The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the Top 10 things to know about Handel’s “Messiah.” The Madison Bach Musicians will perform it with period instruments this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

April 4, 2016
2 Comments

ALERT:  Tomorrow on Tuesday, April 5, there will be two on-air events about the Madison Bach Musicians’ performances of Handel’s “Messiah”: On Wisconsin Public Radio’s Midday program on WERN (88.7 FM) noon-12:30 p.m., MBM director Trevor Stephenson will be Norman Gilliland’s guest. They’ll play and discuss selections from “Messiah.” Then MBM will perform two arias from “Messiah” live on the CBS affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 “Live at 4” program 4-5 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform the well-known oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below). The performances feature period instruments and historically authentic performances practices.

handel big 3

Here are the details:

FRIDAY: 6:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 7:30 p.m. concert

SUNDAY: 2:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 3:30 p.m. concert

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Avenue, Madison, near Camp Randall Stadium.

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

The forces and period instruments MBM has assembled for this event are similar in many respects to those used by Handel in the world premiere of “Messiah” in Dublin in April of 1742.

For more information, including a complete list of performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/april-8-10-2016/

The concerts feature an all-baroque orchestra ─ with gut strings, baroque oboes, natural trumpets and calf-skin timpani ─ plus eight internationally-acclaimed soloists, and the Madison Boychoir (part of Madison Youth Choirs), which will collaborate in the “Hallelujah” Chorus and Amen, under the direction of early-music specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), professor of bassoon at the University of Wisocnsin-Maidson School of Music.

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

Pre-concert lectures at both events will be given by MBM founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who is as entertaining as he is enlightening.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Advance-sale discount tickets are: $33 general, $28 students and seniors (65+). They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West)

You can also buy advance sale tickets online at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $35 general, $30 students and seniors (65+), Student Rush: $10 on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID required) Visit or call www.madisonbachmusicians.org at 608 238-6092.

To prepare you to appreciate the oratorio, here is Trevor Stephenson’s Top 10 list of things – a la David Letterman — that you should know about it:

TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HANDEL’S ‘MESSIAH

#10. Its title is “Messiah” not “The Messiah”

#9. Handel, at 56 years of age, wrote Messiah in just 24 days in the late summer of 1741.

#8.  Some of the pieces ─ like “For unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” ─ Handel borrowed or adapted from pieces he had composed earlier, usually by laying the new text over the existing musical material. This technique, known as “parody,” was employed by most composers as a way of recycling good musical material.

#7. The original words to the tune we know as “For unto us a child is born” were  (Italian) “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, cieco Amor, crudel Beltà” — meaning roughly “No, I won’t trust you, blind Love, cruel Beauty” (Hear the YouTube video at bottom.)

#6. Messiah premiered in 1742 in Dublin, Ireland two weeks after Easter (March 25 that year) on April 13. By uncanny dumb luck, this 2016 period-performance of Messiah by MBM will also take place two weeks after Easter (March 27) on April 8 and 10.

#5. Handel divided this oratorio into three parts. Part I: a world in need of salvation; the promise that salvation is on the way; arrival of the savior in the world; Part II: Christ’s passion and crucifixion, descent to hell and resurrection, beginnings of the church, triumph of truth over death (Hallelujah); Part III: Faith and the world to come; the awakening of all souls (The Trumpet Shall Sound), paean to the Lamb of God; closing, majestic meditation on Amen.

MBM Messiah poster

#4.  In a baroque orchestra the string instruments use gut strings—made from dried and carefully processed sheep intestine. Gut strings assist in the performance of baroque music in two important ways: 1) because gut as a material is very supple, the tone it produces is naturally “warm” in an acoustic/aesthetic sense; therefore, vibrato is not necessary in order to produce a pleasing sound and the player’s attention can focus more on pitch. 2) Gut strings, because they are very textured, produce a natural friction with the hair of the baroque bow which ensures that the instant the player’s bow hand moves the pitch is in the air. This optimizes the sense of directness in performance.

#3. The harpsichord and organ were used as continuo instruments in baroque music. MBM will be using both instruments in the upcoming Messiah performances. 18th-century keyboard tunings were generally of the un-equal/circulating variety known as Well Temperaments, as in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” of Johann Sebastian Bach. In these tunings, every tonality has a unique acoustic color, ranging from the transparently clear and harmonious keys (C major, A minor and other keys near the top of the circle of fifth, unencumbered by accidentals), then shading all the way down to the lugubriously opaque and gnarled keys in the basement of the circle of fifths, like G-flat major and E-flat minor. Notice in Messiah the contrast between the acoustical openness of the initial Sinfonia in E minor (one sharp) and the rigid density of the passion-of-Christ choruses near the beginning of Part II, “Surely, He hath borne our griefs” and “And with His stripes we are healed” both in F minor (four flats). 18th-century temperament will bring such differences into keen relief.

#2. Messiah was very successful and greatly admired in Dublin at its premiere. When Handel led performances of it in London several months later, the reception was much cooler. Nevertheless, from there on the popularity of Messiah grew steadily and it was performed often in Handel’s lifetime under his direction. Though much of Handel’s music was widely published in his lifetime, Messiah was not published until a few years after Handel’s death in 1759.

#1.  In Messiah, the balance between the sense of play and sense of purpose is unrivalled (though a different animal in many ways, a blood brother of Messiah in the movie domain might be The Wizard of Oz). Indeed, it is almost as if in Handel’s world, these two elements — play and purpose — do not oppose, but rather fuel each other. Handel’s descendent in this regard is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose also could consistently fuse melodic joy with harmonic and theatrical pacing, pushing scene after scene ever-higher until it seems the roof opens to the realms of limitless joy.


Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.

Bach1

But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-easter

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/ten-classical-music-pieces-for-easter.html

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

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
Leave a Comment

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: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus to hold auditions for Handel’s “Messiah” next Wednesday, Oct. 1. Rehearsals start Oct. 29 for performances on December 11, 12 and 13.

September 26, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The following announcement comes from our friends at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus announces auditions for its 2014 performance of George Frideric Handel’s Baroque oratorio “Messiah.” (You can hear the most famous chorus — the Hallelujah Chorus —  at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)

This year, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, will perform “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below top), the Stoughton Opera House (below middle) and the Al Ringling Theater (below bottom) in Baraboo.

BlackhawkMessiah

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Al Ringing Theatre

Come be a part of the six-year tradition of “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.

Auditions will be held next Wednesday, October 1. Rehearsals begin October 29. If you are interested, contact wcoauditions@gmail.com with your name, phone number and email address to set up an audition time. You can also call (608) 257-0638.

Note:  Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m.  Performances are December 11, 12 and 13.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Hallelujah! Two performances of a “Sing-along ‘Messiah’ are slated next Friday night in Dodgeville and next Sunday afternoon in Spring Green.

December 1, 2013
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends in the Rural Musicians Forum (below is a press release with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired logo) write to say:

Rural Messiah 2013 poster 2

Around the world and across the country, the performance of the oratorio “Messiah” by George Friderich Handel (below) at Christmas time is a tradition almost as deeply entrenched as decorating trees and hanging stockings.

This year, for the first time in this area, the Rural Musicians Forum is hosting a “Sing-Out Messiah” with two community “sing-along” performances of “Messiah.”

One will be in Dodgeville on this coming Friday, December 6, at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church; the other will be in Spring Green on Sunday, December 8,  at 3 p.m.) at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. 

handel big 3

“Sing-along” concerts have been a popular tradition throughout the United States, Europe and Asia since the mid-20th Century.

Many people have grown up hearing “Messiah” in their homes, churches and communities, and whether they’re accomplished musicians or just shower singers, many love to reconnect to those memories by singing the piece with others.

In a “Sing-along Messiah,” trained and accomplished singers perform side by side with friends and neighbors who could be singing — or even hearing — “Messiah”: for the first time. Families, church groups and even adherents to different religious traditions all take part. (For proof, see the very popular YouTube video with note than 42 million hits at the bottom of a flash mob performance of “The Hallelujah Chorus.)

The audience serves as the unrehearsed chorus, supported by a more carefully prepared core group. Instrumentalists and soloists are of professional quality. 

In Dodgeville and Spring Green, performers will include a chorus drawn from the community, the Pecatonica String Quartet (below), and five soloists, led by Greg Dennis, longtime director of the Mt. Horeb Chorale and UW-Platteville choral department.

Pecatonica String Quartet

Soloists for “Sing Out Messiah” include sopranos Madeline Ehlinger (Spring Green) and Leslie Damaso (Mineral Point), alto Janna Johnson (Arena), bass Carl Leaf (Spring Green) and Matt Roble (Dodgeville/Wisconsin Dells).  Retired UW-Stevens Point piano professor, Michael Keller will accompany.

In the audience will be more than a hundred singers waiting for their turns to sing, and listeners who have the opportunity to sit among the singers. 

In announcing “Sing Out Messiah,” RMF’s Artistic Director Kent Mayfield (below) said, “I love Messiah, and there is something about a full-house doing it that is remarkable.  The joy of singing with a mass of people transcends any kind of choral or vocal ability.  It gives the piece an energy you wouldn’t experience otherwise.  Everyone is welcome to join the singing and everyone is welcome to the performance. As an audience member, no one is required to sing but everyone is certainly invited to sing!”

