The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ concert on Tuesday night features two male singers in music from oratorios and operas

February 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present  organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.

For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera

Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.

andrew-bidlack-vertical

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day. Here are many hours of classical music to help you celebrate the holiday.

December 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2016.

You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.

But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.

There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.

But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.

Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.

Here are two:

This is a 10-hour compilation that you could stream and play. It includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Schubert and Peter Tchaikovsky among many others:

And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:

Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.

The Ear wants to hear.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 


Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians perform their sixth annual Baroque holiday concert this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah” on Friday night is close to selling out

December 5, 2016
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ALERT: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its acclaimed music director Andrew Sewell are pretty busy these days playing the accompanying music for the Madison Ballet‘s multiple performances of Peter Tchaikovsky‘s holiday ballet “The Nutcracker.”

Then on this coming Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton, the WCO, the WCO Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison and guest soloists, all under the baton of Sewell, also give their annual and usually sold-out performance of George Frideric Handel‘s oratorio “Messiah.” The Ear has been told that this year’s performance is also close to selling out to. For more information and tickets, go to: 

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah-at-blackhawk-church-middleton/

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. this Saturday night, Dec. 10, the Madison Bach Musicians (below top) will give their sixth annual Baroque Holiday Concert.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-all-singing

The event will once again be held in the beautiful and sonorous sanctuary (below) of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-audence-and-players

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

There is a free pre-concert lecture by the always witty, informative and entertaining MBM founder, artistic director and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below) at 7:15 p.m. NOTE: Trevor Stephenson will also discuss the upcoming holiday concert and play excerpts from past ones TODAY AT NOON on The Midday program aired by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Trevor Stephenson full face at keyboard USE

The program will feature: a cappella (solo vocal) masterworks by Orlando di Lassus and Josquin des Prez performed by a vocal quartet; a Christmas Cantata for soprano and strings by Alessandro Scarlatti—featuring soprano soloist Chelsea Morris (below top); a trio sonata by Johann Joseph Fux; an intriguing  Partita for two scordatura violins (scordatura means the open strings are re-tuned into a new interval configuration!) by Heinrich Biber; the Sonatina in A minor for baroque bassoon and continuo by Georg Philipp Telemann ― with soloist and UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill); one of the Christmas Cantatas, BWV 122Das neugeborne Kindelein (The Newborn Baby) by Johann Sebastian Bach (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and a bonus feature ― a preview of MBM’s upcoming April performance of Bach’s oratorio  St. John Passion, the tenor aria Ach, mein Sinn.

CHELSEA Shephard

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

Advance-sale discount tickets: $28 for general admission, $23 for students and seniors 65 and over. 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 find online advance-sale tickets at madisonbachmusicians.org 

Tickets at the door are: $30 for general admission; $25  for students and seniors 65 and over.
 Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID is required)

Musicians will include: Chelsea Morris, soprano; Joseph Schlesinger, counter-tenor; Scott Brunscheen, tenor; Matthew Tintes, bass; Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, baroque violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, baroque cello; Marc Vallon, baroque bassoon; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord


Classical music: Which great maestro would you be? Take the WFMT quiz and see

June 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago classical music radio station WFMT has come up with a novel idea.

That is the radio station by the way, that brings us “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin,” which airs every weekday night 8-9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. The insightful McGlaughlin himself is a former conductor, and The Ear suspects he had something to do with the quiz.

WFMT is the same radio station with The Beethoven Satellite Network that brings us host Peter Van De Graaff who chooses and comments on classical music overnight. A performing baritone singer who has sung George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra several times, the discerning Van De Graaff might also have had something to do with figuring out different and distinctive conducting styles.

Anyway, the WFMT staff devised a quiz and put it on the radio station’s official blog.

You answer questions and then you see which great symphony orchestra conductor you would mostly likely be.

