The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Festival splendidly captures the poignancy and intimacy of late Schubert through songs and smaller piano works

September 1, 2017
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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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival for this year is presenting three concert programs of what the directors consider “Necessary Music” — as MacArthur “genius,” Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and festival co-artistic director John Harbison (below) puts it, “We did not even know we needed it until it appears.”

Of the resulting concerts, the first, on last Saturdays night and Sunday afternoon, featured music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn, plus Harbison, suggesting their interaction.

The third program, to come on this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. explores various works in waltz form, old and new. (For more information about the program and tickets, go to www.tokencreekfestival.org.)

And in between, on this past Wednesday night, came Franz Schubert. That was the concert I caught.

Three performers were involved.

To begin with, the two pianists, Ya-Fei Chuang (below foreground) and Alison D’Amato, played the slow movement from Schubert’s so-called “Grand Duo,” D. 812.

That full-length, four-movement work has been claimed by some commentators to be the surviving bit of Schubert’s supposed “Gastein” Symphony. It is splendid music in its own right, and I rather wished it had been played complete, especially with two such polished performers at hand. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Next, Chuang played the six pieces that constitute the collection known as the Moments Musicaux, D. 780. These pieces, mostly in ABA form, bring Schubert’s inherent lyricism into a range of moods that go far beyond mere entertainment. Chuang played them with deeply probing intensity.

The second half of the program was entirely devoted to Schubert’s final collection of Lieder, his Schwanengesang, or “Swan Song,” as the publisher titled it.

It is not a true cycle, but a gathering of 14 songs on which Schubert had been working in his last years, published after his death. One can, to be sure, find common themes among them of longing, loss, isolation, loneliness and apprehension — themes that preoccupied the composer at the end of his all-too-brief life.

The singer, Charles Blandy (below), joined D’Amato in a deeply involving performance. His lyric tenor voice is flexible, with particularly fine German diction and a capacity for subtle variations in the moods of the individual songs. The pianist was a sensitive partner whose careful support offered a musical dimension of its own. The texts and translations were provided to the audience, allowing full immersion in these songs.

All of this music came from Schubert’s later years, when the composer, knowing that he was soon to die, concentrated his thinking so poignantly.

In bypassing the larger of the final works, too, this program stressed personal intimacy and demonstrated that Schubert’s reflections on the human condition do, indeed, make his music “necessary.”

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Classical music: You can hear Schubert’s last songs at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival TONIGHT at 7:30

August 30, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been informed that seats still remain for tonight’s all-Schubert concert at the popular Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Half of the concert will be piano music, including the six Moments Musicaux and a work for piano, four-hands, a genre that Schubert often composed in and performed with friends. Ya-Fei Chuang (below) is the featured piano soloist.

Also on the program is “Swan Song” – sung by tenor Charles Blandy (below top) with pianist Alison D’Amato (below bottom) of the Eastman School of Music and the University of Buffalo.

Here are program notes by the festival’s co-artistic director and prize-winning composer John Harbison about the work:

Schwanengesang is not a planned cycle. Instead it is a collection of Schubert’s last songs, as serious and searching as the two great cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.

Thematically and musically, the songs have much in common and, taken together, they are unequalled in plumbing the emotional depths of the soul, heart-wrenching and heartwarming.

We can’t be certain whether Schubert (below) ever intended them to be performed as a unity.

When they were published early in 1829, after his death at 31, it was the first publisher, Tobias Haslinger, who named the collection Schwanengesang (Swan Song), presumably to emphasize that these were the last fruits of the composer’s genius.

The sequence consists of settings of seven poems by Rellstab, six by Heine and, as an encore,  Seidl’s “Taubenpost,” quite likely the very last song Schubert ever wrote. (You can hear “Taubenpost,” sung by the famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the festival, the remaining concerts and tickets, visit www.tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: Composer-performer John Harbison explains why the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is revisiting “The Musical Offering” by Johann Sebastian Bach for a third time

August 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you have ever attended a concert at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival (below), which opens this Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., you know how insightful the short commentaries by John Harbison invariably are.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. Harbison (below), the co-founder and co-artistic director with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison, has been awarded a MacArthur ‘genius grant” and won a Pulitzer Prize, all while teaching at MIT.

The concerts this weekend focus on Johann Sebastian Bach’s incredible “Musical Offering,” part of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a program note by composer-pianist Harbison, which will probably be complemented by some additional remarks:

”Every musician has the experience of understanding a piece better after they have performed it. A few have careers which welcome (sometimes to a fault) chances to re-perform, hopefully with greater insight, a piece they wish to carry with them and continue to share with colleagues and listeners.

“We have performed two complete Musical Offerings by Bach (below) at Token Creek. Why are we going back to its Trio Sonata? Because it has become necessary, for the fullness of our encounter, to present what is a revision, a reconsideration, a reinforcement of vows, regarding a masterpiece whose carrot remains forever on the stick.

“Such could be said about other elements on this program. One of the subtexts is about the fascinating issue of continuo realization — the piano or harpsichord part — the strange language in which harmonic structure is described to the player in cipher.

“In pieces by Bach this language is strained to the breaking point in works such as The Musical Offering and the E minor sonata for violin and continuo; it is in fact about to disappear, replaced by the explicit writing out, in pitches, all the musical information. Living in the world before and after this decision was taken is one of the preoccupations of this concert.

“In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces (by Haydn and Harbison) is really sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority, a high bar, considered carefully by the management.”

For more information about the five concerts of three different programs, including ticket information, go to: http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will explore “Necessary Music” by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Harbison and other composers from Aug. 26 through Sept 3

August 17, 2017
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 By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an annual event that puts on a lot of MUST-HEAR programs:

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. –    In what way, and for whom, is a certain kind of music necessary?

Certainly the presenters of a chamber music festival would be presumptuous to offer a program as a sort of prescription for listeners. And at Token Creek we won’t.

So often the music we need arrives by chance, and we did not even know we needed it until it appears. And other times we know exactly what we are missing. And so we offer this year’s programs of pieces that feed the soul.

Saturday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 27, at 4 p.m., Program I: Continuo

Some works of art are so rich that they sustain a lifetime of inquiry and encounters, each time revealing fresh new insights only possible through sustained engagement, pieces so resilient they admit multiple interpretations, approaches, nuances, shadings.

We open the season with music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), pieces we’ve played before and some we have not, music that continues to compel for the very reason that it can never be fully plumbed, music that rewards over and over again. In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces is really only that they offer sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority.

Flutist Dawn Lawler (below top), cellist Sara Sitzer (below second) and pianist Jeffrey Stanek (below third join the artistic directors composer-pianist John and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom) for this opening program.

Works:
BACH Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo, BWV 1023

HAYDN    Trio in F major for flute, cello and piano XV:17

BACH   Two Fugues, from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

HARBISON    Mark the Date, for flute and piano (pre-premiere)

BACH Sonata in G major for violin and continuo, BWV 1021

BACH Three-Voice Ricercar, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

BACH Sonata in C minor, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Program II: Schubert

A sequel to last year’s all-Schubert program, which offered Die Schöne Müllerin and the “Trout” Quintet, this season we offer two late masterworks by  Schubert (below): the song cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song) and the solo piano set of six Moments Musicaux (Musical Moments).

In structure, ingenuity and invention these two large works offer an eloquent counterpoint and complement to one another. We are pleased to welcome back pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (below top), and to introduce tenor Charles Blandy (below middle) with pianist Linda Osborn (below bottom).

Works:

SCHUBERT      Andante, from Sonata in C for Piano Four Hands (“Grand Duo”),  D.812

SCHUBERT     Moments Musicaux, D.780

SCHUBERT      Schwanengesang, D.957

Saturday, Sept. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4 p.m. Program III: Waltz

This program explores the familiar form of the waltz as an unexpectedly flexible and diverse musical type, with uncommon approaches from a wide variety of composers from Schubert through Sur.

We conclude the season with Schumann’s splendid Piano Quartet, whose third movement offers one of the greatest of slow waltzes of all time. (You can hear it performed by the Faure Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We are pleased to introduce violist Becky Menghini (below top) and cellist Kyle Price (below bottom).

Works:

FRITZ KREISLER   Three Old Viennese Melodies for Violin and  Piano

DONALD SUR        Berceuse for Violin and Piano

SCHUBERT      Waltz Sequence

RAVEL     Valses nobles et sentimentales

GEORGE CRUMB    Sonata for Solo Cello

SCHUMANN     Quartet in E-flat for Piano and Strings, Op.   47

The Token Creek Festival has been called a gem, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields, a late-summer fixture just outside of Madison.

Now in its 28th season, the Festival has become known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a comfortable refurbished barn.

The 2017 festival offers five events to close the summer concert season, Aug. 26–Sept. 3.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie) with ample parking available.

The charmingly rustic venue—indoors and air-conditioned with modern comforts—is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). Reservations can be secured in several ways:

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Two weeks of choral music and world premieres start this week at the UW-Madison

April 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The last two weeks of April look to be a busy time, with several world premieres of new music taking place – one in chamber music this week, then next week one in choral music and one by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in orchestral and piano music.

It is also a busy time for choral music, especially with back-to-back performances next week by the Concert Choir and the community-campus UW Choral Union.

All UW-Madison concerts scheduled for this week are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here — with an unfortunate lack of details about programs — is the UW-Madison lineup for this week:

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the University Opera presents its spring program of “Opera Scenes” done by the UW-Madison Opera Workshop. Sorry, no word about specific operas, scenes or singers. Staging is minimal and accompaniment is done by a piano.

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below top) will give the world premiere of “The Cross of Snow,” written by John Harbison (below middle) and commissioned by local businessman William Wartmann in memory of his late wife.

The new work, scored for string quartet and voice, features guest mezzo-soprano Jazmina Macneil (below bottom).

Also on the program are: String Quartet in E Major, Op. 54, No. 3 (1788), by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet in A Minor Op. 16 (1874) by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the new work, including the text of the poem “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-7/

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Chorale and the Madrigal Singers (below) team up for a joint concert under director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word about composers or works.

SATURDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings – an amateur group of non-music majors — will perform its annual spring concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Women’s Chorus (below), Masters Singers and University Chorus will give a joint concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

SUNDAY

From 2 to 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform under directors Darin Olson, Nathan Froebe and Justin Lingre will perform. Sorry, no word on specific programs.

This week, The Ear also counts 10 different student degree recitals on tap, from piano and violin to percussion and voice. Some listings mention programs, but others do not. For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.

AndrewSewellnew

  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.

ilya-kaler

  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!

william-boyce

handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Songs and chamber music about water and nature by Franz Schubert flow with drama and assertiveness to conclude this year’s Token Creek Festival. The concert will be repeated today at 4 p.m.

September 4, 2016
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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 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The context of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has been the reconstitution of a neglected trout stream on the property of John and Rose Mary Harbison, the festival directors.

With an overall festival title of “Water Music,” its final program is called “Water Colors,” and is devoted exclusively to music by this year’s featured composer, Franz Schubert (below).

Franz Schubert big

This program, first performed on Friday evening, contained just two major works.

The first was Schubert’s song cycle, “Die schöne Müllerian (The Lovely Miller Maid).

Setting a cycle of 20 poems by Wilhelm Müller (almost a pun!), Schubert has us follow episodically the story of a mill worker who falls in love with his boss’s daughter. She first encourages him and then betrays him, abandoning him to a hopeless death. Through all this, his guide, sustainer and, finally, consoler, is the mill brook, itself effectively a character in the saga.

Occupying the first half of the concert, this cycle was sung from memory by the highly acclaimed tenor William Hite (below). His voice is somewhat more of a dramatic than a lyric tenor, and some of his delivery had a vehemence that was almost too big for the intimate setting of “the barn” on the Harbison estate.

Token Creek 2016 William Hite Schubert Mullerin

But, in truth, Hite (below) could muster up delicacy and nuance as well as earthy strength. Above all, he became a story teller—at once narrator and protagonist—a singing actor who drew us into the tragic story.

He was also powerfully supported by pianist Kayo Iwama (below). Her playing was not subtle, but it struck just the right tone of assertiveness and caught the bucolic evocations.

Kayo Iwama

As their performance proceeded, I found I was no longer in “the barn” but transported into the world of nature and hopeless love. The poignance and humanity of Schubert’s cycle was thus truly realized.

In the second half, another of Schubert’s “nature” evocations was fittingly offered: the beloved Quintet in A for piano and an adjusted string quartet (D.667). This bears the nickname of “the Trout,” because the fourth of its five movements is a set of variations on his own song, Die Forelle (The Trout). (You can hear that fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Performers (below) were Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine; cello, and Ross Gilliland, bass; with pianist Molly Morkoski.

Token Creek 2016 Schubert Trout JWB

It was given a lively performance, and made me pay particular attention to the role of the piano in the scoring. Aside from the two piano trios, this is Schubert’s only full-scale chamber work in which he matches the piano with a string ensemble. It’s not a quasi-concerto, but there is a clear understanding of the sonic distinctions between the piano and the strings as they contrast and collaborate.

The piano’s role was indeed the backbone of this performance, thanks to the work of Morkoski (below), who again—as in the opening concert program last weekend—showed herself a born Schubert pianist of great flair.

molly morkoski

NOTE: This program is to be repeated this afternoon at 4 p.m., and will conclude this year’s festival.

For more information, here is a link:

http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: Old music and new music mingle superbly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival through a concert with viols, a countertenor and a new composition by John Harbison

September 1, 2016
2 Comments

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. Barker also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The second of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s three public concerts, which took place on Tuesday evening, was a study in the old and the new, and the mingling thereof.

The program title was, in fact, “Viol Music, Then and Now.” The performing group was the Second City Musick Consort of Viols of Chicago (below)  — three players from there, plus visitor Brady Lanier.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Much, but hardly all, of their contributions were consort pieces of the 16th and 17th centuries, although a certain number of transcriptions — ironically, of later music — were involved.

Three Fantasias for three viols by William Byrd and one by John Jenkins for four viols were prime specimens. Two pairs of examples from Henry Purcell’s Fantasias in 4 Parts represented a late contribution to the consort literature, but were probably intended — primarily, if not exclusively — for members of the violin family, not viols.

Token Creek viols JWB

With the addition of countertenor Nathan Medley, groups of “consort songs” were presented: three by Byrd and one each by four different composers of the late-Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. These were capped by one of the favorite airs of Purcell, “Fairest Isle”— which is a part of his large “semi-opera” King Arthur.

Token Creek viols and countertenor closeup JWB

The program’s centerpiece, however, was a new work by festival co-founder and co-artistic director, John Harbison (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellow and who teaches at MIT.

John Harbison MIT

The nature and the scoring of this work, The Cross of Snow, was defined by the patron who commissioned it. This was local businessman William Wartmann (below), who intended it as a tribute to his deceased wife, the painter and singer Joyce Wartmann.

wiiliam wartmann

It was understood from the outset that it would be written for countertenor and consort of viols, and that the texts set would come from 19th-century poetic literature.

The choice eventually fell on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who also lost his wife tragically, in a fire. The three poems set are: The Cross of Snow, Suspira and “Some day, some day.” All of them deal with the deep and enduring pain over the loss of a loved one. The three settings are framed by a Prelude and a Postlude for the consort alone. (You can hear the poem “The Cross of Snow” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Harbison has a strong sense of tradition and a genuine sympathy for Baroque music. Still, in this composition he by no means attempts simply to imitate long-past styles. While he is interested in exploring the special coloring and harmonics of the viols, he also brings to them a lot of the playing techniques familiar from writing for modern stringed instruments, but alien to viols. Indeed, the instrumental role in this work could pretty easily be transferred from viols to modern strings.

Nevertheless, Harbison’s stylistic assimilations run deep. The five movements, and especially the quite contrapuntal Postlude, are built upon allusions to chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). And, quite wisely, the consort played transcriptions of three such pieces in conjunction with Harbison’s score.

Bach1

Moreover, it was decided to perform Harbison’s new work twice, once in each half of the concert. This was most helpful in allowing a deepened appreciation of the emotional content of both the poetry and the music. The vocal lines are strongly etched, and were beautifully sung by countertenor Medley, a superb artist.

With the final program, on this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the spotlight will be exclusively on Franz Schubert (below) — his “Die Schoene Muellerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) song cycle and the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet — music in a world between the two evoked by this concert.

Schubert etching

For more information, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: The founders and co-artistic directors of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival explain the origins of the upcoming “water music” programs

August 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

In the essay below, John and Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), the founders and co-artistic directors of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, explain the origins of the upcoming “water music” programs that mark the 27th festival.

You can hear that famous “trout” theme of the original song used in Franz Schubert‘s “Trout” Piano Quintet, which will be performed at the festival, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a link to a posting earlier this week with much more information about the concerts, the programs and the performers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/classical-music-this-years-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-celebrates-local-ecological-restoration-with-water-music/

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: THE BROOK AT TOKEN CREEK — WHY NOW?

By John and Rose Mary Harbison

In 1932 Dan and Alice Pedersen, Rose Mary Harbison’s parents, came from Chicago to Madison and purchased a small farm on State Highway 19, then a seldom travelled dirt road. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson of a more recent barn built on the farm property.)

Token Creek land:barn Jess Anderson

The farm eventually became a producer of organic vegetables for sale, and a place of contemplation, leading to Dan’s life as a Swedenborgian pastor, wartime fireman and early sustainable farmer; and Alice’s as a Sunday school teacher and eventually a much published anti-Vietnam War activist. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson of a field on the farm.)

Token Creek land 2 Jess Anderson

But it was just three years into their tenure on the farm that the State of Wisconsin came up with a plan to raise carp for New York markets, and by eminent domain seized four acres of land from the Pedersen farm, building a 400-foot carp pond, and routing the tributary trout stream on the Pedersen farm into it. (Historic photos are from the Token Creek Watershed Association.)

Token Creek Watershed 1

This was a loss from which the couple never really recovered, since it cost the stream, which had originally flowed into Token Creek, much loss of vitality, swiftness and natural flow.

Within a decade the State had lost interest in the original project, but the Pedersens were never able to persuade the necessary agencies to undertake restoration of the trout stream and repair the damage.

Token Creek watershed 2

The 2012 Token Creek Festival season included a forum, “Listen to the Land,” with an eminent group of ecologists commenting on our attempt to redevelop as prairie a large set-aside field.

As it turned out, the best outcome of this gathering, in spite of the expensive and to this point discouraging track of that project, was the unanimous view of that forum that the restoration of the tributary trout stream, and the elimination of the carp pond, would dynamically and radically upgrade the entire ecology of the area, one that is an extremely important component of the Cherokee Marsh and Lake Mendota watershed. (below is a picnic by Token Creek.)

Token Creek picnic

This year’s festival, “Water Music,” celebrates the unlikely achievement of that goal. Unable to find civic partners, the transformation was a private initiative, brilliantly realized by the river restoration firm Inter-Fluve, and spearheaded by the participants in our opening forum. (Below is a mill on the creek.)

Token Creek mill

Art and Nature are already familiar partners; Art and Technology increasingly so. One common impulse seems to be to increase harmony and invention; to limit pointless destruction; and to preserve enhance and develop, positively, some of the forces we cannot control, or fully understand.


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