The Well-Tempered Ear

Just Bach concludes its season this Wednesday morning with highlights of the past season

May 18, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about this season’s final Just Bach online concert this Wednesday:

Greetings from Just Bach!

We hope this finds you all well, enjoying the spring, and ready to experience more of the timeless beauty of Bach’s music.

Our May concert features musical highlights from this extraordinary past season.

The complete program listing is below. It is organized in two parts, corresponding to the two semesters.

Indoor singing was risky during the pandemic, so the bulk of our programming was instrumental, with strings and keyboard for the most part (below in a photo by Barry Lewis).

The Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio was recorded at St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, because of the Dane County Emergency Order prohibiting indoor gatherings in November and December during the pandemic.

We were back at Luther Memorial Church for the January concert, and by April we were able to include woodwinds (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis)

You can view the May concert here, starting at 8 a.m. this Wednesday, May 19, and then staying available indefinitely:  https://justbach.org/concerts/

Please join us for a half-hour live Zoom post-concert reception on Wednesday night, May 19, at 7 p.m. Chat with the performers by following the link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85144014343?pwd=RmVURXBBU1hMcloyalJhbUdCQ1NmQT09

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but we ask those who are able, to help us pay our musicians by making a tax-deductible donation at: https://justbach.org/donate

Just Bach will take a break for the summer, and concerts will resume in September.

Here is the May program:

• Welcome

Part I – Fall Semester

• Cantata 146: Sinfonia

• Violin Sonata, BWV 1001: movement 4 Presto

• Double Violin Concerto: movement 3 Allegro (in the YouTube video, with an animated graphic, at the bottom)

• Christmas Oratorio, Part II: Sinfonia

• Christmas Oratorio: Chorale “Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier” (I stand here by your crib)

Part II – Spring Semester

• Cantata 35: Sinfonia

• Trio Sonata, BWV 526: movement 2 Largo

• Violin Sonata, BWV 1019: movement 5 Allegro 

• Flute Sonata BWV 1034: movement 1 Adagio ma non tanto

• Cantata 42: Sinfonia

• Cantata 149: Chorale “Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein” (O Lord, let your dear little angel)

Performers are: Kangwon Kim, Christine Hauptly Annin, Leanne League, Xavier Pleindoux, Nathan Giglierano and Aaron Yarmel, violin; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen and Lindsey Crabb, cello; Linda Pereksta and Monica Steger, traverse flute; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Grammy-winner Sarah Brailey, soprano; John Chappell Stowe and Jason Moy, harpsichord; Mark Brampton Smith, organ; and Bruce Bengston, organ.

Dave Parminter is the videographer and Barry Lewis is the photographer.

For more information, go to:

https://justbach.org

facebook.org/JustBachSeries

youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ


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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
6 Comments

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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