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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) gave the second concert of their 2016 season on Friday night at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spright Street, on Madison’s near east side.
The program might have been called the “three Sch-es” in view of the alphabetical incipits of the three composers involved.
The first item was titled The Violinists in My Life, composed in 2011 by Laura Schwendinger (below), the American composer currently on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The Belgian violin virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe set an example with his set of six Sonatas, Op. 27, for solo violin, each one a tribute to a great musician with whom he had worked. So Schwendinger composed five pieces for violin and piano, each one a kind of character piece about violinists with whom she has had fruitful contact.
The style can be sharp and abrupt, but there is a clear individuality to each piece, evoking the different personalities. The first of the five is dedicated to UW-Madison alumna Eleanor Bartsch (below), one of our Willys, and she played the whole set, deeply engaged in it, with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, also a graduate of the UW-Madison.
Kasdorf (below) joined another of the group’s violinists, Paran Amirinazari, who also graduated from the UW-Madison, in a rarely heard late work by Franz Schubert, the Fantasie in C Major (D.934).(You can hear it played by violinist Benjamin Beilman, who has performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Schubert’s compositions for violin and piano are rarely heard in concerts these days, but this one has particular interest in that its latter portion is another of the composers set of variations on one of his own songs—in this case, the beautiful Sei mir gegrüsst. The total piece has a lot of lively passage work, which Amarinazari played with a mix of flair and affection.
The crowning work was that extraordinary string sextet by Arnold Schoenberg (below), Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Composed in 1899 at the beginning of the composer’s career, it catches him still emerging from Late Romantic sensibilities, a good way before his radical move into the 12-tone idiom he created.
The score is just a trifle longish for the musical content, but its gorgeous chromatic richness is irresistible. It was inspired by a poem of Richard Dehmel, and both the original German text and an English translation were supplied to the audience, an interesting touch.
Above all, however, the performance was glowing, avoiding too much sentimental lushness, but conveying the emotionally charged writing with beautiful balance.
A clever touch, too, was the sitting pattern chosen, with the two violas facing the two violins and the two cellos in the rear—allowing the recurrent interaction between the first violin and first viola to emerge more clearly.
In sum, this was another wonderful session of first-class music-making by this remarkable assemblage of young talent.
NOTE: A program of music by Ludwig vanBeethoven, Philip Glass and Dmitri Shostakovich will be given next Friday at Immanuel Lutheran, but at NOON; and then that evening (at 8:30 p.m.) the group will participate in a special performance of George Crumb’s “Black Angels” — with an accompanying video — at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center.
The final Friday evening concert will be back at Immanuel Lutheran, at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 29, with music by Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli (Concerto Grosso), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Clarinet Quintet), and George Enescu (Octet).
By Jacob Stockinger
In China, the piano is not what it used to be for many decades.
Especially during the era of Chairman Mao Zedong, the piano became a symbol of Western culture and bourgeois decadence that the Communist leader and his followers rejected.
But with the recent economic resurgence of China and its emphasis on education – coupled to the “tiger mom” phenomenon — the piano has become a status symbol.
The Ear earlier ran a piece on the way Western classical music is treated in today’s China versus how it was treated during the Cultural Revolution.
Here is a link to that background story:
And this past week, The New York Times featured an extended story about the future of the piano in China – along with the future in China of the Steinway piano company, the most famous maker of pianos in the world.
Here is a link to that fascinating story that certainly suggests that the center of the classical piano culture is shifting from Western Europe and North America to Asian and specifically China:
By Jacob Stockinger
This past week, a new record for the world’s largest symphony orchestra was set.
The very big orchestra (below) featured more than 7,500 players, mostly from Europe. who gathered at a soccer stadium in Frankfurt, Germany and played for 45 minutes.
The music included music by Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak as well as lighter fare and pop music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Miles.
The new record – which surpassed the previous one set in Australia in 2013 — has been verified by the famous Guinness Book of World Records and by the German Institute of Records.
Here are links to some stories:
And here is a link to videos and sound samples:
ALERT: The Ear likes to see cooperation and collegiality, especially as the classical music scene in Madison gets busier and more competitive. And cooperation is exactly what he heard this week on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s noon-time show “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland.
Members of the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Handel Aria Competition, which both take place tonight, appeared back-to-back on the show and behaved as true colleagues.
The Willy Street Chamber Players said their program of Tchaikovsky s “Souvenir of Florence” and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw should run about an hour — from 6 to 7 p.m. — and that they would do everything possible (less talking perhaps?) to make sure audience members could also attend the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and is held in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival, which takes place this week.
Here is a link with more details about the Willy Street Chamber Players:
And here is a link to the Handel Aria Competition.
By Jacob Stockinger
Get out your datebooks.
Most of the major classical music organizations and presenters in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater to name a few — have already announced their new seasons for 2016-27.
And now the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted its calendar of concerts for the new season, most of which take place in Mills Hall (below) on its website.
To be clear, there are few specific programs listed with composers and works. Sometimes that happens because the programs just aren’t decided yet. And sometimes they aren’t decided because the makeup of some groups – like the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra – aren’t known until school begins in September.
Nonetheless, it is an impressive list that runs into the hundreds when you include student recitals.
Some of the higher profile concerts are ticketed, but most remain FREE to the public.
And you can find out a lot from the calendar, even if it is incomplete and subject to change.
You can see the operas that will be staged by the University Opera – namely Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.”
You can find out about the UW Choral Union (below), which will perform works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein as well as a rarely performed worked based on Walt Whitman by Paul Hindemith.
You can see the groups that will participate in the third annual Brass Fest, including the Stockholm Chamber Brass on its first tour of the U.S.
You can see when virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform as well as when his fellow faculty members will play recitals.
And same goes for the 38th annual Karp Family Labor Day concert on Sept. 5, which officially opens the news season.
There is just so much to choose from!
Here is a link:
ALERT: The Ear reminds you that TODAY is the monthly “Sunday Live From the Chazen” chamber music concert. The program today features UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer, violinist Tyrone Greive (retired concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Michael Keller in music by Edvard Grieg and other Norwegian composers, including songs and sonatas. The live concert starts at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. Admission is FREE. You can also stream it live by using this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Probably the premiere musical event of 2015 was the summer debut of the new group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below).
The critics and audiences agreed: The programs and performances were simply outstanding. Many of the players perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, there Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians and other acclaimed local groups.
Now the second season of five concerts – including one noontime lunch concert — will begin on this coming Friday night, July 8, at 6 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Madison’s near east side.
The first program features regular members and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below).
Beia plays second violin in the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and also serves at concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she performs in the Rhapsodie Quartet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The program includes the lovely “Souvenir of Florence” (1892) by Peter Tchaikovsky and the haunting Entr’acte for String Quartet (2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Dashon Burton). You can hear the Entr’acte in the YouTube video at the bottom. (The Ear hopes one day the group will do Shaw’s “By and By” with strings and a vocalist.)
It’s too bad that the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition is on the same night. You would hope that such conflicts could be avoided in the summer.
Theoretically you can make it to both concerts since the aria competition starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. But it will probably be a hectic scurry from one to the other.
Here is a link to more information about the Handel Aria Competition:
In any case, here is the schedule of the entire second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players.
It is varied and impressive, especially in how it combines old masterpieces with modern and contemporary works. It features pieces by Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg, UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger, George Crumb, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arcangelo Corelli and Georges Enescu :
A season subscription is $50. Individual concerts are $15 except for the Black Angels video art concert, which is $20.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Wednesday night at 7 p.m., on the downtown Capitol Square, marks the opening of what has been billed as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer” — the six annual outdoor summer Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.
They are big because each concert, under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell, last year averaged a weekly crowd of more than 42,000 people, up from 35,000 the previous year, according to the Capitol Police. (The highest was 50,000; the lowest 28,000.)
You should also know that this year the Concerts on The Square will include a generous — maybe, The Ear suspects, even an unprecedented — amount of classical music on June 29, July 6, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 3.
On the programs you will find music by Felix Mendelssohn, Joaquin Turina, Aaron Copland and Ottorino Resphighi (this Wednesday); by Leo Delibes, Peter Tchaikovsky (including the annual and traditional Fourth of July or Independence Day performance of his “1812 Overture”) and Jules Massenet (with famed local Metropolitan Opera singer, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss on July 6); by Paul Dukas, Jean Sibelius, Niels Gade and Antonin Dvorak (on July 13); Ludwig van Beethoven (July 27); Arthur Honegger and Peter Tchaikovsky (Aug. 3).
Here is a link with more information including links to tickets, rules about behavior and seating, and food options:
Even as it prepares for this summer’s six Concerts on the Square, which start Wednesday night, June 26, and run through August 3, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2016-27 indoor Masterworks season of five classical concerts. It is an impressive lineup that features a local violist who has made it big, Vicki Powell, and the very young violin sensation Julian Rhee, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte with a jaw-dropping reading of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, as well as a guitarist and duo-pianists.
Here is a link to more information:
Due to technical difficulties beyond his control at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.
By Jacob Stockinger
The following announcement has been sent for posting by The Ear by the Rural Musicians Forum:
Widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision, violinist Alexander Ayers performs a FREE recital at 7:30 p.m. on this Monday, June 27, in a concert sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater at Taliesin, south of Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Ayers (below, in a photo by O’Brien Photos of Waukesha), a native of Waukesha, Wisconsin, joined the Milwaukee Symphony in 2013. He was previously a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
After studying nine years at the String Academy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee he studied at Indiana University, and in 2006 he won the grand prize of the Milwaukee Symphony Stars of Tomorrow Competition. This resulted in performances of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev with the MSO. He has performed collaboratively with Joshua Bell, Alex Kerr, Jaime Laredo, Gilles Apap and Soovin Kim.
Ayers’ June 27 program is international in scope. It includes works by German-born Ludwig van Beethoven and Parisian Camille Saint-Saens as well as the Belgian violinist and composer Eugene Ysaye and virtuosic Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski, who was regarded by many as an exciting and flamboyant re-incarnation of Niccolo Paganini.
About the concert RMF Artistic Director Kent Mayfield said, “We are honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at Taliesin’s Hillside Theater (below). It provides an especially dramatic but intimate setting for Ayers’ performance which will be totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful.”
Hillside Theater is located at 6604 Highway 23, Spring Green.
The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series.
For additional information and driving directions, see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org
By Jacob Stockinger
It has been a week now.
A very long, hard and emotional week.
The Ear has heard some classical music dedicated to the victims — 49 killed, some 50 wounded and countless traumatized — of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, that took place one week ago. (Below is a vigil in support of the LGBT community.)
Others might choose a standard like the famous “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. It is undeniably moving and perfectly appropriate.
The Ear hears tenderness, gentleness and even love in the music. But in it he also hears strength, resilience and pride as well as sorrow, acceptance and resignation.
Plus, he likes the idea of enigma that is attached to it, given all the issues and questions — terrorism, Islamic radicalization and extremism, homophobia, self-hatred, hate crimes, gun control, protests, mass grieving — that still surround the incident and remain to be solved.
But The Ear is also sure that there is a great deal of other music that would suit the purpose. They include:
The passions, oratorios and cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.
The masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.
The songs of Schubert and arias and choruses from all kinds of operas, but especially those of Giacomo Puccini.
And on and on.
Leave your personal choice, with a YouTube link if possible, and your reason for choosing it in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Does The Ear ever love chamber music!
And it has been a good few days for him and for other Madison fans of string quartets.
On Saturday night, The Ear heard the Ancora String Quartet (below) in outstanding performances of the “Dissonance” Quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the late String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, “Rosamunde,” by Franz Schubert.
Then on Monday night, the Ear heard the terrific Rhapsodie Quartet (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made up of players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, perform the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak followed by the sublime and profound Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp (below bottom) sat in as the extra cellist.
At the Ancora concert, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, made the case that Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet is well known for its apt nickname and is probably the best known or most popular of Mozart’s string quartets.
That got The Ear to thinking:
What are the most well-known and most popular string quartets?
And which string quartets are your favorites that you would recommend to other chamber music fans?
The Ear drew up a list of candidates of the first honor of being well-known.
He suspects that the “Emperor” Quartet — with its famous and infamous slow movement theme that was turned from an homage to the Austrian emperor into an anthem for Nazi Germany — by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet of Schubert and the “American” Quartet of Dvorak all rival or surpass the public reputation of the Mozart’s “Dissonance,” although that one is certainly and deservedly famous to the general public.
As to The Ear’s favorite quartets: The Ear is especially partial to the six early Op. 18 string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which often take a back seat to the same composer’s middle quartets and late quartets. But of the famous last ones, The Ear loves the very last one, Op. 135, with its return to classical structure and clarity.
He also loves all of the Op. 76 string quartets by Haydn (below top) and is especially partial to the “Sunrise” and the “Quinten” or “Fifths” quartets. He also loves Haydn’s earlier Op. 20 “Sun” quartets; and all six string quartets that Mozart (below bottom) composed for and dedicated to Haydn, generally considered the father or the modern string quartet who also played string quartets with himself on violin and Mozart on viola.
The Ear likes Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” well enough, but he is always blown away by Schubert’s last quartet in G major, which was used as a soundtrack in Woody Allen’s great movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
He also loves the lyrical quartets on Dvorak (below), especially the Op. 51 “Slavonic” as well as the “American.” (You can hear the opening of the “Slavonic” String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
As for Johannes Brahms, The Ear prefers the string quintets and string sextets to the string quartets.
Francophile that he is, The Ear also loves the single string quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Among other modern string quartets, he loves the third and fifth of Bela Bartok, the second one by Sergei Prokofiev and the eight and 11th by Dmitri Shostakovich. He also adds the String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass.
Well, that’s enough for today and for this post.
What string quartet do you think is the most famous or most popular?
And which string quartets are your favorites?
Leave word, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.