The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Madison Youth Choirs Presents the Fifth FREE Annual Madison Boychoir Festival this coming Saturday afternoon at West High School.

February 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Youth Choirs write:

The Madison Youth Choirs, in close collaboration with the Madison Metropolitan School District and with special support from Edgewood College, will present the fifth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival on this coming Saturday afternoon, Feb. 7, at Madison West High School. (Below is the festival poster logo. For details, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org)

BoyChoir Festival logo 2015 2

The festival is a daylong celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community. Hundreds of young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, delving beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music.

Admission is FREE to the Madison Boychoir Festival Concert on this coming Saturday, February 7, at 12:30 p.m. in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash Street, Madison, WI 53726

Boychoir Festival 2014

Madison Youth Choirs conductors, as well as Madison Choral Project Director Albert Pinsonneault (below) and MCP guest artists, will work with singers on vocal technique, teach music for the festival’s afternoon concert (no advance preparation for the festival is necessary for the participants), encourage singers to meet new people, and most importantly, generate enthusiasm about choral music.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Rehearsals will take place in classrooms at Madison West and will be open for observation by music educators, voice teachers, parents, and chaperones in attendance.

Here are the program and performers:

COMBINED CHOIRS Plato’s Take (sung in Greek) 
YOUTH CHOIR (Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion)

Randal Swiggum

Take Time in Life Traditional Liberian folk song

MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR (Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano)
Feste’s Song (from Twelfth Night) Traditional, arr. Swiggum

Words by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR (Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano) Spaséniye sodjélalye sí (Salvation is Created) Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944)

(sung in Russian)

THE MADISON BOYCHOIR (Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors)
 Ayo visto lo mappa mundi, Anonymous, ca. 1450, Naples

Cindy Cameron-Fix, recorder; Elspeth Stalter, Paran Amirinazari, violins; Marie Pauls, viola; Lindsay Crabb, cello

COMBINED CHOIRS
 One Man’s Hands as sung by Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

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 Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.

ABOUT THE 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 500 young people, ages 7-18, in 11 single-gender choirs.

Our singers explore the history, context and heart of the music, becoming “expert noticers,” using music as a lens to discover the world. Through a variety of high-quality community outreach programs and performance opportunities, MYC strives to make the benefits of arts participation accessible to all.

For further information: Contact Madison Youth Choirs at www.info@madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464.


Classical music: The Ear likes very old Christmas music more than newer music. What do you prefer?

December 22, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year in the Madison area there are so many wonderful concerts with holiday themes performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Choral Project, the Madison Bach Musicians, Edgewood College and by many, many others  that you just can’t get to all of them.

And it doesn’t help if you have a winter cold or aren’t feeling well, as happened this year to The Ear.

But I did get to two memorable performances.

The first was the terrific annual Choral Prism holiday concert (below) put on at Luther Memorial Church by various choirs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They performed under several conductors, including Beverly Taylor, Bruce Gladstone, Anna Volodarskaya and Sara Guttenberg.

UW Prism 2014 singers 1

UW Prism 2014 crowd

The second was the satisfying “Welcome Yule” concert at Grace Episcopal Church by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir under conductor Robert Gehrenbeck, who also teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

WCC Welcome Yule 2014

Both events were excellent, and drew full and enthusiastic houses.

A lot of beautiful music in a wide variety of styles was offered by each of the two groups. That included homages to the St. Paul, Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below), who died at 64 this past year and who had close ties to Madison’s vocal groups that commissioned and performed his music. And because programs strive for ethnic diversity today, spirituals and jazz arrangements were also included. (I often cringe when I see something has been “arranged.”)

stephen paulus

But when all was said and done, the “winners” so to speak –- for The Ear at least -– were the old ones. I mean the very old ones, generally those works dating from the Medieval period and Renaissance period over the Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary eras with the Baroque falling somewhere in between.

Why did I like the old music so much?

One reason was the performances. The straight-ahead singing, mostly a cappella or unaccompanied but sometimes with a bit of percussive drum or lyrical harp added, was much more convincing than when I saw modern largely white singers stiffly swaying and awkwardly stomping their feet and clapping the hands to get into the swing of things and show some unconvincing imitation of gospel singing.

But I started thinking.

Maybe it goes back to the Bible and that old verse about “The Word made Flesh.”

That seems a much more successful formula for effective Christmas music than the modern approach, which I am starting to think of as “The Flesh made Word.”

That means that what gets to me is the very simplicity, the strength of the rhythms and melodies as well as the simpler harmonies and compositional techniques.

Simpler is simply better. No better proof was offered that a souped-up jazz arrangement of “Silent Night.” That venerable and quietly emotional carol cannot be improved upon by complicating it. Keep it simple. That seems to be the way to go. Another case of inferior “arranging,” I am afraid.

I think of the old Medieval hymns about a mother simply rocking her baby Jesus to sleep as she sings to him. Can there be anything more touching or poignant, more to the point or direct, especially at a historical period when there was no nighttime lighting and so many babies died.

More than nostalgia, such music offers the art of reducing things to the essential. And the essential, as the old composers seemed to know, is often the path to the universal.

Of course, the plain song or chant-like harmonies also add to the appeal.

But it still goes back to simplicity of the act and the simplicity of the metaphor.

That is why the great 20th-century modern English composer Benjamin Britten (below) used so many older carols in his “Ceremony of Carols” to such great effect.

Benjamin Britten

That is also why 100 times out of 100 I will prefer the simple 16th-century German tune “Lo how a Rose Ere Blooming” (at bottom in a YouTube video) over, say, the long and tedious “Magnificat” No. 20 with its overworked harmonies and complexities for chorus and organ by another 20th-century English composer Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

What do you make of the old music versus new music debate when it comes to holiday music?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

And what is your favorite local holiday concert  to recommend for next year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plus choirs and soloists offer a FREE carol concert this Saturday night at the Orpheum Theater.

December 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you are still looking for seasonal and holiday music events to attend, The Ear has received word of a fine one that is SHORT and FREE.

Scott Foss (below) — the accomplished, congenial and generous music director of the First United Methodist Church in Madison who has been a longtime music advocate and participant in Madison — writes:

Scott Foss

Hi Jake:

I am writing in regard to our FREE family-friendly, sacred music holiday concert “Celebration of Carols” by Joseph M. Martin. (You can hear some of the cantata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)  It is coming up this Saturday night from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the landmark Orpheum Theater (below are photos of the exterior as well as the stage and interior of the restored historic theater). It is located at 216 State Street, across from the Overture Center.

Orpheum Theatre Madison EXT

Orpheum Theatre INT

We had our first rehearsal yesterday with the combined choirs and it really is going to be terrific.

I will conduct the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — the orchestra for the concert — and it will be fabulous as always.

WCO lobby

The choirs sounded awesome. And you know that the two soloists — my wife, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss (below top), who has performed Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine, and tenor J. Adam Shelton (below bottom) — will sing beautifully.

Kitt Reuter-Foss

J. Adam Shelton 2

I’m really excited to bring this FREE public program to downtown Madison.

As you know, the First United Methodist Church has been a home to countless classical music groups and theater groups — Four Seasons Theatre, Forward Theatre, the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the VSA Choir, the Madison Choral Project, Isthmus Brass, The Kat Trio — all either are currently or have in the past used our space for rehearsals.

And we always give it away for free as part of our ministry to downtown Madison where affordable rehearsal space is very difficult to find.

Plus, an understanding of the arts and how important they are to Madison and Dane County is in our DNA. The Isthmus Brass is giving a free concert in our sanctuary on Thursday night of this week. (I’ll be conducting the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in Baraboo that night in one of their three performances of “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, so I won’t be there).

So I had this idea that we should not only present house arts groups but also that we should be able to present art in a way that any and all in Madison could access it — in a beautiful space and beautifully performed.

Our church foundations agreed and they are financing the event — more than $10,000 to make this music available.

We hope you and others can attend.


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates the holidays and the Winter Solstice on this Saturday with reading, carols and music.

December 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project’s founder and music director Albert Pinsonneault (below) writes:

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Hi Jake!

Here is information about the Madison Choral Project’s upcoming concert: “O Day Full of Grace” on this coming Saturday, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, Madison.

The concert will feature the 22-voice professional chamber choir the Madison Choral Project (below to), and readings from Noah Ovshinsky (below bottom) of Wisconsin Public Radio, as well as audience sing-along carols.

Madison Choral Project color

Noah Ovshinsky

Tickets are $20 online or $25 at the door.

Here is a link for tickets: http://themcp.org/tickets/

Here is a link to the Madison Choral Project general website: http://themcp.org

And here is the complete program:

– Reading from Ovid’s “Amores”

– Carol with Audience: “Once in Royal David’s City

SET 1: THERE WILL BE LIGHT

– “Benedictus Dominus” by Ludwig Daser (1525-1589)

– “Die mit Tränen Säen” by Johann Schein (1586-1630)

– “Helig” from “Die Deutche Liturgie” by Felix Mendelssohn (below, 1809-1847)

mendelssohn_300

SET 2: UNDERSTANDING THROUGH LOVE

– “Mary Speaks” by Nathaniel Gawthrop (b. 1949)

– Reading from Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”

– “The Gallant Weaver” by James MacMillan (b. 1959)

– “Entreat Me Not To Leave You” by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

– Carol with Audience: “Silent Night”

INTERMISSION

SET 3: HAVE JOY NOW

– Reading from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

– “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” arr. Dale Grotenhuis (1932-2012)

– “Away in a Manger,” arr. Bradley Ellingboe (b. 1958)

– “Ding Dong! Merrily on High,” arr. Carolyn Jennings (b. 1929)

SET 4: AT THE END OF DAYS, GRACE

– Reading, e.e.cummings’ “i thank you”

– “O Day Full of Grace” by F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1945)

– Reading Ranier Maria Rilke‘s “Sunset”

– Carol with Audience: “Day Is Done”

– “The Long Day Closes” by Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), which can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.

ENCORE

– “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” by Moses Hogan (1957-2003)

 


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates receiving tax-exempt status with a fundraiser on Nov. 2 and announces its new season, which features the renowned choral conductor Dale Warland.

October 10, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will run 12:15 to 1 p.m. and feature classical guitarist Steve Waugh (below) playing music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Jorma Kaukonen, Francisco Tarrega, Rodgers and Hart, and more. This concert is in the Landmark Auditorium.

Steve Waugh

By Jacob Stockinger

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who founded and directs the Madison Choral Project, writes:

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Dear Friends,

I am so proud to share with you some amazing news:

The Madison Choral Project is the newest official 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit in the state of Wisconsin!

We couldn’t have done it without you!  All future donations to us are tax-exempt — as are past donations, retroactive to August of 2013.

Help us celebrate!

We are hosting our second annual Gala Event and Fundraiser on Sunday, November 2, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Hotel RED on the corner of Monroe and Regent streets near the UW-Madison Badger’s Camp Randall Stadium.

There will be live music from MCP musicians from 3 to 4 p.m.; a silent auction with many unique items from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; light appetizers served and a cash bar; and many amazing people to meet!

CLICK HERE to learn more about our event and to purchase tickets!

If you have an item that you would like to donate to our silent auction, contact us by replying to this message!

With all our thanks,

The Madison Choral Project

Madison Choral Project color

THE NEW SEASON

And here is the coming three-concert season of the MCP:

The Madison Choral Project (MCP) has announced its third season, which features internationally renowned choral conductor Dale Warland (below), and notable local artists Martha Fischer, Bruce Bengtson, Noah Ovshinsky and the Madison Youth Choirs.

Dale Warland

CONCERT 1: “O Day Full of Grace,” MCP’s second annual holiday concert, opens the season on Saturday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational Church of Christ in Madison, 1609 University Ave.  It will feature an evening of traditional holiday music, secular music, narrated texts and audience singing all surrounding the theme of a transformative time, place or experience.

MCP is again partnering with Noah Ovshinsky (below), Assistant News Editor at Wisconsin Public Radio, who will narrate readings interposed amongst the musical selections.

Noah Ovshinsky

CONCERT 2: The stunning and sublime Requiem by French composer Gabriel Faure (below top) will headline the choir’s second concert, which will also feature the striking “Te Deum” of contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below bottom) on Saturday, February 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church. (You can hear the opening of James Macmillan’s “Te Deum” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure-1

James MacMilllan

MCP is partnering with organist Bruce Bengtson, Director of Music at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, on both the Faure and MacMillan.

February is also the culmination of a period of educational exchange between MCP and the Madison Youth Choirs, and this concert will include a performance by the Ragazzi (below, in a photo by Dan Sinclair) and Cantabile ensembles of the Madison Youth Choirs, both alone and in a combined work with the MCP singers.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi by Dan Sinclair

CONCERT 3: The season will close on Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Christ under the direction of renowned guest conductor Dale Warland, and collaborating pianist Martha Fischer (below left, with her husband pianist Bill Lutes), Professor of Piano and head of the graduate collaborative piano program at the University of Wisconsin.

martha fischer and bill lutes

This concert marks Warland’s first return to conduct in Madison in 20 years.

Dale Warland is considered one of the most influential American choral musicians of all time, and is one of only two choral conductors to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

He founded the pioneering choral ensemble, the Dale Warland Singers, in 1972.  The group was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance in 2003, and their 29 commercial CDs remain standard issue for choral conductors and educators around the country.

Tickets for the 2014-2015 season are available online at www.themcp.org, and at the door before each concert.  Discounted student tickets are available with a valid student ID.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Easter music abounds. The UW Concert Choir and UW Chamber Orchestra convey the strength of Bach’s “St. John Passion,” despite some serious problems. The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor tonight and Saturday night. Plus, the UW Madrigal Singers give FREE concert of Orlando di Lasso on Saturday night.

April 18, 2014
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TWO ALERTS

Some perfect music for Easter is on tap this weekend:

Tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., the acclaimed early music and period-instrument group the Madison Bach Musicians, joined by the Madison Choral Project and guests vocal soloists and instrumentalists, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental Mass in B Minor, first at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and then at the First Unitarian Society of Madison in the new Atrium Auditorium. Both performances feature MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson giving a pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are selling fast. Here is a link to an earlier post with more details about the performances and the music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/classical-music-qa-the-mass-in-b-minor-is-perfect-music-for-easter-it-reconciles-catholicism-and-protestantism-and-is-a-distillation-of-bachs-cantatas-and-passions-says-trevor-stephe/ 

On Saturday night at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW Madrigal Singers, under director Bruce Gladstone, will perform the “Lagrime di San Pietro” (Tears of St. Peter) by Orlando di Lasso (below), one of the greatest composers of the late Renaissance. Completed just weeks before di Lasso died, the “Lagrime” consists of 21 pieces for seven voices; 20 spiritual madrigals in Italian and a concluding motet in Latin. The poetry describes the remorse and anguish Peter suffered after he denied Christ, and though the subject matter is sacred, the emotional content – betrayal, disappointment, remorse and forgiveness – are universally human.

Orlando di Lasso

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Passion According to St. John” occupied the composer Johann Sebastian Bach (below) for over three decades as a work-in-progress, one that he never really completed in definitive form. Yet editors are able to make a workable compromise version of it that allows us to appreciate its dramatic power—very different from the broader, more contemplative character of his “St. Matthew Passion.”

Bach1

Despite the frenzied musical schedule of the weekend of Palm Sunday, this work was an entirely appropriate choice for a performance on last Saturday night by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra (both below), all under the direction of Beverly Taylor.

Concert Choir

UW Chamber Orchestra entire

But there were problems, and they could not be overlooked.

First of all, there was the chorus, 32 singers strong, which made a mighty sound. Nevertheless, choral director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below) followed a doctrine subscribed to by many choral conductors, requiring the breaking up of voice sections and the mixing of the singers. That is supposed to make the singers more self-reliant, and produce a greater overall blend.

But one listener’s “blend” is another listener’s “blob.” For all the sonority, this chorus was an amorphous blob, seriously compromising the part writing over which the composer worked so hard, and undermining sectional definition.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

The orchestra started out a bit roughly, with the winds not precisely in pitch with each other at first, and some coarse string playing. These issues were worked out along the way, but difficulties in balances with the singers were recurrent.

The vocal soloists were mostly young.

Solo soprano Emily Weaver (below top) is only a freshman voice major, but her instrument, still in the making, is bright and full of promise. Joshua Sanders (below middle), who sang a small role and two of the three tenor solos, used his strong voice to bellow a bit. Benjamin Schultz (below bottom), both as Pilate and in one of the three bass solos, was hobbled by pallid tone and not always precise pitch.

Emily Weaver

Joshua Sanders

Benjamin Schultz

Two of the soloists, however, were experienced elders. UW baritone Paul Rowe (below top, in a photo by Michael Anderson), on the UW-Madison School of Music voice faculty, made a dignified and authoritative Jesus, but assigning him two of the bass arias disrupted the portrait he made of Jesus. His wife, soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below bottom), was really stretching her lower range to sing the alto solos: in the first one, her weak sound was almost obliterated by the obligatto oboes, though she did recover somewhat for the potent “Es ist vollbracht,” the gamba accompaniment to which was eloquently brought off by Anna Steinoff. (You can hear the aria at the bottom in a YouTube video with Bernarda Fink and conductor John Eliot Gardiner.) 

The Music of Franz Schubert

Cheryl Rowe color 1

Anna Steinhoff

Perhaps the star of the proceedings, though, was tenor Daniel O’Dea, a doctoral student who is already a seasoned professional singer. He has the high, clear voice ideal for the central role of the Evangelist, only briefly succumbing to temptations to shout excitedly towards the end. I am told that this was the first time O’Dea had sung the part of the Evangelist in any Baroque Passion work, but this kind of role could easily become an important specialty for him. As with Rowe, though, it was a wrenching in this performance to have him shift suddenly from narrator to aria soloist at one point.

Daniel O'Dea

It has not been easy for me to rack up all these criticisms. But I take this venture seriously enough to hold it to the generally high level of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s performing standards. And I should not want it to be excused as “just a student performance.” The truth is that Taylor understood the dramatic character of the piece and brought it together in a propulsive totality that did ultimately put across the work’s beauty and power.

Above all, it was a kind of performing experience that the student participants deserved to have.

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Classical Music Q&A: Bach’s Mass in B Minor is perfect music for Easter. It reconciles Catholicism and Protestantism, and is a distillation of Bach’s own Cantatas and Passions, says Trevor Stephenson, the director of the Madison Bach Musicians who, with the Madison Choral Project, will perform the Mass in B Minor on Friday and Saturday nights.

April 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear still remembers fondly the beautiful and moving performance he heard five years ago of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” by the Madison Bach Musicians. 

Since then the MBM has turned in many memorable performances of cantatas and concertos by Bach and other early music on period instruments, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli and George Frideric Handel.

But this Easter weekend will bring a special treat.

The Madison Bach Musicians, will partner with the Madison Choral Project, under Albert Pinsonneault, to perform Bach’s magnificent and monumental Mass in Minor.

Performances are at on this Friday night at 8 pm. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ. And on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, near UW Hospital.

Advance tickets are $20 for adults; $15 for students and seniors over 65; at the door, $25 and $20, respectively. For more information about how to buy advance tickets, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/tickets/

For more information about the music and the performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Stephenson (seen below, in a pre-concert lecture in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), who is a knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining speaker about Baroque music, agreed to an email Q&A about the Mass in B Minor.

Trevor Stephenson lecture at FUS October 2012 by Kent Sweitzer

Where do you place the B Minor Mass with Bach’s enormous body of work and choral music? How does it stand or rank in terms of quality and power to, say, the Passions and Cantatas?

Musicians often talk about their “desert island piece”— the work they would most want to have at hand if they were forced to live on a desert island. For me, the B minor Mass has always been my desert island piece. (But if I could sneak in the Well-Tempered Clavier too, that would be great.)

The Passions are incomparable investigations into the relationship between the human embodiment of divine spirit and the dark machinations of this world. The Passions are also Bach’s great statements on the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of love. (Jesus gave up his life for love of us, and we should in turn give of ourselves to that which we love.)

The Cantatas are the laboratory where Bach worked out–on a nearly weekly basis–the fusion of musical and textual material toward a spiritual end.

The Mass in B minor focuses more on the relationship between—and really the joining of–the metaphysical and the everyday. Just as an example, as Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner (below) points out in his wonderful new book, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” look how the opening of the Credo fuses the gravitas, dignity, and mysticism of plainchant (in the voices) with the elegant, bubbling stride of the baroque bass line. And together these elements create a third thing, beyond themselves, a new joy. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the uplifting and joyous “Gloria” movement, performed by Karl Richter leading the Munich Bach Orchestra.)

John Eliot Gardiner

Why did a devout Lutheran like Bach turn to a Roman Catholic musical form? Is it appropriate to the Easter season, like the Passions and certain cantatas? What kind of liberties does Bach take with it? How does he reinvent it, if he does?

In Bach’s family, the work was often referred to as “The great catholic mass”–precisely because it was not usual Lutheran practice to set the entire Latin mass. The first appearance of the Mass in B minor comes in 1733 when Bach and his family copied out a beautiful set of presentation parts for the Dresden court–which had not only one of the greatest orchestras and vocal ensembles in Europe, but was also a Catholic court.

I’ve always felt that Bach’s Mass in B minor is something of a reconciliation with the Catholic church after the spiritual and political upheaval of the 17th century and the devastation of the 30-years War.

The Mass in B minor, though it is certainly Christian, also points toward a more inclusive picture of humanity’s universal — the original meaning of catholic — spiritual quest. It is hard to quantify, but I feel there is something in this music that speaks to—and really helps and inspires–us all.

Bach1

Why will Marc Vallon conduct it rather than you?

Marc and I have been working together for several years now. He has played several bassoon concertos with MBM; also with MBM he has conducted symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus, Franz Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

Marc, who now teaches and performs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, was principal baroque bassoon—for 20 years—with the internationally acclaimed Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman. And during that time Marc performed and recorded many of Bach’s Cantatas, Passions and the B minor Mass.

Marc’s tremendous performance background with the Mass, and his infectious enthusiasm for this timeless masterpiece make him perfectly suited to lead the rehearsals and the concerts. I really can’t wait to hear what happens on Friday and Saturday when these amazing musicians and Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) and a great audience gather for the Mass in B minor.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

What are the special aspects (one-on-one versus larger chorus, for example, or the Madison Choral Project or the period instruments and practices) that you would like to point out about this performance?

The Madison Choral Project is providing a 17-voice choir for the Mass in B minor concerts. In this work, since Bach usually uses a five-part choral texture (soprano I, soprano II, alto, tenor, bass), this comes to about three voices per part, depending on how things are distributed in a particular moment.

In two movements of the Mass (first Credo and Confiteor), we’ll have the soloists sing one-voice-per-part.

The orchestra will consist of 25 players, all on period instruments: 12 strings, 2 baroque oboes, 2 baroque flutes, 2 baroque bassoons, natural horn, 3 baroque trumpets, timpani, and continuo organ, which I what I will play. The balance between choir, soloists and orchestra should work out beautifully. (Below is the Madison Bach Musicians performing the “St. Matthew Passion” in a photo by Karen Holland.)

MBM in 2009 St. Matthew Passion CR Karen Holland

What should the public listen for in the mass both musically and performance-wise?

I would say notice how Bach contrasts grandeur with intimacy, metaphysical inquiry and prayer with rollicking celebration, and yet makes an exquisitely coherent whole. I think the Mass in B minor is a miracle of form.

Also, these concerts will feature an entirely period-instrument orchestra of outstanding baroque performance specialists hailing from throughout the United States — Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The wonderful thing about playing this incomparable baroque masterwork on instruments that Bach was familiar with, is that the sound becomes fresh and energized in a way that is readily apparent. It really is a way of going Back to the Present!

The 18th-century instruments typically speak faster than their modern descendants — that is, the pitch actually forms more quickly, often by just a fraction of a second. But in music-making—especially very intricate baroque music-making—that fraction of a second can be the critical difference.

Bach’s absolutely amazing counterpoint in the Mass in B minor, which he often weaves effortlessly in 4 and even 5 independent parts is much more transparent when played on period instruments. You can peer more deeply into the infinite world of Bach’s fugues.

Period instruments are also set up to articulate quite deftly, that is, baroque instruments help the players define the shorter musical groupings of connected and non-connected notes. This in turn assists the audience in assimilating the elegant rhetorical shapes of Bach’s lines.

I will also preface both the concerts starting at 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute lecture on period instruments (below is Stephenson discussing the keyboard action of an 18th-century fortepiano), approaches to singing baroque music, and the structure and history of the Mass in B minor.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’d like to say a bit about the two venues where we’ll perform the Mass in B minor. “Where is it?” is one of the first questions most people ask when they hear of an exciting upcoming musical event. Because–particularly for classical music–the acoustics really matter. And the feel of the place, the vibe, needs to be right too.

The sound will be rich and the mood will be spiritually focused on Friday and Saturday as the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Choral Project collaborate in two performances of J. S. Bach’s monumental masterpiece the Mass in B minor, BWV 232.

The Friday concert will be given in the magnificent setting of the sanctuary at First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, a landmark building in Madison’s cultural life.

MBM Bach canata 2013 Dec

The Saturday concert will be in the acoustically brilliant Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The performances will feature a 24-piece period-instrument baroque orchestra, 5 outstanding vocal soloists, and a 17-voice professional choir from the Madison Choral Project.

Bach composed the Mass in B minor during the final 18 years of his life; adding, editing, and re-working it into his final year, 1750. The result is about 100 minutes of music that is instantly engaging, highly varied in its variety of ensemble and style, unified to the Nth degree, and structurally perfect. And somehow the Mass in B minor it is at once both magnificent and intimate.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ, with its neo-Georgian design (begun in 1928), captures the 18th-century ideals of dignified ambiance and sonic balance that Bach understood. The sound has tremendous detail, yet everything contributes to the warm cumulative tonal glow.

The much more recent Atrium Auditorium (below), built in 2008, at First Unitarian Society brings out the immediacy of the music-making. The sight lines are direct, and the acoustics brilliant; the audience feels very connected with the performers.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Both venues are absolutely perfect for period-instrument performance, which emphasizes the detail and vitality of the music rather than sheer decibels.

Seating is limited at both venues, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.

 

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Classical music: What would be a good April Fool’s joke about classical music? But it is no joke that April will bring a lot of major choral music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff among others.

April 1, 2014
2 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is April Fool’s Day! So in keeping with tradition, here is what The Ear wants to know: What would be a really good April Fool’s joke about classical music? Discovering a 10th symphony or sixth piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven? Finding one of the many lost cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach? Unearthing a letter from Arnold Schoenberg disavowing his own 12-tone or atonal music as a dry and boring experiment? Use the COMMENT section to leave your April Fools treat. Be creative, original and unexpected, and have some fun.

Here is a link to one year’s entries:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/classical-music-news-the-discovery-of-beethovens-tenth-symphony-wins-first-prize-for-the-best-april-fools-day-story/

april fools day

By Jacob Stockinger

April is the “choralist month,” to paraphrase — with a badly twisted pun — a famous opening line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

Is it because of Easter? The end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Or maybe the arrival of spring? Or perhaps the closing on some current seasons?

All play a role, The Ear suspects, but so does coincidence. Besides, after such a hard winter, singing out seems healthy and almost normal.

