The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir sings a holiday program of Bach, Vivaldi and other composers this coming Saturday night

December 10, 2019
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below top) will perform a holiday program this coming Saturday night, Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Atrium Auditorium (below bottom, in a photo by Zane Williams), 900 University Bay Drive.

The program features Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria” paired with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Advent cantata, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come, Savior of the Nations, BWV 61), performed with the professional orchestra Sinfonia Sacra.

(You can hear the familiar and energetic opening of Vivaldi’s “Gloria” — performed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Complementing the Vivaldi and Bach works are additional selections, including a unique collection of O Antiphons — Latin prayers for the season of Advent.

For more information about the musical form, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Antiphons

Strikingly modern compositions by John Tavener (below top, in a photo by Steve Forrest), Vytautas Miskinis and Pavel Lukaszewski alternate with French Baroque settings by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (below bottom).

Seasonal carols round out the program in arrangements by three of the WCC’s favorite composers: Peter Blotch; the late American composer from Minneapolis Stephen Paulus (below); and Giles Swayne.

Advance tickets are available for online for $20 ($10 for students) from http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org/tickets or Brown Paper Tickets; or in person at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop, or from a member of the choir.

The ticket price at the door is $25.

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Brahms as well as a cappella works from various centuries and world premieres.

WCC artistic director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks.

Since 2002, the WCC has presented cantatas and oratorios with full orchestra, annually or biennially, including last season’s Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The players assembled for these performances, known collectively as Sinfonia Sacra, are members of the best regional orchestras, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble and Sonata à Quattro.

For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, including how to join it as well as its future concerts, reviews, biographies, history and recordings, go to: https://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org

 


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Classical music: Here are the classical music nominees for the 2020 Grammy Awards. They make a useful holiday gift guide and highlight the trend toward more diversity

November 29, 2019
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — all with special deals and sales.

With that in mind, here is a list of the recently announced nominees in classical music for the 2020 Grammy Awards.

Although it is a self-serving list for a competition sponsored by The Industry, it can also be good way to find holiday gifts to give to others or to receive for yourself.

The list can be useful for spotting trends and finding new releases you may not have heard of.

For example, this year seems especially good for new music or recent works and contemporary composers. You won’t find any Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky or Mahler although you will find Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Berg, Rachmaninoff and Copland.

Another favorite seems to be the rediscovery of older composers such as Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996, below) whose centennial has become an occasion for bringing his neglected works to the forefront.

You can also see that like the Oscars, the Grammys seem to be paying more attention to women composers and conductors, artists of color and crossovers or mixed and hybrid genres.

For complete lists of all 84 categories, go to this site and click on the categories that interest you: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2020-grammy-awards-complete-nominees-list

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast live on CBS television.

  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)
  • AEQUA – ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR
    Daniel Shores, engineer; Daniel Shores, mastering engineer (International Contemporary Ensemble)
  • BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 9
    Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • RACHMANINOFF – HERMITAGE PIANO TRIO
    Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Hermitage Piano Trio)
  • RILEY: SUN RINGS
    Leslie Ann Jones, engineer; Robert C. Ludwig, mastering engineer (Kronos Quartet)
  • WOLFE: FIRE IN MY MOUTH
    Bob Hanlon & Lawrence Rock, engineers; Ian Good & Lawrence Rock, mastering engineers (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus Of NY City & New York Philharmonic)