Among the names mentioned are Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Leonard Bernstein (whom The Ear was pegged as!) and the three below (from left): Marin Alsop, Pierre Boulez and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and last week was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

WFMT conductor quiz

Here is a link to the quiz and to the comments that its results have inspired:

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/04/22/quiz-which-great-conductor-are-you/

Take the quiz and let The Ear and other readers know the results and what you thought of the quiz.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The future looks brighter for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet, which just received $30,000 from the Madison Community Foundation to see if they should work jointly

May 23, 2016
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A REMINDER: Tonight at 8 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air a one-hour broadcast of the 50th anniversary concert in Overture Hall by the various groups in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

For more information, here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/classical-music-education-the-50th-anniversary-gala-concert-by-the-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-will-air-on-wisconsin-public-television-monday-night-at-8/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following news release, which should interest a lot of local arts fans. Unfortunately, it contains some grant jargon. But the bottom line is clear: Both the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet will use the money see if and how they can share their resources and thereby become more secure, efficient and financially stable. You may recall that Madison Ballet had to abruptly cancel its past season when donations for its production of “Peter Pan” fell short:

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet have been awarded a $30,000 Community Impact grant from Madison Community Foundation to explore an innovative and shared resource business model for the two organizations.

WCO new Logo 2016 Square

The award will fund a comprehensive feasibility study that will assess the resources of each organization and identify opportunities for efficiency and growth.

Madison Ballet and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, both well-established arts organizations, have long been providing world-class performances and creative programming in the community.

But as competition for non-profit funding increases, these two organizations are looking for creative business solutions to maintain excellence, support program growth, and ensure long-term sustainability.

“We are so pleased that Madison Community Foundation is supporting this project,” says Madison Ballet’s General Manager Gretchen Bourg. “All businesses—especially those in the non-profit sector—are realizing the need for new models for success and sustainability. This study is an exciting first step toward a truly innovative way of serving our community.”

The feasibility study represents Phase 1 of a larger project that could result in a business model in which the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet share key administrative functions, minimizing redundant costs and leveraging each organization’s unique strengths.

Each would retain the signature artistic and outreach programs for which they are known.

Mark Cantrell, CEO of the WCO says “This grant provides a wonderful opportunity to explore ways for our two organizations to come together to help build a better community.”

“I have worked together with Earle [Smith] for the past 16 years. We arrived in Madison within a year of each other and have always maintained an excellent artistic and working relationship,” says Andrew Sewell (below), music director of the WCO. “Our two organizations have performed together for their annual Nutcracker performances, as well as collaborated on special projects such as the Halloween concert, Concerts on the Square® and most recently the 10th anniversary concert of Overture Center. I’m excited to explore the benefits this unique arts organizational model may represent for both groups.”

andrewsewell

Madison Ballet’s Artistic Director, W. Earle Smith (below), echoes support for the project: “I am very grateful to the Madison Community Foundation for this opportunity to find better ways to engage our audiences and support our artists.”

w. earle smith

The boards of directors of Madison Ballet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra expect to select a consulting firm to conduct the study by the end of May. Data from the study will be used to identify next steps in strategic planning for long-term sustainability.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, led by Maestro Andrew Sewell, is a vibrant and thriving professional orchestra dedicated to advancing Wisconsin communities through the transformative power of music.

The WCO performs for over 240,000 people per year, including Concerts on the Square (below)®, Masterworks, Holiday Pops, Handel’s Messiah, Youth Concerts, and other performances across the state.  For more information, visit wcoconcerts.org.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

Madison Ballet touches the lives of 50,000 individuals in the community each year through engaging outreach programs and unforgettable performances.

Its annual presentation of The Nutcracker remains an essential part of many families’ holiday traditions, and it has broken new ground with innovative productions like the original rock ballet, Dracula.

The School of Madison Ballet is one of the premier training academies in the Midwest, providing quality dance education for dancers of all ages. For more information, visit madisonballet.org.

 


Classical music: UW Choral Union sounds magnificent in Haydn’s “The Creation”

April 26, 2016
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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 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. Barker also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra (both below) again pulled off a choral spectacular on Sunday afternoon.

Choral Union and Chamber Orchestra Creation JWB

The one-time concert was devoted to the great Classical era oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation, which is too big a work to be performed very frequently. But Haydn modeled it admiringly on the great Baroque oratorios of George Frideric Handel, which we almost NEVER get to hear — let’s not talk about the quite unrepresentative Messiah — by comparison. So we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have.

