The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW oboist Aaron Hill performs world premieres and little known composers in a FREE recital Sunday afternoon

October 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is Homecoming weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it is busy on many counts, including several classical music concerts in the city on Sunday afternoon.

But one of the more intriguing is a FREE recital at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall by UW-Madison Professor Aaron Hill (below), who teaches oboe and also performs in the Wingra Woodwind Quintet.

Hill will be joined by collaborative pianist Daniel Fung (below), who is also a vocal coach at the Mead Witter School of Music at the UW-Madison.

Particularly noteworthy is the number of world premieres and relatively unknown contemporary composers on the program.

Here is the program:

“Poem,” for oboe and piano (1953) by Marina Dranishnikova (1929-1994, below). (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Oboe Sonata (1947) by Jean Coulthard (1908-2000)

  1. Gently Flowing
  2. Sicilienne
  3. Allegro

Intermission

* Soliloquies (2013) by Andre Myers (b. 1973)

  1. To be or not to be
  2. There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance
  3. In the Month of May
  4. Spring Discourse

   * world premiere performance

* After Manchester (2017) Aaron Hill and Michael Slon (b. 1982 and 1970, respectively) * world premiere performance

Four Personalities (2007) Alyssa Morris (b. 1984)

  1. Yellow
  2. White
  3. Blue
  4. Red

Here are some program notes by Aaron Hill:

“This program highlights five different ways to program previously unfamiliar music, as explained below.

“Poem” by Marina Dranishnikova came to me through our local community. Oliver Cardona, currently a junior music major at UW-Madison, initially brought it to my attention. The work was discovered and edited by my predecessor, Professor Marc Fink (below), during his travels in Russia.

I first heard the Oboe Sonata by Jean Coulthard (below) at the 2017 International Double Reed Society conference at Lawrence University  in Appleton, Wis.

Charles Hamann, the principal oboist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, edited and recorded it as part of a large project to bring international attention to masterpieces by Canadian composers.

Andre Myers (below) attended the University of Michigan with me and we first became acquainted when I performed one of his orchestral works. His beautiful writing for English horn started our friendship and 15 years later, he wrote his Soliloquies for me.

The first two are based on famous scenes from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The third is based on a poem by Minnesota’s first poet laureate, Robert Bly, which will be read aloud from the stage. The final movement is inspired by a dream vision he had of centaurs playing in a meadow.

“After Manchester” was originally a free improvisation I recorded and posted to social media in the wake of the terror attack at Ariana Grande’s concert on June 4, 2017.

Later in the summer, Professor Michael Slon (below), the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Virginia, transcribed my improvisation and wrote a piano part to transform it into a piece of chamber music. The work was completed just days before the violent events in Charlottesville.

Professor Alyssa Morris (below) currently teaches oboe at Kansas State University and her compositions have become widely performed as standard literature for oboists in recent years.

She wrote “Four Personalities” to perform in her own undergraduate recital at Brigham Young University and I first heard it while searching for oboe music on YouTube. The piece is based on the Hartmann Personality Test.

In her words, the colors correspond to the following types:

Yellow: Yellow is fun-loving. The joy that comes from doing something just for the sake of doing it is what motivates and drives yellow.

White: White is a peacekeeper. White is kind, adaptable, and a good listener. Though motivated by peace, white struggles with indecisiveness. 

Blue: Blue brings great gifts of service, loyalty, sincerity, and thoughtfulness. Intimacy, creating relationships, and having purpose is what motivates and drives blue.

Red: Motivated by power. Red is aggressive and assertive. Red is visionary, confident, and proactive. 

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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble open their new seasons this Saturday night

October 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s another busy week at the start of the new concert season, and two more groups are giving opening concerts this Saturday night:

MOSAIC CHAMBER PLAYERS

On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the Mosaic Chamber Players will open their new season.

The Madison-based group will perform an all-Beethoven program and complete its cycle of all the string sonatas. The program is the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2; the Violin Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 96 (performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter in the YouTube video below); and the Cello Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2.

The performers are Laura Burns (below top) and Wes Luke (below second), violins; Kyle Price, cello (below third); and Jess Salek, piano (below bottom).

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for seniors; and $5 for students. Check or cash only.

Adds artistic director Jess Salek: “We have been opening our seasons with the Beethoven string sonatas for five years now, so this really exciting for us!”

WISCONSIN BAROQUE ENSEMBLE

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) will give a concert of varied baroque vocal and instrumental chamber music on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street.

Members of the WBE are Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Nathan Giglierano, baroque violin; Brett Lipshutz, traverse flute; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Monica Steger, traverse flute and harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

Tickets at the door only are $20, $10 for students.

For more information, got to www.wisconsinbaroque.org

A reception will be held after the concert at 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor

The program features:

Johann Philipp Kernberger – Sonata in C major for traverso and basso continuo

D’India – “Piangono al pianger mio” (I Shed Tears, As The Wild Animals Do)

Cipriano de Rore – “Ancor che col partire” (Although When I Part From You), arranged for viola da gamba by Riccardo Rognini

Francesca Caccini – “Io Veggio i Campi Verdeggiar Fecondi” (I See the Fertile Fields Turn Green); “Dov’io Credea de Mie Speranze” (Where I Thought My Hopes Were Real)

Georg Philipp Telemann (below) – Trio Sonata for alto recorder, violin and basso continuo TWV 42:d10 (heard in the YouTube video below)

INTERMISSION

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair – duet for two traversi without bass

Francesco Mancini – Sonata No. 1 in D Minor for recorder and basso continuo

Georg Friedrich Handel – “Süsse Stille” (Sweet Silence)

Jean-Philippe Rameau (below) – La Pantomime (The Pantomime), from Pièces de clavecin, 4th concert; “Les Surprises de l’Amour” (Love’s Surprises), selected movement from Act II, transcribed by Ludwig Christian Hesse


Classical music: The annual showcase benefit for University Opera, with student performers and famed bass-baritone alumnus Sam Handley, is this Sunday afternoon

September 23, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opera program will present the annual “Showcase Concert” of songs and arias this Sunday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive.

They will be joined by bass-baritone Sam Handley (below top), a well-known alumnus now living in Chicago, and accompanist Daniel Fung (below bottom).

The program includes:

Samuel Handley in the “Calumny” aria from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and the song “Her Face” from Merrill’s show “Carnival”

John McHugh in “Donne mie” (Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”)

Shaddai Solidum in “The Jewel Song” (Gounod’s “Faust”)

Grace Subat in “Far From the Home I Love” (Bock’s “Fiddler on the Roof“)

Sarah Kendall in “Mi chiamano Mimì” (Puccini’s “La Bohème“)

Benjamin Liupaogo (below) in the “Flower Song” (Bizet’s “Carmen”)

Liza Shapin in “I Walked in the Path Where Jesus Walked”

Matthew Chastain in “Questo amor” (Puccini’s “Edgar”)

Yanzelmalee Rivera in “Dondi lieta” (Puccini’s “La Bohème”)

Also the trio “Soave sia il vento” (from Mozart’s “Così fan tutti”) will be sung by Solidum, Subat and Handley; and the duet “Libiamo” (from Verdi’s “La Traviata“) will be sung by Rivera and Liupaogo.

Sam Handley has been praised for “his rich, burnished” voice and the “genuine emotional depth of his characterizations.” The Houston Chronicle has described his “vivid and polished singing” as “leaving the audience panting.”) You can hear him in the YouTube video at the bottom, where he sings the “Calumny” aria that he will also perform at this event.

A contribution of $30 at the door ($10 for students) is requested for this benefit concert.

A reception of chocolate, cheese, wine and punch will follow the concert and is included in the donation. (Below are the participants from last year with David Ronis, third from left in the back row, who is the director of the University Opera.)


