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
The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) finished its fifth season with a concert on Wednesday night that was a kind of brass sandwich—that is, a brass filling between two noisy slices of bread.
The opener was the popular “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak, the closest this composer ever came to producing a cheap crowd-pleaser.
(I wish that the enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below), had chosen instead one of the other two overtures in Dvorak’s trilogy of “Nature, Life and Love,” which are much more substantial.)
The orchestra gave the overture a lusty performance, revealing some interesting wind details that one does not often hear.
There were two sandwich fillers.
The first was a concerto for tuba, dating from 2015. The composer, local musician and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus Pat Doty (below), was also the soloist.
Of its three movements, the first was clearly in the idiom of music for marching band, in which Doty has had long UW experience. The second movement was an attempt at a waltz, while the finale had Latin American odors and featured a prominent part for marimba. What to say? The program bio made the sensible point that Doty’s music “never takes itself too seriously.”
A more substantial score was the other filling, the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, Op. 91, by Russian late-Romantic Reinhold Glière, also in three movements. (Sadly, the program booklet failed to list the movements for each concerto.)
While this score may not be really great music, it is a splendid, if difficult, vehicle for the soloist.
Another UW-Madison grad, Paul Litterio (below), a player in many area orchestras including both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (and with a sideline in handbells), was the soloist. Playing with perfect technique, an elegant style and just a touch of teasing vibrato, Litterio gave a fascinating demonstration of his instrument in a solo capacity that we do not often hear.
The closing bread for the sandwich was another example of near-vulgar bombast by one of its masters: Tchaikovsky (below). If that was the kind of music to be written, he was the one to do it, and still make you admire him.
The Capriccio Italien, Op. 40, was the composer’s reaction to a visit to Rome. He evoked his neighborhood and, above all, the riotous sounds and songs of a Roman Carnival. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tchaikovsky’s capacity for making bombast sound like fun creates a really delightful score, and the Middleton players poured all their energies into it.
(An interesting footnote: Tchaikovsky’s other musical product of his visits to Italy is a very different work, the gorgeous string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Memory of Florence), which is less about Italy itself and more a picture of the composer’s homesickness. As it happens, that masterpiece will be played on July 8 by the Willy Street Chamber Players.)
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpist Linda Warren and cellist Carol Wessler in the music of Harper Tasche and Laura Zaerr.
By Jacob Stockinger
Two promising band and choral concerts are on tap this weekend at Edgewood College.
Both will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
The Edgewood College Concert Band, under the direction of Walter Rich (below), will perform a benefit concert for Luke House on Friday at 7 p.m.
Admission is FREE with a freewill offering to benefit the Luke House community meal program.
Included on the program are Flourish for Wind Band by Ralph Vaughan Williams; “Serenity” by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo; “Chorale and Capriccio” by Caesar Giovanini; “Jerusalem” by Hubert Parry; “I’m Seventeen Come Sunday” by Percy Grainger; “Daybreak” by Carl Strommen and “Children of Gaia” by Robert Sheldon.
The Music Department at Edgewood College has hosted benefit concerts for Luke House since 1994.
Two vocal ensembles will perform a concert at 2:30 p.m., Sunday in St. Joseph Chapel. Admission is FREE.
Featured will be the Chamber Singers (below), under the direction of Sergei Pavlov (center at the bottom of the stairs). The group has just returned from performances at the International Sacred Music Festival in Quito, Ecuador.
The Chamber Singers will perform excerpts from the Mass in F by Domenico Zipoli; “Usnijze mi, usnij” by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki; “Holy, Holy” from the Gospel Mass by Robert Ray; and a Victor Johnson arrangement of “Bonse Aba,” a traditional Zambian work. Todd Hammes, adjunct faculty member in the Music Department, will assist on percussion.
Also performing will be the Women’s Choir (below top), under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom). The Women’s Choir will perform Israeli and Jewish folk songs, a spiritual, and the “Domine Deus” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in G major, also featuring Victoria Gorbich on violin. (You can hear the glorious Bach piece performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends from the always unusual and always first-rate Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society write:
Can’t wait for our summer festival in June? Come to Flautistico! The multimedia event will be held this Friday, March 20, at 8 p.m. in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center. All tickets are $25.
Flautistico! is a continuation of co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt’s exploration into Latin American, Mexican and Spanish music. (Jutt, below in a photo by Dick Ainsworth, teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and is also Principal Flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
This one-time-only concert will feature a wide variety of music from Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Spain that has never been performed at BDDS concerts.
Puerto Rican mezzo-soprano Yanzelmalee Rivera, Venezuelan clarinetist Orlando Pimentel, and Madison’s own fantastic collaborative pianist Thomas Kasdorf will join Jutt.
Dance choreographed by Ariel Juarez and performed by Jacques Saint-Cyr and Maria Castello will complement the music of Piazzolla.
An original art installation by UW-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn, including her film footage from Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, will create a multi-dimensional concert evening.
Photos by Martin Chabi (below) will be projected during the concert.
To purchase tickets from Overture Center, visit: http://www.overturecenter.org/events/flautistico
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear thinks of it as the Berlitz Method of learning a language, only applied to music.
It’s called “Total Immersion.”
Each June, the Madison-based chamber music ensemble the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society always offers a lot of variety of outstanding music over three weekends, each featuring two different programs in three different venues. (This year’s theme, for the 23rd annual season is “23 Skiddoo.”)
But one thing I especially look forward to is that usually there is a chance to immerse yourself in a special style or genre or sub-category that you often don’t hear. That allows for added enjoyment and informative comparisons.
This summer’s immersion started this past opening weekend. This coming weekend and the weekend after that promise an immersion in Western European classics, especially concertos, and in Latin American music, especially Argentinian tangos.
For more details and information, including programs and tickets, visit:
Some of that kind of immersion stems from the BDDS programming philosophy. Some of it probably also comes from the fact that BDDS hires guest artists for a weeklong stint and so must seek out repertoire to spotlight them.
In any case, this is the summer not only of Latin American music but also of two-piano works.
This is not to say I didn’t love the outstanding performance of Claude Debussy’s sublime Violin Sonata, his last work, by New York violinist Yura Lee (below) because I did.
And I also liked the BDDS debut of Icelandic soprano Disilla Larusdottir (below) in her superb readings of “Five Popular Greek Melodies” by Maurice Ravel and especially contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ Renaissance-based “L’arte della danssar” (“The Art of the Dance,” 2011).
I also thoroughly enjoyed the vivacious and captivating Introduction and Allegro for Flute and Piano by Carlos Guastavino with BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt (below), who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Personally, The Ear is generally less enthusiastic about harp music, so the Celtic-themed sonata by Arnold Bax left him feeling half-hungry, despite a terrific performance (below) by Stephanie Jutt and the gifted guest harpist Heidi Krutzen. Even the Quartet by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach struck me as not especially inspired, but rather a pretty run-of-the-mill Classical work that, despite a fine performance, has charms but not genius.
To The Ear, the true stand-outs stand-outs of the first weekend were Jeffrey Sykes, the pianist who co-founded and co-directs the BDDS with Jutt and who teaches at the University of California-Berkley; and guest piano virtuoso and Van Cliburn Competition prizewinner Christopher Taylor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who has a national and international reputation.
And The Ear, himself a devoted amateur pianist, sure got an earful of great, first-class piano playing through four very difficult works for two pianos.
Such concerts are not easy to stage. To get two pianos on stage at The Playhouse in the Overture Center and the Hillside Theater famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green involves a lot of difficult and expensive logistics.
But it was done, and the results were terrific.
Critic John W. Barker thought so too. Here is a link to his review for Isthmus:
As almost always happens with BDDS, there were pleasant surprises.
I really didn’t think I would love Maurice Ravel’s popular and over-programmed “Bolero.”
But I did.
Jeffrey Sykes was completely right when he said that the two-piano version is drier and more modernistic, more like the work of Igor Stravinsky, than the better-known orchestral version, which has its more old-fashioned charms and colors as the melody bounces less percussively around various sections. (You can see for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom. Let me know if you agree or disagree.)
