The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It is “Early Music Weekend” as the Madison Bach Musicians open their 10th anniversary season with concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of music by J.S. Bach, Telemann, Handel, Leclair, Pachelbel and Vivaldi. Plus, Ensemble SDG performs Bach, Corelli, Pisendel and Handel on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.”

October 3, 2013

ALERT: Two early music friends who perform together as the Ensemble SDG, baroque violinist Edith Hines and UW harpsichordist and organist John Chappell Stowe, write to The Ear: “Ensemble SDG (below) is pleased to invite the public to our FREE upcoming performance on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen.” The recital will be this Sunday, October 6, from 12:30-2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art (750 University Avenue, Madison). It will be broadcast live on WPR’s News and Classical Music network (in the Madison area, 88.7 WERN) and streamed online here.

The program will include sonatas for violin and continuo by Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Georg Pisendel, and George Frideric Handel, as well as two sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord by J. S. Bach, whose contrasting characters–deeply melancholy and brilliantly effervescent–exemplify the program’s theme of “darkness and light.”  Admission is free, but seating is limited. Nevertheless, we hope to see you there! For more information, visit

Ensemble SDG Stowe, Hines 2

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend will witness a landmark: It marks the opening of the 10th anniversary season of the Madison Bach Musicians.

In only a decade, the accomplished baroque ensemble (below) has risen to the fore of the many early music group in the area.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

The MBM, under director and founder Trevor Stephenson will give two performances – on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of a concert that features the acclaimed guest baroque violinist Marilyn McDonald (below), who tours widely and also teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Marilyn McDonald baroque violin

Stephenson is a masterful and humorous explainer and will also give a pre-concert lecture at each performance. Other MBM musicians include: Marilyn McDonald, Kangwon Kim, Brandi Berry, Mary Perkinson on baroque violins; 
Nathan Giglierano on baroque viola; 
Anton TenWolde on baroque cello’ and
Trevor Stephenson on harpsichord. (You can hear MBM musicians play and talk in a News 3/Channel 3000  YouTube video from 2011 at the bottom.)

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

The program features: Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto in G major for Four Violins; George Frideric 
Handel’s Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV 364, and Trio Sonata in E major, Op. 2, No. 9, HWV 394; Jean-Marie 
Leclair’s Violin Duo in G minor; 
Johann Pachelbel Canon and Gigue in D major; J.S. 
Bach’s Contrapunctus 19 from The Art of Fugue (with B-A-C-H Fugue);
 and Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, RV 522.

Performances are on Saturday, October 5, with a
 7:15 p.m. lecture and 8 p.m. concert at the 
First Unitarian Society’s crisp Atrium Auditorium
 (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at 900 University Bay Drive on Madison’s near west side; and on
Sunday, October 6, with 
2:45 p.m. lecture and 3:30 p.m. concert
in Blessing Room of Madison’s Christian Community Church, 7118 Old Sauk Road on the far west side of Madison.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Advance tickets, cash or check only, are discounted and run $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors 65 and over; and are available at A Room of One’s Own; Farley’s House of Pianos; the east and west locations of the Willy Street Co-op; Orange Tree Imports; and Ward-Brodt Music Mall.

At the door, tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors.

For more information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit


Marilyn McDonald, a founding member of the Smithson Quartet and the Castle Trio, currently plays in the Axelrod Quartet in residence at the Smithsonian Institution; the Axelrod Quartet is named in honor of the donor of the decorated Stradivarius instruments on which the quartet performs.

She has toured world-wide as a chamber musician playing repertoire ranging from baroque to contemporary, appearing at Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick Gallery, the Caramoor, Utrecht and Mostly Mozart Festivals, Wigmore Hall, Disney Hall, Ravinia and the Concertgebouw, as well as appearing as soloist with the Milwaukee and Omaha Symphonies. Concertmaster positions include Boston Baroque and the Peninsula Music Festival.

She has been artist in residence at Boston University and has held visiting professorships at the Eastman School of Music and at Indiana University. She teaches each summer at the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and has been honored with the “Excellence in Teaching” award at Oberlin, where she is professor of violin.  McDonald’s recordings are heard on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Virgin Classics, Decca, Gasparo, Smithsonian and Telarc labels.


The Madison Bach Musicians’ 10th anniversary season also includes:

On December 14, the third annual Baroque Holiday Music program at the First Congregational Church.

On April 18 and 19, the season will conclude with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor, conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon (below). The MBM will collaborate on this venture with the Madison Choral Project under Edgewood College choral director Albert Pinsonneault.

Classical music: Madison’s early music duo Ensemble SDG explores the rarely heard music of Johann Georg Pisendel and his Baroque contemporaries with outstanding results.

October 1, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. 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 hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the MadisonEarly Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The motto “Soli Deo gloria” (Glory [be] to God Alone) was once a familiar one to musicians, and was used very frequently by J.S. Bach as the sign-off to manuscripts of his sacred works. John Eliot Gardiner and his Monteverdi Choir have created a recording label using this SDG motto.

The Ensemble SDG (below) in Madison consists of violinist Edith Hines and harpsichordist John Chappell (“Chappy”) Stowe. Hines, trained in both period and modern playing at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, among other places, has been serving with the two local orchestras, plus the Madison Bach Musicians and other groups for some years. Stowe is the well-established professor of organ and harpsichord, who is expert in early keyboard music.

They formed this duo in 2009 and have been giving regular concerts here and elsewhere, including at the Boston Early Music Festival. They seem to relish exploring together Baroque music both familiar and unjustly neglected. Their concert on the UW campus on Saturday evening exemplified their collegial enterprise.

The program was an unusually well-focused one. Under the title of “Music of Dresden in the Time of Johann Georg Pisendel,” they sampled the connections and assimilative efforts of a major music center at a pivotal time in late Baroque musical development.

Pisendel (1687-1755) was an almost exact contemporary of J.S. Bach, who was a personal friend and colleague. Pisendel travelled extensively, especially in Italy, where he met many masters and absorbed much.

The program opened with a four-movement Sonata in G minor, and closed with a three-movement Sonata in D, adapted from a violin concerto of his own. These two, among his many compositions, show his style as a kind of fusion of Bach and Vivaldi, bringing to his Dresden center a remarkable degree of Italianate passion and exuberance.

Other works were linked to Pisendel and his Dresden world. A four-movement Sonata in B-flat by Tomaso Albinoni (below) was a gift to him from the composer, and possibly composed explicitly for him. A four-movement Sonata in F, Op. 1, No. 7, reveals a French virtuoso striving to sound Italian, with much success. Pisendel copied out this work personally, as part of his exploration of different styles of the moment and their possible interaction.

Most curious was a six-movement Suite in A by the lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss (below, 1686-1750), a Pisendel colleague at Dresden and also a friend of Bach. The latter took this suite, transcribed the lute writing for keyboard, superimposed a violin part on top, and added an opening movement entirely of his own. (For this, Stowe shifted to a “Lautenwerk” harpsichord that parallels lute sound.) In this one could hear the more stiff German style of Baroque Saxony, though perhaps unfairly represented in a work that did not quite crystallize coherently.

The duo brought off this unusual and rarely heard literature with flair. Hines was breathtaking in her command of the wild virtuosity for which Pisendel was famous as a player and which he build into his compositions. In general, her pure, vibrato-less playing took on also, it seemed to me, a new strength and projecting power. And “Chappy,” as always, was the understanding and expert partner.

The usual printed program, be it noted, was augmented by a sheet of extensive and excellent notes on Pisendel and the music.

Once again, the concert proved a reminder of Madison’s vibrant musical life in general, and of its early music scene in particular.

Classical music: This is a big week for Madison percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett as performer and composer. Ensemble SDG performs the early music of Johann Pisendel

September 28, 2012
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ALERT: The Madison-based early music duo SDG — Edith Hines on broque violin and John Chappelle Stow on harpsichord and organ — sent the following message:  “You are invited to Ensemble SDG’s second Madison performance of the season, this Saturday, September 29, at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall in the UW Humanities Building (455 North Park Street). Admission is FREE. Our program, “Music from Dresden in the Time of Johann Georg Pisendel,” will feature music connected to the virtuoso violinist who was concertmaster of the Dresden court orchestra in the second quarter of the 18th century.  We will play two sonatas by Pisendel himself; a sonata by Tomaso Albinoni dedicated to Pisendel; a sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair that he copied out for the court library; and a suite by Dresden court lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss that was arranged for violin and keyboard by Pisendel’s friend and colleague J. S. Bach.  We will be performing Bach’s version of the suite with Lautenwerk, a harpsichord strung with gut strings.  For information, visit

By Jacob Stockinger

Although he has performed in his native Madison for many years, percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett (below) will come into the spotlight this week as both a performer and composer.

On Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall, Bartlett will perform a one-hour concert of his new original music “Return Transmission” that uses three-dimensions and computer-generated sounds.

The Ear is always wary of art that requires long, technical and complicated notes or explanations, whether it is about music or wall labels at a museum. But the fact is that a lot of new and unusual music requires such explanation, which often seems part of its appeal. 

So, here are program notes:

“Nathaniel Bartlett’s performances seamlessly meld his five-octave acoustic marimba with a powerful Linux-based computer, custom computer control interfaces, a variety of hardware audio electronics, and eight loudspeakers (plus subwoofer) arranged in a cube. With the audience positioned in the center of the loudspeaker cube, an elaborate, kinetic, three-dimensional sound environment can be projected into the audience space, totally immersing the listeners in the music. In his immersive sound environments, spatialization (the positioning and movement of sounds in physical space) becomes a central musical parameter, along side of pitch, rhythm/time, timbre, and so on.

“The sound environments of Bartlett’s compositions are composed of sounds culled from many sources and techniques, including digital audio manipulations of his live marimba, digital audio manipulations of recorded acoustic sounds stored on his computer, and synthetically engineered sounds. The intricate three-dimensional sound environments of Bartlett’s works are further enriched by the use of high-definition audio (24 bit/88.2 kHz, superior to CD-quality), which allows for a significant increase in sonic nuances.

“In his performance rig, two computer monitors are used in place of a conventional music stand. The music notation, now free from the physical realm of paper and ink, is created and manipulated in real time, just as the computer-generated sounds are created and manipulated in real time.

“Bartlett designed his performance rig for maximum mobility without compromising audio quality, and has performed all across the US in a wide variety of venues, such as art galleries and museums, concert halls, dance spaces, “DIY”/”underground” spaces, and many universities and colleges. In order to present his music in its original three-dimensional, high-definition form at every performance, he always tours with all his own electronic equipment and marimba.

“Recordings of Bartlett’s original compositions and other projects — all on multi-channel, high-resolution media — can be found on Albany Records, and on his own label, Sound-Space Audio Lab.

“Bartlett performs on a Malletech Imperial Grand five-octave marimba, and uses a custom, silent (true 0dB) computer created by

“Nathaniel Bartlett was born in 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to studying privately with marimbist Leigh Howard Stevens, he graduated from the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY), the Royal Academy of Music (London), and holds a doctoral degree in music composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives with his wife Lisa in Madison, and is a postdoctoral associate at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (below).

And it is the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, 30 North Orchard Street, across from the new Union South, that his work “luminous machine” for solo percussion will also be premiered by Justin Alexander in a FREE public  performance on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 5:15 p.m.

For more information, visit: Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Town Center

Performer Justin Alexander is currently serving as Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at Troy State University in Troy, Alabama. He is the Principal Timpanist with Sinfonia Gulf Coast and a section member of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra, and currently serves as chair of the Percussive Arts Society’s Collegiate Committee.

Here are the composer’s notes about “luminous machine”:

“luminous machine — composed 2011, ca. 12 min. — is a solo percussion work focusing on separating instruments, sounds, and musical textures into binary, opposing states. Two types of implements are used to strike the instruments: hard mallets and soft mallets. Two main instrument groups are used: metal and wood.

“Within each instrument group, there is also a binary relationship. For the metal instruments, the relationship is between the sound signatures of solid instruments (triangles, threaded rods) and membrane-like instruments (gongs, bowls, metal sheet). For the wooden instruments, the relationship is between the sound signatures of solid instruments (claves) and hollow instruments (temple blocks). Finally, the piece is constructed out of two opposing rhythmic textures: metric (steady and mechanical; “digital”) and ametric (free and smooth; “analog”).

“The score for luminous machine, like all my recent compositions, uses my original notation system in order to render the musical concepts clearly and intuitively. I have included a few score excerpts below. Visit:

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