As always, the campus and community Choral Union sounded magnificent. It is supposed to, with a complement of 116 listed singers, as against an orchestra of a mere 34 players. So it could not avoid overshadowing and overawing all other factors. And particular power, volume and homogeneity resulted from the practice of mixing the singers completely, instead of having them stand as members of vocal sections.

This follows the pernicious gospel preached, going way back, to Robert Fountain, who founded the UW Choral Union many decades ago. One argument for it was that each singer should become more self-reliant, less dependent on the one next to him or her.

But if this practice makes for blockbuster, socko sound, it does so at the cost of part-writing clarity, especially in fugal segments. It misrepresents musical texture by exchanging its definition for a power-oriented blend, a hyped-up sludge.

It strikes me as strange that advocates for applying this doctrine to choruses do not also demand it for orchestras. Think of it: each violin individually next to a trombone, each viola mixed in with the trumpets. Now there would be a chance for socko homogeneity!

The UW Chamber Orchestra’s winds were strong enough, but the strings were woefully understaffed. At times, the ensemble sounded just a tad under-rehearsed, but on the whole it did well under its handicaps.

The soloists played a multiplying game. In Parts I and II, the three Angels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass), who narrated and celebrated the stages of the Creation, were taken by a fixed trio (below).

Choral Union Creation Trio JWB

The familiar Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top) has a strong and beautiful soprano voice. Faculty tenor James Doing (below middle) is also a valued local standby. Baritone Benjamin Schultz (below bottom) has a pleasant voice, but it lacks a true bass range.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

In Part III, when Adam and Eve come on the scene, Guarrine shifted to the latter role, and another baritone weak in the low-register, Benjamin Li (below top), took over as Adam. For the final ensemble, a choral alto slipped in to round out the solo quartet (below bottom).

Benjamin Li 2016

Choral Union Creation Quartet JWB

I note the title of the work as The Creation, rather than giving its original title, Die Schöfung, because the performance was sung in a modernized English translation.

Once in a while, those English words came through, but much of them were simply lost in mixed diction values. It might have been better — if not easier for the singers — to have kept to the original German. But all praise for an unusually ample program booklet, containing the full English text as sung.

Beverly Taylor (below), the conductor of the choir and orchestra, led with consistent energy and enthusiasm. Certainly the audience responded with great enthusiasm. (You can hear the famous chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

This was, to be sure, not an ideal performance, even a lopsided one. But, after all, the point of these events is to give the choristers a chance to participate in this wonderful music, and to give the audience a relatively rare opportunity to encounter it. On those counts, this was a highly successful event.

Now, even if we are not likely to get a follow-up with Handel, we at least have Haydn’s own successor oratorio, Die Jahreszeithen, or The Seasons. That would be wonderful to hear in its turn.


Classical music: This will be a busy week at the UW-Madison for students and faculty members who will give FREE recitals. But what will they play?

April 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This will be a very busy week for student and faculty recitals at the UW-Madison.

The good news? All concerts will be FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The bad news? Sorry, but in most cases The Ear has not received word about the program with specific composers and specific works.

That’s an annoyance that could cut into attendance, an issue that The Ear dealt with in another recent post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/classical-music-should-performers-and-presenters-list-individual-pieces-as-well-as-composers/

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble, under its director Javier Calderon, will perform. No word on the program.

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

(Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the brass ensemble Twisted Metal (below), under its director hornist Daniel Grabois – who is also a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet – will perform its annual concert of music inspired by rock music. Once again, no word on specific songs or composers.

THURSDAY

The UW-Madison Percussion Ensemble (below) will perform solo and chamber works under its director Anthony Di Sanza. No word on specific composers or works.

Western Percussion Ensemble

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Women’s and University Chorus will perform a FREE concert under conductors Sara Guttenberg and Mark Lehnowsky. Sorry, no program specifics.

At 8 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, bassoonist Marc Vallon (below) will perform a faculty recital using several bassoons.

The Ear has received no word on specific program. But in a Facebook posting, the congenial and charming, very talented and witty French native – who just won raves for his conducting of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” for the Madison Bach Musicians this past weekend — displays a great sense of humor. He says the concert will feature: “Some Baroque music, some pretty pieces and a couple of annoying modern ones.”

That’s brave talk from a musician who worked with the late Pierre Boulez.

Let’s hear it for Annoying Modern Music!

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

SATURDAY

At 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, flutist Ivana Urgcic will give a recital for her Doctor of Musical Arts degree. No program is listed.

At 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. Soprano Yanzelalee Rivera will give a recital. There are no specific works, but at least she lists composers: “In this recital, Ms. Rivera will be presenting works by Robert Schumann, Joseph Marx and Claude Debussy with the collaboration of ChanMi Jean, first year doctoral student of Prof. Martha Fischer.”

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below) will perform under its director, composition professor Laura Schwendinger. No program information has been given.

Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

SUNDAY

From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, there is a free recital by young student in the Community Music Lessons program. No program is listed, but a reception follows the performance.

For information about the program that serves “learners of all ages,” visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/cml/

Piano Pioneers program coordinator and instructor Paola Savvidou (left) works with student Jacob Horton (right) during a piano lesson inside the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Jan. 26, 2009. Piano Pioneers is a UW-Madison School of Music community outreach program that offers scholarship lessons to children and adults in the Madison community who would like to study the piano but can't afford the full cost of lessons. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Bryce Richter Date: 01/09 File#: NIKON D3 digital frame


Photo by: Bryce Richter

At 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Rectial Hall, trombone graduate student Matthew Bragstad will “collaborate with pianist Jason Kutz to provide an eclectic showcase of both standard and new repertoire for the trombone. The program will include works by composers Pryor, Scelsi, Jesse (a world premiere), L. Mozart and Castérède.”

Hmmm. How many of you recognize those non-Mozart names?

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Choir, under UW-Madison Choral Director Beverly Taylor will perform a program of new music that was originally scheduled for Saturday, April 16. The Ear will post more about this concert later this week.

UW Choral singers

At 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the winning pianists in the annual Beethoven Sonata Competition will perform. The names of the winners and the selection of the sonatas to be performed have not been announced yet.

But The Ear has attended many of the winners’ recitals and has rarely been disappointed.


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
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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: Red Priest aims to revive the excitement of Baroque classics. It performs music by Handel, Bach and Telemann this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

February 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The group is called Red Priest – the nickname given to the red-haired violinist and popular Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who taught music at a girls’ school in Venice.

But during its Madison debut appearance, the group will not be playing music by Vivaldi. The focus will shift to Handel, with some Bach and Telemann thrown in.

Red Priest (below) performs this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

0288-Joan Solo Tour Press Image FINAL

Compared to various rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Cirque de Soleil  for its flamboyant presentation of centuries-old classics, the group’s program is called “Handel in the Wind” – recalling the famous song “Candle in the Wind” by chart-topping rocker Elton John.

But that seemingly unorthodox approach, according to Red Priest, fits right in with the true underlying aesthetic of Baroque music, which is too often treated as rigid and codified, predictable and boring.

For more information and background, including the full program, critics’ reviews and how to get tickets, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/red-priest.html

Red Priest member and recorder player Piers Adams (below) — whom you can also hear talking about  “Handel in the Wind” in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently took time from his very busy schedule to give a Q&A to The Ear:

Piers Adams

What makes your approach to Baroque music unique and different from standard playing or from the early music approach that features the period instruments and historically informed performance practices?

Actually we do use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, albeit mixed in with some more modern aesthetics. The instruments are a mixture of originals (the cello dates from 1725, in original baroque set-up), close copies (violin and harpsichord) and modern instruments (most of my recorders, which are heavily “souped up” versions of baroque originals).

We differ from the mainstream baroque groups by doing everything we can to bring the music to life — not just in a “Here’s how they used to do it” sense, but rather by “This is how we’re going to do it!”