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical
    A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)
  • BLANTON ALSPAUGH
  • Artifacts – The Music Of Michael McGlynn (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale)
    • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Fantaisie Sur La Tempête De Shakespeare (Andrew Davis & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
    • Copland: Billy The Kid; Grohg (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
    • Duruflé: Complete Choral Works (Robert Simpson & Houston Chamber Choir)
    • Glass: Symphony No. 5 (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Youth Chorus, Downtown Voices & Novus NY)
    • Sander: The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom (Peter Jermihov & PaTRAM Institute Singers)
    • Smith, K.: Canticle (Craig Hella Johnson & Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble)
    • Visions Take Flight (Mei-Ann Chen & ROCO)
  • JAMES GINSBURG (below)
  • Project W – Works By Diverse Women Composers (Mei-Ann Chen and Chicago Sinfonietta)
    • Silenced Voices (Black Oak Ensemble)
    • 20th Century Harpsichord Concertos (Jory Vinikour, Scott Speck and Chicago Philharmonic)
    • Twentieth Century Oboe Sonatas (Alex Klein and Phillip Bush)
    • Winged Creatures & Other Works For Flute, Clarinet, And Orchestra (Anthony McGill, Demarre McGill, Allen Tinkham and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra)
  • MARINA A. LEDIN, VICTOR LEDIN
  • Bates: Children Of Adam; Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem (Steven Smith, Erin R. Freeman, Richmond Symphony & Chorus)
    • The Orchestral Organ (Jan Kraybill)
    • The Poetry Of Places (Nadia Shpachenko)
    • Rachmaninoff – Hermitage Piano Trio (Hermitage Piano Trio)
  • MORTEN LINDBERG
  • Himmelborgen (Elisabeth Holte, Kare Nordstoga & Uranienborg Vokalensemble)
    • Kleiberg: Do You Believe In Heather? (Various Artists)
    • Ljos (Fauna Vokalkvintett)
    • LUX (Anita Brevik, Trondheimsolistene & Nidarosdomens Jentekor)
    • Trachea (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl & Schola Cantorum)
    • Veneliti (Hakon Daniel Nystedt & Oslo Kammerkor)
  • DIRK SOBOTKA
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

 75. Best Orchestral Performance Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

  • BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 9
    Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • COPLAND: BILLY THE KID; GROHG
    Leonard Slatkin, conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
  • NORMAN: SUSTAIN
    Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • TRANSATLANTIC
    Louis Langrée, conductor (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • WEINBERG: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 21
    Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, conductor (City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Kremerata Baltica)

  1. Best Opera Recording
    Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.
  • BENJAMIN: LESSONS IN LOVE & VIOLENCE
    George Benjamin, conductor; Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Peter Hoare & Gyula Orendt; James Whitbourn, producer (Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House)
  • BERG: WOZZECK
    Marc Albrecht, conductor; Christopher Maltman & Eva-Maria Westbroek; François Roussillon, producer (Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra; Chorus Of Dutch National Opera)
  • CHARPENTIER: LES ARTS FLORISSANTS; LES PLAISIRS DE VERSAILLES
    Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Jesse Blumberg, Teresa Wakim & Virginia Warnken; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble)
  • PICKER: FANTASTIC MR. FOX
    Gil Rose, conductor; John Brancy, Andrew Craig Brown, Gabriel Preisser, Krista River & Edwin Vega; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Boston Children’s Chorus)
  • WAGNER: LOHENGRIN
    Christian Thielemann, conductor; Piotr Beczała, Anja Harteros, Tomasz Konieczny, Waltraud Meier & Georg Zeppenfeld; Eckhard Glauche, producer (Festspielorchester Bayreuth; Festspielchor Bayreuth)

  1. Best Choral Performance
    Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.
  • BOYLE: VOYAGES
    Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
  • DURUFLÉ: COMPLETE CHORAL WORKS
    Robert Simpson, conductor (Ken Cowan; Houston Chamber Choir)
  • THE HOPE OF LOVING
    Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare)
  • SANDER: THE DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
    Peter Jermihov, conductor (Evan Bravos, Vadim Gan, Kevin Keys, Glenn Miller & Daniel Shirley; PaTRAM Institute Singers)
  • SMITH, K.: THE ARC IN THE SKY
    Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)

  1. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
    For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (twenty-four or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
  • CERRONE: THE PIECES THAT FALL TO EARTH
    Christopher Rountree and Wild Up
  • FREEDOM & FAITH
    PUBLIQuartet
  • PERPETULUM
    Third Coast Percussion
  • RACHMANINOFF – HERMITAGE PIANO TRIO
    Hermitage Piano Trio
  • SHAW: ORANGE
    Attacca Quartet

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

  • THE BERLIN RECITAL
    Yuja Wang
  • HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
    Yolanda Kondonassis; Ward Stare, conductor (The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO; FIDDLE DANCE SUITE
    Nicola Benedetti; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor (Philadelphia Orchestra)
  • THE ORCHESTRAL ORGAN
    Jan Kraybill
  • TORKE: SKY, CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN
    Tessa Lark; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

 80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album  Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

  • THE EDGE OF SILENCE – WORKS FOR VOICE BY GYÖRGY KURTÁG
    Susan Narucki (Donald Berman, Curtis Macomber, Kathryn Schulmeister & Nicholas Tolle)
  • HIMMELSMUSIK
    Philippe Jaroussky & Céline Scheen; Christina Pluhar, conductor; L’Arpeggiata, ensemble (Jesús Rodil & Dingle Yandell)
  • SCHUMANN: LIEDERKREIS OP. 24, KERNER-LIEDER OP. 35
    Matthias Goerne; Leif Ove Andsnes, accompanist
  • SONGPLAY
    Joyce DiDonato; Chuck Israels, Jimmy Madison, Charlie Porter and Craig Terry, accompanists (Steve Barnett and Lautaro Greco)
  • A TE, O CARA
    Stephen Costello; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra)

  

  1. Best Classical Compendium
    Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.
  • AMERICAN ORIGINALS 1918
    John Morris Russell, conductor; Elaine Martone, producer
  • LESHNOFF: SYMPHONY NO. 4 ‘HEICHALOS’; GUITAR CONCERTO; STARBURST
    Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer
  • MELTZER: SONGS AND STRUCTURES
    Paul Appleby & Natalia Katyukova; Silas Brown & Harold Meltzer, producers
  • THE POETRY OF PLACES
    Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers
  • SAARIAHO: TRUE FIRE; TRANS; CIEL D’HIVER
    Hannu Lintu, conductor; Laura Heikinheimo, producer

  

  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
    A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
  • BERMEL: MIGRATION SERIES FOR JAZZ ENSEMBLE & ORCHESTRA
    Derek Bermel, composer (Derek Bermel, Ted Nash, David Alan Miller, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra & Albany Symphony Orchestra)
  • HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
    Jennifer Higdon, composer (Yolanda Kondonassis, Ward Stare & The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR
    Wynton Marsalis, composer (Nicola Benedetti, Cristian Măcelaru & Philadelphia Orchestra)
  • NORMAN: SUSTAIN
    Andrew Norman, composer (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • SHAW: ORANGE
    Caroline Shaw, composer (Attacca Quartet)
  • WOLFE: FIRE IN MY MOUTH
    Julia Wolfe, composer (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus Of NY City & New York Philharmonic)

 


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Classical music: UW-Madison opera students are on display at a concert this Sunday afternoon along with guest professional and UW opera graduate Lindsay Metzger

September 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from UW Opera Props, the support organization for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

We invite you to attend a benefit concert showcasing the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera program’s talented students, along with special guest artist, distinguished alumna and mezzo-soprano, Lindsay Metzger (below top) who will be accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung (below bottom).

lindsay-metzger-1

daniel-fung

Please join us for a program of songs and arias, followed by a reception. Enjoy conversation with the singers, faculty and other musical friends, along with light refreshments including artisanal cheeses, fruit, wine, juices and chocolatier Gail Ambrosius’s delicious creations.

The concert is this Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. followed by light refreshments and conversation. Sorry, no word about the composers or works to be sung.

The concert will take place in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison

Admission is a contribution of $25 in advance ($30 at the door), and $10 for students. All proceeds go to UW Opera student scholarships.