On the other hand, it was something to see the insistent rhythms make the always physical and impressively dynamic Christopher Taylor (below) rock out and to watch how a single repetitive note gradually worked up to five-finger chords.
There was 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s biting and percussive Variations on the famous theme by Niccolo Paganini that was also used by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
There was Ravel’s “La Valse,” a grandly elegant and overblown nostalgia trip to the society embodied by the waltz as it came to its chaotic end in World War I.
And in the end there were Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last composition that is filled with luscious melodies, infectious rhythms, unusual harmonies and astonishingly virtuosic and precise playing. (The two-piano version was premiered by Rachmaninoff himself and Vladimir Horowitz. Now THAT would have been something to hear and see!)
Now the two-piano part of the BDDS season is over. But The Ear can’t wait for this coming weekend, which will bring a Concerto for Two Cellos by Antonio Vivaldi as well as the lovely Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plus the great Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms and selected tangos by Astor Piazzolla with tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below), who performed with Piazzolla’s band, from Argentina.
During the week there will be piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak and performed by the exceptional San Francisco Trio; more tangos by Piazzolla; and works for one piano-four hands by Darius Milhaud and William Hirtz with Sykes and frequent guest pianist Randall Hodgkinson, who teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.
The Ear intends not to miss any of the four programs in the two coming weekends. And neither should you.
They mean more immersion, even if it is not quite as total.
ALERT: Pianist Mark Valenti will perform this Friday at the weekly FREE Noon Musicale in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. His program includes: “The Alcotts” movement from the “Concord” Sonata by Charles Ives; Four Preludes and Fugues (three from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier) by Johann Sebastian Bach; Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, by Ludwig van Beethoven; and “L’Isle Joyeuse” by Claude Debussy.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music flute professor Stephanie Jutt will perform recitals that survey flute masterpieces from Spain and Latin America.
Jutt (below, in a photo by Paskus Photography) will perform her program for FREE on Saturday at 8 pm. in Mills Recital Hall; and then again on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Richland Center, where it is presented by the Richland Concert Association. The address is: 26625 Crestview Drive, Richland Center. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students and FREE for students with UW-Richland ID.
Jutt — who is also known as the principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and as the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- has sent the following notes and background.
“I have received a grant from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to record Latin American and Spanish masterpieces for flute and piano. Recording will take place in New York in August of 2014, with Venezuelan pianist Elena Abend and Uruguayan pianist Pablo Zinger. The music was collected and researched during my sabbatical to Argentina in 2010.
“The pianist for my recitals is the impressive Thomas Kasdorf (below), a Middleton native who studied at the UW-Madison with pianists Christopher Taylor and Martha Fischer.
“While at the UW, he won many award and prizes, and was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio. He has also studied at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Martin Katz and been very active in Madison-area concerts including being a vocal coach for the University Opera and working in dozens of productions of musical theater, especially works by Stephen Sondheim.
“Thomas is the co-director and musical director of the Middleton Players Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables” and has performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra. He has also performed and appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio.
“The theme of my concert is “Evocaçao” (Evocation), and it features music from Argentina, Brazil and two distinctive ethnic regions of Spain.
“The program includes works by South Americans: the “the Schubert of the pampas” Carlos Guastavino (below top, 1912-2000), whose popular and beautiful song “The Dove Was Confused” s on the program and can he heard as a song with guitar accompaniment in a YouTube video at the bottom); Heitor Villa-Lobos (below middle, 1887-1959); and the “New Tango” innovator Astor Piazzolla (below bottom, 1921-1992):
Also included are the Barcelona Catalan composer Salvador Brotons (b. 1959) and the Basque composer Jesús Guridi (1886-1961).
For more information, here is a link to the UW-Madison School of Music’s website. Click on events calendar and then click on Feb. 1 and the concert by Stephanie Jutt:
By Jacob Stockinger
The number 13 might just be the luckiest number of all for the Madison Early Music Festival.
That is because the annual festival opened its 13th annual season Saturday night with an outstanding and memorable success. It did so by presenting the award-winning and best-selling a cappella quartet of women singers, Anonymous 4.
It helped, one suspects, to have an acclaimed headliner group like Anonymous 4 and also to co-sponsor the event with the well-known Milwaukee-based early music presenter Early Music Now, which drew quite a few Milwaukeeans to Madison.
The combination brought a record-setting audience to both the pre-concert lecture and the concert itself.
The lecture, given by Prof. Lawrence Bennett (below) of Wabash College, filled the audience in on the evolution and various periods and genres of early American music from church hymns and folk hymns to fuguing tunes. His talk was a model of clarity made even more appealing and enlightening by Bennett’s unabashed willingness to draw on his own professional experience and sing solo when he offered examples of what he thought should be familiar tunes.
After the lecture came the concert, which filled Mills Hall more than I have ever seen for any MEMF event, including the popular All-Festival wrap-up concert, which is next Saturday night. The hall was almost sold-out (below).
Festival co-directors Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman-Rowe (below) were clearly elated with the packed and enthusiastic house, which seems to The Ear to mark a historic turning point for the festival.
Of course an argument can be made that the festival has stepped outside its usual boundaries. Much of the American music dates from after the deaths of Mozart and Haydn, and even of Beethoven and Schubert – and those are composers that the festival chooses to ignore in favor of emphasizing pre-Baroque music.
But then again, why be a purist? This was indeed early music, very early in fact for North America — even if not for Europe. In any case, the audience clearly loved it and the choice proved an outstanding one to build up attendance, which one expects will carry over to future years.
As for the music and the performance, it is hard to find anything to criticize negatively.
Dressed simply in black, Anonymous 4 (below, in Mills Hall) kept the audience’s attention and interest – there was remarkably little coughing or page-turning, sure signs of distraction — by grouping works and varying what they sang, which included two different versions of “Amazing Grace,” “The Lost Girl” and “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Each singer demonstrated time and again that she possessed a strong voice with a distinctive tone. They all sang strongly, without strain and also without amplification. Yet they also sang softly very often, with depth of tone, and with great balance and dynamics in the parts.
All four blended and harmonized beautifully and confidently. But they also sang as soloists and in duos, demonstrating that there was not a weak link in the chain.
I was especially impressed with the diction and articulation. There were only a very few words of the many texts that I did not catch. How refreshing it is to understand the text without staring at program notes while listening at the same time. This way, you could really concentrate on the music and the performance.
If such a thing as a Time Machine exists, it is surely this kind of music in this kind of performance. You only had to listen intently to be transported back to the age of Shape-Note Singing and of that plaintive Appalachian quasi-wail or yelp, done with little or no vibrato, to step backwards into a wholly different era.
Everything was minimal and focused your attention on the music and the musicians. The “Gloryland” program was an ideal 75 minutes long and was performed straight through without the distraction of an intermission.
The bare stage was set up with only four sitting chairs and four music stands to stand at plus a few bottles of water for the singers to keep their vocal chords lubed.
In every way, it proved an exceptionally musical and exceptionally enjoyable concert that the audience rewarded with a prolonged standing ovation (below) and loud cheers. And apparently that experience was shared by the performers since the beaming members of Anonymous 4 returned twice to sing an encore, including a greta version of “Thank You.”
Just maybe the MEMF has found a formula that works and will bring an even wider public to their significant achievements.
As a fan of MEMF, I will repeat what I have often said: Along with neglected or unknown pre-Baroque composers, why not also occasionally feature some of the more popular composers like Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in authentic performances.
I still recall MEMF’s performances of Vivaldi, Handel and especially J.S Bach, which drew big houses and which – for me at least and, I suspect, for many others – also did not compromise the cause.
But I leave that to MEMF to decide – though your input in the COMMENTS section here might be appreciated and provide helpful guidance.
In the mean while, you should know that many more lectures, concerts and master classes – including a FREE class in Shape Note Singing on Wednesday night — await you before the festival ends next Saturday night.
For more information about programs, performers, tickets and history of the festival, visit:
You can also visit the two-part Q&A I did with MEMF co-director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe: