ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume this week after a break for Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays. This Friday, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., pianist Olivia Musat will perform music by Olivier Messiaen, Isaac Albeniz and Paul Constantinesco.
By Jacob Stockinger
It seems a tradition throughout the media to offer a roundup of the Year’s Best with a local slant.
The Ear already offered a national and international roundup. Here is a link to that, especially to the surprisingly rich roundup that he unexpectedly found on Wikipedia:
For a more local perspective, The Ear trusts and generally agrees with critic John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog and more often for Isthmus.
Here is a link to Barker’s list of memorable concerts in the Madison area, Because Isthmus mixes classical with other genres like pop, folk and jazz, you have to scroll down to “Classical cornucopia”:
Although I agree with all the concerts that Barker mentions, he left out some that The Ear really loved. One was the absolutely riveting and moving performance in November by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain of the momentous Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
For example just about everything that the Pro Arte Quartet does at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is first-rate and memorable, whether they play in Mills Hall or on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen Museum of Art.”
But this past fall, a free noontime concert by the Pro Arte with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher especially stood out. Together (below), they performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms – an unquestionable masterpiece in an unforgettable performance.
The Ear would also add two events, both violin recitals, at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Last spring Hilary Hahn (below top, in a photo by Peter Miller) turned in a stunningly superb recital. Then this fall, superstar Joshua Bell (below bottom) did the same. Both artists displayed terrific musicality combined with terrific virtuosity in generous and first-rate, ambitious programs.
He would add several summer concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, especially the sizzling dueling violin concert (below) where the BDDS interspersed “The Four Seasons” buy Antonio Vivaldi with “The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.
The Ear would also add an experimental concert at which UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) unveiled his reworked two-keyboard “Hyperpiano.” While the concert, which featured the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, wasn’t successful musically, it certainly was intriguing, unusual and highly memorable, even with imperfect digital technology.
And The Ear also recalls a fine concert by the Rhapsodie Quartet (below) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center.
And let’s not forget the University Opera’s production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi that was impressively and successfully updated to Hollywood by director David Ronis.
The Ear is sure there are more memorable concerts that escape him right now. Madison just features so much wonderful music-making in the course of a year.
Moreover, The Ear is also sure you have your favorites – whether they are individual plays; small chamber music groups such as duos, string quartets and piano trios; larger ensembles like the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater; or entire events like the UW Brass Festival.
I am sure that fans of the innovative percussion group Clocks in Motion and the acclaimed Madison Choral Project have a concert or two to nominate.
So please use the COMMENT section to tell us what were your most memorable classical concerts in Madison during 2016.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Bill Lutes in a solo recital. The program includes the “Papillons” (Butterflies) by Robert Schumann and the final Sonata in B-Fat Major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert. The program runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
For more information about Bill Lutes and his series of recitals, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
This weekend, the Madison Choral Project (below top), Madison’s professional choir under the direction of Albert Pinnsoneault (below bottom), a former Edgewood College professor who now teaches at Northwestern University, will present two performances of its fourth annual Holiday-themed program “I Was Glad.”
The performances are on Friday, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday Dec. 17, at 3 p.m. Both performances will be held at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org, or at the door.
(Preferred Seating is $40, General Admission is $24/$28 and Students are $10)
The concerts feature a carefully curated selection of vocal music and readings, with the intent to lead the listener along a sublime journey of music and text.
Madison Choral Project is will partner again with Wisconsin Public Radio’s news editor Noah Ovshinsky (below), who will perform readings from works of Tim O’Brien, Billy Collins, William Wordsworth and others.
The Madison Choral Project will sing an eclectic mix of holiday-themed music in four sets, ranging from the 17th century to brand new compositions.
The program features two exciting world premieres by Eric Barnum (below top), the choral director at UW-Oshkosh, and MCP’s Composer in Residence, Jasper Alice Kaye (below bottom).
The first set of pieces, “Welcome to the Holy Space,” includes A Child’s Prayer by James MacMillan, Sanctus from Mass in G by Francis Poulenc and Our Father by Alexandre Gretchaninoff.
The second set, “Winter Comforts,” features two new commissions written for Madison Choral Project. Winter by Eric William Barnum will be followed by The Invitation by Jasper Alice Kaye. Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre will finish the set.
The third set, “Glad Tidings,” includes the concert’s titular piece, I Was Glad by C.H.H. Parry (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom), as well as beautiful works by Matthew Culloton, William Dawson and Jan Sandstrøm.
The final set, “Gathering and Blessing,” contains joyous settings of familiar texts set by Francis Poulenc, Ludwig van Beethoven, and arranger John Ferguson.
For more information or tickets, go to www.themcp.org.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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.
The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.
Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:
“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m.
“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”
“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”
The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:
Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum
Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion
Banaha — Congolese folk song
MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR
Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum
“Riflemen of Bennington“ Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum
HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR
Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano
Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler
THE MADISON BOYCHOIR
Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors
Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)
Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason
“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)
“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”
About 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.”
For further information, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464
By Jacob Stockinger
The acclaimed Madison Choral Project (below top), under the direction of its founder and conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom) — who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University — will present two performances of its third annual holiday concert, “A Procession of Angels,” this weekend.
The popular Holiday program will be performed twice in Madison; this Friday night, Dec. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Ave. and again on Sunday night, Dec. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, 110 N. Gammon Rd.
The concerts feature Christmas music, as well as music from other traditions, and TWO WORLD PREMIERES of new compositions: “My Brilliant Image” by Madison composer and MCP singer Jasper Alice Kay (below top); and a new arrangement of “Deck the Hall” by the award-winning composer Jocelyn Hagen (below bottom). Other guests artists are also featured.
Wisconsin Public Radio‘s news director Noah Ovshinsky (below) again joins the MCP to read selected texts that relate to the theme of the concert. There will also be a chance for the audience to join in on some holiday sing-alongs.
Music by composers such as Dominick Argento (below top), Felix Mendelssohn (below bottom), Alexander Sheremetev, William Billings, Ola Gjeilo and Kenneth Jennings, among others, will represent many of the points of view that unite the public in reflection upon the season.
Also featured is John Aley (below), a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of music and the virtuoso principal trumpet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and the reading of texts by William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hildegard von Bingen as well as from the Bible and from the mystic Sufi Arabic and Persian poets Ibn Arabi and Rumi.
The Madison Choral Project, founded in 2012, is Madison’s professional choir. Its 22 voices are made up of professional singers, teachers and graduate students from the Madison Area.
The MCP says it “is committed in its mission to enrich lives in our community by giving voice to the great music of our diverse world; to express, to inspire, to heal; to garner joy in the experience of live music; and to educate and strengthen the next generation of singers and listeners.”
Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org as well as at the door of each performance venue. ($25 at the door, $20 advance tickets and $10 student tickets with student I.D.)
For more information, visit: http://themcp.org
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.
Here is the link to the original posting:
And here is his clarification:
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.
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 …
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.
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!
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.
“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.
“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