The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet plays in Spring Green this Monday, then tours Germany during August. It will perform the same tour program in several Wisconsin cities, including Madison, in early September

August 10, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement about another Madison group – in addition to the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s tour of Peru and the Scotland concerts by the Madison Youth Choirs – that is bringing its music to international audiences.

The group is the Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis), which will leave for a tour of Germany next week. From left are: violinists Wes Luke and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

A sort of send-off concert is this Monday night in Spring Green. Here are the details:

The concert is for the Rural Musicians Forum and will take place on this coming Monday night, Aug. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Unity Chapel, located at 6597 County Hwy T, in Spring Green.

The program features works by Joaquin Turina, Franz Joseph Haydn and Samuel Barber.

Admission is by free will offering, with a suggested donation of $15.

Soon to start its 18th season, the Ancora String Quartet has an impressive and extensive resume. The four players have well-established individual musical careers as soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players. They perform regularly in Madison and beyond, appearing in such ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Here is what violist Marika Fischer Hoyt says about the upcoming tour to Germany:

“The Ancora String Quartet looks forward with eager anticipation to our first overseas tour.

“We are partnering with a fabulous mezzo-soprano, Melinda Paulsen (below), who serves on the voice faculty at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt.

“Together, we have selected a program of works by German and American composers, for mezzo-soprano and quartet, and for string quartet alone.

“The program includes: the beautiful Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner; Melancholie by Paul Hindemith, Drei Lieder (Three Songs) by Victor Ullmann; and Dover Beach by Samuel Barber, as well as the iconic Barber String Quartet with the slow movement that was re-orchestrated as the “Adagio for Strings.” (You can hear Samuel Barber’s “Dover Beach” with a mezzo-soprano in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The quartet will be in Germany (map is below) from August 17 to August 26, performing at the Rathaus in Nieder-Olm; the Musikschule Chroma in Vellmar (north of Kassel); the Lutheran Church in Schlitz (halfway between Frankfurt and Kassel); and at Phillipsburg in Braubach, as part of the festival in St. Goar. The concert at the music school in Vellmar will be a lecture-concert for students, so we’re brushing up on our German!

“Following our performances in Germany, we will all return to Wisconsin to perform this same program Sept. 4-9 in Germantown, Whitewater, Janesville, Beloit and Madison. That includes an interview with radio host Norman Gilliland on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

“We have secured funding from several German organizations, and received a generous grant from the Kassel County-Dane County Sister County Taskforce.

“Melinda and the members of this quartet are thrilled beyond words that this project has taken shape. We look forward to sharing with our audiences a program exploring the intersections between two cultures that are quite distinct today, but which share deep, common roots.”


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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: Concerts on the Square start this Wednesday and feature a lot of classical music. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra announces its impressive 2016-17 indoors Masterworks season

June 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night at 7 p.m., on the downtown Capitol Square, marks the opening of what has been billed as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer” — the six annual outdoor summer Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

They are big because each concert, under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell, last year averaged a weekly crowd of more than 42,000 people, up from 35,000 the previous year, according to the Capitol Police. (The highest was 50,000; the lowest 28,000.)

Concerts on the Square crowd

You should also know that this year the Concerts on The Square will include a generous — maybe, The Ear suspects, even an unprecedented — amount of classical music on June 29, July 6, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 3.

On the programs you will find music by Felix Mendelssohn, Joaquin Turina, Aaron Copland and Ottorino Resphighi (this Wednesday); by Leo Delibes, Peter Tchaikovsky (including the annual and traditional Fourth of July or Independence Day performance of his “1812 Overture”) and Jules Massenet (with famed local Metropolitan Opera singer, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss on July 6); by Paul Dukas, Jean Sibelius, Niels Gade and Antonin Dvorak (on July 13); Ludwig van Beethoven (July 27);  Arthur Honegger and Peter Tchaikovsky (Aug. 3).

Here is a link  with more information including links to tickets, rules about behavior and seating, and food options:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Even as it prepares for this summer’s six Concerts on the Square, which start Wednesday night, June 26, and run through August 3, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2016-27 indoor Masterworks season of five classical concerts. It is an impressive lineup that features a local violist who has made it big, Vicki Powell, and the very young violin sensation Julian Rhee, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte with a jaw-dropping reading of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, as well as a guitarist and duo-pianists.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/masterworks

 


Classical music Q&A: How does a string quartet come up with programs? The Ear catches up with the Ancora String Quartet, which will close its 13th season this Friday night with piano quartets by Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. Plus, WYSO members talk Thursday morning on WORT 88.9 FM

May 7, 2014
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ALERT: We are in the run-up to the always impressive Spring Concerts by members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).  And Good Friend of The Ear radio host Rich Samuels is helping to publicize the WYSO chamber music concerts on this Saturday, May 10, and the other instrumental groups and orchestras, with soloists, that will perform on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday May 18. The radio segment with violinist Isabelle Krier and pianist Charlie Collar will air on WORT 89.9 FM, starting at 7:08 a.m. on this Thursday morning, May 8. Following that segment, Samuels will be airing a concert featuring conductor Ken Woods (a WYSO and UW-Madison alumnus, who leads the English Symphony Orchestra in Wales in the United Kingdom). Here is a link to the WYSO website for more details about the two weekends of WYSO concerts:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m., three members of the Madison-based and critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet (below) will close out its 13th season with a program that features a relative rarity in chamber music: piano quartets — by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. (Below are, from left, Ancora members violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.)

