The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players conclude this summer season on such a high note that one already hungers for next summer

July 30, 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.

By John W. Barker

At Immanuel Lutheran Church last Friday night, the Willy Street Chamber Players ended the 2018 summer season – their fourth — with a concert full of fascinating variety.

Four works were performed, each introduced by one of the players. Personnel shifted according to the scorings.

To begin, a core group of the organization (below, from left) — violinists Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari, cellists Lindsay Crabb and Mark Bridges, and violist Beth Larson — played Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Quintet in C major (G. 324), which has the Italian title translatable as “Night Music of the Streets of Madrid.” (The piece, which has military or martial aspects to it, was featured in the soundtrack to the popular film “Master and Commander,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Typical of the composer’s prolific writing for string quintets, it is unique in offering in its seven movements a dusk-to-dawn evocation of Madrid’s street life in Boccherini’s day. This delightful work was performed with relish.

Next came a contemporary work by American composer Andrew Norman (below top). Written in his 20s, Night Screens (2002),for flute and string quartet, is a playful work inspired by the asymmetrical stained glass windows designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The music is quite tonal, but very episodic in its succession of tempos and rhythms. For this work, Amirinazari, Larson and Crabb were joined by a friend of the composer, flutist Timothy Hagen (below), now a faculty member of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Rarely heard in concert, but a really fascinating novelty is Sergei Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34. This was composed in 1919, during the composer’s stay in the U.S. It is based on two melodies whose actual Jewish origins are in doubt, but their juxtaposition and elaboration are fascinating to follow.

The colorful scoring is for clarinet, piano, and string quartet, so this drew other guest artists, Alicia Lee (below top) also of the UW faculty, and pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) to join Bartsch, Amirinazari, Larson and Bridges.

Finally came a rare opportunity to encounter Johann Strauss II collaborating with Arnold Schoenberg, or rather vice-versa. For a fund-raising concert on behalf of his radical atonal ensemble in Vienna in 1925, Schoenberg made a chamber arrangement of the great waltz master’s Kaiser-Walzer or “Emperor Waltz.”

He scored it for flute, clarinet, piano and string quartet — perfectly allowing seven of the eight performers (less Crabb) to offer a triumphant grand finale. Even in such a lean and reduced format, Schoenberg faithfully conveyed Strauss’s melodic genius, and brought the large audience enthusiastically to its feet.

The Willys continue to match great enterprise in programming with superb artistry in playing, all in a summer season that leaves us hungering for the next one.


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Classical music: Trevor Stephenson explains why Baroque music sounds so good at holiday time. His Madison Bach Musicians will perform their annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Corelli and Telemann this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FTREE concert Thursday night at 7:0 p.m. and at noon on Friday you can hear a FREE performance of two sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven.

December 9, 2015
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ALERT: On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW -Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of 20th-century music by Henry Cowell, Irving Fine, Robert Muczynski, Alan Hovhaness and Elliott Carter. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in two sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 30, No. 1, and Op. 96.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians and guest soloists will perform their annual Baroque Holiday concert. (Below is a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the 2014 concert in the same venue.)

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

The concert is at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are $23-$28 and can be purchased at the door, with discounts in advance at certain outlets or online.

For more information, visit the MBM website at:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/

Trevor Stephenson, who is a master explainer and who will give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m., recently spoke via email to The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This is the fifth annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Generally speaking, what is your goal when you program for it?

The idea of the Baroque Holiday Concert is to present an interesting and varied program of Baroque and Renaissance music, some of which pertains to the holiday season and to winter itself.

More importantly we try to program outstanding pieces that Madison audiences may not have had a chance to hear very often in live performance, particularly, played on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2012

Why is Baroque music so popular at the holidays? What is it about the music itself that makes it feel so appropriate to the occasion?

Baroque music, whether it is written specifically for the holidays or not, does indeed sound terrific this time of year. I think the baroque style really strikes the right balance between energy and form — a perfect marriage of theater and church.

The Bach cantatas, two of which we’ll be playing on this upcoming concert, are perhaps the strongest examples of this fusion. The bearing of these pieces is always devotional, while the compositional technique—the process of invention in them—is always searching, exploratory, even avant-garde.

Look at the opening of Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come Savior of the Heavens) where Bach (below) begins by firing up a martial-sounding dotted-rhythm French overture and then layers in the voices, one at a time, in long moaning tonally-veering chant lines. And yet, this all seems to operate within a framework that can accommodate it.

Bach1

Briefly and in non-specialist terms, what would you like the public to know about each of the works?

In addition to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 61, the more grand-scale Advent Cantata discussed above, we’ll also be presenting the more intimate Cantata 151, Süßer trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet Comfort, My Jesus Comes) composed for the third day of Christmas), which opens with an elegant and extended aria for soprano and obbligato baroque flute. We’re thrilled that this will be performed by outstanding soprano Chelsea Morris and baroque flutist extraordinaire Linda Pereksta.

We’ll also perform the rightly beloved “Christmas” Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, by Arcangelo Corelli. The melodic material, the sequential dance-movement structure and the unsurpassed beauty of the string writing in this concerto grosso are perfect in the extreme. MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim will lead this from the first violin.

By the way, if you’re familiar with Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Master and Commander you’ll notice that the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto pops up a couple of times in the movie score. (You can hear the “Christmas” Concerto, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

Also on the program is Telemann’s E minor quartet from Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik, literally “table music” refers to the domestic and unassuming everyday quality of the writing. Chelsea Morris (below) will also perform three movements from George Frideric Handel’s Gloria.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Other musicians featured on the program are alto Margaret Fox, tenor William Ottow, bass Luke MacMillan, violinists Brandi Berry, Nathan Giglierano, and Olivia Cottrell, violists Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr, cellists Martha Vallon and Andrew Briggs, and (yours truly) harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson.

I’ll also give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. about the music, the composers and the period instruments.

Is there something else you would like to say about the works or the performers?

I’d also like to mention that the concert will be given in the wonderful sanctuary of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. The acoustics there are absolutely terrific. Wisconsin Public Radio will be recording the concert and will broadcast it later in the holiday season, date to be announced.


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