During this April, local audiences will have the chance to hear more than half a dozen major choral works –- and that doesn’t even include the Russian and Baltic concert performed this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Many of the events will have more detailed postings on this blog. But here is a summary roundup to help you fill in your datebooks and make plans.

It will kick off this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and guest soloists when they perform the famously storied Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Guest conductor Julian Wachner will be substituting for the MSO music director John DeMain, and the program also includes guest organ soloist Nathan Laube in Jongen’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” For more information, including program notes and ticket information, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/laube

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

On Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Festival Choir (below), under WCO music director Andrew Sewell, will perform Mozart’s late, short and sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” (heard at the bottom with conductor Leonard Bernstein in a popular YouTube video that has over 2 million hits) and Beethoven’s rarely heard “Choral Fantasy,” which is a sketch with solo piano of the famous last chiral movement, with the famous “Ode to Joy,” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Stewart Goodyear’s own Piano Concerto is on the program, as is Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” For details, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

festivalchoir

On Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will see a FREE performance on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra).

Concert Choir

The next day Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday. It will see two performances (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) of the gorgeously calm and reassuring Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performed in the old historic Landmark Auditorium, where the organ is. FUS music director Dan Broner will conduct. Free-will offerings will be accepted.

faure

Then on Good Friday, April 18, in the First Congregational Church and on Saturday, April 19, in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, J.S. Bach’s landmark Mass in B Minor will receive two performances (both at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m.) from the Madison Bach Musicians, and guest soloists and the Madison Choral Project under conductor and UW bassoonist Marc Vallon.  

MadisonBachMusicians

On Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also a FREE concert by the UW Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program yet.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 pm. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below) will perform the lovely and rarely performed Russian Orthodox, a cappella “Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral program, will conduct the one-time only performance -– normally the UW Choral Union gives two performances. Tickets can be purchased for the concerts. Admission is $10 for adults and the general public; free for  students and seniors.
 Remaining tickets will be at the door. 
Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

As an added bonus to April, and to wind up the spring semester, on Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the FREE concert by the UW Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. On Monday. May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Master Singers will perform a FREE concert.

I’m betting there are some others I am missing, especially at Edgewood College, which I haven’t heard from yet. Perhaps readers will leave word in a COMMENT. But even from what I have listed, you see that listeners are in store for a lot of choral treats.

 

 

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Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates the holidays and the winter solstice with “A Light in the Darkness” concert this Saturday night.

December 19, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The recently formed Madison Choral Project (below) will perform “A Light in the Darkness” concert this Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave., that features traditional holiday music combined with secular pieces focusing on the theme of light and darkness to mark the winter solstice — which falls on the same Saturday.

Madison Choral Project color

Perhaps Madison’s newest choral ensemble, the Madison Choral Project, is a fully professional 17-voice ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Albert Pinsonneault (below), who teaches and conducts at Edgewood College. You can hear the new choral group performing a work from Felix Mendelssohn‘s oratorio “Elijah” live in a concert this past May in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

MCP is a professional chamber choir dedicated to bringing international-caliber choral performances to southern Wisconsin.

Along with spoken texts, narrated by Noah Ovshinsky (below), assistant news director of Wisconsin Public Radio, the evening weaves together an eclectic range of old and new designed to be both balm and hope, joy and inspiration, on the darkest day of the year, December 21, the Winter Solstice.

Noah Ovshinsky

A world premiere performance (of a work by David Evan Thomas, below (will be featured among favorite composers such as Herbert Howells, Henry Purcell, Charles Ives, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Moses Hogan. (Update: The world premiere of a new work by Madison composer Jerry Hui has been taken off the program.)

Tickets are $20 general admission and $5 for students (with valid ID), and can be purchased online at www.themcp.org or at the concert.

David Evan Thomas

The program, arranged into four groups, includes:

Long, Long Ago (Herbert Howells)
; Silent Night (arr. Malcolm Sargent); 
Angels We Have Heard on High (arr. Matthew Culloton)
; Hear My Prayer (Henry Purcell); 
The Celestial Country: Double Chorus A Cappella (Charles Ives)

Prepare the Way (arr. Margareta Jalkeus); A Christmas Carol (Charles Ives)
; In Dulci Jublio (arr. Matthew Culloton); Jingle Bells (arr. David Moore)

“From Light to Light: Earth” by J. Aaron McDermid; and the 
WORLD PREMIERE of “Confirmatum est” by David Evan Thomas.

Go and Tell John (arr. Carolyn Jennings)
; Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom Op. 31, No. 12 “We Hymn Thee” (Sergei Rachmaninoff); This Little Light of Mine (arr. Moses Hogan)
; Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King (arr. Moses Hogan)

 


Classical music: It is “Early Music Weekend” as the Madison Bach Musicians open their 10th anniversary season with concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of music by J.S. Bach, Telemann, Handel, Leclair, Pachelbel and Vivaldi. Plus, Ensemble SDG performs Bach, Corelli, Pisendel and Handel on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.”

October 3, 2013
5 Comments

ALERT: Two early music friends who perform together as the Ensemble SDG, baroque violinist Edith Hines and UW harpsichordist and organist John Chappell Stowe, write to The Ear: “Ensemble SDG (below) is pleased to invite the public to our FREE upcoming performance on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen.” The recital will be this Sunday, October 6, from 12:30-2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art (750 University Avenue, Madison). It will be broadcast live on WPR’s News and Classical Music network (in the Madison area, 88.7 WERN) and streamed online here.

The program will include sonatas for violin and continuo by Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Georg Pisendel, and George Frideric Handel, as well as two sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord by J. S. Bach, whose contrasting characters–deeply melancholy and brilliantly effervescent–exemplify the program’s theme of “darkness and light.”  Admission is free, but seating is limited. Nevertheless, we hope to see you there! For more information, visit jsb1685.blogspot.com

Ensemble SDG Stowe, Hines 2

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend will witness a landmark: It marks the opening of the 10th anniversary season of the Madison Bach Musicians.

In only a decade, the accomplished baroque ensemble (below) has risen to the fore of the many early music group in the area.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

The MBM, under director and founder Trevor Stephenson will give two performances – on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of a concert that features the acclaimed guest baroque violinist Marilyn McDonald (below), who tours widely and also teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Marilyn McDonald baroque violin

Stephenson is a masterful and humorous explainer and will also give a pre-concert lecture at each performance. Other MBM musicians include: Marilyn McDonald, Kangwon Kim, Brandi Berry, Mary Perkinson on baroque violins; 
Nathan Giglierano on baroque viola; 
Anton TenWolde on baroque cello’ and
Trevor Stephenson on harpsichord. (You can hear MBM musicians play and talk in a News 3/Channel 3000  YouTube video from 2011 at the bottom.)

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

The program features: Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concerto in G major for Four Violins; George Frideric 
Handel’s Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV 364, and Trio Sonata in E major, Op. 2, No. 9, HWV 394; Jean-Marie 
Leclair’s Violin Duo in G minor; 
Johann Pachelbel Canon and Gigue in D major; J.S. 
Bach’s Contrapunctus 19 from The Art of Fugue (with B-A-C-H Fugue);
 and Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, RV 522.

Performances are on Saturday, October 5, with a
 7:15 p.m. lecture and 8 p.m. concert at the 
First Unitarian Society’s crisp Atrium Auditorium
 (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at 900 University Bay Drive on Madison’s near west side; and on
 
Sunday, October 6, with 
2:45 p.m. lecture and 3:30 p.m. concert
in Blessing Room of Madison’s Christian Community Church, 7118 Old Sauk Road on the far west side of Madison.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Advance tickets, cash or check only, are discounted and run $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors 65 and over; and are available at A Room of One’s Own; Farley’s House of Pianos; the east and west locations of the Willy Street Co-op; Orange Tree Imports; and Ward-Brodt Music Mall.

At the door, tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors.

For more information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit  www.madisonbachmusicians.org

MORE ABOUT THE GUEST SOLOIST

Marilyn McDonald, a founding member of the Smithson Quartet and the Castle Trio, currently plays in the Axelrod Quartet in residence at the Smithsonian Institution; the Axelrod Quartet is named in honor of the donor of the decorated Stradivarius instruments on which the quartet performs.

She has toured world-wide as a chamber musician playing repertoire ranging from baroque to contemporary, appearing at Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick Gallery, the Caramoor, Utrecht and Mostly Mozart Festivals, Wigmore Hall, Disney Hall, Ravinia and the Concertgebouw, as well as appearing as soloist with the Milwaukee and Omaha Symphonies. Concertmaster positions include Boston Baroque and the Peninsula Music Festival.

She has been artist in residence at Boston University and has held visiting professorships at the Eastman School of Music and at Indiana University. She teaches each summer at the Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and has been honored with the “Excellence in Teaching” award at Oberlin, where she is professor of violin.  McDonald’s recordings are heard on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Virgin Classics, Decca, Gasparo, Smithsonian and Telarc labels.

REST OF THE ANNIVERSARY SEASON

The Madison Bach Musicians’ 10th anniversary season also includes:

On December 14, the third annual Baroque Holiday Music program at the First Congregational Church.

On April 18 and 19, the season will conclude with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor, conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon (below). The MBM will collaborate on this venture with the Madison Choral Project under Edgewood College choral director Albert Pinsonneault.


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