The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Soprano Sarah Brailey and nine UW-Madison cellists team up for the FREE concert of songs at Grace Presents this Saturday at noon

September 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, Sept. 21, at noon, a FREE one-hour program in the Grace Presents series will feature soprano Sarah Brailey (below) in “My Loyal Heart,” a recital of songs by Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Guillaume de Machaut, Dmitri Shostakovich and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

The concert is at Grace Episcopal Church (below), located downtown on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue.

Brailey is an acclaimed professional singer who often tours and who is doing graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Brailey will be joined by friends and colleagues. They include UW baritone Paul Rowe and members of the UW Madison Cello Ensemble, featuring nine local Madison cellists who include Grace Presents program coordinator James Waldo. (Below is a summer cello choir at the UW-Madison from several years ago.)

The works will be sung in Russian, Portuguese, and both modern and medieval French.

Here is an introduction from Waldo:

“It is often said that the cello is the instrument most like the human voice.

“My Loyal Heart,” devotes an entire program to music for soprano Sarah Brailey and cello from the 14th century to the 20th century.

“It opens with Arvo Pärt’s L’abbé Agathon about the legend of Father Agathon from the 4th century book “The Desert Fathers,” followed by a new arrangement by Brailey for soprano and cello trio of Guillaume de Machaut’s elegant love song Se quanque amours puet donner.

“This intimately ardent piece is followed by a more tragic love story, that of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, in the opening movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok.

“The program continues in Russian with Sir John Tavener’s powerful and darkly spiritual Akhmatova Songs with poetry by Russian-Soviet Modernist poet, Anna Akhmatova.

“The concert concludes with the hauntingly beautiful and famous first movement and the playful concluding dance of Bachianas Brasileiras (Brazilian Bach Suites) No.for soprano and eight cellos by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. (You can hear the Villa-Lobos aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Text and translations will be provided.

“This program will not be performed anywhere else in Madison.”


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Classical music: The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge sings a varied program with organ accompaniment this Wednesday night in Overture Hall

September 9, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new season of the popular Overture Concert Organ series, sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and curated by MSO organist Greg Zelek, begins this Wednesday night, Sept. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

All single tickets are $20. (A subscription to all four organ concerts is $63.)

The opening program features the world-famous Choir of Trinity College Cambridge (below), on tour from its home in the United Kingdom.

Adds Zelek:

“Our season opens with the amazing Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, named by Gramophone Magazine as one of the best choirs in the world.

“Conducted by the choir’s music director Stephen Layton (below top) and accompanied on the mighty Klais concert organ (below bottom), this 25-voice choir will present a program of music spanning many centuries that will display its beauty of tone and depth of feeling. These rich voices will make this varied program soar through Overture Hall and leave everyone in the audience breathless.”


Here are some sample reviews:

Virtuoso is the right word. I, for one, can’t immediately think of any more appropriate way of describing singing of such staggering accomplishment.  – BBC Music Magazine

Sitting front and center at a recent Trinity Choir of Cambridge concert at Grace Cathedral was, sonically speaking, a heavenly experience.                    -The New York Times

Here is Wednesday night’s eclectic program:

William Byrd | Sing joyfully
William Byrd | O Lord, make thy servant, Elizabeth
Thomas Tallis | Salvator mundi
Henry Purcell | Thou knowest, Lord
Arvo Part | Bogoroditse Djévo
John Tavener | Mother of God, here I stand
Vasily Kalinnikov | Bogoroditse Djevo
Robert Parsons | Ave Maria
Eriks Esenvalds | The Heavens’ Flock (You can hear a different Esenvalds work, “Only in Sleep,” sung by the Trinity College Choir, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Morten Lauridsen | O magnum mysterium
Jaakko Mantyjarvi | Stuttgarter Psalmen
Herbert Howells | Take him, earth, for cherishing
Herbert Howells | Trinity St. Paul’s

For more information about the Overture Organ Series, detailed background about the Trinity College Choir and how to purchase tickets, call (608) 258-4141 or go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/overture-concert-organ-performances/ or https://madisonsymphony.org/event/organ-trinity-choir/ 


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Classical music: The King’s Singers will mark 50 years when they perform Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed a cappella singing group The King’s Singers (below) will be marking its 50th anniversary when it performs the annual Fan Taylor Concert – named to honor the first director of the Wisconsin Union Theater – on this Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall.

Tickets are $25-$45 general admission, $20 for youths and $10 for UW students. For more information, including the complete program, background, audio-video samples and how to purchase tickets, go to  https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/the-kings-singers/. You can also phone 608-265-ARTS (2787) or go in person. See locations and hours here.

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary this year, The King’s Singers are widely acclaimed for the quality of their singing and diverse repertoire, which includes over 200 commissioned works from the world’s leading composers.

The commissioned arrangements come from a breadth of musical genres: jazz standards to pop chart hits, medieval motets to Renaissance madrigals, and new scores by young composers.

The upcoming concert is part of their 50th anniversary world tour, and the program showcases their signature blend, purity of tone, and diversity of repertoire, with selections ranging from Renaissance polyphony to brand new commissions celebrating the 50th anniversary.

This love of diversity has always fuelled The King’s Singers’ commitment to creating new music. A panoply of commissioned works by many of the greatest composers of our times – including Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, John Rutter, Toru Takemitsu, Sir John Tavener and Eric Whitacre – sits alongside countless bespoke arrangements in the group’s extensive repertoire.

One of these is called “To Stand in This House” by Nico Muhly (below), which sets various texts by scholars who originated at King’s College, Cambridge, where The Kings Singers were founded.

The program, GOLD, charts a journey through the music that has defined The King’s Singers so far, from Renaissance polyphony to art song to, naturally, close harmony favorites.

The group also looks toward the future with several commissions for the 50th season from composers and arrangers with who they have ties, including, in addition to Nico Muhly’s work, “We Are” by composer/conductor Bob Chilcott, himself a former member of The King’s Singers; and “Quintessentially” by Joanna and Alexander L’Estrange (below), which humorously tells the story of The King’s Singers’ past 50 years.

The King’s Singers was founded in 1968 at King’s College in Cambridge, England. They continually wow audiences across the globe in over 125 concerts a year. The group has won two Grammy awards and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame for its vocal artistry and excellence. (You hear a sample from the group’s new anniversary album, “Gold,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Madison concert is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


Classical music: The Festival Choir opens its season Saturday night with a light and music project devoted to peace

October 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison (below, in a photo by Stephanie Williams), singing under its director Sergei Pavlov, will open its new season with a mixed arts event devoted to peace.

Festival Choir of Madison Tchaikovsky Fall 2014 CR Stephanie Wiliams

The concert is this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Da Pacem Domine” is a project of music and light dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

It will feature light design by Andrew Schmitz.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

For more information about this concert, tickets and the entire season with three more concerts, go to: http://festivalchoirmadison.org

festival-choir-of-madison-new-logo-2016

Says Pavlov (below), who teaches at Edgewood College:

“Tonight the Festival Choir of Madison presents a project that goes beyond the concept of a traditional concert. With the help of compositions from all around the world, we recreate a day in the life of a nation. Yes, this day is September 11, 2015. But in fact, it could be any day in history, when humanity has faced profound grief caused by hatred and destruction.

“The concert comprises six parts: “Morning,” “Cries and Whispers,” “A Prayer for Peace,” “Interlude,” “The Memory of our Heroes” and “On Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

“From the dream-like visions of Daniel Elder, through the biting dissonances of Hikaru Hayashi and the otherworldly sounds of Ēriks Ešenvalds, the Festival Choir of Madison and the light designer Andrew Schmitz will take you on a journey of compassion and hope.

“Experience the healing power of LIGHT AND MUSIC in a project inspired by choral works of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Ēriks Ešenvalds (heard below in a YouTube video), Hikaru Hayashi, Daniel Elder, Rene Clausen and James MacMillan.”

There will also be cello music by Johann Sebastian Bach and bagpipe music performed by Rhys O’Higgins.

Sergei Pavlov


Classical music: Here is a year-end look back at the classical music performers and composers we lost in 2013, including pianist Van Cliburn and British composer John Tavener.

December 30, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we look forward to a New Year, it is a traditional to look back at the various classical musicians -– performers and composers and even some prominent scholars or musicologists -– that we lost during 2013.

At the top of everyone’s list is probably the acclaimed but enigmatic American pianist Van Cliburn (below top) and the British composer John Tavener (below bottom, in a photo by Steve Forrest).

van cliburn old

John Tavener composing Steve Forrest Insight-Visual

The famed New York City City radio station WQXR-FM has put together a good “in memorium” slide show. Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2013/

Something new, I think, is also an overview of classical music in 2013 that includes awards and works as well as deaths on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_in_classical_music

APOLOGY FOR A MISTAKE: As a reader alerted me, the Polish composer Krzysztof Pedereecki is NOT DEAD but is still living and recently turned 80. I mistakenly thought he had died at 80 and I apologize for the error. I changed the headline, but I am leaving in some material because it is so good. So here are fine appreciations, with audio clips, of Penderecki (below) by NPR weekend host Arun Rath and NPRDeceptive Cadence’ blog director Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246916733/a-sound-of-fear-forged-in-the-shadow-of-war

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246309165/the-sound-of-struggle-tempered-with-terror-penderecki-at-80

krzysztof penderecki

Locally, of course, as well as regionally, nationally and even internationally, the most memorable death in music education was that of Marvin Rabin (below), the 97-year-old founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. His memorial service was yesterday. Here is a link to my appreciation of him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/classical-music-let-us-now-praise-marvin-rabin-who-founded-the-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestra-wyso-who-excelled-as-a-music-educator-and-performer-who-was-the-leonard-bernstein-of-ma/

marvin rabin BW

Are there other “departures” — or deaths or passings or losses — pick your term — you know of?

Do you care to leave an appreciation or comment?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: British composer Sir John Tavener is dead at 69. He made being old-fashioned new again.

November 16, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

I know of two composers who seem like throwbacks to older time – very old times at that – and yet who stir passionate loyalty among lovers of contemporary classical music.

One is Sir John Tavener (below, in a photo by Simone Canetty-Clarke) and the other is Arvo Part.

john tavener Simone Canetty-Clarke,

Both seemed to draw inspiration from older forms of choral music, all the way to early chant and church music.

Both became quite popular, at least by the standards of contemporary classical music as compared to pop, rock, blues, and jazz. Tavener’s early work was even released on the Apple record label by the Beatles and by Sir Paul McCartney, who seems to have a good ear for whatever will catch on.)

But The Ear could never figure out why local groups, especially the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Choral Union – to name a few prominent local music groups – never performed more of their choral and instrumental works since both composers seem to connect widely with and resonate deeply with the public.

True the composers were hardly avant-garde or cutting edge, especially in their pursuit of an apparently old-fashioned spirituality and devotional kind of music.

But a lot of beauty, maybe even most of it that passes the test of history, in art is not cutting edge.

All this comes by way of introducing the fact that this past week, the British composer Sir John Tavener (below, at home composing in a photo by Steve Forrest for Insight-Visual), who found his abiding musical and spiritual roots in the Russian Orthodox Church, died this past week at 69 after a long period of protected illnesses.

John Tavener composing Steve Forrest Insight-Visual

Here is a roundup of some of the best stories The Ear could find on the web:

Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/john-tavener-dies-at-69-composer-with-eye-on-god.html?_r=0

Here is a wonderful story that was done by the outstanding NPR classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/12/244788638/remembering-holy-minimalist-composer-john-tavener

Here is an obituary from Gramophone, the well-respected British classical music magazine:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-sir-john-tavener-has-died

And here is the story of one listener’s growing appreciation of Tavener’s music:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/10447276/John-Tavener-how-I-came-to-love-his-music.html

Did you know and like or dislike the music of Sir John Tavener?

Do you have a favorite piece of his? (Perhaps the “Funeral Canticle” that was used in the critically acclaimed 2011 film by Terrence Mallick “The Tree of Life” and  remains his most popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear wants to hear.


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