The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Thursday and Friday nights, brass music and a modernist homage to Martin Luther King round out UW-Madison concerts before spring break

March 13, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring Break at the University of Wisconsin-Madison starts on Saturday. But there are noteworthy concerts right up to the last minute.

THURSDAY

On this Thursday night, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in 2017, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) will perform a FREE concert.

The program by the faculty ensemble  includes music by William Byrd; Isaac Albeniz; Leonard Bernstein; Aaron Copland; David Sampson; Anton Webern; Joan Tower; Ennio Morricone; and Reena Esmail.

For more details, including the names of quintet members and guest artists who will participate as well as the complete program with lengthy notes and background about the quintet, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wisconsin-brass-quintet-3-14-2019/

FRIDAY

On this Friday night, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who worked in Paris with the renowned 20th-century composer and conductor Pierre Boulez – will host another concert is his series of “Le Domaine Musical” that he performs with colleagues.

Vallon explains:

Every year, I put together a concert devoted to the masterpieces of the 1950-2000 period. We call it “Domaine Musical,” which was the group founded in Paris by Pierre Boulez in the 1950s. Its subtitle is : “Unusual music for curious listeners.”

“The series offers Madison concert-goers an opportunity to hear rarely performed music of the highest quality, played by UW-Madison faculty, students and alumni.

“The program features a deeply moving piece by Luciano Berio, O King, written in 1968 after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.” (You can hear “O King” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The all-modernist program is:

Pierre Boulez (below), Dialogues de l’Ombre Double (Dialogues of the Double Shadow) for solo clarinet and electronics.

Luciano Berio (below), O King and Folk Songs.

Also included are unspecified works by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Timothy Hagen.

Guest performers are Sarah Brailey, soprano (below); Alicia Lee, clarinet; Leslie Thimmig, basset horn; Sally Chisholm, viola; Parry Karp, cello; Timothy Hagen, flute; Yana Avedyan, piano; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and Anthony DiSanza, percussion.

For more information, including a story about a previous concert in “Le Domaine Musical,” go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/le-domaine-musical-with-marc-vallon/


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Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open their second promising season with another dazzling concert of music by Mascagni, Tchaikovsky and Caroline Shaw.

July 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You had to be there to believe it.

That’s just how good the Willy Street Chamber Players are. (Actually, this season the music is being streamed live, so you don’t have to be there, and Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9 recorded this concert for later airing.)

The Willys, as critic John W. Barker of Isthmus likes to call them, set themselves a high bar to clear, given the spectacular debut they made last summer in a series of July concerts that propelled them to the top of the list of classical music news in the area for the entire season.

The Ear is happy to report that in last Friday night’s opening concert of their second season, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) met and surpassed that bar.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

There was really only one small disappointment: Despite promises to bring the concert in with enough time to allow people to get over the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition at the UW-Madison, they ran late.

But at least they tried. And an effort at cooperation seems in perfect keeping with the nature of this outstanding ensemble. So do the local post-concert treats of food and sweets they offer.

Willy Street snacks 2016

The concert started with a piece that reminds one how a beautiful melody sticks in the ear and is never out of date, no matter what some modernists say.

In this case, it was the Intermezzo from the Romantic opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1880) by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, as arranged for string sextet by Beth Larson (below, front left), the group’s own violist and violinist. As a welcoming opener and mood-setter, it proved a sheer delight.

Willy Steet Mascagni 2016

Let’s jump to the end, which was a stupendous reading of the Big Work: the “Souvenir de Florence” (Memory of Florence) by Peter Tchaikovsky that featured guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below, front left).

Beia, you may recall, is a concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as member of the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. And this summer, she sizzled in her virtuosic reading of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi for the closing concerts of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. And boy, can she fiddle!

Willy Street Tchaikovsky 2016 with Suzanne Beia left

In the Tchaikovsky, there was plenty of lyricism. But the force and energy of the brisk, upbeat tempi kept the work from becoming the kind syrupy and repetitive sentimentalism that inferior Tchaikovsky playing can produce.

It was an exciting and dynamic, even thrilling, performance. The audience leapt to its feet with good reason.

But for The Ear, the standout piece was the centerpiece: the “Entr’acte” for string quartet (below) by the young American composer Caroline Shaw.

Willy Street Caroline Shaw 2016

This is The Ear’s kind of new music. Inspired by a minuet from an Op. 77 string quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn, Shaw’s work quietly pulsed and throbbed with a hypnotic rhythm. (You can hear a different performance of the work in a the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were some dissonances and some strange sounds made by rubbing strings as well as plucking and snapping strings. But overall this was new music that had melody, rhythm and harmony, and it proved accessible on the first hearing. Plus it was short and possessed both emotion and elegance. Eat your hearts out, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen!

The Ear hopes that the Willy Street Chamber Players continue their exploration of works by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Shaw (below) in future summer seasons and prove to be her ambassador to Madison audiences.

Caroline Shaw CR DASHON-BURTON

In any case, based on last season and now this concert the Ear has no reluctance in recommending the four concerts by the Willys that remain, three on Friday nights at 6 p.m. and one at noon.

NOTE: A word of warning is in order. Give yourself extra time to get there. Construction downtown plus major construction and street repairs on the streets around the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., pose obstacles.

Here is a link to the rest of the season:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

All The Ear can add is that last summer’s success was no fluke.

So let’s hear a Big Bravo for the fact that the Willys are Winners!


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig will revive an homage to French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in a FREE concert Friday evening that mixes Baroque and and new music.

March 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig, who both teach and perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, are emerging as two of the most interesting, eclectic faculty members, who display a variety of gifts and talents, at the UW School of Music.

Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) not only performs bassoon music from the Baroque and Classical eras, he is also a conductor who will lead two performances later this month of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” for the Madison Bach Musicians.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Thimmig plays jazz as well as classics, and recently finished his three-concert exploration of trios by the American composer Morton Feldman.

Les Thimmig color

Here are the details that were sent by Marc Vallon to The Ear:

“Hi Jake,

“I thought I would let you know about my next musical adventure.

“In the 1960s, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) had a group, called Le Domaine Musical, that played contemporary music mixed with early music by Bach, Dufay and Guillaume de Machaut — unusual music for the time.

Pierre Boulez

“As an homage, Les Thimmig and I are reviving the concept in a FREE concert on this coming Friday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

“The program will feature music by Alban Berg, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Boulez, and includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on period instruments.

The program includes Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5 (1920), by Alban Berg (below top); Twelve Notations (1945, in a piano version performed by Maurizio Pollini in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Pierre Boulez (born 1925); “D’un geste apprivoisé” for bassoon and tape (1997) by Jose-Luis Campana  (born 1949); and ) “Sequenza VII” for oboe (1969) by Luciano Berio (below bottom, 1925-2003).

alban berg

Luciano Berio

After intermission, we will perform “Kontra-punkte for 10 instruments” (1953) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (below top, 1928-2007); and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (dedicated in 1721) by Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom, 1685-1750).

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

 Bach1

There will be a presentation of the pieces and an introduction to “Kontra-Punkte” by Lee Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Lee Blasius Katrin Talbot

The performers include: Mi-Li Chang, flute; Kirstin Ihde, piano; Sung Yang Sara Giusti, piano; Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet; Les Thimmig, bass clarinet; Mary Perkinson, Baroque and modern violin; Eric Miller, baroque and modern cello; Joe Greer, trombone; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Rosalie Gilbert, harp; Ross Duncan, bassoon; Kangwon Kim and Nate Giglierano, baroque violin; Sally Chisholm, Ilana Schroeder and Erin Brooks, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, Anton ten Wolde, Baroque cello; John Chappell Stowe; harpsichord; and Marc Vallon, bassoon.

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Classical music: Next Friday night, Madison percussionist and marimba player Nathaniel Bartlett will explore the electronic music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a concert at the Overture Center. Plus, this afternoon (Saturday, May 11) WYSO chamber musicians perform two FREE and PUBLIC concerts on the UW campus.

May 11, 2013
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ALERT: This afternoon (Saturday, May 10), members of the Chamber Music Program (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform two FREE and PUBLIC  concerts at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall in the UW-Madison Humanities Building.  Sorry, no word about programs and pieces.

WYSO Chamber music

By Jacob Stockinger

Next Friday, May 17, at 6 p.m. in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center, the Multi-Channel (Surround) Electronic Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (below) will be performed by the Madison percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett.

Tickets are $16, $9 for students and seniors. Call the Overture Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or visit http://overturecenter.com/production/nathaniel-bartlett

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Nathaniel Bartlett – who studied and worked with Stockhausen — and the Sound-Space Audio Lab will present a performance featuring the multi-channel (surround) electronic compositions GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE (Song of the Youths, 1955-1956) and KONTAKTE (1958-1960) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007).

This concert will also include a performance of “Autumn Island” (1986) for solo marimba, by Roger Reynolds (b. 1934), performed by Nathaniel Bartlett.

For more on Nathaniel Bartlett: www.nathanielbartlett.com

For more on Roger Reynolds: www.rogerreynolds.com

For more on Karlheinz Stockhausen: www.stockhausen.org

In advance of the event, Nathaniel Bartlett (below) agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Nathaniel Bartlett BW portrait

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career?

I perform, compose, improvise, engineer, and record music with a special focus on the nuances and inner details of sound and its expression in a physically immersive listening space. My main creative avenue is my music for marimba plus three-dimensional, high-definition, computer-generated sound. I have recorded four albums (all on multi-channel, high-resolution media), and will be releasing my fifth album at my May 17 event.

I was born, in 1978, and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to studying privately with marimbist Leigh Howard Stevens, I studied at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York), the Royal Academy of Music (London). I hold a doctoral degree in music composition from the University of Wisconsin­Madison School of Music. I currently live with my wife Lisa in Madison, where I m a postdoctoral associate at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

For more information, I invite you to visit my website: www.nathanielbartlett.com

Nathaniel Bartlett 2

What is the appeal of percussion in general and especially the marimba (below) for you?

The appeal of percussion is its huge palate of sounds, which importantly include all varieties of non-pitched sounds.

The appeal of the marimba specifically for me is harder to capture in a few words. One aspect to the marimba is its immediately impressive sonic beauty, especially when played in a nicely reverberant acoustic space.

A five-octave marimba (starting at a cello’s lowest note), like the one I use in performance, has a sonic scope and depth which allows the performer/composer to create extremely visceral, earthy and elemental sonic expressions that give the instrument the power to produce profound musical statements.

Nathaniel Bartlett marimba

What is the appeal of new music and electronic music for you, and why should audiences pay attention too it?

This question is also a difficult one to tackle succinctly, but here are some brief thoughts. New (and recent) music is the cornerstone of a healthy musical culture, and the concert music (or art music, or whatever term one uses) culture in the US right now is profoundly sick.

The organizations in our culture that seem to think so highly of themselves — orchestras, NPR “classical” stations — are essentially zombies. They are dead bodies that only appear alive to a casual observer because they are still staggering around.

The appeal of electronic musical resources is actually similar to the appeal of percussion. Through the use of electronics, I have access to a huge sonic palate, not only in terms of timbres, but whole sonic concepts, for example, the complex kinetic spatialization of sound, and the exact repetition of a musical fragment via live recording and playback.

electronic music

Tell us what you think of and would like audiences to know about Karl Stockhausen and his importance and beauty as a composer?

In short, Stockhausen (below) was a composer (1928-2007) who produced a large body of work that included pioneering endeavors with: electronically produced/manipulated sound, sound spatialization, musical structure, concert presentation, and more. He had a great deal of influence on many other composers, and part of understanding the music of today is understanding its lineage.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Is there anything special audiences should listen for in your upcoming program of specific works by Stockhausen?

Talking about specific musical characteristics with only the text I am writing here might be a little too abstract. I will, however, talk briefly about the works at the concert before they are projected.

What I can say here is that I will encourage listeners to meditate on how old this music is (1955-1960) and what that means from both artistic and technological perspectives.

For listeners new to this music, I think my only advice would be to listen to the sounds Stockhausen (below, with pre-digital electronic equipment) created for his works, as opposed to thinking about what sounds or parameters he is not using.

This is not metric, tonal music. Listening to this kind of music through a “Mozart framework” would be like attending a Shakespeare play and remarking that it did not make sense because there was no tennis being played.

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

Is there more you would like to say or add?

Yes! Thank you very much for asking about the upcoming performance, I really appreciate it, and it has been my pleasure to answer your questions!


Classical music: New contemporary percussion group Clocks in Motion will makes its FREE concert debut this Saturday night. The famed Saint Thomas Choir sings at Overture Friday night.

September 26, 2012
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REMINDER:  The 2012-13 season of the Overture Concert Organ opens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall with the Saint Thomas Choir (below) from New York City. at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys is considered to be the premiere choral ensemble of the Anglican music tradition in the United States and among the finest in the world. The program will include a variety of styles from the 16th century to the present day by composers including Thomas Tallis, J.S. Bach, William Byrd, James MacMillan, Benjamin Britten, Charles Parry, among others. Two organ solos by J.S. Bach and Dan Locklair complete the program.

Tickets are $19.50 at http://www.madisonsymphony.org and the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/thomas or the the choir’s website, http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/choir where you can listen to performance videos.

 This season the Overture Concert Organ Series also includes The Westminster Choir on Sat., Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m.; Felix Hell, organist and Madison native and Baltimore Symphony principal trumpet Andrew Balio on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m.; and David Briggs on Sat., Mar. 23, at 7:30 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison’s new contemporary percussion ensemble, Clocks in Motion (below, rehearing a work by Steve Reich in a photo by James McKenzie, is kicking off its 2012-13 season this Saturday night, Sept. 29, at 8 p.m. in Mills Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Consisting of current music students and recent graduates of UW-Madison, Clocks in Motion is dedicated to the performance of modern repertoire and the commissioning of new works for percussion ensemble. Members (below, from left, in a photo by Megan Aley) are: Joseph Murfin, Brett Walter, Neil Sisauyhoat, Dave Alcorn, Elena Wittneben, Michael Koszewski and Sean Kleve.  James McKenzie is also a member.

Not only a group of exclusively percussionists, Clocks in Motion also includes pianist Jennifer Hedstrom (below top, in a photo by Dean Santarinala and conductor Matt Schlomer (below bottom, in a photo by Laura Zastrow). Scholmer, now at the Interlochen Academy, has previously worked at the UW-Madison and Edgewood College.

This FREE concert entitled “New Beginnings” features some early pieces of Steve Reich, a look towards the future with the world premiere performance of a new composition by Madison composer John Jeffrey Gibbens  entitled “Allhallows” (Prelude), and the unveiling of a new instrument, the quarimba.

Composer Gibbens (below, in a photo by Milt Leidman) wrote the following program notes:

“Allhallows (Prelude) for three Percussion is scored for Marimba supplemented by a second Marimba tuned a quarter-step flat, or Quarimba, Vibraphone, and seven tuned Gongs.  It was composed in July and August 2012 at the request of Clocks in Motion for performance in the fall of 2012.

“The title is an archaic synonym for the feast of All Saints on November 1, and for me evokes associations with the onset of winter in Wisconsin, including the commercial holiday of Halloween, the beginning of the new year in the Celtic calendar, the liturgical function of All Saints, elections, and Armistice, now Veterans’ Day.  These occasions address our sense of the closeness of uncanny events to everyday life.

“Each section of the Prelude is like a number in the program of an imaginary ceremony.  Each player gets an opportunity to address the crowd in a solo, before joining together and filing out.  I invented a nonsymmetrical pitch shape which in combination with the scoring goes beyond the limitations of both the equal tempered scale and its quarter-tone double.”

This program also features a unique composition written by Herbert Brun called “At Loose Ends.”  Written in 1974, this piece uses a large orchestra of percussion instruments including timpani, tuned cowbells, quarimba, xylophone, 12 snare drums, tam-tams, cymbals, piano, celesta, and chimes.  

With a passion for instrument building, the ensemble has constructed micro-tonal aluminium keyboards called sixxen for Xenakis’ “Pleiades” and continues to look for more opportunities to discover new expressive sounds within the percussion world.

Future concerts this season – all FREE –  by Clocks in Motion include (posters are by Dave Alcorn):

Saturday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.: Live at the Lobby of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center.

Sunday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m. in Mills Music Hall: George Crumb‘s “American Songbook VI: Voices from the Morning of the Earth.”  FEATURING vocal soloists Jamie Van Eyck (below top) and Paul Rowe (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. in Music Hall: “A Dream of Darkness” featuring the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Franco Donatoni, and a world premiere of a new piece by Filippo Santoro.

For a complete list of upcoming concerts, events, media, and detailed performer biographies, please visit clocksinmotionpercussion.com.

Here is a video previewing the upcoming season of Clocks in Motion:

 


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