Ancora Trio 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

The program includes the lyrical Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, K. 493, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the one-movement Piano Phantasy in F-Sharp Minor by 20th-century British composer Frank Bridge, who was also the teacher of Benjamin Britten; and the impassioned Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 67, by the lesser known 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Turina.

The guest artist is University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pianist MyungHee Chung (below), who joined the Ancora in 2010 in a memorable performance of the iconic Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms.

myung hee chung

The concert will take place in the historic Landmark Auditorium, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are available at the door, and are general seating. They cost $15 for the general public; $12 for students and seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

A free post-concert champagne reception is included in the ticket.

This year the quartet is a strong trio made up of violist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. First violinist Leanne League is on a one-year leave.

Violist Marika Fisher Hoyt, who also hosts a Saturday afternoon program on Wisconsin Public Radio and plays in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other local groups, including period-instrument, early music ensembles, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

MarikaFischerHoyt

How does the Ancora Quartet choose repertoire and programs? How do you balance the well-known and the neglected? Highlight various instruments? Is any one of your members more active in selecting programs than the others?

All Ancora String Quartet players (below)  participate equally in proposing pieces and crafting the final programs. We keep a list of pieces that one or more of us would like to perform. In the spring of each year, we look at the list, and select pieces to form programs of roughly 70 minutes of music.

We aim for programs that offer a nice balance of familiar and unfamiliar, of Classical, Romantic and Modern style, and of varying lengths and degrees of emotional intensity.

For the first 10 years we presented pieces that were new to us as a quartet, but at this point we’ll sometimes include a piece we’ve performed before.  That’s usually a piece we really love, like the Beethoven Op. 74 “Harp” Quartet.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

How much does the audience figure in setting up a program?

We don’t really consider the audience’s hypothetical preferences, other than to try to present programs with enough variety that there’s something for all tastes. The constant factor is our love for the music and our commitment to working together.

Ancora Rhapsodie audience

What are current projects and future plans for the Ancora?

Our current project is preparing for and presenting this week’s program!

We’re still in the process of planning next season’s programs. Our first violinist, Leanne League (below), will be on leave next season, and two wonderful violinists will be joining us, both of them players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Wes Luke (below) will join us for our fall programs, which will almost certainly include one of his favorites, the Mendelssohn Quartet, Op. 80, in F Minor, a powerfully moving work written at the very end of that composer’s life.

wes luke

Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will join us for our spring programs, and she’s hoping to perform one of the gorgeous Brahms quartets with us.  We look forward to working with these talented colleagues.

Eleanor Bartsch

Another project is that of increasing our quartet’s presence online.  A few years ago we redid our quartet website www.ancoraquartet.com, which now features a blog. While we don’t aspire to publish new postings every day (like The Well-Tempered Ear), every couple of weeks I’ll publish an interview with a guest artist, a report of our first rehearsal on a new program, or links to reviews.

We also have a Facebook fan page at facebook.com/ancoraquartet.  We only give 8-10 concerts per year, and these online sites are a nice way to stay in touch with the concert-going public. They give our fans an easy way to contact us with any questions or comments.

Ancora Trio 2 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

Is it different playing a PIANO quartet or quintet than an all-string quartet? Pianists often have the reputation of being soloists at core and not easy chamber music partners. Is that your experience?

Yes, the sound of a piano is qualitatively different from that of the violin family of instruments, and so in a piano quartet or quintet we must all work a little harder to achieve a unified effect, through phrasing and careful balancing of dynamics.

Pianists may have the reputation of being divas, but we have worked with MyungHee Chung (below) before, and that has certainly not been our experience with her.  It’s true that a powerful pianist can overwhelm the sound of three or four string instruments.  But, while MyungHee spins out her solo passages with effortless ease and grace, she is also an extremely sensitive collaborator and accompanist, and we are so pleased to be able to work with her again.

Steinway Grand Piano

What would you like to say about each of the pieces on this weekend’s program?

The Piano Quartet by Mozart (below) demonstrates a perfect fusion of elegance, charm and sensuality. Benjamin often reminds us of the vocal quality in much of Mozart’s music, and we will imagine that we’re singing an aria tune from a Mozart opera.  And, on a personal note, I can tell from his writing that Mozart was a violist; I appreciate the melodies I get to play, and how well they lie on viola!

Mozart old 1782

The “Phantasy” by Frank Bridge (below is a wonderful example of late Romantic British style, by turns voluptuously lush and singing, or fiercely dramatic.

Frank Bridge

The work by Joaquin Turina (below) gives us three movements of smoldering Spanish melodrama, spiced with playful cross-rhythms.  We’ll be ready for the champagne reception, after that!

joaquin turina 1

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

We Ancora players are now in our 13th recital season, and our joy in making music together has only deepened over the years. Chamber music is so much more intimate than orchestral playing, and we are extremely grateful for the chance to share this music with our audiences.

The Madison community’s deep appreciation of the arts supports so many wonderful musical ensembles. We feel lucky to be a part of it all, to inspire, and be inspired, in our turn.

 

 

 

 

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