The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: JFK was assassinated 51 years ago today. He loved Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” In his memory, here it is – in two forms.

November 22, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Nov. 22, 2014.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (below) was killed in Dallas, Texas, 51 years ago to the day.

jfk

The Ear remembers the deep sadness and immense sense of frustration that surrounded the assassination. American politics has never seemed the same since his death.

He also remembers hearing broadcasts of the Requiem by Gabriel Faure and the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms – both fitting choices to honor the dead president.

But since then, The Ear has learned that JFK -– whose own family was well acquainted with tragedy and loss — especially liked the saddest of all music, the “Adagio for Strings” by American composer Samuel Barber. Barber (below) had arranged it from the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in B Minor to a String Orchestra at the request of the world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini.

barber 1

By the way, in the original string quartet form, the work was given its world premiere by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet in Rome in 1936. And the original quartet form seems somehow less lush and self-indulgent, more restrained and dignified or even complex, while the string orchestra version seems more overpowering and Romantic.

Compare the two versions for yourself by listening to both of them on YouTube.

Here is the original string quartet version done by the Cypress String Quartet in a live radio performance for WGBH in Boston, which was JFK’s hometown:

And here is the more familiar version for string orchestra in a version that has more than 3 million hits:

Which one do you like best and why?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Three performances of choral music this weekend by the Madison-based Cecilia Singers will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

November 19, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based Cecilia Singers will begin its 2013-2014 season with three performances of a special concert marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.  “Remembering John Fitzgerald Kennedy (below):  A Choral Tribute” can be heard on this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

WH/HO Portrait 

Here is a schedule: Performances are on Friday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m., at St. James Catholic Church (1204 St. James Court.); on Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church (below is its interior, 1021 University Ave.); and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24, at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Monona.

luther memorial church madison

Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Willy St. Co-op (east and west), Orange Tree Imports, and The Pink Poodle for $12 general admission, or $10 for seniors; or at the door for $15 and $12, respectively.

The program includes: “French Choruses” from “The Lark” by Leonard Bernstein; Four Motets by Aaron Copland; “To Be Sung On The Water” by; Samuel Barber; “New England Frostbite” by Robert Kreutz (below top, 1923-1997); “Ave Maria” by  Edwin Fissinger (1920-1990); “Songs of Hope and Deliverance” by Robert Kreutz (1923-1997); “Improperium” by  Robert Kreutz, who began composing this piece the night JFK was assassinated as a very personal response to the tragedy; “In Paradisium: by Edwin Fissinger (heard at bottom in a YouTube video).

Robert Kreutz

Edwin Fissinger

Group founder and director Joseph Testa, who used to direct choral music at Edgewood College until 2008, says he conceived the program as a way to recognize and celebrate a man of great intelligence and charm coupled with a deep appreciation for the arts and the role they play in a free society.

Joseph Testa color

To underscore the theme, an all-American a cappella program of music by composers of JFK’s generation was chosen, Testa says.

Testa adds: “Some of the works simply represent the creative endeavors of composers active during President Kennedy’s lifetime; other were selected because they seemed to hold a poignant connection to JFK:  for example, a Latin-texted work with a clear nod to his Catholicism, or a work utilizing a text of his favorite poet, or in one case a collection of works that speak to the struggles of Communism in Eastern Europe during the 1980’s — something very real and of great concern at the time of his own presidency.   

“President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy brought a sophisticated awareness of the arts to our national attention, hosting poets, musicians, artists, composers and Nobel Prize winners for State Events at the White House, thereby elevating the image of artist and intellectual in American life.  This aspect of his presidency is certainly one for all Americans in the arts to celebrate as we pause on this 50th anniversary.

“At the same time, we also celebrate the composers whose works are being performed, thereby again honoring the life of JFK and the legacy he envisioned for an America as a country rich in culture for having embraced the arts.”

About the Cecilia Singers (below, in rehearsal, in a photo by Joseph Testa): Joseph Testa founded Cecilia Singers in 2009 as a professional choir based on a four-prong mission:  advance the choral art form, advance choral artistry, be an educational entity for the choral arts through lecture and performance, and to create employment opportunities for gifted and talented singers.

Cecilia Singers rehearsing

The personnel and size of the ensemble vary based on the needs of the given repertoire. Singers completing a successful audition are offered a contract for a specific set of concerts and the requisite rehearsals. Each singer receives the music several weeks prior to the first rehearsal and is expected to come to that rehearsal with all the music learned. This format allows the rehearsal time to be truncated to just three weeks prior to a performance, at which point a series of extended rehearsals are held in close succession to work on ensemble.

 


Classical music: Don’t miss the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet in Mendelssohn’s wondrous Octet this Sunday afternoon or in a world premiere on Nov. 22 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

November 1, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

I am no expert about the music of Felix Mendelssohn (below), but for my money I don’t think he ever wrote a better piece than the early Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, for double string quartets, composed when he was just 16.

Mendelssohn

This weekend you will have a chance you should not miss. It is a MUST-HEAR concert that features the Pro Arte Quartet  (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) – now 102 years old and still counting as the oldest surviving string quartet in the world ever – with the Hunt Quartet, which is made up of gifted graduate students from the UW School of Music.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The performance will take place on “Sunday Afternoon Life From the Chazen” this Sunday 12:30 to 2 p.m. and air live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio. By the time you read this, it will probably be too late to reserve free tickets, and the Brittingham Gallery 3 (below) is sure to be full of loyal fans.

But just tune in the radio or stream it live on WPR (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) or through www.wpr.org

SAL3

The important thing is to hear the performance – and hear it live, if you can.

I have heard the Pro Arte play this Octet (at bottom in a YouTube video performed by the Borodin Quartet and the Fine Arts Quartet of the UW-Milwaukee) – which for me rivals or even surpasses Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and “Reformation” Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Piano Trio in D Minor and the String Quartet in A minor, and the Overture to “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” — once with other UW faculty members and once with the acclaimed original Emerson String Quartet (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And the Pro Arte made the Mendelssohn sizzle. Both times brought a firecracker of a performance that made you bolt upright in your seat. Such energy and such lyricism, such beauty! (Also on the program is the soulfully Romanic String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No.1, by Johannes Brahms, which the Pro Arte played exquisitely at their season-opening concert.)

Emerson

Now, speaking of the Pro Arte, you should also know that it will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission, the String Quartet No. 3 (2013) by the Belgian composer Benoit Mernier. (Belgium was the home of the Pro Arte Quartet before it was exiled in World War II in June of 1940 and accepted a stint as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison.)

Benoit Mernier 1

That concert will be FREE at  8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 as previously stated here and in some other materials — in Mills Hall on Friday, Nov. 22.

As you no doubt already know, that Friday night is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy or, simply, JFK.

WH/HO Portrait

The Pro Arte Quartet concert is not designed or intended to be a memorial to JFK, even though one of his favorite works was the soulful Adagio for Strings by the American composer Samuel Barber (below), which ironically was given its world premiere in Rome in 1936 by the Pro Arte Quartet.

barber 1

But even without the Barber work, there is much to recommend attending the concert. If you will be looking for a great place to bonded with other people in memory of a tragic event – The Ear remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news and bets that many of you do too — you can’t do better.

The concert includes guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below), now retired from the famed Juilliard String Quartet. Besides the Mernier, the program includes the String Quintet (1879) by Anton Bruckner and the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Preceding the concert at 6:45 p.m. in Mills Hall will be an conversation-interview with composer Benoit Mernier.

And preceding that will be a savory and companionable cocktails and dinner event held from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in the lobby of the new building of the Chazen Museum of Art. Dinner is $35 per head and reservations must be made by SUNDAY, Nov 17. For more information, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (www.proartequartet.org) or call (608) 217-6786.

SEE YOU THERE!


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

    Join 1,195 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,057,262 hits
%d bloggers like this: