The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The talented new director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sets the acclaimed and still impressive group on a new path with mixed results and hopeful expectations

August 9, 2018
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served 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 Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (IVE, below) is a well-established part of Madison’s musical summers. It offers dedicated choral singers a chance for intensive rehearsal preparation of highly accomplished choral music, and has delivered some truly memorable events over the years.

Of its concerts this year, I caught the second performance on Sunday afternoon. The choir itself doesn’t need to be shown off by now, but it was the choir’s chance to show off its new conductor in his first appearance here.

Michael McGaghie (below) is that new conductor. He is very plainly a brilliant choral technician who knows how to make a choir sound wonderful. (For more about McGaghie, who is the Director of Choral Activities at Macalester Collge in St. Paul and who leads the Harvard Glee Club Alumni Chorus in Cambridge, Mass., go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/artisticdirector/)

That he did throughout the program. The IVE — 69 singers strong — certainly responded with an infectious enthusiasm that was also communicated to the large audience that filled the Christ Presbyterian Church.  The concert was certainly a feast of great choral singing.

But what about the music?

To begin with, the actual music amounted to no more than about an hour’s worth. McGaghie planned the program as a progress of emotional moods, and he introduced each piece himself.

But what were the contents? McGaghie largely turned his back on the centuries of great choral music, the kind that his predecessor Scott MacPherson explored so ambitiously.

There were, at the beginning, two examples of that, motets by Thomas Tallis of the 16th century and Heinrich Schütz of the 17th century.

There was also an interesting nugget from the Russian composer and conductor Nikolai Golovanov (below), an early work of his (1917), setting the Lord’s Prayer (Otche naš) In a style departing from the previous two centuries of great Russian Orthodox choral writing.

Beyond those, however, the remaining nine items in the program — and the encore — were entirely by recent composers, mostly living and mostly American. These were his introductory calling cards, and so they invite scrutiny.

Ours is not an age of great, idiomatic choral writing, and composers go their own ways variously. Many of them rely upon a kind of chordal declamation with little sense of line or full-bodied texture.

Some pieces I don’t think I would want to hear again, and a couple I would not have wanted to hear even the first time.

An example of the latter is a piece about sirens and sailors by Chinese-American Chen Yi (below top), a collage of weird choral sounds but no musical content recognizable to any but Chinese ears.

Another was a loudly trashy adaptation of a Civil Rights “freedom song” by Jeffrey Douma (below bottom), plus the gesture to multicultural triviality in a Philippine folksong arrangement.

Three of the items came with piano accompaniment. In The Whole Sea in Motion by Dale Trumbore (below top) — which uses a text from Anne Brontë — the piano gave an underlying ripple to support declamatory, non-linear writing.

In Eternity by Donald Martino (below), the pleasantly lyrical choral writing really didn’t need the piano at all.  And that part was much too prominent against Morten Lauridsen’s nicely polyphonic, and quite self-sufficient, choral texture in “Sure on This Shining Night” that treated James Agee’s famous poem. (You can hear the Lauridsen work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were certainly some among these contemporary items that I found quite enjoyable.

In Ophelia, a setting the account of that woman’s death in Hamlet, Jocelyn Hagen (below top) was overly concerned with story-telling, but the work certainly contained some lovely writing. O Radiant Dawn by Scottish master James MacMillan (below bottom) was a beautifully sonorous tribute to Catholic liturgical tradition.

What does this conducting debut point to for the future?

McGaghie can create the most splendid choral beauty — though often at the sacrifice of clear diction. On the basis of this program, it looks like he could now focus the IVE on lots of short contemporary pieces, rather than on the vast traditional literature.

We will have to see.

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Classical music: Madison Youth Choirs will perform music of Madison’s nine sister cities this Sunday afternoon and evening

December 8, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

“This semester, Madison Youth Choirs singers (below) are embarking on a musical journey across the globe as they explore and perform compositions connected to the diverse cultures inhabiting Madison’s nine sister cities: Ainaro, East Timor; Arcatao, El Salvador; Camaguey, Cuba; Freiburg, Germany; Kanifing, The Gambia; Mantua, Italy; Obihiro, Japan; Tepatitlán, Mexico; and Vilnius, Lithuania.

“As we study the wide variety of musical forms that emerged from these nine regions and think about the reasons we’re drawn to establish sister city relationships, we’re examining both the common forces that drive the creative expression of artists from all cultures and the unique contributions that artists from our sister cities have made to the worldwide musical canon.

“We invite you to join us for a culminating winter concert series celebrating these international choral connections.

WHERE

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concerts, “Sister Cities

First Congregational United Church of Christ

1609 University Ave., Madison

WHEN

Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017

1:30 p.m. Girlchoirs

4:00 p.m. Boychoirs

7:00 p.m. High School Ensembles

Tickets available at the door: $10 for general admission, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7. A separate ticket is required for each performance. 

This concert is generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC):

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community. Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

“SISTER CITIES” PROGRAMS

Sunday, December 10, 2017, First Congregational Church, Madison

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

“Now We Are Met” by Samuel Webbe

“Sakura” Traditional Japanese folk song

“Tecolote” Spanish lullaby, arr. Victoria Ebel-Sabo

“S’Vivon” Traditional Jewish folk song, arr. Valerie Shields

Con Gioia

“Peace Round” Traditional round, text by Jean Ritchie

“Shepherd’s Pipe Carol by John Rutter

“Murasame” by Victor C. Johnson, text: 11th-century Japanese poem

“Guantanamera” Cuban folk song, text by José Marti

Capriccio (below)

“A Circle is Cast” by Anna Dembska

“Ich will den Herrn loben alle Zeit” by Georg Philipp Telemann, arr. Wallace Depue

“Ma come bali bene bela bimba” Traditional Italian, arr. Mark Sirett

“Soran Bushi” Japanese folk song, arr. Wendy Stuart

“Yo Le Canto Todo El Dia” by David L. Brunner

4:00 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs

“Dance for the Nations” by John Krumm, arr. Randal Swiggum

Purcell (below)

“La Nanita Nana” by José Ramon Gomis, arr. David Eddlemann

“Es is Ein Ros entsprungen” by Melchior Vulpius

“Sakura” Traditional Japanese folksong, arranged by Purcell choir members

Britten  (below)

Two Elegies by Benjamin Britten

  1. Old Abram Brown
  2. Tom Bowling

“No che non morira” (from Tito Manlio) by Antonio Vivaldi

Holst

“O Rosetta” by Claudio Monteverdi

“O là, o che bon echo” by Orlando di Lasso

“We Are” by Ysaye Barnwell

Combined Boychoirs

Chorus of Street Boys from Carmen by Georges Bizet

“Kimigayao” (The National Anthem of Japan) Melody by Hiromori Hayashi

7:00 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Gwyneth Walker

Liebeslieder Walzer by Johannes Brahms, text by Georg Friedrich Daumer

  1. Wie des Abends (from Opus 52) (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
  2. Vogelein durchrauscht die Luft (from Opus 52)
  3. Nein, geliebter, setze dich (from Opus 65)

Ragazzi

“Bar’chu” by Salamon Rossi

“The Pasture” (from Frostiana) by Randall Thompson

“Mogami Gawa Funa Uta” by Watanabe/Goto, based on folk materials, arr. Osamu

Shimizu

Cantabile

“Angelus ad pastores ait” (from Sacrae Cantiunculae, 1582) by Claudio Monteverdi

“Gamelan” by R. Murray Schafer

“Mata del Anima Sola” by Antonio Estévez

Cantabile and Ragazzi (below)

“The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” Traditional carol from Trinidad, arr. Stephen

Hatfield

Combined Choirs

“Dance for the Nations” by John Krumm


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Classical music education: Concerto contest winners perform at the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras winter concerts this Saturday

March 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

WYSO will hold its second concert series of the year with the Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts on this Saturday, March 18.

Nearly 500 young musicians will display their great talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers. (See below for times and programs. And listen to WYSO members talk about WYSO in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert series will feature all five orchestras including the debut performance of WYSO’s newest string orchestra, Opus One.

Under the direction of Geri Hamilton, Opus One consists of string players ages 8 to 12. This ensemble focuses more on technique than on performance, incorporating instruction on fundamentals of scales, shifting and bowing, in addition to formative ensemble skills experience.

The Youth Orchestra concert will also feature two of the winners from the Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition: Violinist, Mary Deck and Percussionist, Adam Goren.

