The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: The all-student Madison Youth Symphony Orchestra scores another big success with music by Mozart, Copland and Grieg

August 6, 2018
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below, in a photo by Steve Rankin), founded and led by Mikko Rankin Utevsky is celebrating its fourth season of summer training sessions and public concerts.

I had to miss the first one of this summer, back in June, but I caught up with their second one, on last Saturday night, given at the First United Methodist Church on Wisconsin Avenue.

The church is now pursuing an active program of concerts, and this was the first one I have attended there. The hall (below) is a beautiful and spacious one, with fine acoustics. The fifty-odd people who attended were all but dwarfed by its amplitude.

The first half of the program was devoted to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271, often known by the name “Jeunehomme” for the student who inspired it.  It is a boldly innovative work, even as it is the composer’s first truly mature essay in this form.

The soloist was Trevor Stephenson (below top and left in bottom photo), artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, playing his own fortepiano.

That instrument lacks the big and forceful sound of the modern grand piano, and Stephenson rightly shunned heroics for greater delicacy. Even with an orchestra of only 16 players, the instrument defined a balance that was fascinatingly different from what we usually hear. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the Mozart concerto played on a fortepiano by Malcolm Bilson, who was Trevor Stephenson’s teacher.)

After the intermission, Utevsky identified a policy now established by the organization, one that allows certain players in the orchestra to become podium “interns”, for training and for one performance opportunity.

This time cellist Elizabeth Strauss (below) was given a chance to conduct the familiar string arrangement that Edvard Grieg made of his song Våren (usually translated as “The Last Spring”).

Strauss seemed very confident. I did find her tempo a little faster than seems good to me, and a string group of only a dozen players could hardly achieve the polish and richness that most performances bring off. Still, the point is the wonderful experience given to such a trainee-conductor in these circumstances.

The concert concluded as Utevsky conducted the recast orchestra (below) in the suite for 13 instruments that Aaron Copland derived from his ballet Appalachian Spring.

This is a beautiful piece of Americana in music, and both conductor and players gave it their full devotion. The result was a handsomely well-balanced and nicely blended performance that obviously moved the audience greatly.

The MAYCO organization has made a real place for itself in Madison’s summer music, giving valuable experience to both the conductor and his student players, as they grow into mature orchestral musicians.

Long may it succeed!


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Classical music: We said goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp by speaking love to loss. Here in photos is how it went.

September 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died suddenly in June of cardiac arrest at 84 while he was on summer vacation in Colorado.

I don’t think you can have a better send-off.

The day started out sunny and then looked like it would cloud over.

But the sunlight stayed.

Howard Karp (below, in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot) would have liked that. There never seemed anything morose about Howard, even when he played music that was introspective and melancholic. And he was such a natural: The piano just seemed to grow out of his long arms and fingers.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Sure, like all people he had his share of sorrows and worries. But on his own scale, the joys always outweighed the sorrows.

I found myself thinking of Howard and recalling philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I found myself adding: “Without Howard Karp, music in Madison might not have been a mistake, but it certainly would have been severely diminished.”

But I do not want to use this post for me to talk about Howard Karp and what a wonderful man and musician, family member and teacher, he was.

His own family and friends did that so well — and so eloquently — that all I can do today is to use photos and quick descriptions to tell you what you missed if you weren’t there.

The welcome speaker and comforting guide through the celebration was Bill Lutes (below), a longtime friend and former student of Howard Karp. Bill did an outstanding and dry-eyed job of speaking love to loss, as did the entire family.

Karp Memorial Bill Lutes

The event opened with Howard Karp playing the opening movement of the heroic, life-affirming “Hammerklavier” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, from a newly released 6-CD recording on Albany Records of Howard’s concert recordings.

That was repeated through the event with music of Robert Schumann, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frédéric Chopin. And it was moving to hear the audience of maybe a two-thirds house in Mills Hall applaud loudly, as if Howard were playing right there, on stage and in person in front of us.

One of the most moving moments came when Howard’s wife, Frances Karp – whose diminutive and even fragile look hides a tremendous strength of character and forceful pianism — was joined by cellist son Parry Karp, violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot and guest violinist Leanne League, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the slow movement from the Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. A photo is below.

It is a heart-wrenching piece by the composer who, more than any other, captures love and longing in sound, as you can hear from the opening cello melody in a YouTube video of the Beaux Arts Trio at the bottom.

Karp Memorial Schumann PIano Quartet

Granddaughters Isabel Karp (below left) and Natasha Karp (below right), both accomplished actresses, then read passages from William Shakespeare, beautifully appropriate lines from the tragedy “King Lear,” from the Sonnets, from the romance “The Tempest,” from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Karp Memorial Isabel, Natasha smiling better

More recorded Schumann followed, the first movement of the fabulous Fantasy in C Major.

Then came words of friendship and admiration from the renowned keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who taught with Howard at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Now a semi-retired professor at Cornell University, Bilson also played a superbly rendered version of his own reconstruction of the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor by Franz Schubert. (Bilson didn’t announce his reconstruction because, as he later told The Ear, “It bothers and distracts audiences. They keep listening for where Schubert ends and Bilson begins.”)

Karp Memorial Malcolm Bilson plays Schubert

Fellow Chicagoan and piano student-turned-businessman, Ira Goodkin (below) spoke impressively and engagingly about the lasting effect of having Howard Karp as a lifelong friend and as a personal and professional role model.

Karp Memorial Ira Goodkin

Then came more recordings: impressive duo-piano performances by Frances and Howard Karp of music by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

During the Rachmaninoff “Barcarolle,” from his Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, there was also an extended slide show that featured photos of Howard at various stages of his life, from infancy and childhood (below) through marriage and maturity, many images with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Karp Memorial slideshow Young Howard

Granddaughter and actress Ariana Karp (below) appeared via video from London and also read Shakespeare and offered moving personal recollections of “grand-père.”

Karp memorial Ariana

Sons Christopher Karp on piano and Parry Karp on cello (below) teamed up to play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” in a moving and brotherly demonstration of the family music-making that marked the Karps’ family life, and brought beauty to the rest of us, making us all feel like extended family.

Karp Memorial Christopher and Parry

Then came a miraculously humorous and moving eulogy for Howard by cellist son Parry (below), who offered a stirring summing up of his dad’s gifts as a pianist and chamber music partner, as a husband and father, as a baseball fan and an avid amateur expert on trees and plants.

Karp Memorial Parry Karp speaks

After Parry remark’s about the richness of his father’s life and career, I found myself recalling a saying by the great composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Still, I think Howard Karp came closer to that impossible goal than anyone I know.

Then, with a stirring performance by Howard Karp of the ferocious and relentless finale from Chopin’s Sonata in B minor, it was over — and we moved outdoors to a packed reception in the courtyard of the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building.

Karp Memorial Reception

The food was ideal and the audience was in the mood to greet each other and reminisce with the kind of good-natured enthusiasm that would have pleased Howard Karp because it made all of us feel like we belonged to one immense family that will long miss a central and irreplaceable figure.


Classical music: Here are the final program and details about the FREE memorial on this Sunday at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall for University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp.

August 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received a request from the Karp Family.

It seems there is still some ignorance and some confusion about the memorial event -– a life celebration, really –- set for this Sunday afternoon for the late pianist Howard Karp, who died in June at 84 in Colorado and who had taught and performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music from 1972 to 2000.

The event is FREE and OPEN to the public.

Here are the details:

“Dear Jake, 

“I hope all is well.

“Here is the program for Sunday.

“I am still hearing from people who want to go to the celebration, but don’t know when or where it will be.  

“My very best to you,

“Parry Karp”

A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF HOWARD KARP (1929-2014, below in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot)

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

The celebration will be held this Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 3 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the Mosse Humanitites Building,  with a FREE and PUBLIC reception to follow.

MIllsHall2

FREE parking can be found in nearby Grainger Hall of the University of Wisconsin Business School.

“Performances” by Howard Karp come from recordings issued by Albany Records and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Welcome

Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier) by Ludwig van Beethoven:  Movement I. Allegro, Howard Karp, pianist

Words from Bill Lutes (below, with his wife UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, and a former student and friend of Howard Karp)

martha fischer and bill lutes

Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann,   Movement III. Andante cantabile, performed by Frances Karp, pianist (wife of Howard Karp, below top with Howard); Leanne League (violinist, below bottom, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and  is the assistant concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as a member of the Ancora String Quartet); Katrin Talbot, violist (daughter-in-law and wife of Parry Karp); Parry Karp, cellist (eldest son of Howard Karp who teaches cello and chamber music at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Pro Arte Quartet.)

howard and frances karp

Leanne League profile

Readings from William Shakespeare by granddaughter actresses Isabel Karp (bel0w top) and Natasha Karp (below bottom).

isabel karp USE

Natasha Karp

“Fantasie” in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann, Movement I: Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen, Howard Karp, pianist

Words and music from Malcolm Bilson (below, a well-known teacher and keyboard performer with Howard Karp at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a retired professor from Cornell University); Sonata in F-sharp Minor, D. 571, by Franz Schubert,  Movement I. Allegro moderato

Malcom Bilson 2

Words from pianist and friend Ira Goodkin

Concerto Per Due Pianoforte Soli by Igor Stravinsky, Movement 1. Con moto; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fantasy-Tableaux: Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op. 5: 1. Barcarolle: Allegretto; Howard and Frances Karp, duo-pianists

Words from actress granddaughter Ariana Karp (below), via video

ariana karp portrait

“Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, Parry Karp, cellist (below top), and Christopher Karp (below bottom), pianist and  youngest son of Howard Karp who is a medical doctor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)

Parry Karp

Christopher Karp

Words from Parry Karp

Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, Frederic Chopin, Movement IV. Finale: Presto non tanto, Howard Karp, pianist

FREE PUBLIC RECEPTION TO FOLLOW

Here is a link to the posting on the new UW-School of Music blog A Tempo:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/17/howard-karp/

And here is a link to another performance by Howard Karp on SoundCloud, a rarely heard work by Johann Sebastian Bach that features a Fugue on a Theme by Tomaso Aliboni as well as works by Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn:

https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom/sets

Howard Karp's hands by Katrin Talbot

 

 

 


Classical music: Here is an update with more details about the memorial celebration for the late UW-Madison pianist Howard Karp on Sunday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m.

August 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Members of the Karp family have asked The Ear to fill you in about some more details concerning the memorial celebration for the late Howard Karp (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

As you may recall, Howard Karp, who taught for decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and the University of Kentucky, died unexpectedly this summer on June 30. He was 84. Here is a link to an announcement that was posted on this blog about Karp’s death.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/classical-music-pianist-howard-karp-who-taught-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-has-died-at-84/

Howard Karp's hands by Katrin Talbot

A FREE memorial celebration of his life and career is planned for Sunday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

And here is a link to a previous post, with link to other sources, about the reception:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/classical-music-memorial-for-the-late-university-of-wisconsin-madison-pianist-howard-karp-is-set-for-sunday-aug-31-at-3-p-m-in-mills-hall-here-is-a-link-to-an-obituary-in-the-wisconsin-state-jou/

Although some official announcements and this blog have said the memorial will run from 3 to 6 p.m., The Ear has been told that the celebration will probably last from 3 p.m. to about 5 p.m. with a reception to follow.

That reception will be held either in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music courtyard, if the weather permits, or in the lounge outside Mills Hall.

The master of ceremonies for the event will be Bill Lutes (below right, with his wife, UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer. Lutes studied with Howard Karp and still teaches piano in Madison. You may also recall his name from his days at Wisconsin Public Radio and as a coach with the University Opera.

martha fischer and bill lutes

Most of the music will be recordings made by Howard Karp himself, including a new 6-CD set of live performances from Albany Records. (On a CD from the UW-Madison School of Music, at the bottom in SoundCloud, you can hear Howard Karp playing the well-known “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53  by Frederic Chopin.)

There will also be some live performances.

Cellist son Parry Karp will be joined by his violinist-pianist brother Christopher Karp, who is a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases and who works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,  to perform “Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch.

Then the Karp Family, which usually gave a FREE Labor Day concert for more than 30 years, will perform the slow movement from the Piano Quartet by Robert Schumann. The players will be violinist son Christopher Karp, pianist wife Frances Karp, cellist Parry Karp and his violist wife Katrin Talbot.

Karp Family in color

Acclaimed keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who has retired from teaching at Cornell University is slated to play the piano – rather than his specialty, which is the early music fortepiano — in music by Franz Schubert.

Malcom Bilson 2

As more details develop, they will get posted here.

Here is Howard Karp’s stirring and daring reading of Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise.

https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Howard Karp ca. 1955


Classical music Q&A: What makes J.S. Bach’s cantatas so great? Bach used all his many skills and re-invented himself weekly, says Trevor Stephenson of the Madison Bach Musicians, who will perform two cantatas and a motet this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Grace Episcopal Church.

April 12, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the delights of each concert season for the past few years has been to hear J.S. Bach’s cantatas performed by the early music group the Madison Bach Musicians (below), founded and led by Trevor Stephenson, a keyboardist and conductor who trained at Cornell University under the renowned keyboardist Malcolm Bilson.

Stephenson opts for the much smaller ensembles (below) that scholars now say was closer to Bach’s original groups than for larger choruses. As a result the music has a transparency that moves the mind and stirs the heart.

