The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs its annual summer concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

July 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble write:

When conductor Scott MacPherson convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions.

Known as “Madison’s most temporary choir,” the ensemble – a semi-professional choir of approximately 60 singers – brings new life to over 500 years of choral music within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular remarkable experience, year after year. (You can hear the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sing the “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Josef Rheinberger in 2012 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This summer, Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2015 program.

The traditional Friday night concert takes place on at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, July 31, at Christ Presbyterian Church (below), located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 2, at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ (below), located at 110 North Gammon Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Lutheran Church of the Living Christ

General admission tickets are available online at isthmusvocalensemble.org or at the door. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. 

The program, “Unconventional Images” is a tapestry of unexpected beauty, including works spanning from the 1500s up to brand new compositions, featuring a world premiere from composer Corey Rubin (below) entitled “The Snow Man.”

Corey Rubin

Director Scott MacPherson writes: “For these concerts, prepare your ears and mind to be led down an unconventional path, where you will ponder such images as the nativity, snow in the summer, sensual beauty, the desert, glory, mortality and divine renewal.”

Other featured works include “Three Nativity Carols” by the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below top); “Beati quorum via” and “Coelos ascendit hodie” by Charles Villiers Stanford; “Du bist aller Dinge schön” and “Fahet uns die Füchse” by Melchoir Franck; “Schaffe in mir Gott” by Johannes Brahms; the Gloria by Dominick Argento; and several newly composed pieces, including “Desert Rose” by Frank Wiley, as well as “I Sing to Use the Waiting” and “An Irish Blessing” by University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom).

stephen paulus

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Its members include professional singers, choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two professional CDs.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

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Classical music: Early music group Eliza’s Toyes offers a fascinating exploration of the role of music in medicine from Medieval though Baroque times.

May 24, 2015
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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, who also took the performance photos. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eliza’s Toyes (below top), the consort of voices and instruments devoted to early music, is led by the formidably talented Jerry Hui. The group gave another of its imaginative programs, this time on Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom).

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

The theme and title of this program was “Music: The Miracle Medicine.” Offered were 15 selections, conveying various ideas or beliefs about health (both physical and spiritual), illness, medicine, miracle cures and good living.

Toyes medicine motet JWB

Each selection was preceded by the reading of passages from moral and medical texts of various periods. (I wonder if today’s medical and health-advice writings will sound as comical generations from now as do those of the past to us!)

Toyes medicine physician JWB

Fifteen composers were represented in the course of the program, from Medieval through Baroque: Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179), Alfonso El Sabio (1221-1284), Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Cipriano da Rore (1516-1565),Hubert Waelrant (1515-1595), Orlando di Lassus (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Lelio Bertani (1553-1612), John Wilbye (1574-1638), Gabriel Bataille (1575-1630), Melchior Franck (1579-1639), John Maynard (15??-16??), Anonymous 17th-Century (2 items), Marin Marais (1656-1728) and John Eccles (1668-1735).

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

The selections were mostly vocal, either solo or ensemble. One instrumental selection stood out as probably the one most likely to be familiar: Marin Marais’ excruciatingly detailed “Representation of the Operation for Gallstone” (below top is Marais, below bottom is the introduction to his work) — complete with narrative headings for each section. (You can hear the narration and the music to the unusual piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Marin Marais 2

Toyes medicine Marais operation JWB

The performances were earnest and often accomplished. But it must be said in honesty that, in motets and madrigals, the vocal ensemble was not balanced or smooth — the singers clearly need to live with this kind of musical writing somewhat longer. Still, the overall effect was certainly entertaining and thematically fascinating.

Toyes medicine motet 2 JWB

There were no printed programs, but the titles and text translations were projected on a background screen. These projections were fully visible and readable, so they worked well.

Toyes medicine projection JWB

This is a program that will be offered again, I understand, at the Chazen Museum of Art on July 15, so that it can be caught and savored once more.

Above all, it is one more tribute to the thoughtful, deeply researched and intriguing program skills of Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

 


Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore music as medicine in a concert this Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend Jerry Hui –- a supremely talented individual and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who performs, composes and teaches at UW-Stout – sends the following word:

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below top) has a concert this Friday night, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom). The concert is titled “Music: The Miracle Medicine.”

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

Here is an introduction to the program:

“Rediscover the integral role of music as the restorer of health in the early days of medical science during the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“Music has been an integral part of our wellbeing. To this date, many listen to music for its power in relaxation, excitement, and even catharsis. The development of music therapy as a medical profession, as well as increasing research in the physiological and psychological effects of music, signifies our ongoing interest to understand and utilize music.

“As scientists continue to examine music in a utilitarian light, it is worthwhile for us to rediscover how human beings have historically viewed music and its connection with health.”

music and medicine clef

Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for the general public and $10 for students.

Here is the program, which is organized by theme, and which include singing i English, Latin, French, German and Spanish:

CONCERNING THE FOUR HUMORS

Vos flores rosarum  — Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179)

Descendi in hortum meum — Cipriano de Rore

Absterge Domine (1575) — Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Turn Our Captivity (1611) — William Byrd (below bottom, 1540-1623)

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

William Byrd

MIRACLES AND REMEDIES

Tantas en Santa María — (Cantigas de Santa Maria)

In principio erat Verbum (1566) — Orlando di Lassus (below, 1532-1594)

Caecus quidam (1558) — Hubert Waelrant (1518-1595)

Gehet hin und saget Johanni wieder — Melchior Franck (1579-1639)

Orlando di Lasso

PRACTICING MEDICINE

Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (1725) — Marin Marais (below, 1656-1728; you can hear the piece, with a narration in French, in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Qui veut chasser une migraine — Gabriel Bataille

The nurse’s song — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

A Wonder: The Physician — John Maynard

Marin Marais 2

GOOD HEALTH THROUGH GOOD LIVING

Chloe found Amyntas lying — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

My fair Teresa — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

O Sonno / Ov’e’l silenzio — Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643)

Cara mia Dafne — Lelio Bertani (1553-1612)

Sweet honey sucking bees — John Wilbye (1574-1638)

John Wilbye


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