Classical music: Today is the start of Fall. Here is autumnal music by Richard Strauss. Plus, UW-Madison soprano Jeanette Thompson makes her FREE debut tonight at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

September 22, 2017
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ALERT: UW-Madison faculty soprano Jeanette Thompson gives her FREE debut recital tonight at 7 p.m.  in Mills Hall. Guest performers are pianist Thomas Kasdorf and faculty colleague baritone Paul Rowe.

Thompson has put together a concert of some of her favorite love songs, though not always typical of love songs:  some of them are about a love that is lost, some of them are about a love desired, and some of them are about a love for God.

These songs include excerpts from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Johannes Brahms’ Volksbuchlieder. In addition to Rückert, they include some of her favorite poets like Charles Baudelaire and Eduard Möricke. She will perform songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will be joined by baritone Paul Rowe to sing two of the most beautiful “Porgy and Bess” love duets ever written.

Thompson (below) will conclude the concert with some of her favorite spirituals, including her mother’s favorite song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.“

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox, which arrives at 3:02 p.m. CDT. It marks when the day has an equal amount of daylight and night.

It also means that today is the first official day of Fall.

And despite the hot weather right now, Fall is often a great time to start returning to indoor activities.

That makes it a good time for listening to classical music.

There are the usual candidates such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and its modern counterpart “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by tango master Astor Piazzolla.

If you want to hear other season-appropriate music, YouTube, Spotify, Classical-music.com and other websites have generous compilations. Just Google “classical music for autumn.”

But today The Ear want to feature just one selection to celebrate the season. It is soprano Jessye Norman singing “September” from “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

What is you favorite music to greet autumn with?

Use the COMMENT section to let us know, along with a link to a video performance if possible.


Classical music: When you need a quick shot of music, go to “60 Seconds of Classical” on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube

August 23, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Sometimes a minute is all the time you have.

Or all you want or need.

But a quick moment of classical music can still provide the perfect mini-break or pick-me-up or shot-in-the-arm.

Kind of like those Daily Affirmations some people use.

Thanks to gentle nudging by a friend, The Ear has discovered just how to get that mini-fix of music.

It is a site on the social media site Instagram (below).

And the site is called 60secondsofclassical (below), which you can also find in somewhat different formats on Facebook and YouTube

It has terrific diversity and variety, top-quality performers, great music and excellent editing.

It is, in short, a lot of fun.

Almost like a game.

You can subscribe to it and also let the site know what entries you really like or even love.

Don’t read the caption at first.

See if you can identify the performer.

See if you can identify the composer.

See if you can identify the piece.

And see if you know what comes before and after the one-minute snippet.

Anyway there is a full menu of great music, great performers and great performances.

So take a minute — or two or three — and try it.

Check it out.

Then let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Voces Aestatis — Summer Voices — will perform early and Baroque vocal music this Friday night

August 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post from Ben Luedcke, the artistic director of the choral group Voces Aestatis (Summer Voices, below).

Luedcke writes:

Voces Aestatis (Summer Voices) will present its third annual summer concert this Friday night, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below top and below bottom), 1833 Regent Street in Madison.

Tickets are $20 and available at the door. (Cash and check only; sorry, no credit or debit card sales.)

Artistic Director Ben Luedcke (below) and Assistant Director Ena Foshay have carefully selected singers with a pure blend to perform in this intimate concert venue.

Voces Aestatis is Madison’s only professional choir that specializes in early music.

The group will maintain its tradition of favoring a cappella repertoire of the 16th century, but new this year will be a collaboration with Saint Andrew Episcopal’s music director, Ken Stancer (below).

Stancer will accompany the choir on organ in four 17th-century pieces, including works by Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Gabrieli, Henry Purcell and Marc-Antione Charpentier.

While the Purcell is the familiar, powerful and climactic “Hear My Prayer,” Gabrieli’s “O Jesu mi dulcissime” and Charpentier’s “Te Deum,” H.147, are rarely performed and are not to be missed.

The Gabrieli setting is for double-choir. But rather than two equal choirs, there are separate low-voice and high-voice choirs that provide a unique and sonorous texture of men and women. Additionally, the Charpentier is full of variety, including solos and quartets within the larger 10-minute piece.

Other a cappella works round out the program, including music by Tomás Luis de Victoria and William Byrd (below).

Most noteworthy will be the group’s fresh look at the double-choir motet “Super flumina babylonis,” by Phillipe de Monte (below). Although the work is typically performed rather slowly and lamentingly, the group will bring a decisively different interpretation with a quicker tempo and active articulations. (You can hear a traditional performance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Also of note on the first half are pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (below top) and Orlando di Lasso (below bottom), with texts from the “Song of Solomon” — a collection of bible passages that allege to describe the love between Christ and the Church, though they are in fact favorites of choral composers as they are known for their rather erotic descriptive passages.

Finally, Jacob Obrecht’s “Salve Regina” for six voices is likely to stun listeners not only for its beauty, but also because it was written almost 100 years earlier than anything else on the program.

It features a noticeably different and almost austere harmonic palette with overlapping thick textures, as well as many complicated rhythms and chants in between major sections.

Please visit VocesAestatis.org for more information or to support the organization. The group relies on individual donations, so we thank you in advance for supporting the arts in Madison.


Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison native Ansel Norris returns to perform a FREE recital this Saturday night of songs transcribed for trumpet and piano

July 26, 2017
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CORRECTION: In some downloads of yesterday’s post, the performance by the Ancora String Quartet was mistakenly listed for Friday night. The performance is SATURDAY night. The Ear apologizes for the error. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/classical-music-the-ancora-string-quartet-will-give-two-performances-this-coming-weekend-one-is-free-of-a-program-that-features-works-by-beethoven-shostakovich-and-niels-gade/

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Saturday night, July 29, at 7 p.m., trumpeter Ansel Norris and pianist Beth Wilson will perform a FREE recital of vocal music in an unusual format — for solo trumpet and piano, with the poetry that inspired the music spoken in between each song.

“In music for voice and piano there lies a special intimacy, and the composers featured each captured something close to the essence of the form,” Norris (below) told The Ear. “I wanted to see what happened if I split the songs up into a poem, read it out loud, and then played a wordless melody to follow. The result was interesting and felt meaningful, so I’ve decided to give it another go.”

The recital, in the Grand Hall at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, downtown and three blocks off the Capitol Square.

The program includes: Richard Strauss, “Morgen”; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 5;” Richard Strauss, “Die Nacht”: Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 1; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 9; Johannes Brahms, “Die Mainacht”; Franz Schubert, “Der Einsame”; Johannes Brahms, “Unbewegte laue Luft”; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 3; Richard Strauss, “Befreit”; and Peter Tchaikovsky, “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” (“None but the Lonely Heart,” sung by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Ansel Norris grew up on the east side of Madison, and last set foot in Capitol Lakes (below) in the spring of 2010, for his graduation recital. In recent years, he has distinguished himself as a soloist, orchestral and chamber musician of enthusiasm and diverse taste.

Norris has won a number of prizes as a soloist, including first-prize twice in the National Trumpet Competition, and has drawn acclaim as an orchestral player, performing with the Chicago and Boston Symphonies and holding a fellowship with the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.

Norris has also worked in close relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at the Tanglewood Music Center, in the summers of 2014 and 2015.

He says he is fascinated with the relationship between music and storytelling, and is currently exploring interesting formats of solo recitals to draw new connections between them. In a sense, this recital is an experiment, but one conducted with great love, care and curiosity.

While in Madison, Ansel Norris said, he was lucky to participate in a number of the diverse opportunities available to young musicians. He was a three-year member of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra and a four-year, inaugural member of the Winds of Wisconsin.

He was also a participant in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Final Forte” was a winner of the Neale-Silva Young Artist Competition held by Wisconsin Public Radio. He was a devoted student of the UW-Madison’s recently retired professor of trumpet, John Aley (below), who to this day is one of his greatest inspirations.

As he grows older, Norris says, he often reflects on what a special place Madison was to grow up in, and he looks forward to every chance he has to be home.

