The Well-Tempered Ear

The 10th annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians is next Saturday night and will be virtual and online

December 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday night, Dec. 12, the Madison Bach Musicians will present their 10th annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below is a photo of a previous year’s holiday concert). 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s one-hour concert will be a virtual web event.

The program features Baroque masterworks by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Arcangelo Corelli, Joseph Dall’Abaco, Jean Daniel Braun and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. It was recorded Dec. 1-6 in several acoustically superior venues.

Links to the MBM holiday program can be purchased at $15 per household at https://madisonbachmusicians.org. Patrons purchasing the link can view the program the evening of Dec. 12 and anytime afterward through Friday, Dec. 26.

Festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. with MBM director Trevor Stephenson’s 30-minute pre-concert lecture about the repertoire, the composers and the period instruments.

At 8 p.m., viewers will see the 60-minute, high-definition video of the concert portion of the program, followed by a 30-minute Zoom Q&A session with the musicians from their homes. Questions for the Zoom session should be submitted by email to MBM manager Karen Rebholz at madisonbachmusicians.manager@gmail.com.

The concert begins with a selection of nine pieces from the Schemelli Songbook. Georg Schemelli collaborated with Johann Sebastian Bach (below, 1685-1750) in assembling this magnificent collection of spiritual songs, published in Leipzig in 1736. Bach provided most of the bass lines and wonderful harmonizations.

Grammy Award-winning soprano Estelí Gomez and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (both below) perform this set in the beautiful chapel at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

From the sanctuary of Grace Episcopal Church, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, baroque cellist James Waldo (below) will perform Bach’s magisterial Solo Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major

UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music bassoon faculty member Marc Vallon (below top, in a photo by James Gill) and esteemed baroque cellist Martha Vallon (below bottom) team up in the Collins Recital Hall of the UW”s Hamel Music Center for a Duo Sonata by Jean Daniel Braun (1703-1738).

Marc will also play a solo bassoon transcription of two Fantasias, originally for solo flute, by Telemann (1681-1767). Martha will perform the meditative Capriccio no. 4 in D minor by Dall’Abaco (1710-1805).

The program concludes at The Crossing in Madison with MBM concertmaster violinist Kangwon Kim (below top), violist Micah Behr (below bottom) and cellist James Waldo joining in a medley of holiday favorites.

They include Greensleeves variations over a ground (repeated bass line); three movements from Christmas Music for Instruments by Charpentier (1643-1704); the Adagio from the Christmas Concerto Op. 6, No. 8 by Corelli (1653-1713), which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottomand two beloved carols — Lo How a Rose and Sussex Carol – in arrangements by Micah Behr.

MBM wishes to thank Geneva Campus Church for their collaboration in filming this portion of the program as a contribution to their weekly services.

 


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Classical music: The Ear wishes you a Merry Christmas with three of his favorite pieces of music. What are yours?

December 25, 2019
3 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019 – is Christmas Day.

There is so much great Christmas music written by so many great composers. You’ll hear a lot of it tomorrow morning on Wisconsin Public Radio, starting at 9 a.m..

But here are three of The Ear’s favorites.

One comes from the “Christmas Oratorio” by the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and is loud, upbeat and brassy.

The second is “Lo, how a rose ere blooming” is by the early German baroque composer Michael Praetorius, and is so hauntingly quiet and intimate, sounding almost medieval or chant-like.

The third work, also intimate but on a much larger scale, is the “Shepherds’ Farewell to the Holy Family” from “The Childhood of the Christ” by the Romantic French composer Hector Berlioz.

Here they are, first the Praetorius — in the original German — and then the Bach and finally the Berlioz.

And here is a YouTube compilation with almost three hours of seasonal music:

What is your favorite piece of classical music to celebrate Christmas?

Leave your answer – with a YouTube link, if possible — in the Comment section.


Classical music: The Ear likes very old Christmas music more than newer music. What do you prefer?

December 22, 2014
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year in the Madison area there are so many wonderful concerts with holiday themes performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Choral Project, the Madison Bach Musicians, Edgewood College and by many, many others  that you just can’t get to all of them.

And it doesn’t help if you have a winter cold or aren’t feeling well, as happened this year to The Ear.

But I did get to two memorable performances.

The first was the terrific annual Choral Prism holiday concert (below) put on at Luther Memorial Church by various choirs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They performed under several conductors, including Beverly Taylor, Bruce Gladstone, Anna Volodarskaya and Sara Guttenberg.

UW Prism 2014 singers 1

UW Prism 2014 crowd

The second was the satisfying “Welcome Yule” concert at Grace Episcopal Church by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir under conductor Robert Gehrenbeck, who also teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

WCC Welcome Yule 2014

Both events were excellent, and drew full and enthusiastic houses.

A lot of beautiful music in a wide variety of styles was offered by each of the two groups. That included homages to the St. Paul, Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below), who died at 64 this past year and who had close ties to Madison’s vocal groups that commissioned and performed his music. And because programs strive for ethnic diversity today, spirituals and jazz arrangements were also included. (I often cringe when I see something has been “arranged.”)

stephen paulus

But when all was said and done, the “winners” so to speak –- for The Ear at least -– were the old ones. I mean the very old ones, generally those works dating from the Medieval period and Renaissance period over the Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary eras with the Baroque falling somewhere in between.

Why did I like the old music so much?

One reason was the performances. The straight-ahead singing, mostly a cappella or unaccompanied but sometimes with a bit of percussive drum or lyrical harp added, was much more convincing than when I saw modern largely white singers stiffly swaying and awkwardly stomping their feet and clapping the hands to get into the swing of things and show some unconvincing imitation of gospel singing.

But I started thinking.

Maybe it goes back to the Bible and that old verse about “The Word made Flesh.”

That seems a much more successful formula for effective Christmas music than the modern approach, which I am starting to think of as “The Flesh made Word.”

That means that what gets to me is the very simplicity, the strength of the rhythms and melodies as well as the simpler harmonies and compositional techniques.

Simpler is simply better. No better proof was offered that a souped-up jazz arrangement of “Silent Night.” That venerable and quietly emotional carol cannot be improved upon by complicating it. Keep it simple. That seems to be the way to go. Another case of inferior “arranging,” I am afraid.

I think of the old Medieval hymns about a mother simply rocking her baby Jesus to sleep as she sings to him. Can there be anything more touching or poignant, more to the point or direct, especially at a historical period when there was no nighttime lighting and so many babies died.

More than nostalgia, such music offers the art of reducing things to the essential. And the essential, as the old composers seemed to know, is often the path to the universal.

Of course, the plain song or chant-like harmonies also add to the appeal.

But it still goes back to simplicity of the act and the simplicity of the metaphor.

That is why the great 20th-century modern English composer Benjamin Britten (below) used so many older carols in his “Ceremony of Carols” to such great effect.

Benjamin Britten

That is also why 100 times out of 100 I will prefer the simple 16th-century German tune “Lo how a Rose Ere Blooming” (at bottom in a YouTube video) over, say, the long and tedious “Magnificat” No. 20 with its overworked harmonies and complexities for chorus and organ by another 20th-century English composer Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

What do you make of the old music versus new music debate when it comes to holiday music?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

And what is your favorite local holiday concert  to recommend for next year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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