For more information, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1838139499750385

http://www.uwoperaprops.org/uw-opera-props-student-showcase-concert/

Lindsay Metzger (below) hails from Mundelein, Illinois. She spent two summers as an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and was a studio artist in 2014-15 with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Gannett in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore).

lindsay-metzger-2

Among her other recent portrayals have been Daphne/Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company), Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy), Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (DuPage Opera Theatre), the title role in Handel’s Ariodante, Béatrice in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

With Lyric Unlimited’s community-engagement program “Opera in the Neighborhoods,” Metzger was heard in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

A soloist featured frequently in numerous Chicago-area venues, Metzger debuted with the Grant Park Symphony singing the soprano solo in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

She was awarded the Paul Collins Fellowship from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Virginia Cooper Meier Award from the Musicians’ Club of Women, and an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions.

Metzger is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University. Last season at Lyric she was featured in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (debut) and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In the 2016-17 season the mezzo-soprano will perform in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Bizet’s Carmen.


Classical music: The venerable Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble opens its 18th season with fabulous Baroque music fabulously played. Plus, pianist Joyce Yang gives a FREE and PUBLIC master class Wednesday afternoon.

October 13, 2015
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ALERT: Late news comes that pianist Joyce Yang will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class for the UW-Madison School of Music on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Play Circle of the Wisconsin Union Theater. On Thursday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, Yang will perform a solo recital of music by Domenico Scarlatti, Claude Debussy, Isaac Albeniz, Alberto Ginastera and Sergei Rachmaninoff. For more information about Joyce Yang, the concert and tickets, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/joyce-yang.html

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. 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 Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) opened its new season in Madison with a fine concert at the Gates of Heaven on Saturday night.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

As always, the program was varied in contents and in performer involvements.

Running as a thread throughout was the artistry of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below center left, in a photo by John W. Barker) and mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below center right), a familiar team.

At intervals, they sang a pair of madrigals by Girolamo Frescobaldi (most familiar as a keyboard composer); an extended setting by Marc-Antoine Charpentier of the Miserere Psalm, with concluding lines added from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; and an Ave Maria by the really obscure Dutch composer Benedictus Buns (c.1642-1716), also known as Benedictus a Sancto Josepho.

WBE Fulmer and Sanuda JWB

The instrumentalists (Nathan Giglierano, Mary Parkinson, violins; Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger, flutes; Eric Miller, gamba; plus cellist Anton TenWolde and Max Yount, harpsichord, as continuo) joined with them variously as appropriate, to lovely effects.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

At one extreme of texture, violinist Perkinson, supported by continuo, played a richly demanding sonata by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. At the other extreme, all the players joined in for a vivacious finale with excerpts from the Suite in E minor from the first book of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Musique de Table (Tafelmusik) anthologies.

For me, however, and I think for a lot of the good-sized audience, the real high point of the program came just after the intermission, when the two violinists, with continuo, gave an absolutely smashing rendition of the Follia Sonata, the last of the 12 Trio Sonatas, Op. 1, by Antonio Vivaldi. (Below in an ensemble shot by John W. Barker.)

WBE plays JWB

In this tour de force of writing, Vivaldi surpassed his model, Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 12, whose 19 variations, cascade one virtuosic extravagance after another. (You can hear the Vivaldi’s “La Follia” sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Fabulous Late Baroque music, fabulously played!

The WBE has been giving these concerts for the past 18 years. They continue to be unpretentious but thoroughly satisfying programs of Baroque chamber music in an appropriate chamber setting. Long may they continue!

The group’s next concert in Madison will be on Sunday, Nov. 29, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

For more information visit: http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org


Classical music: Merry Christmas from The Ear! Here is a rescued compilation of Baroque holiday music to remind us how technology brings us the gift of the past as well as the future.

December 25, 2013
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READER SURVEY: What piece of classical music do you most look forward to hearing — or most dread hearing — when Christmas arrives each year? Leave a comment. The Ear wants to hear.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas!

ChristmasTreeBranch.j

A lot of people, both young and old, will be opening hi-tech gifts like smart phones, desk-top and laptop computers, and tablet computers and iPads, to say nothing of digital cameras, video recorders and games.

hi tech items

But even though we think of technology as pointing us toward the future, it is also good to realize that it can return us to the past.

After all, CDs, which are relatively cheap to make, have brought back many performers and composers whose work had disappeared off the radar screen and fallen into neglect.

Take today’s example.

It is an old and acclaimed apparently out-of-print compilation album of Baroque Christmas music that was originally a vinyl LP.

And hearing the unfamiliar can be fun and informative, as I recently learned again at the third annual Holiday Baroque Concert (below) given by Trevor Stephenson and the Madison Bach Musicians.

MBM Chelsea Morris Vivaldi Gloria Holiday 2013

Not everything has to be George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” or Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto Grosso – as critic John W. Barker pointed out in his recent review for this blog (a link is below):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/classical-music-the-madison-bach-musicians-serve-up-a-superb-concert-of-holiday-baroque-music-that-goes-beyond-the-holidays-and-show-the-group-has-a-new-local-tradition-in-the-makin/

Anyway, someone has posted this old recording of a Baroque Christmas music album on YouTube, and the comments show that readers appreciate it.

You could stream it or run it through the computer as background music for gift-giving, or do even more focused listening.

I hope you enjoy it, especially since it features some rarely heard repertoire by Michael Praetorius, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Dietrich Buxtehude, Michael Haydn,  Charles Theodore Pachelbel (NOT the more familiar Johann Pachelbel of “Canon in D” fame, Johann Hermann Schein and Andreas Hammerschmidt. Here it is, at the bottom:

Merry Christmas, all!

And thank you for your gift to me of your readership of The Well-Tempered Ear.


Classical music: Medea remains a fierce and timely heroine for women in today’s society and politics in America.

November 18, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review-essay 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 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the MadisonEarly Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

It was just after I filed my review last week for Isthmus on the University Opera’s production of Luigi Cherubini‘s 1797 opera “Medea that I recognized some startling implications for our time in the popular story of the formidable mythic sorceress.

Here is a link to that review:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=38262

Even if I had thought of them before finishing the reviews, there would have been no space for such thoughts.

But perhaps The Ear can find a little niche for them now.

Most people have some inkling of the most famous part of Medea’s story.  You know, spurned by her husband Jason, she destroyed his new bride and murdered her own children in revenge.  (Sorcery scenes; blood and gore; escape in a fiery chariot — that sort of thing.)

But the full mythological story of Medea (below, depicted in a historical painting) was, in fact, a very complicated and multi-faceted one. It survives to us piecemeal in ancient Greek sources, and is embodied essentially in four phases. First, when the heroic Argonauts, led by Jason, came to her homeland (Colchis, in the Caucasus), Princess Medea fell in love with him, defied her father to help Jason steal the fabled Golden Fleece, and killed her own brother in escaping with Jason.

Upon their arrival in Thessaly to claim his reward, recovery of his throne, Jason was cheated out of it by his uncle, whom Medea promptly killed through her magic wiles.

Fleeing, Jason and Medea took refuge in Corinth for 10 years, where she bore him two sons. Corinth provided the scene of the second phase. Tiring of his forceful wife, Jason renounced her, winning the daughter of Corinth’s king, Creon, as a bride. In revenge, the discarded Medea used her magic to destroy both the king and his daughter, completing her revenge by the calculated murder of both of her sons.

In her vengeance, Medea had come to an agreement with the aged King Aegeus of Athens to take refuge with him. In this third phase of the story, Medea married Aegeus and bore him a son, Medus, but lost out in competition for power with her stepson, Theseus, and had to flee with Medus.

For the fourth and final phase of Medea’s story, she and her son returned to Colchis, where she defeated her hostile relatives and installed Medus as king.

There is, too, an epilogue, in which we are told that the devastated Jason wandered the beaches by the ruins of his famous vessel, the Argonaut. One of its timbers fell off, striking him with a fatal blow.

Now, there is lots of meat in all these episodes. Over the centuries, dramatists of varying stripe have picked over it all. The fourth and final phase has tended to be ignored, but the medium of opera has witnessed treatments of the first three, some going back to the very earliest years of lyric theater.

The episode of Jason and Medea in Colchis had its first operatic treatment (a comic one) by Francesco Cavalli in 1649, and many followed thereafter for three centuries. The third phase, of Medea in Athens, has been given far fewer presentations in opera, the most important being Handel’s “Teseo” (1713).

It has been, however, the second phase, that of Medea in Corinth, which has by far inspired stage versions, making us particularly familiar with that part of Medea’s story.

That emphasis was first laid down by the classical Greek dramatist, Euripides (480-406 B.C), in his play “Medea.” On his model, the Roman writer Seneca (he of Monteverdi’s opera “The Coronation of Poppea”) wrote a simplified drama on the story in Latin, and this was what future centuries knew best of the dread sorceress. French dramatists were particularly influenced by Seneca’s version, and one of them a younger member of the famous Corneille family, wrote the libretto for one of the earliest operatic settings, Marc-Antoine Charpentier‘s “Médée” (1693). (Belwo is Medea from the film by Pasolini.)

That remains one of the best of all such, though that of a century later, Cherubini’s opera–which was the UW Opera presented–does stand out among close to 30 other treatments, their number still growing down to the present.  (Below, in a photo of the University Opera production by Brent Nicastro, is Also Perrelli, Shannon Prickett as Medea, and the UW Madrigal Singers in the back.)

What survives to some extent in our various operas is still best set forth at the outset by Euripides. An “issue” dramatist, Euripides liked to provoke his Athenian audiences with challenging and unconventional perspectives.

And in the personality of Medea, Euripides found issues that resound through the centuries, and are more than ever relevant today.

Consider. Yes, Medea is branded as a sorceress — all that nasty magic, bad stuff, we all know, disruptive to nature and to the normal order of things. She had a hair-trigger temper, and her revenge could be simply horrible when she was thwarted.  Bizarre character, you know. Someone you might think twice about becoming involved with, and certainly about crossing. (Below is the celebrated opera diva Maria Callas as Medea.)

But what makes Medea so perennially fascinating is the mix of those “negative” characteristics with other elements.  She was a wronged woman: betraying her family and abandoning her homeland for love of her man, she is in turn betrayed by Jason when he finds a more advantageous marriage with a young woman. 

Complicating her plight are two factors.  First, she is a woman in an utterly male-dominated society.  Second, in a smugly xenophobic society, she is an outsider, an alien, a “barbarian”, to be scored as something “other”.  (Might we say she was the “illegal immigrant” par excellence among the Greeks?)  Against both prejudices, she fought bravely, even desperately. Her resources were limited, but what she had she pushed to the extreme.  And, until the final phase of her story, she was constantly defeated or on the defensive.

Right now, in our American setting, the rights and opportunities of women are still in question.  Breaking through the “glass ceiling” remains a problem for women in the men’s world of business. So-called “women’s issues” are under attack up to the moment: politicians prattle about rape, propose outrageously intrusive gynecology, oppose contraception and sex education, politicize abortion, deny plans for maternity leaves, and assault women’s health care.

Here we have had an election that produced for the first time a total of five women in the U.S. Senate. Not that voting for female candidates must be based solely on gender, but certainly their access to public offices needs strengthening. And how much chance was U.S. Rep Tammy Baldwin  (below) first given against for Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson?

In sum, the situation of women touches on problems whose formulation can be seen as far back as Euripides. Have we learned anything? Perhaps the most provocative anti-war tract ever written was Euripides’ play “The Trojan Women.” And perhaps the best challenge to thinking about the place for women in our world is no less than the same dramatist’s Medea.

And, Euripides might share some credit with the operas, too.  I was set to thinking about all this by Cherubini’s “Medea,” in its now “standard” Italian form, as presented by the University Opera’s wonderful student singers.

Overcoming the absolutely silly visual handicaps of set and costumes in William Farlow’s staging, these brave singers succeeded in bringing to vocal and dramatic life so much of what this complex heroine’s powerful story is really all about. (Below, in a photo by Brent Nicastro, is the UW production with, from left) Ariana Douglas, Erik Larson and Aldo Perrelli with the UW Madrigal singers in the background.)

So opera-goers, and everyone else: listen and enjoy, but think.


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