Mary Deck (below), age 16, is a junior at Madison West High School, and has been a part of WYSO since 2011. She will be performing the first movement of the Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 31, by Henri Vieuxtemps.

Adam Goren (below), age 18, is a senior at Middleton High School and has been a part of WYSO since 2013. He will be performing the third movement of Concertino for Marimba by Paul Creston.

The Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW-Madison George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

For more information about WYSO, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Manufacturing Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., a charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Generous funding was also provided from the American Girl’s Fund for Children. This project is also funded in part by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

SCHEDULE AND PROGRAMS

Opus One and Sinfonietta – 11:30 a.m.

Sinfonietta (below)

Longfield (b.1947), Black Diamond

Smetana (1824-1884), Themes from The Moldau, arr. Frost

Mosier, Kirt N., American Reel

Traditional Irish, The Salley Gardens

Richard Stephan (b. 1929), Variations On A Well-Know Sea Chantey,

Grundman  (1934-1996), Kentucky 1800

Leyden (1917-2014), Serenade for String Orchestra: Prelude, Fugue, Nocturne, Cakewalk

Dvorak (1841-1904), Themes From The New World Symphony arr. Gruselle

Opus One

Richard Meyer (b.1957), Night Shift

Follow the Drinking Gourd – African-American Folk Song arr. Carrie Lane Gruselle

Ewazen (b.1951), Four Royal Dances: The Lord

Brian Balmages (b.1975), A Beethoven Lullaby

For the Star of County Down –

Richard Meyer (b.1957) Dragonhunter

Concert Orchestra and Harp Ensemble (below top)  – 1:30 p.m.

Concert Orchestra (below bottom)

Gounod (1818-1893), Funeral March of a Marionette ed. Rosenhaus

Holst (1874-1934) Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity from The Planets arr. Leidig

M.L. Daniels (b. 1931) Contending

Tres Danzas de Mexico setting by Rhoads (b. 1918): El Pitayero (from Jalisco); El Café (Province unknown); El Curripiti (from Veracruz)

Montgomery (1771-1854), Angels, From the Realms of Glory, setting Robert W. Smith

Philharmonia Orchestra (below) – 4 p.m.

Wagner (1813-1883), Procession to the Cathedral, from the Opera “Lohengrin” arr. Kennedy

Grieg (1843-1907), Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1, Op. 46: Morning; Ase’s Death; Anitra’s Dance; In the Hall of the Mountain King

Weber (1786-1826), Tourandot, J.75: Overture and March

Hindemith (1895-1963), Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber: Fourth movement – March

Youth Orchestra (below) – 7 p.m.

Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) Concerto for Violin No 4 D minor, Op.31, first movement. Mary Deck, violin soloist

Creston (1906-1985) Concertino for Marimba, third movement. Adam Goren, marimba soloist

Prokofiev (1891-1953) Symphony No 7, op.131, C-sharp minor: Moderato, Allegretto, Andante espressivo, Vivace

Glinka (1804-1857) “Russlan and Ludmilla” Overture


Classical music: Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison performs music by Handel, Copland and John Rutter this Saturday night.

May 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

Madison‘s Choral Arts Society Chorale (below top), under the direction of artistic director Mark Bloedow (below bottom), will present “Choral Reflections and Celebrations!” on this Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m., at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, Madison, the city’s near east side.

Choral Arts Society Chorale portrait Spring Concert 2015

Mark Bloedow

The program opens with “Hallelujah Amen” from the oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus” by George Frideric Handel (below).

Featured will be Handel’s complete “Chandos Anthem 9” (O Praise the Lord With One Consent) with chorus, soloists and guest orchestra. 

Handel_1733

Soloists from the chorale include Brigid Ryan, soprano; Abby Ryan, alto; John W. Webber, tenor; and Dean Schroeder, bass.

Other highlights include “Fill My Life with Spring” and “Where Dwells the Soul of My Love” by David Childs; “You Are My Music” by Laura Farnell for women’s choir; and “For the Beauty of the Earth” by John Rutter arranged for men’s choir; “All Things Bright and Beautiful” also by Rutter (heard conducted by Rutter in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Stomp Your Foot” by Aaron Copland.

Choral Arts Society Chorale performing May 2015

Tickets are 10 for adults, $5 for children and students, and will be available at the door.

More information is available at the Choral Arts Society Chorale website: www.choralartsmadison.org.


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