As musicians who like to live (or at least, to play) on the edge, that means we’re naturally drawn to some of the more extreme and colorful characters and performance practices from the Baroque era, mixed in with our own ideas drawn from interest in other musical genres, such as folk, world and rock music.

red priest on stage

How and why did you come up with that approach? Why do you focus on Baroque music? Is there something special to say about Baroque music?

After years of bowing down to the authority of the early music movement — which has a habit of policing anyone who disagrees with its creed or who wants to show a bit of individuality — it was a wonderful realization that in fact it’s OK to do one’s own thing!

As soon as we made that break, we found ourselves on the edges of that rather safe (but dull) world of historically accurate re-creation and in a genre of our own, where anything goes as long as it’s musically satisfying to us and to the audience.

In fact, much of the most satisfying playing does come from “following the rules,” where the rules tell us to perform with wild abandon and heartfelt expression in every note!

Baroque music is a wonderful place for experimentation and co-creation -– perhaps more so than any other area of classical music, because so much is already left to the performer to decide, and because arrangement and transcription were such important aspects too.

Baroque music also has a harmonic and rhythmic structure that many people can relate to, perhaps closer to modern-day pop and rock than the more harmonically complex music of the later Classical and Romantic periods.

red priest jumping

Why are you emphasizing George Frideric Handel in your Madison program? In your view, is his music underrated or underperformed? How important or great is Handel?

We have toured the US close to 40 times, and try to bring something new with us where possible. The latest creation is a transcription of music from Handel’s “Messiah,” which we’ve converted into a colorful instrumental journey, bringing out the drama in a very different way from the normal choral performance.

Handel is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, but this is the first time we have created a project around his music. I don’t know why we waited so long, as he wrote some amazing tunes!

handel big 3

How would you compare Handel to Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, whose music you will also be performing?

Handel’s music is in some ways simpler than Bach’s, which tends to be very dense and complex, but both can produce moments of high drama and great beauty.

Telemann was above all a great craftsman, and in his day was considered the greatest composer of all, but now is held in rather lower esteem than Bach and Handel – maybe partly because of his frequent reliance upon gypsy folk melodies in his works.

The pieces we have chosen bring out the characters of these three great Baroque masters.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

We’re greatly looking forward to this, our first visit to Madison!


Classical music: Let us now praise churches for providing concert venues.

January 4, 2016
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following message from a loyal reader and thinks it is worth passing on:

“Dear Ear,

“Two of your recent posts sing the praises of Wisconsin Public Radio.

“May I also suggest that we thank area churches?

“Not only do they provide concert venues for various groups, but their active promotion of music more generally — choirs, organ accompaniment — throughout the year is worth a blessing.

“On Christmas Eve, we went to the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the Madison Bach Musicians performing its annual Baroque holiday concert) to hear an abbreviated Nine Lessons and Carols.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

“We had the benefit of hymnals and for the first time for me could actually read or sing along with the service. Plus lighting dozens of candles in the darkness and wishing the congregation of the planet peace.”

The Ear couldn’t agree more and is happy to comply.

Quite a few churches or church-like organizations come immediately to mind.

There is the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below) with its FREE Friday Noon Musicales every week and its special concerts:

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

FUS1jake

There is the downtown Luther Memorial Church (below) where University of Wisconsin-Madison choirs hold their annual holiday concert and where the Madison Early Music Festival has performed:

luther memorial church madison

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

There is Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below) where the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra holds its annual performances of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah”:

BlackhawkMessiah

There is Grace Episcopal Church (below), on the Capitol Square, which is where the Wisconsin Chamber Choir held its concert this year of various settings of the Magnificat and which hosts the FREE Grace Presents series.

grace episcopal church ext

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

There is the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), on the near east side, that hosts the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Madison Bach Musicians.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

There is the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on the near west side, which hosts many different concerts and groups:

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

There is Holy Wisdom Monastery (below) in Middleton, which holds a variety of concerts and hosts the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in the summer.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

And even though it is now a landmark building rather than an active place of worship, there is the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park, where the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs.

Gates of Heaven

Thank you, all.

The Ear is sure there are many more that he is leaving out.

So he asks readers to please leave the names of other churches and concerts or musical events in the COMMENT section.


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