The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet will go on a 10-day tour of Germany next August, then tour Wisconsin the follwing month

August 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you went to the Ancora String Quartet’s summer concert last Saturday night, you not only heard some outstanding performances of music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven – along with some rarely heard music by Danish composer Niels Gade.

In case you missed it, here is a review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/classical-music-the-ancora-string-quartet-turns-in-outstanding-performances-of-beethoven-and-shostakovich-and-revives-a-neglected-quartet-by-danish-composer-niels-gade/

You also got the lowdown on some big news for the chamber music group that just finished its 16th season. Members (below from right in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violinists Wes Luke and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. (You can hear an earlier membership of the quartet performing music by Grieg in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In August of 2018, the Ancora String Quartet will go on a 10-day tour of Germany. (They could have been gone for longer, a quartet member explained, but the time is limited by some of the day jobs that some members have.) They will perform concerts in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden and Kassel and in some castles along the Rhine River.

The string quartet will perform with Melinda Paulsen (below), a mezzo-soprano who is based in Frankfurt, where she also teaches. Born in America, she studied music at Swarthmore College and has made a name for herself in Germany singing and recording operas as well as cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The quartet and Paulsen are deciding on suitable repertoire for that combination of voice and string quartet, which includes works by Richard Wagner, Ottorino Respighi and Samuel Barber.

Then in September, the singer will come to Wisconsin and tour the state with the Ancora String Quartet. The stops in both countries are still being finalized, but Madison and the UW-Whitewater, where the cellist teaches, seem to be sure bets, according to a quartet member.

In other news, according to the quartet’s spokesperson, the Ancora will also soon announce its new season, and there will be some special fundraising concerts during the coming season.

The Ancora, with help from Audio for the Arts, will also soon post some recent concerts on YouTube.

The Ear sends his congratulations and thinks the quartet has been working hard, and turning in many outstanding performances, for many years in order to deserve and get this kind of honor.

Bravo!

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Classical music: Con Vivo delivers moving and memorable performances of German Romantic chamber music for clarinet and strings by Brahms and Schubert.

November 1, 2015
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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 took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

John Barker

In another absurdly overcrowded weekend of events, I chose to catch the concert by Con Vivo! (below), the group based at the First Congregational United Church of Christ. It is always good for an adventurous and varied evening of chamber music, and this one on Friday night was no exception.

Con Vivo 2015

Back from a tour last June in Germany of the  sister province of Kassel, the group chose to present what it called an evening of “German Romance’. The program contained only two works: the Trio in A minor, Op. 114, for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, by Johannes Brahms; and Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D. 956.

I had heard a kind of dress rehearsal performance the previous evening in the Grand Hall at Capitol Lakes, and it was interesting to compare simply the acoustical effects. That hall is live but modest in size, so that everything was close, if somewhat dry. In the spacious confines of the Congregational Church, there was a more glowing reverberation, if a notable difference in distances.

For practical reasons, the Brahms work was played at the far end of the church’s chancel, next to the organ, losing some of the intimate contact it should have with the audience. But the sound did carry well, with warmth.

The work was the first of a series of late chamber works Brahms composed, as inspired by the eminent clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld. Unlike its successors, this trio did not feature the clarinet as the dominant soloist, but gave it an affectionately duetting role with the cello.

Clarinetist Robert Taylor (below left) played with ripe confidence, but cellist Derek Handley served as a distinctly individual partner in his own right. Dan Lyons was a muscular Brahmsian on the piano. It proved a beautiful performance of a work not too readily encountered in concert. (You can hear the songful third movement in a YouTube at the bottom.)

Con Vivo Brahms clarinet Trio 2015) 2

The other work is one of the most sublime chamber pieces ever composed. Schubert wrote it just two months before his death, of syphilis, at the pitiful age of 31. He knew he was dying, and in this last major work of his, he poured into the music the most incredible mixture of beauty and pain.

Once one gets below the glowing aura of the ensemble writing, it becomes obvious that there is an imbalance in textures. The first violin part is clearly dominant, frequently given almost a soloist’s role against mostly chordal accompaniments by the other four players (including a second cello). At times one might even imagine the violin as a singer in some new Schubert Lieder, or songs.

Con Vivo Schubert Quintet 2015 JWB

Con Vivo 2015 Brahms quintet playing

Fortunately, first violinist Olga Pomolova, who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, was fully on target in intonation and in passages of virtuosic display. The other players joined her in a deeply felt and richly delivered performance that was simply superb.

It was an evening, then, of the most deeply satisfying chamber playing.

 


Classical music: Con Vivo performs two masterpieces of German Romantic music to mark its recent cultural exchange tour of Germany.

October 28, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist and organist Theodore Reinke in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Edvard Grieg, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

By Jacob Stockinger

“Con Vivo – Music With Life” (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “German Romance” on this Friday, October 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

To celebrate the group’s recent cultural exchange tour to our sister county of Kassel, Germany, the concert program includes two masterpiece pillars of 19th-century German Romantic chamber music: the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert’s String Quintet with two cellos, regarded as one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music. (You can hear the Schubert Quintet with the Juilliard String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their experiences on their concert tour in Germany.

Con Vivo 2015

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “Our tour to Germany was a wonderful honor and great success. We return very excited to begin our 14th season with two of the great masterpieces for chamber ensemble. Our Madison audience will be able to welcome us home as we present some of our favorite repertoire in this concert.”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble composed of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.


Classical music: This Thursday night, Con Vivo performs the chamber music program it will take on tour in June to Dane County’s Sister County of Kassel, Germany.

May 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison-based chamber music group Con Vivo! (Music With Life) write:

SAVE THE DATE! 

The latest concert by Con Vivo’s (below) is this Thursday night, May 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium.

Con Vivo core musicians

con vivo!…music with life invites you to join us for our chamber music concert, “Bon Voyage: Dane to Kassel!”

Come help send us off as we represent you on our cultural exchange tour June 5-12 to Kassel, Germany, Dane County’s Sister County. Don’t miss the Madison presentation of some favorite pieces from our concerts that we will perform in Germany this June. 

Our program includes diverse chamber music by Lukas Foss, Louis Spohr, Reinhold Gliere, Alan Hovhaness and others. So come join us for truly exciting chamber music!

Con Vivo Octet

Convenient FREE parking is only 2 blocks west at the University Foundation at 1848 University Ave.

Tickets at the door are $20 for adults; $15 for seniors and students.

Listen to con vivo! live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with Norman Gilliland on Wednesday, May 27, at noon, 88.7 FM or at www.wpr.org.

Like con vivo! on Facebook to follow us on our tour to Dane County’s Sister County of Kassel, Germany, June 5-12.

For information, call (6708) 277-8087 or visit our website:

www.convivomusicwithlife.org 

convivo_mwl@convivomusicwithlife.org

Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

This concert is sponsored in part by First Congregational Church and is supported by Dane Arts.

 


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