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

The selections to be sung are listed on the RMF website: www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

Scores for “Messiah” are available at Arcadia Books in Spring Green and from online vendors.  A limited number of copies will be available at each of the performances on a first-come/first-serve basis.

Tickets are $10 (children under 12 are admitted free) for “Sing Out Messiah” and are available now at the Cook’s Room in Dodgeville, Arcadia Books in Spring Green and online at www.ruralmusiciansforum.org. Tickets will be available at the door in advance of each performance.

Rural messiah 2013 poster 1


Classical music: The Rural Musicians Forum in Spring Green is planning two performances of a “Sing-Out Messiah,” and is recruiting singers as well as listeners. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will give two full professional performances of “Messiah.”

November 18, 2013
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Store windows aren’t the only sign that the holidays are fast approaching, especially with Thanksgiving falling so late this year.

Performances, partial or complete, of the Baroque masterpiece oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below) are another sure sign. It brings joy, as you can see and hear  in the food court flash mob video of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from YouTube at the bottom, which has over 42 MILLION hits.

handel big 2

If you want to hear a complete concert performance, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) and soloists, all under the baton of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) – the WCO itself used to do annual Sing-Out Messiahs at holiday time — is offering one in Middleton on Dec. 13 and another in Stoughton, at the gloriously restored Stoughton Opera House (below), on Dec. 14.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Here are links for details:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiah/

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiahinstoughton/th

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

Andrew Sewell BW

But if you want to sing “Messiah” yourself, you might consider attending a rural one of two Sing-Out Messiahs to be given by the Rural Musicians Forum in Dodgeville on Dec. 6 and in Spring Green on Dec. 8.

In fact, you might consider becoming part of the community chorus.

Below are two posters that tell the story. You can enlarge them to zoom in on whatever information you want or need.

And here are details:

Handel’s Messiah is a world-wide event that awes singers and listeners with its thrilling emotional impact and an uplifting message.  This year the Rural Musicians Forum is sponsoring SING OUT MESSIAH – an opportunity for the community to join in singing beloved choruses of the MESSIAH with soloists, instrumentalists and a rehearsed choir.  The public concerts will be held on December 6 at the Dodgeville United Methodist Church and on December 8 at Spring Green’s St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

In preparation for the concerts, singers in the community are invited to join the community-based choir directed by the noted teacher and conductor Greg Dennis, to rehearse on three occasions  prior to the public events.  Rehearsals are scheduled for November 24, December 1, December 5.  There are no auditions, and the choir is open to singers in all parts and with any level of experience.  A full listing of the selections to be sung can be found on the RMF website. 

Rehearsals will be held at Christ Lutheran Church (below) in Spring Green. Singers should provide their own scores. A limited number of copies will be available for  purchase at Arcadia Books in Spring Green, and Cook’s Room in Dodgeville. All rehearsals will begin at 7 p.m.

christ Lutheran Church in Spring Green

For more information, contact Kent Mayfield, Artistic Director, ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com or check the RMF website www.ruralmusiciansforum.org.

You can visit the Rural Musicians Forum at: http://ruralmusiciansforum.org

Rural Messiah 2013 poster 2

Rural messiah 2013 poster 1


Classical music: Hallelujah for Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” So, what makes it great? Why and how does it work its magic? NPR answers those questions and more. Plus, you can listen to two versions — both Andre Rieu and a flash mob — of the great chorus.

December 24, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

HAPPY  CHRISTMAS EVE!!!!!!

It is just about impossible to imagine the holiday season without the “Hallelujah Chorus” by Handel (below), which has been a powerful and popular hit since it was first composed and performed.

handel big 2

This year will be no different.

The ‘Hallelujah Chorus” will be sung and listened to countless times in the coming day in private  homes, in houses of worship, in social institutions, even as a joyous food court flash mob proves (below), a video that has had over 40 million hits — so pass it on as a holiday gift!

But what is its hold on us and where does the hold come from?

NPR’s excellent classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” re-posts a “Performance Today” talk from 2008 in which Rob Kapilow answers those questions as part of an ongoing occasional series, “What Makes It Great?”

Now, some families observe the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve, and other open the presents on Christmas Day.

The Ear will do both for you.

So here is my Christmas Eve present – a close look at and listen to Georg Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” perhaps the most popular piece of classical music ever written for the holidays. (There will be another present to open on Christmas Day.)

Here it is:

http://www.npr.org/2008/12/23/98517850/the-pure-power-of-handels-hallelujah-chorus

What do you think makes the “Hallelujah Chorus” so great to sing and to listen to?

Happy singing! Happy listening (to the up tempo version below led by Andre Rieu that has had over 2 million hits)! And Merry Christmas!


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,211 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,100,012 hits
    November 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
     123
    45678910
    11121314151617
    18192021222324
    252627282930  
%d bloggers like this: