The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 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, who also took 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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.

MAYCO Karp CR JWB

What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org


Classical music: The Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performs music by Haydn and Schumann as well as premieres by Cecilia McDowall and Jonathan Posthuma this Saturday night.

June 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The talented Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) – who is a conductor, a violist and a baritone singer in the UW-Madison School of Music – writes about the concert this Saturday night by the Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which he founded in high school, and still directs and conducts:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

This week kicks off the fifth season of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below), consisting of two concerts loosely organized around the theme “Concerto Grosso.”

MAYCO Aug. 2014 Shostakovich 9

We will be presenting three works explicitly in that form this summer — one of them on this week’s concert — and others touching on it in various fashions: the late Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann, which integrates a solo part into the orchestral texture; and a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn that features soloists drawn from the orchestra, more akin to a “sinfonia concertante.”

The first concert is this Saturday night, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Tickets are $7. Students are admitted by donation.

More information about the orchestra can be found on our website: www.mayco.org

On August 21, we will welcome members of the Madison Bach Musicians and UW-Madison faculty for a workshop on historical performance practices. This season also marks the first year of a new conducting program for high school students. (Below is a photo by Steve Rankin of MAYCO rehearsing.)

MAYCO group 1 Steve Rankin

For those unfamiliar with us, MAYCO is a student-run training orchestra for players ranging in level from middle school and high school through doctoral study. Each summer, the group presents two public concerts, each preceeded by a week of intensive rehearsal.

The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which many of our players are members or alumni. The ensemble typically numbers 25-35 players, balanced evenly between high school and university students.

MAYCO Mikko conducting Steve Rankin

Our program this Saturday night opens with Franz Joseph Haydn’s early Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin” (Morning) — it is the first part of the composer’s triptych “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night” Symphonies. This symphony was  his first written for the Esterhazy family that would employ him for most of his career.

It owes its nickname to a majestic Adagio introduction that sounds like a sunrise. (You can hear the opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.) Nearly every principal player, all the way down to the principal bassist, has some sort of solo passage -– the way that Haydn (below) signaled to the orchestra at his new post that they were going to like working with him.

Haydn

The most prominent part is given to the concertmaster, in this case the acclaimed Valerie Sanders, whom you may know as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra or the violinist of the Perlman Piano Trio at the UW-Madison School of Music. I am particularly delighted to note that we will be performing the work with natural horns, a fascination of mine.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

Composer Jonathan Posthuma (below) received his Master’s from the UW-Madison School of Music in 2015, studying with Professors Steve Dembski and Laura Schwendinger. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor, cast in three movements, is the first of a set of 12, and melds strict Baroque form with minimalist-influenced textures.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It will receive its premiere at this concert, with the percussionists of Clocks in Motion (below, not in order, are members Sean Kleve, Dave Alcorn, James McKenzie, and Michael Koszewski) and pianist Kyle Johnson, a doctoral student of Christopher Taylor. It is tremendously exciting music, with great melodies and complex soundscapes.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), winner of the 2014 British Composer Award for choral music, came to the UW-Madison for a residency in February.

I was quite taken with her distinctive style — communicative, cogent and highly expressive. I’m honored to be giving the U.S. premiere of her orchestral work “Rain, Steam and Speed,” named after the J.M.W. Turner painting of the same title.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finishing our program is an acknowledged masterwork, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in a minor, Op. 129. Pro Arte Quartet cellist and professor Parry Karp (below) will be joining us for this monumental piece. Its three movements are played without break in a tightly integrated web of melody that is also one of the great orchestral works in Schumann’s body of works.

Parry Karp


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