This weekend features two performances at Grace Episcopal Church on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue: At 8 p.m. on Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.  Both performances are preceded at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively, by a lecture given by Stephenson, who is a thoroughly engaging, accessible and witty explainer.

The all-Bach program features Cantata BWV 22 – “Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe”; Cantata BWV 32 – “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen”; and the Motet BWV 230 – “Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden.”

Soloists are UW-Madison trained soprano Emily Birsan and bass David Govertsen, both of whom currently sing at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. The countertenor, Joseph Schlesinger (who now lives in Chicago) has toured Europe for many years as an early music specialist; the tenor, Daniel O’Dea is outstanding and is working on his DMA at UW under Jim Doing.

For more information, visit madisonbachmusicians.org or phone 608 238-6092

Advance ticket prices are: $20 General, $15 Students/Seniors (over 65).
Tickets at the door: $25 General, $20 Students/Seniors.
Cash or checks only. Make checks payable to Madison Bach Musicians. (Only cash or check are accepted; no credit cards.)

Advance tickets can be purchased at 

Orange Tree Imports; Farley’s House of Pianos; A Room of One’s Own; Ward Brodt Music Mall; and  Willy Street Co-op, East and West locations.

Trevor Stephenson (below) recently talked to The Ear about the Bach cantata project and the upcoming performances:

Why do you focus on the Bach cantatas and what are MBM’s plans for the cycle?

I like the Bach Cantatas because in them he brings everything to the table—they are the ultimate fusion of his spirit and intellect: a tenacious, enduring faith joined with an astonishingly original musical craft.

More than 200 of Bach’s Cantatas have survived (though he wrote probably more than 300) and somehow every one of them is unique—cut from a fresh block of marble.

Since many were written during a period when he was composing one per week, you could say with a good degree of sureness that Bach (below) really did re-invent himself every week!

Can you walk us a bit through each piece and tell us what to listen for?

On this concert we’ll perform “Jesu, nahm zu sich die Zwoelfe” a Cantata Bach composed specifically for his audition at Leipzig in early 1723. As we all know, he did get the job, and upon moving to Leipzig that year, plunged into his most intense period of Cantata creation during the next four years.

This Cantata begins with Jesus calling together the 12 disciples to tell them that they will all travel to Jerusalem “so that what has been written of the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” The disciples do not comprehend what Jesus is saying (primarily, that he will be crucified).

At that point the narrative really ceases and the soul takes over (in the guises of an alto solo, an extensive bass recitative (by David Govertsen, below), and a tenor aria) all developing the idea that one should now truly try to understand what the disciples at that time could not—that Jesus’ love for humanity was boundless, and that through his example we should strive to live properly and fully.

The melodic writing and texture of this Cantata foreshadows the St. Matthew Passion which Bach would complete just four years later and which he may have been working on already; indeed the narrative part of the St. Matthew Passion also opens with the scene in which Jesus unexpectedly announces the departure for Jerusalem.

And the other cantata?

Also on this program, we’ll perform BWV 32 “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” (Dear Jesus, my longing). Composed for the first Sunday after Epiphany in January of 1726, it opens with one of Bach’s most elegant arias in which the soprano and obbligato oboe lines weave about each other in what seems like a miraculous improvisation—though of course Bach writes everything out in careful detail.

This is certainly one of my, what we call, “desert island” pieces–if you were sent to a desert island and could only take a few pieces, what would they be?

We’re delighted that baroque oboist extraordinaire Luke Conklin (below) —a graduate of the Juilliard baroque program, and now working on his doctorate at Indiana—will be joining us on this program. Bach lavishes some of the most expressive writing in the Cantatas on the baroque oboe, with its very warm and textured timbre. Luke will play several solos in the Cantatas we’ve selected for this concert.

We are also thrilled to be playing these Cantatas at Grace Episcopal Church (below, with exterior and interior photos, on the Capitol Square), which is a wonderful setting for this music both spiritually and acoustically. The sound there is reverberant and clear. The music carries, mixes, and reflects all around and yet you can still understand the words. Many spaces have one quality or the other, but Grace has both!

Where are you in the Cantata cycle and what are future plans?

With the concerts coming this weekend, Madison Bach Musicians will have performed 15 of Bach’s Cantatas (plus the B minor Mass in 2008 and the St. Matthew Passion in 2009).

Right now that puts us on a pace of about two each year (this is our eighth season).

But public interest in, and support for the project is growing quickly. In addition, the number of wonderful instrumentalists trained on baroque instruments and singers trained in the baroque style has risen dramatically even in the past decade.

So, we anticipate being able to increase the number of Cantatas we perform each year. We hope to present many, many more!


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