Beth Wilson (below) currently lives in Madison and is a freelance musician and professional pianist. She is a member of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, playing for the “Nutcracker Ballet” and “Concerts on the Square.” She also performs with Grupo Candela, a salsa band. Broadway touring shows contract her to play in the pit orchestra including the recent shows “Wicked,” “Book of Mormon,” “Sound of Music” and “Beautiful –The Carole King Musical.”

As an accompanist, Beth Wilson has collaborated with Bernhard Scully of the Canadian Brass; Diana Gannett of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; and Ansel Norris — with whom she is now reunited after seven years.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open a new season with an impressive program impressively played

July 11, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Willys never disappoint.

Last Friday night, the six Willy Street Chamber Players (below) opened their third summer season at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

And once again, even though The Willys are relative newcomers, it is hard for The Ear to imagine a more perfect or more enjoyable concert.

The large and enthusiastic audience (below), which has grown considerably over the past two years, seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovations, loud applause and overheard comments.

So what made The Willys’ concert so great and so enjoyable?

Start with the basics

It was summery and informal. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals felt entirely appropriate.

It wasn’t expensive. A $15 ticket seems very affordable compared to what so many other local groups charge.

It wasn’t too long. They played just three pieces – two short and one long — that lasted under 80 minutes. That way you can enter the zone; concentrate hard and focus while you stay in the zone; and then leave the zone for good with time to do other things, including attend the post-performance reception with cookies, ice cream and coffee.

Spoken informal introductions to the pieces – each given by a different player – served as program notes, and they were kept short and to the point. (Below is cellist Mark Bridges humorously explaining the complicated love life of Brahms and how it affected his composing the string sextet.)

The playing itself was exemplary. (It featured the six core members plus guest violinist Suzanne Beia, below front left, of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)

The Ear detected no sour notes, no false starts or stops, no uncertain passages or interpretation. The well-rehearsed Willys played with precision as well as heart.

The program was typical Willy fare. It mixed short and long, old and new.

The old classics were two: Hugo Wolf’s charming “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (below) and with the String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms, a long piece that received an energetic and thoroughly compelling reading.

But the star of the evening for The Ear came first: Jennifer Higdon‘s string quartet setting and contemporary take on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The riffs on the familiar tune by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (below) was new to The Ear and proved completely engaging, unmistakably modern-sounding yet accessible. (You can hear the Higdon work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Higdon string quartet (below) recalled an American tradition of using religious music for non-religious purposes. Think of how Charles Ives and Aaron Copland used old hymns and camp meeting songs, the most famous being Copland’s use of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

To be honest, a lot of new music just doesn’t speak to The Ear or reach him emotionally. It often makes him feel superfluous.

But The Willys have a knack for picking the right kind of new music that captures and holds The Ear’s attention, including the String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass, the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain and “Entr’acte” for string quartet by Caroline Shaw.

It is a gift The Ear hopes they keep as they choose other contemporary composers and new music to perform with tried-and-true classics.

And if you want to hear more, you can go to The Willys’ website for details about the two remaining concerts this summer plus a FREE family-friendly Community Connect appearance at the east side Goodman Center from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday. There they will play the works by Caroline Shaw and Daniel Bernard Roumain as well as “Tango for Four” by Astor Piazzolla and the Viola Quintet No. 1 in G major, Op. 111, by Brahms. (NOTE: An earlier mistake here and on the Willys’ website listed the String Sextet by Brahms rather than the Viola Quintet.)

The Willys complete the regular subscription season with performances at Immanuel Lutheran on two Fridays, July 21 (with music by Elvis Costello, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dmitri Shostakovich) and July 28 (with music by Franz Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Both performances are at at 6 p.m.

For more details about the performers and the programs, here is a link:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

You shouldn’t miss The Willys in concert.

But if you do, you should know that Madison’s classical music documentarian and chronicler, Rich Samuels (below), is recording all the concerts to play this fall on his Thursday morning radio program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9. Stay tuned for more information about air times.


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