hosts, are all fine, intelligent and sensitive people.

But lately I find myself turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more than I ever have before.

Why is that? I began to wonder.

Some of it has to do with recent schedule changes.

Today is Friday and since a few weeks ago that means the 9-11 a.m. Morning Classics slot will feature the weekly Classics By Request show.

Alas!

Requests used to be on Saturday morning. That was a great slot in which smaller excerpts of usually well-known works set up the longer, often lesser well-known opera broadcasts. It also allowed children and students to listen to snippets of tried-and-true masterpieces.

True, the morning show’s new host Ruthanne Bessman (below) still seeks out requests from kids. But does anyone want to bet that most of the children are in school when the requests get played on Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.?

Sorry, like some other good and loyal WPR friends I know, I turn it off.

Ruthanne Bessman WPR

Then too I find that WPR is programming too much harp music these days, mostly in the morning but not exclusively. I mean, I like the harp probably as much as anyone — excepting harp players of course. But I the harp in its place, which is usually as an ensemble instrument with an orchestra or smaller chamber group, where it can add a distinctive texture and tone.

But I am hearing too many solo works for harp and too many goofy and thoroughy forgettable harp pieces, especially arrangements. One recent offering was J.S. Bach’s keyboard “Italian Concerto” arranged for Harp Ensemble. That is misusing such a fine member of the family of “brunch instruments.” Kind of like an arrangement I recently heard of Tomaso Albinoni’s famous Adagio for Strings and Organ that used the flute, played by the famous James Galway, to suck all the pathos out of the piece.

It turned the profound into the pleasant.

So once again I turned the radio off.

Harp

Maybe audience surveys and focus groups tell WPR executives that the public likes the harp and other members of the “brunch instrument” family that much. But I don’t. Do you?

It all makes me miss the former morning host Anders Yocom (below top), who used to play what he called “The Minimum Daily Requirement” of Bach (below bottom) every morning. And who else but Bach – serious Bach – can meet that daily requirement? Yocom also usually featured big and beefy concertos and symphonies and sublime chamber music .

I mean the kind of music I want to hear mostly is the kind of music you don’t want to live without.

It is the kind of music that led the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to proclaim” “Life without music would be a mistake.”

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

Bach1

WPR also seems to be airing more ads and acknowledgements, more teasers and promos, more fundraising appeals and mentions of corporate sponsors, than it used to. I suppose it needs to. But it seems to becoming more like the same mainstream commercial networks that it was originally designed to be an alternative to.

I realize that it is not easy being in public radio these days, when conservatives refuse to recognize their outstanding merits and want to defund PBS and NPR, and when competition for money is so fierce.

But still.

It also doesn’t help that some of the programmers and hosts seem more interested in airing rarities than in disseminating great and inspiring music that gets the pulse going and proves compelling or irresistible. Maybe these programmers know the masterpieces too well, but the rest of us like to hear great and music – not just obscure pieces and neglected composers that interest more than inspire.

So I would urge programmers and hosts to alternate the great and the obscure, and to keep the non-specialist listeners in mind. Some Bax is fine; but lots more Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to say say nothing of lots more Handel and Vivaldi and Haydn and Mozart and Schubert and Chopin and Schumann and Dvorak and Tchaikovksy and Debussy and Ravel and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Shostakovich and on and on — is even better.

But then again maybe all this carping comes back to me — to my own taste or personal preferences. So I want to know:

Does anyone out there share my concerns about Wisconsin Public Radio? Or do you think I am totally off-base?

the ear

While you consider the question, I think I’ll go to my library to pick out a CD to play instead of listening to the Classics By Request show.

Then I will try turning WPR back on again – and hope I don’t end up once again turning it off until the news comes on.

What do you think of Wisconsin Public Radio, and of its new schedules changes and the music it plays?

Leave something in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear generally doesn’t like countertenors. Do you? Is it sexist or artistically wrong to prefer female singers to countertenors and to boy sopranos, especially in Bach cantatas. What do you say about the choices?

July 26, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt about it: Countertenors are once again cool.

Finally, after centuries of being ignored, slighted and downright ridiculed, countertenors are back in. They are mainstream these days and their numbers are increasing, as are their popularity and their quality.

When you plug the word “countertenor” into the YouTube search engine, you get more than 106,000 results. (At bottom is YouTube video of French countertenor Philippe Jarousskey singing a Vivaldi aria that has almost 2.5 million hits.)

On this past Thursday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” featured a terrific piece about countertenors with Miles Hoffman, the music commentator who is also a professional violist.

The report and commentary concerned the upcoming world premiere this weekend of the opera Theodore Morrison’s “Oscar,” based on the life and trial of Oscar Wilde, at the open air Santa Fe Opera (below).

santa fe opera house

The main point about the singing is that the lead role is played by the universally acclaimed countertenor David Daniels, for whom the opera was specifically composed. And Daniels (below, on the right, as Oscar Wilde in a photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera) has a voice that was described as “high” and heavenly.”

Here is a link to the story with audio clips of other performances by Daniels including music by Handel and Franz Schubert:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/25/205148226/The-High-Heavenly-Voice-Of-David-Daniels

oscr_0417

Now, I have heard a few countertenors, in live performances and on recordings, and there are times when I liked them a lot. I certainly was impressed by them and glad that they now have place in the mainstream of vocal music and opera.

The resurgence of countertenors over the past 15 or so year was inevitable, I suppose, given the revival of Baroque opera and especially the operas of George Frideric Handel (below), who usually wrote his high-pitched hero roles for countertenors.

handel big 2

In fact, here is a link to an earlier piece that NPR “Deceptive Cadence” blogger Tom Huizenga wrote about the Handel recording by another prominent countertenor Bejun Mehta (below):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2010/11/30/131701596/when-a-man-sings-like-a-woman-a-countertenor-convergence

Bejun Mehta

But I found myself disagreeing with Miles Hoffman (below) and others who think that countertenors somehow bring an added richness to the singing.

Miles Hoffman NPR

My ears tell me just the opposite. So now is a good time to files what appears to be a minority report.

I generally find the countertenor tone uncomfortable. In general, I find adult women’s voices or ordinary male tenors more convincing and expressive, less artificial and more normal to my standards.

I feel the same way about using boy sopranos in choruses of J.S. Bach’s cantatas. There are times when I love the sound of boychoirs and boy sopranos.

But even in period performances of early music – by far, my preference — Bach’s cantatas seem much more convincing and beautiful to me with a soloists and choruses of adult men and adult women.

Of course, we all live in history.

But the fact of the matter is that women were not used for singing not because high male voices were superior but because earlier epochs were heavily sexist and discriminated against women.

That is also, I believe, why the roles of young women in Shakespeare’s plays were usually played by young men. Women were simply not allowed full participation in the performing arts.

And although we may want to reconstruct such practices out a curiosity for historically informed performance and to hear how a certain piece of music originally sounded, I say that earlier periods – not ours – were the more deprived epochs.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing from readers and sophisticated fans of vocal music about whether my objections are misplaced and inappropriate, or whether they agree with me. Not that I expect the trend toward  using countertenors will abate. I am sure it will only grow.

In the end, I suspect, it was comes down to taste and personal preference – as is so often the case, given the inevitable subjectivity of art.

But let me know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


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