The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble gives its last concert of the summer this afternoon at 3 with music of Brahms, Bruckner, Josquin des Prez, Rachmaninov and Andrew Rindfleisch. Don’t miss this annual treat.

August 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor will be a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform the second concert of its fourth season on Friday, Aug. 22, at 7:30 p.m., in Music Hall. Utevsky is also the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has a website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a review of this weekend’s concert by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

The Ear immediately took him up on the offer. After all, Utevsky is a discerning listener and a perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour three summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below), now in its 13th season with founder Scott MacPherson, delivered a polished and professional concert Friday night at Christ Presbyterian Church.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

The performance opened with a wrenching rendition of Imant Raminsh’s “Come, my Light,” followed by a pure and beautiful “Hear My Prayer” by Henry Purcell (below).

purcell

Two back-to-back settings of “Mille regretz,” the first by Josquin des Prez (below top) and the second by University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom), made for an interesting comparison — Rindfleisch produced an introspective, dark reading, while Josquin’s famous setting was ably rendered beside it as well.

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The crown jewel of the first half was the final motet by Johannes Brahms (below), the anguished, searching “Warum ist das Licht gegeben?” (Why Is the Light Given to Those In Misery?, which can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom).

In four movements, this motet is, apart from the “German Requiem,” which the IVE has announced they will perform — with orchestra — for their 15th season in 2016, Brahms’ greatest choral work, with densely chromatic lines and twisting, intricate counterpoint. The chorus dug into this tremendously difficult music with gusto, singing with a complex and varied sound and excellent blend.

brahms3

The second half began with a work by Anton Bruckner (below), “Virga Jesse floruit,” another German masterwork, again sung with a secure sound and attention to the drama of the composer’s setting.

Anton Bruckner 2

“Tebe poyem” (from the Orthodox liturgy) by Sergei Rachmaninov (below top) was my favorite piece on the concert, displaying a depth and richness of sound surpassing anything else on the program. The solo line by Chelsea Propst (below middle) soared over the chorus, whose basses rose to the challenge of Rachmaninov’s tremendously low writing with aplomb. Another Russian work captured much of the same magic, “Ne riday Mene, Mati” by Alexander Gretchaninov (below bottom).

Rachmaninoffold

Chelsie Propst USE

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

Lionel Daunais (below), a French-Canadian composer and singer, produced a comic treat in his “Figures de danse,” a suite of six hilarious settings of short, original poems about dancers and theater performers. The only work with piano on this program (with a difficult and prominent part performed excellently by Jane Peckham), these little vignettes had the audience in stitches.

Lionel Daunais

The concert concluded with two spiritual settings by Moses Hogan. The first was a soulful solo rendition of “There’s a Man Goin’ Round,” sung by Kathleen Otterson (below), who teaches at Edgewood College, over the hummed accompaniment from the chorus.

Kathleen Otterson 2

The second was a rapid-fire, high-energy “Elijah Rock” to close out the evening. (A humorous encore will remain unidentified — go hear the repeat Sunday to find out what it was!)

My only programming regrets were the absence of any works between Purcell and Brahms — surely that two-century gap must have yielded some works worthy of inclusion! — and the preponderance of Christian sacred music.

Certainly it forms the backbone of the choral literature, but on a program of 11 works (if “Mille regretz” is to be counted twice), to have only three (again, including the above twice) works that were not both sacred and Christian seems striking, especially for a chorus with no religious affiliation. A little more diversity in selection would be welcome on both counts.

 

Throughout the performance, the chorus (below top) sung with clear diction and strong sound, rising to the technical challenges of every work with apparent ease. IVE founder and conductor Scott MacPherson (below bottom, conducting a rehearsal), who teaches at Kent State University and is a UW-Madison graduate, directed with energy and excitement, and the chorus clearly responded.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

Despite its once-a-year schedule, this group is clearly a Madison fixture, and thoroughly earned their full house and standing ovation Friday night.

The performance will be repeated this afternoon, Sunday, August 3, at 3 p.m. in the Covenant Presbyterian Church (below) on 326 South Segoe Road. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 students and seniors. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

 

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will use its 13th annual summer concerts to explore expressions of LOSS on this Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, you can check Day 6 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 30, 2014
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ALERT: For the latest news from the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), here is a link to Day 6:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the many summer musical events that have become institutions to look forward to are the two concerts by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Here are the details, from a press release, for this weekend’s sets of two concerts:

ISTHMUS VOCAL ENSEMBLE RETURNS FOR ITS LUCKY 13TH SEASON

MADISON – When conductor Scott MacPherson –- a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions. (You can hear a stirring sample at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.)

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Now in its 13th year, the ensemble -– a professional-level choir of approximately 60 singers –- brings new life to over 500 years of choral music. Amazingly, the choir continues to do it all within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular and remarkable experience, year after year.

Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2014 program.

The traditional Friday night concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, August 1, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; children 12 or under get in for free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802712

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, August 3, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road. General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Children under 13 get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802714

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

This year, the singers will tackle texts in Latin, French (medieval and modern), Russian, German, English and even a form of nonsense language, notated loosely in Finnish, inspired by both Scandinavian folk dance and the Muppets’ Swedish Chef (below).

Swedish Chef

This year’s performance includes introspective choral masterworks by Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and others, exploring the labyrinth of emotions begat by LOSS.

Also featured are contemporary works by Andrew Rindfleisch and Lionel Daunais, and a rousing conclusion with spirituals arranged by Moses Hogan.

The French chanson “Mille regretz” by the 15th century composer Josquin des Prez (below top) is matched by a modern setting by Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom). Here is a link top the home website for the Prix de Rome-winning composer Andrew Rindfliesch, who did his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison:

www.andrewrindfleisch.com

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The choir’s renowned low basses will be on display in Russian works including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Tebé poyém (We Hymn Thee)” and Alexander Gretchaninoff’s stunning “Ñe rïdáy Meñé, Máti (Do not lament me, O Mother).”

Rachmaninoffold

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

From the German tradition, Johannes Brahms’ Two Motets, Op. 74 (beginning with “Warum ist das Licht gegeben”), join Anton Bruckner’s classic “Virga Jesse.”

brahms3

Anton Bruckner 2

Other composers represented include Jaako Mäntyjärvi, Lionel Daunais, Henry Purcell (below), Imant Raminsh and the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan.

purcell

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, who trained at the UW-Madison.

Scott MacPherson older BW

The IVE’s members include professional singers and choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two albums.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

For more information, visit www.isthmusvocalensemble.org or the choir’s page on Facebook.

 

 


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