The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: John W. Barker says the world premiere of the new string quartet by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier proved a memorable, satisfying and successful way to celebrate the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte Quartet, as does the rarely heard String Quintet of Anton Bruckner.

March 5, 2014
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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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

This past week witnessed the fifth in the projected six events in the centennial celebration for the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer; event photos are by The Ear), which has served as artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1940, when its members were stranded here by World War II and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi invasion of their homeland Belgium.  For me, it proved the most satisfying centennial event yet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Here full disclosure is necessary. I am a member of the committee that has been planning all of these celebrations, under the diligent leadership of Sarah Schaffer. Accordingly, the piece that follows has more of a personal reminiscence than an objective distance.

Each of the events is focused on a composer who has been commissioned to write a piece for the Pro Arte Quartet. The first four resulting works were given their premieres, under the supervision of the individual composers, during the course of the 2011-12 season. (The PAQ performances of these four works have now appeared in a 2-CD set from the Albany label.)  The fifth premiere had to be deferred from last autumn, and finally came about on Saturday night in Mills Hall.

pro arte cd commission cover

Whereas the previous four composers were all Americans, it was felt that the remaining ones should have Belgian connections, in view of the initial PAQ’s origins in that country.  After much scouting, the choice was given to Benoit Mernier (below, in a photo by Bernard Coutant), who is a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

benoit mernier by bernard coutant

Born in 1964, Mernier has rapidly emerged as one of the pre-eminent composers in Belgium today, perhaps the leading one.  The hallmark of his output as a composer is his range and versatility. He has composed three operas — a scene of his opera “La Dispute,” based on a play by Pierre de Marivaux, is in a YouTube video at bottom — and he says he loves writing for voices in settings of poetry.  He has also written widely for choral, chamber and orchestral media. He studied both organ and harpsichord, and is himself an accomplished performing organist, composing extensively for the instrument.

His commission, funded by both the Pro Arte Quartet and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, has resulted in his String Quartet No. 3, completed last year.  He arrived in Madison early last week, flying directly from Belgium, to supervise the work’s premiere. He established an immediate and cordial rapport with his hosts here. He had warned that his command of English was poor, but he soon disproved that in quite workable facility (with occasional help from local Francophones).

Above all, he plunged into work with the PAQ with zest.  The group had been working on his score for weeks before, by contrast with some groups with which he has worked, groups still struggling to master his music.  As a result, our four players were fully in command of the quartet, so that Mernier (below) could move beyond technical drilling and concentrate on their expression of his ideas.

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

I sat in on a three-hour “public” rehearsal in Mills Hall on Thursday, Feb. 27, and was fascinated to see Mernier bustle about in constant consultation with the players as he polished their mastery of the work. Lithe, energetic, spontaneous, he is a bundle of energy and insight.

In addition, he has an open, unforced, and vivacious personality that makes working with him a great delight.  In numerous social and planning contacts, he was bubbly, engaged company.  Indeed, my perception was that he conveyed to all of us not only his music but also that very outgoing personality itself

Mernier had a chance to go along with the quartet members for an “out-of-town tryout”, a so-called “pre-premiere” of his quartet as part of a full concert in Prairie du Sac last Friday evening. Then, the next evening its program was given for the official world premiere.

It was a truly rich menu, beginning with Haydn’s early Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, a little microcosm all its own; then came the new Mernier Quartet; and, finally, Anton Bruckner’s expansive String Quintet.

So, how was the new Mernier work?  Well, it seems perhaps thorny music at first encounter, although it did receive a prolonged standing ovation (below, with members of the quartet and the composer standing second from right ).  Long gone are traditional structural forms and lush melodies.  But it is a very thoughtfully and skillfully composed piece of about 25 minutes in length.  It is cast in nine movements of varying length, interrelated in ideas and ultimately cohering into a comprehensive structure.

Benoit Mernier with Pro Arte Quartet and standing ovation

Before the concert, in a “conversation” onstage (below, which—full disclosure again — I moderated) Mernier discussed the sonic elements, the “signposts” that he used recurrently in putting together the whole piece.

Benoit Mernier at Q&A with John W. Barker

Met honestly, the score has a logic and even power to it that one might compare to Bela Bartók’s quartets — and we have all caught up with those by now, haven’t we? I had worried that the latest blizzard that day would result in an empty house.  But Mills was packed with people, and they gave an enthusiastic, and justified, standing ovation to Mernier and the PAQ players.

Pro Arte Quartet Mernier good house

For my part, I think I have found this Mernier Quartet the most musically satisfying of all the commissioned works presented so far.

The concert program, minus the Haydn, was repeated the following day at the midday presentation of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” a concert open to the public and broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But, if as an epilogue, I must point out the performance of the work by Bruckner (below) was an event in itself.  This involves one of only two substantial chamber works composed by Bruckner, better known for massive and grandly architectural symphonies for large orchestra. 

Completed in 1879, between his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, this is an extensive (one should not say “sprawling”) work, calling for a second viola as the fifth instrument.  Composed in the same format and style as symphonic works of Bruckner (below), this score might almost be understood as the blueprint for a kind of mini-symphony by the composer.

Anton Bruckner 2

The performance by the PAQ, their first address to it, was for me another reminder of the value of experiencing in a “live performance” a work I have known only from recordings.

Pro Arte Quartet playing Bruckner

Being able to watch the players in action helps to understand the writing. I realized for the first time, for example, just how much of a prominent role is accorded to the first viola in the string texture here. And in this performance, that role was vividly fulfilled by a guest player, Samuel Rhodes (below) of the Juilliard School , who recently retired from the Juilliard String Quartet and remains one of the country’s leading violists, and a good friend of many of the PAQ players.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Also, I could observe clearly how Bruckner, in this chamber writing, treated the two violins and the two violas (below, Sally Chisholm on the left and Samuel Rhodes on the right) as distinct entities, variously using them in either interplay or opposition, while the cello receded to pizzicato rhythms, or dropped out entirely. Such are the revelations that direct personal experience of performances allow!

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

In all, then, a truly wonderful event this centennial concert proved to be a truly wonderful event.  And there is still one more, with the world premiere of a Clarinet Quintet by French-Canadian composer Pierre Jalbert (below) next September, with another delightful pre-concert dinner (below) and art tour in the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art scheduled to take place.

Pierre Jalbert

Mernier dinner at Chazen Museum

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOKnZAnY4Jg

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Classical music: Under guest conductor Kevin McMahon of Sheboygan, the Middleton Community Orchestra rises to guest string soloists Daniel Kim and Eleanor Bartsch in Mozart, then warms up the winter with colorful Rimsky-Korsakov and lyrical Brahms.

February 28, 2014
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ALERT and REMINDER: Just a reminder that the Pro Arte Quartet will perform a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features the WORLD PREMIERE of the quartet’s fifth of six commissions to mark its centennial. (Also on the work is Franz Jospeh Haydn’s Quartet, Op. 20, Np. 4, and Anton Bruckner’s Viola Quintet with guest Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and formerly of the Juilliard String Quartet.) The new work is the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, who is in Madison to coach the quartet and attend the premiere, where he will be interviewed by John W. Barker preceding the concert at 7:15 p.m. And here is a link to a review of the new CD recording (below) of the first four commissions by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes Madison Magazine’s classical music blog “Classically Speaking.”

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Pro-Arte-Quartets-New-CDs-Renew-a-Legacy/

pro arte cd commission cover

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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The third program in the current season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), on Wednesday night at the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, was a rich and ambitious one.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

For this concert, the regular MCO conductor Steve Kurr retired modestly to the viola and percussion sections, and yielded the podium to a visiting maestro, Kevin McMahon (below), a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus who directs the Sheboygan Symphony.

Kevin McMahon MCO

Of three works on the program, the first was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. Well-known, especially from many recordings, the work is in fact rarely performed in concerts, perhaps because of the demand for two soloists of high and equal merit.

In this case, it got them.

Local violin star Eleanor Bartsch and Juilliard-trained violist Daniel Kim of New York City — but both distinguished and prize-winning former students in the UW School of Music — have known each other since childhood. They were clearly on a shared wavelength in this performance, paired beautifully in music that makes one glad to be alive. (At bottom, you can hear a popular YouTube recording of the work with violinist Itzhak Perlman and violist Pinchas Zukerman under the baton of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.)

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

The orchestra, a sturdy accompanist in the Mozart, came into its own in the next piece, the flashy “Capriccio espagnol” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (below).  It is really a short five-movement concerto for orchestra, showing off a kaleidoscope of colors, and demanding a performance of virtuosic capacity.

Rimsky-Korsakov

Clearly, guest maestro McMahon had drilled the orchestra thoroughly, so that the performance was a stellar achievement for the MCO. And it also gave the concertmaster, Alice Bartsch, sister of the violin soloist in the Mozart, her own opportunities for some brilliant solo moments.

Alice Bartsch MCO concertmaster

Finally came the longest work of the night, the Symphony No. 2 in D Major of Johannes Brahms (below).

brahms3

This is perhaps the most genial of the composer’s four symphonies, but its lyricism conceals some challenging demands made on the orchestra.  Brahms requires absolute perfection of technique and fully polished sonorities. And so, precisely because it is a very well-known score, it really puts an orchestra like the MCO to the test.

The group met the test quite creditably. Perhaps out of mercy, McMahon dropped the first-movement repeat. He had some very good ideas about phrasing and nuances throughout, and the players worked hard to put them to good effect.

Indeed, the performance gave one a chance to assess the community orchestra’s progress in no more than its fourth season of existence.

Well, there are still concerns to be faced. There are rough elements in the brass playing, but the woodwinds provide a secure and reliable anchor for the orchestra. The strings still lack that full sheen we might crave, but they are growing in security and discipline, especially the violins.

And so, after not that much time in the growing yet, music director and usual conductor Steve Kurr (below) has succeeded in building the MCO into a treasure for the city of Middleton and a genuine asset to the musical life of the Madison area. It deserves all possible support and encouragement — and attendance.

Steve Kurr conducting

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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.

brahms3

The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music: Belgian composer Benoit Mernier talks about his String Quartet No. 3, which will receive its world premiere from the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet on this Saturday, March 1, in a FREE concert at 8 p.m.

February 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post is more of a reminder and an embellishment than something that is brand new.

It is a reminder that on this coming Saturday, March 1, at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert that features the WORLD PREMIERE of the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The concert to celebrate the  historic centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet — which is now the long lived active quartet in history — had been postponed from the original date last Fall.

Benoit Mernier 1

The guest artist of the night is the former Juilliard String Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Schaaf). The program includes an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn (Op. 20, No. 4, in D Major) and the String Quintet in F Major by Anton Bruckner, which has a soulful and elegy-like slow movement that you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) commissioned the Mernier Quartet as part of its centennial celebration two years ago, and the group will take in on a tour to Belgium, the original home of the Pro Arte Quartet this May. It will even play again in the same royal court where the Pro Arte was once the official court quartet. (Its current members, below from left, are first violinist David Perry, second violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The outstanding blog “Fanfare” that is done by concert manager Kathy Esposito at the UW School of Music recently posted an interview, with historic background, that critic Mike Muckian, who often writes for Brava magazine, did with Benoit Mernier (below in a photo by Lise Mernier) and appeared on the terrific blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/mernier-pro-arte-quartet-march2014/

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

Also, I want to remind everyone that the concert will be preceded at 7:15 p.m. by a public  conversation-interview with the composer, also to be held in Mills Hall, in a home or living room environment with a light, carpet and cozy chairs – as was done to years ago with other composers (below, is music critic John W. Barker talking with composer Walter Mays on the left and cultural historian Joseph Horowitz on the right.) 

Barker, Mays, Horowitz

For more information about the various events and background, including an open quartet rehearsal with the composer on Thursday from 9 a,m. to noon in Mills Hall, and a “Sunday Afternon Live From the Chazen” Museum broadcast  12:30 to 2 p.m. of the quartet’s second performance on Wisconsin Public Radio, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (below): 

www.proartequartet.org

I hope to be there and I hope to see you there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geybyYGej1o

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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
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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!


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio announces the annual Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition for 2013. Fortepiano house concert of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert is almost sold-out.

January 14, 2013
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AN ALERT: Word comes from early music master Trevor Stepehenson (below): “We have only eight seats remaining for the upcoming house concert with foretpiano on this coming Sunday afternoon, January 20.  I’ll play and talk about: Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, K. 475, Haydn’s Sonata in F major, Hob. XVI:23, Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor op. 13 “Pathétique,” Chopin’s Nocturne in F major op. 15 no. 1, and a couple of Schubert’s Moment Musicaux. The concert starts at 3 p.m.; the house opens at 2:40 p.m. Drinks and treats will be served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required. Please let us know if you’d like to attend.  Very best wishes in the New Year! Trevor and Rose Stephenson, 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison WI 53705. Trevor Stephenson, Artistic Director of the Madison Bach Musicians. Contact www.madisonbachmusicians.org and www.trevorstephenson.com.  Or call 608 238-6092.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, Wisconsin Public Radio offers young classical musicians a chance to win a statewide competition that brings both public exposure and prize money.

The contest, which many years ago started out for soloists, is open to soloists, duos, trios, quartets and quintets.

The deadline for entering is Jan. 25, 2013. Judging from live performances is on March 24. The winners’ concert and live broadcast on WPR’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” is April 7, 2013. (Below is the 2013 poster for the competition.)

Neale-Silva Poster 2013

Here is a link to the 2012 winners pictured below:

http://wpr.org/music/neale-silva/2012/

Neale-Silva winners 2012

Here is a link to general information:

http://www.wpr.org/music/neale-silva/

Here is a link with rules and other information for this year’s competition:

http://wpr.org/music/neale-silva/2013/NSYAC_2013_Information.htm

And here is a link to an application you can download:

http://wpr.org/music/neale-silva/2013/NSYAC_2013_Application.htm

The winners’ concert this year will be broadcast from the “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen” series (below, at the Chazen Museum of Art) rather than at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is undergoing major renovation.

SAL3

Some wonderful musicians get known through this competition and get heard far and wide. I know because I have heard them more than once. One noteworthy performer I particularly remember is Minnesota-raised violist Daniel Kim (below), who was a winner in 2011, while he was studying with Professor Sally Chisholm at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where she is also the violist of the Pro Arte String Quartet) and while he was playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and who is now studying at Juilliard with Samuel Rhodes, the retiring violist of the famed Juilliard String Quartet.

neal-silva Daniel Kim

Another winner who went on to a large carer in music is tenor and composer Steven Ebel, who was a winner in 2001. Here he is during a recital and interview on WPR’s “The Midday” show:

And finally, here are some very young audience members and listeners with their reactions to the Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition’s winners recital in 2010:


Classical music: Juilliard String Quartet names a replacement for violist Samuel Rhodes who has played with the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet and who will retire at the end of this season. UW clarinetist Linda Bartley performs on Saturday night.

October 19, 2012
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REMINDER: Saturday night at 8 p.m. — NOT Friday night as first and mistakenly stated here —  in Morphy Recital Hall, UW clarinetist Linda Bartley (below) will perform a FREE concert  with Jeannie Yu, piano; and Sally Chisholm, viola. The program includes “Sonata in D” by Nino Rota; “Liquid Ebony” by Dana Wilson; “Cantilene” by Louis Cahuzac and “Scarlattiana” for ClarinetViola and Piano by Walter Mays. Also, at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday night, in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet marks 40 years with a FREE concert. For details, see Thursday’s post.

By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps the premiere name among American violists these days, especially for chamber music, is Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Schaaf).

Rhodes teaches viola, and heads the viola department, at the Juilliard School of Music, where he also has played in the award-winning Juilliard String Quartet since 1969. The influential and critically acclaimed quartet was founded in 1946. (Rhodes in on the far right.)

Rhodes has often been a guest artist with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet. Last year (below, Rhodes sitting second from right), during the celebration of the Pro Arte’s centennial, Rhodes sat in to play one of those sublime but underplayed Mozart String Quintets with two violas.

Members of the Pro Arte have always told The Ear not only how much they admired Rhodes’ playing but also how they found him a congenial colleague to work with. And so it seemed form the beautiful results one heard when they played together.

Rhodes will be replace in the quartet by British player Roger Tapping (below, in a photo by Susan Wilson), the current violist of the acclaimed Takacs String Quartet.

Here is a link to two stories, from Gramophone Magazine and The New York Times, about Tapping and Rhodes:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/viola-player-roger-tapping-to-join-juilliard-string-quartet

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/08/more-turnover-in-the-juilliard-string-quartet/

Here on YouTube is Samuel Rhodes playing and discussing Beethoven:


Classical music news: Get ready for another week of FREE concerts, lectures and rehearsals plus a TV appearance and the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 with Christopher Taylor and the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet.

March 16, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you lived in New York City, say, you might pay $50 or more for a ticket to hear one or more of these events, concerts and performers at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall or the Juilliard School.

But next week in Madison, you can attend all of them or any of them FOR FREE at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the UW School of Music.

That is because the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet will be holding the third of its four week-long series of events in its centennial season. (The quartet, below in a photo by Rick Langer, consists of violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia (second from left), violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.)

This Sunday at 10 a.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will appear on WISC-TV‘s weekly public affairs show “For the Rec0rd.” (Turn to Channel 3 and Cable Channel  603 for hi-def to view the local CBS affiliate.) They will perform live and do an interview with program host Neil Heinen.

Below are details of each event for the following week. But first, let’s recall some background:

The UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet (below, in 1940) is celebrating its centennial. The quartet has been artists-in-residence at the UW since 1940, when they were exiled by World War II from their home in Belgium while on tour in the US. That pioneering academic affiliation subsequently became the business model for most other string quartets around the world and is still in use today.

The Pro Arte Quartet is the first string quartet EVER in history to reach 100 and has commissioned two new string quartets and two new piano quintets to premiere this season to mark its centennial. Each of the four concerts this season also has featured or will feature a free series of lectures of critics and composers.

In keeping with The Wisconsin Idea – which is also marking its centennial this year and which states that the university should serve the taxpayers who support it — ALL EVENTS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here is a Pro Arte Quartet round-up so you can plan ahead and fill in your datebook:

On Wednesday, March 21, 3:30-5 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., American composer WILLIAM BOLCOM (below) will discuss his recent music in a public composition master class as part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial.  ADMISSION IS FREE.

For background on the Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy winning-composer Wiliam Bolcom, who has also received the National Medal of the Arts, visit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bolcom

http://williambolcom.com/

On Thursday, March 22, 9 a.m. to noon in Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., there is an OPEN REHEARSAL by the Pro Arte Quartet and UW PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR (below) of the world premiere of the third commissioned work (Piano Quintet No. 2 by William Bolcom) for the quartet’s centennial concert on Saturday night, March 24, at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater. FREE ADMISSION.

On Friday, March 23, 4-5:30 p.m. in the UW School of Music Colloquium in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., there will be a public lecture-discussion by The New York Times senior music critic ANTONY TOMMASINI (below) on “Academic Writing and Music Criticism: Where Research and Journalism Intersect.” FREE and NO TICKETS.

On Saturday, March 24, 3-5 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater is a lecture by New York Times senior music critic ANTHNY TOMMASINI on “Concert Music Today: A State of the Union Address,” followed by a question-and-answer session. FREE and NO TICKETS.

(Pre-concert cocktails and dinner with both composer William Bolcom and critic Anthony Tommasini will be in Tripp Commons at the Memorial Union. They are optional ($35) by calling (608) 265-ARTS or going to uniontheater.wisc.edu)

Here is a link to an interview Lindsay Christians of The Capital Times and 77 Square did with Tommasini this past week:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/new-york-times-tommasini-assesses-state-of-classical-music/article_5d4a6c35-ba50-54b1-baad-5d86f10f1e01.html

On Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater is the third of the four concerts with WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works: The Pro Arte Quartet and UW pianist Christopher Taylor will perform Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement, composed in 1905 and premiered in 1962); Darius Milhaud’s String Quartet No. 7, Op. 87 (composed in 1925, dedicated to and premiered by the Pro Arte Quartet back then plus Milhaud was William Bolcom’s teacher); Mozart’s aublime String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516 (1781), with Juilliard teacher and Juilliard String Quartet guest violist SAMUEL RHODES (below); and the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 (2011). FREE and NO TICKETS.

(Pre-concert events, with introductions to composer William Bolcom and New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini and with questions from the audience, will be held from 7-7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater. There will also be a free post-concert celebratory dessert reception at the Memorial Union’s Main Lounge immediately following the concert.) BOTH ARE FREE with NO TICKETS.

Here is the detailed UW news release for the Saturday concert and other events:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/20389

On Sunday, March 25, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave., “SUNDAY LIVE FROM THE CHAZEN” (below) will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2” with UW pianist Christopher Taylor and the Mozart String Quintet in G Minor with Samuel Rhodes. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM). Call 263-2246. Free.

For more information, visit Pro Arte web sites:

http://proartequartet.org/schedule.html

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte


Classical music: Here are the complete classical music Grammy nominations and winners, including producer Judith Sherman who is recording the four world premiere centennial commissions by the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet.

February 18, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, you won’t find a lot to linger over in this year’s classical music Grammys. After all, the “Academy,” as they call the Industry’s Enforcer, chopped the categories from 109 to 78 for the 54th annual competition. (Classical Music wasn’t the only category to lose a lot; so did quite a few ethnic music categories including Latin Jazz and Hawaiian Music.)

So the really big names in classical music are missing in this year’s bunch of classical Grammys – no Beethoven or Bach, no Mahler or Mozart, although superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel (below) did win one with an outstanding performance of the Brahms Fourth Symphony in digital download-only release.

NOTE: Today’s “LA Live in HD” broadcast at 4 p.m. at the Eastgate and Point cinemas features Dudamel conducting a performance from Caracas, Venezuela of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand.”)

But you will find more contemporary composers than in past years. In fact, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus took home two Grammys for their live performance of Robert Aldridge’s opera “Elmer Gantry,” based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Nor will you find a lot of big name prestige labels, which have been largely replaced by smaller labels with more niche-like focuses.

But you will nonetheless find some great performances and some great music, including arias sung by the great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.

You will also find something of great local interest: Record producer Judith Sherman received her third Grammy, the second in a row and the third of seven nominations. And if you look at her long and impressive list of releases, she certainly seems worthy of winning.

Sherman’s Grammy is good news for Madison and for the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet, which performs a FREE concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, in the Wisconsin Union Theater.  That’s because the Pro Arte has hired Sherman (below, in Mills Hall setting up microphones with the Pro Arte Quartet and pianist Brian Hsu  for the December sessions to record composer Paul Schoenfield‘s Three Rhapsodies for String Quartet) to produce the 2-CD set of the world premiere commissions by Walter Mays, Paul Schoenfield, William Bolcom and John Harbison that the Pro Arte is performing during its centennial season.

That could mean that Sherman (seen below backstage at Mills Hall  closely following and taking notes on the Schoenfield score during  mike checks), who is a freelance producer working for Albany Records, might well end up next year appealing to the Grammy trends toward rewarding smaller labels and new music. And that, in turn, means that the Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD set might get nominated for a Grammy. Now, that would be grand and well deserved for the grueling 11 – and 12-hour recording sessions that she and the musicians turned in here over two days.

By the way, the program for the FREE March 24 concert by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, by the way, include the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 with UW pianist Christopher Taylor; Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz”; Darius Milhaud’s String Quartet No. 7, which was written for and premiered by the Pro Arte (below, today) in 1925.

Also on the program is Mozart’s great and sublimely beautiful String Quintet in G minor (at bottom), K. 516, with guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Shaarf) of the Juilliard String Quartet.

You would pay a lot of money to hear those same performers in that same program in, say, New York City’s Carnegie Hall. But here in Madison it is FREE and easy to get to. So plan to attend that concert and take along family and friends. And spread the word.

For more information visit www.proartequartet.org

Anyway, here is the classical music list for the 54th annual Grammys:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/10s/146697992/at-the-54th-grammys-a-short-but-eclectic-classical-list

Want to see who the accomplished and worthwhile “losers” were? Here is a link to all the nominees:

http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/54thgrammyawards/a/54th-Annual-Grammy-Awards-Nominees-For-Classical-Music-2012.htm

And here is a link to the blog post I did around the holidays with all the nominees and the music they performed (plus all the recordings the Producer nominees, including Sherman, worked on):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/classical-music-news-here-is-a-complete-list-of-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-54h-annual-grammy-awards-happy-listen-and-shopping/

Here are links to some other analyses and documentaries:

http://articles.boston.com/2012-02-12/arts/31049185_1_classical-album-classical-awards-emi-classics

http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/culture-club/grammy-awards-the-classical-winners/article_6c153322-55dc-11e1-adfc-001a4bcf6878.html

mozart string quintet g minor


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