The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The last of this summer’s FREE Farmers’ Market organ concerts takes place this Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall

August 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The last of the three monthly FREE organ concerts that the Madison Symphony Orchestra puts on during the summer for the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturdays will take place this Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

Overture Organ close up CRE ZaneWilliams

The hour-long program will feature local musician Mark Brampton Smith (below).

Mark Brampton Smith

Brampton Smith holds degrees in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. Past teachers have included William Watkins, Russell Saunders, and Robert Glasgow (organ); Vincent Lenti (piano); and Edward Parmentier (harpsichord).

Currently the organist at Grace Episcopal Church (below), he has served on the music staff of churches in seven states. He has won prizes in the Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor and American Guild of Organists National Competitions.

grace episcopal church ext

As a collaborative pianist, he has worked with numerous singers, instrumentalists and ensembles, including the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, University of Michigan choirs, Colgate University Chorus, and the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

His program includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Roger-Ducasse, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and others. Sorry, but specific titles of the works to be performed were not sent to The Ear. But you can hear a sample of Jean-Roger Ducasse in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information about this and other Farmers’ Market organ concerts, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/farmers


Classical music: Great choral singing by the Madison Chamber Choir and the Madison Choral Project should serve great choral music – and fewer second-rate novelties

May 25, 2016
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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 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Two of the city’s important choral groups joined forces for a program presented at the First Congregational United Church of Christ last Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University, and who is the director of both groups, conducted.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Each group had its own showcase in the program’s first half.

The Madison Chamber Choir (below) led off with the “Serenade to Music,” a setting of lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which Ralph Vaughan Williams  composed in 1938 for 16 of his favorite singers, with orchestra. He adapted this for full chorus, but that transition did not quite produce a work truly choral in character.

The choir sang the beautiful work very handsomely, but the substitution for the orchestra of a piano accompaniment was uncomfortable and, indeed, a disruption of diction. (You can hear the original version for chorus and orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Madison Chamber Choir JWB

The Madison Choral Project (below top) came next with a performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes” by the late David Baker (1931-2016, below middle).

Baker was a noted scholar and promoter of jazz, and his goal was a “fusion” of jazz with classical forms. To the five composed poems, Pinsonneault added readings of poems written by five young participants (below bottom) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project activities in cultural and educational support.

Madison Choral Project JWB

David Baker

Madison Choral Project jazz Odyssey student JWB

All this represents noble and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of disadvantaged African-Americans. But high ideals do not necessarily guarantee artistic achievement. Baker uses a combo of five instrumentalists, which bangs away behind the choir, hardly “fusing” anything in styles—neither honest jazz nor multicultural synthesis.

Madison Choral Project jazz drum and bass JWB

The choir, in its turn, sings mightily at music of generally simplistic technique — mostly unisons and chordal declamations. There is little to remember or admire, once the “messages” have worn off.

Fortunately, the intermission yielded to the one work of substance on the program, the Mass for Double Choir, by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below), a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles that is better appreciated in Europe than here.

Frank Martin

For this, the two choirs (below) merged, then divided into the requisite two components.

Martin’s writing is subtle, and his juxtaposition of the two choirs is not just antiphonal but artfully varied in their interaction—to which is added a great deal of harmonic experimentation. This is one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century.

Pinsonneault and his 57 choristers gave it a glorious performance, showing what this conductor can do to make great choral sound out of great choral music.

Madison Chamber Choir and Madison Choral Project combined JWB

The final programmed piece was a somewhat pretentious setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) of a ballad by poet Robert Burns. As an encore, the singers perpetrated a glitzy, but uncredited, arrangement of “Loch Lomond”—the only piece that brought the audience to its feet.

James MacMillan headshot

This concert was an undeniable testimony to the splendid choral groups we have here, and to what Pinsonneault is accomplishing with these groups. But I kept returning to the dichotomy at which I hinted earlier.

Choral singing is a wonderful activity both to listen to and to participate in, and I share some of the enthusiasm for that. But I wonder how many in the audience were there seeking great CHORAL singing. I was there seeking great choral MUSIC.

Our choirs can give us the former, no question, and audiences can justly admire it. But has all this musical talent been applied responsibly to the latter? How much do our choral programs deal with trivia and little sweetmeats, rather than digging into the vast literature of magnificent choral art?


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project and the Madison Chamber Choir will give a joint concert of music by Frank Martin, Ralph Vaughan Williams and more this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

May 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice, which is noteworthy on several counts artistic, educational and social:

On Friday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, May 22, at 2:30 p.m., two Madison choirs join forces on a unique pair of fantastic concerts.

The two performances will take place at the First Congregational Church of Madison, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org as well as at the door. Admission is $25 at the door, $20 in advance; students are$10 student with student I.D)

The conductor will be of Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University.

albert pinsonneault Edgewood mug BW

The Madison Choral Project (below top) and the Madison Chamber Choir (below bottom) will team up for the first time to present the transcendentally beautiful “Mass for Double Choir” by Frank Martin.

Madison Choral Project color

Madison Chamber Choir 1 BIGGER

The Mass for Double Choir (1926) by Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below) is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century choral music. Lush and gorgeous, with sweeping melodies, it is brilliant vocal writing on a grand scale. The 25-minute Martin Mass is truly a symphony for voices. (You can hear the “Agnus Dei” movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Frank Martin

The two choirs will also present “The Gallant Weaver” for three soprano soloists and a cappella (unaccompanied) choir by Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) and Jonathan Quick‘s arrangement of the Scottish folk tune “Loch Lomond.”

James MacMillan headshot

The choirs will additionally perform separately, with the Madison Chamber Choir singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’Serenade to Music,” and the Madison Choral Project performing David Baker’s “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.”

Jazz icon David Baker (1931-2016, below) set text of poet Mari Evans (b. 1923) in “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.” The poetry describes five tableaux or scenes from the perspective of the underprivileged in America.

The music is jazz-derived, with voices joined by a full rhythm section of string bass, drums, and piano as well as flute and guitar.

David Baker

During the performance of the Baker piece, students from UW-Odyssey Project (below) will recite original works, giving a local voice to complement the poems of Mari Evans. The UW-Odyssey Project serves adults near the poverty level.

Odyssey students have gone from homelessness to become college graduates, and from incarceration to doing meaningful work in the community. We are especially excited to share their voices in our concert.

UW Odyssey Project


Classical music: Choral director Albert Pinsonneault clarifies his “move” to Northwestern University. He will continue to live in Madison and still conduct the Madison Choral Project.

May 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, The Ear posted notice about the Madison-based choral director Albert Pinsonneault (below), the Edgewood College professor who wanted to clarify some things about his new job at Northwestern University, near Chicago, and what it means for Madison.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Here is the link to the original posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/classical-music-choral-conductor-albert-pinsonneault-is-leaving-edgewood-college-and-madison-for-a-new-job-at-northwestern-university/

And here is his clarification:

albert pinsonneault Edgewood mug BW

Dear Jake and readers of The Ear,

Thank you for this gracious send-off, but it is too early!

I am committed to continuing my work in Madison, including the forthcoming seasons of the Madison Choral Project, and hopefully, the Madison Chamber Choir.

albert pinsonneault conducting BW

My family and I adore Madison, and I am very proud to support our arts landscape here.

The administration at Northwestern has graciously arranged my schedule to make living in both cities a possibility in the short-term.

They are also highly supportive of my continuing work with MCP, and see that connection as a positive for both myself and for Northwestern.  My new colleague, Director of Choral Organizations Donald Nally, also is Artistic Director of a professional choir in Philadelphia (called “The Crossing,” which just won the Margaret Hillis award), so this isn’t too bizarre of a notion.

We love Madison and don’t want to say goodbye just yet …

Thanks,

Bert


Classical music: Choral conductor Albert Pinsonneault is leaving Edgewood College and Madison for a new job at Northwestern University.

May 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last week, it was a critically acclaimed performance of music by Gian Carlo Menotti by the Madison Chamber Choir.

At the end of this month, it is two performances of a concert by the Madison Choral Project with guest conductor Dale Warland.

Now both appear to be farewell concerts to Albert Pinsonneault (below), a professor at Edgewood College who is the choral director of Madison Chamber Choir and the Madison Choral Project as well as assistant choral director for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s chorus.

Pinsonneault (below) has been named Associate Director of Choral Organizations at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, near Chicago. He will take up his new post this fall.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Here is his how Pinsonneault posted the move on Facebook:

“I am so excited to announce that I will be joining the faculty of the Bienen School of Music as Associate Director of Choral Organizations at Northwestern University next fall!

I could not be more honored to work alongside Donald Nally NU, and the amazing student-musicians in the Northwestern University Choirs.”

And here is the official press release from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University:

“The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University announces the appointment of Dr. Albert Pinsonneault (PEN-son-oh) as Associate Director of Choral Organizations.

“Dr. Pinsonneault will join the faculty Fall 2015, conducting Northwestern’s University Singers and teaching choral literature at the graduate level, part-time. He will also assist in various musical activities of the expanding choral program at the Bienen School of Music, working closely with Director of Choral Organizations Dr. Donald Nally.

albert pinsonneault Edgewood mug BW

“Dr. Pinsonneault is founder and artistic director of the professional chamber choir Madison Choral Project, as well as assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Chorus. From 2009 to 2015 he served as Associate Professor of Music at Edgewood College.  A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, he attended St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota before completing his doctoral study at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) of the University of Cincinnati.

albert pinsonneault conducting BW

“Dr. Pinsonneault’s scholarship focuses on choral blend and intonation, the physical/kinesthetic act of conducting and the music of F. Melius Christiansen.  His book, “Choral Intonation Exercises,” is published by Graphite Publishing.”

The Ear offers hearty Congratulations to Albert Pinsonneault, who has proven a tireless and gifted advocate for choral music. Madison’s loss is his gain and Northwestern University’s gain.

I am sure he will appreciate it if you leave word for Pinsonneault about his work in the COMMENTS column of this blog

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Chamber Choir plus instrumentalists turn in a beautiful and memorable performance of a too rarely heard “madrigal fable” by Gian Carlo Menotti.

May 17, 2015
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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 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. Barker also provided performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Madison Chamber Choir (below) delivered a true spring treat on Friday evening at the First Presbyterian Church downtown.

Madison Chamber Choir singers and players performing JWB

The curtain-raiser was a group of Four Pastorales by American composer Cecil Effinger (below), to texts by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. The poems are varied and sensitive, and are set with a good feeling for choral texture.

Cecil Effinger

The catch is that Effinger composed an obbligato part for a single instrument (oboe or, as here, clarinet) that is generally irrelevant musically and even a hindrance at times to choral projection and diction. It may have been partly the composer’s fault, but the diction could have been more clearly delivered, too. (Hit those consonants, folks!)

Diction issues were somewhat lessened, thanks to the composer’s care, in the major work of the concert.

Gian Carlo Menotti (below) was at a creative peak in 1956, when he created his work for 10 dancers, nine instrumentalists, and chorus, entitled The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, or the Three Sundays of a Poet. He called this a “madrigal fable,” using the Renaissance form of the “madrigal comedy,” in which action is conveyed without soloists but by the choir.

This Italian idiom of the late 16th-century was something Menotti apparently discovered as he mastered Renaissance polyphonic style for the choruses in his supreme opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954)—following his triumphs of The Consul (1950) and Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).

Gian Carlo Menotti

As always, Menotti wrote his own text, which reflects on the phases of the creative life (as represented by the three animals), but also satirizes the shallow understanding and reflexive faddism of ordinary folk. In the process, he showed how wonderfully he had mastered the elements of colloquial American speech patterns.

And, above all, he put this in music that combines hilarious comedy with extraordinarily moving poetry.

I know of only one prior performance of this gem of a work in Madison, by the UW-Madison Madrigal Singers, in April of 2001, and it included the dance dimension.

Dancers were not involved in this latest production, but the music still carried the work brilliantly. The nine instrumentalists (below, on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, cello, double bass and harp) were excellent.

Madison Chamber Choir Menotti iinstrumentalists JWB

The chorus of 33 voices (below) sang with superb sonority and ensemble. You could see them relishing the humor as well as the pathos.

Madison Chamber Choir singers Menotti 2 JWB

And credit is due for the church’s fine acoustics especially in furthering the richness of choral sound.

Conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and heads up the Madison Choral Project, led with confidence and obvious delight.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

It really pains me that so wonderful a work as this is so little known and — partly for practical reasons — so rarely performed. Nothing but gratitude is due these performers for bringing it to life for us this time. And the quite sizable audience expressed that gratitude in a prolonged ovation.

Madison Chamber Choir Menotti players and singers JWB

 


Classical music: The Madison Chamber Choir will perform Menotti’s madrigal fable “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore” this Friday night. On Tuesday night, The Empire Brass and organist Douglas Major perform at the Overture Center.

May 11, 2015
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A REMINDER: Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m, in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, the Empire Brass (below left) will perform a mostly Baroque program with guest organist Douglas Major (below right). Composers on the program include Johann Sebastian Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Henry Purcell and Michael Praetorius. Here is link to the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s website with the complete program and background information:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/empire

Empire BRrass with Douglas Major

By Jacob Stockinger

Larger groups and presenters such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra , the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the University Opera have finished their concert seasons.

Soon the major summer events — the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival and  Opera in the Park — will take place.

But not before smaller groups, who are still winding up their season, have finished.

The Ear has received the follow announcement:

Dear Friends,

I’d like to make you aware of an upcoming concert by the Madison Chamber Choir (below).

The concert is this Friday night, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.

Admission is a $10 suggested donation.

Madison Chamber Choir 1 BIGGER

The program features “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore” by the Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti (below), most famous perhaps for establishing the Spoleto Festival and for his Christmas TV opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” You can hear excerpts from the “Unicorn” in a YouTube video at the bottom.

The work is described as a “madrigal fable about an odd poet his strange pets and the shallow whims of his faddish neighbors.” Assorted guest chamber instrumentalists will join the choir for the cantata.

Gian Carlo Menotti

The artistic director of the Madison Chamber Choir is Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and directs the Madison Choral Project.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Here is a link to the choir’s website about the concert:

http://www.madisonchamberchoir.net/performances/

And here is a link to a sample of the choir’s singing:

http://www.madisonchamberchoir.net/media/

Menotti poster


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