The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion joins UW-Madison ceramic artist in making an MFA installation a “smashing success.”

May 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO — www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its fifth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance by Clocks in Motion.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also took the performance photos:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

On Sunday, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion performed as part of artist Jeannine Shinoda’s MFA Exhibition “The Collector’s Set” in what can only be described as a smashing success.

Shinoda’s exhibition consisted of a room filled with ceramic plates, cups and dishes suspended from the ceiling by strings (below), which the attendees were invited to cut, sending the dishes crashing to the concrete floor.

Clocks china hanging

The performance took place in an adjacent room, where it was counterpointed by the occasional crunching noise from the exhibition.

The four core members of Clocks (below) played an assortment of bowls, plates, cups, spoons and ceramic-shard wind chimes in a four-movement composition – his Opus 1 — by music director Sean Kleve. Composed as a set of rhythmic patterns and relative pitches before the instruments were chosen, the creatively scored work was orchestrated cooperatively by the ensemble for this eclectic assortment of pottery, played mostly with chopsticks.

Clocks playing china

It was structured in four movements. I quite enjoyed the lively second one in particular. A slightly eerie third movement made use of threaded metal rods that were scraped along the edges of the instruments to produce a sustained tone, and wind chimes made of broken plates and ceramic spoons (below).

Clocks china hanging spoons

One of the curiosities of the piece was discovering the range of sounds that can be produced from kitchenware — in particular, the gradual acclimation of the ear to the variety of pitches produced. The music seemed to coalesce out of the clatter of dishes and smashing china from the other room, emerging in minimalist rhythmic patterns and creative imitative passages.

All four parts were of equal importance, and each player could be seen taking the lead at various points — a sense of equality that is a hallmark of Clocks performances.

The fourth movement introduced a couple of small gongs, as though signaling that the grand finale was at hand. As the rest of the ensemble played, Dave Alcorn solemnly crossed in front and began the ritualistically choreographed conclusion — slowly and deliberately smashing the instruments.

The other three joined in with equal gravitas, sending plates and cups and bowls alike crashing to the ground. (The performers and audience, seen below, were equipped with protective eyewear for this portion of the work.)

Clocks China audience with goggles

As the last of the instruments were reduced to shattered fragments, the four musicians — straight-faced among stifled laughter from the audience — produced brooms and proceeded to sweep the remains into a single pile in the center of the stage, leaving the rooms silently when finished. They returned moments later to a standing ovation.

Clocks clean up china

Here in his first work, Kleve demonstrates a sophisticated ear for texture and a shrewd understanding of pacing, both key to crafting a musically satisfying work that does not leave the listener feeling that the whole thing was just a setup to the final gambit of breaking dishes — an admitted risk with such a performance piece.

Clocks china Sean Kleve score

One of the wonderful gifts of Clocks in Motion is its ability to focus the ear on the sounds of “found objects” — whether they are plates or brake drums or cow jawbones — and provide a framework for listening to them as musical.

And, as is so often the case with Clocks in Motion, their strength of commitment and musical integrity is such that the enthusiastic audience is drawn into the fabric of even the most outwardly implausible works — their striking “Percussion is Revolution” program in September 2013 was a powerful example.

Clocks chna audience applauding

It is a testament to Madison’s musical community and to the School of Music percussion program that we continue to host such a remarkable performing ensemble, and this innovative performance is just the latest feather in their collective cap.

A PERSONAL NOTE:

Clocks in Motion will be joining my own ensemble, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) on June 20 to open our fifth season, “Concerto Grosso!” It features the world premiere of UW-Madison graduate composer Jonathan Posthuma’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor for Percussion, Piano and Strings.

The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and tickets are $7 at the door with students admitted by donation).

The program will also feature UW-Madison Professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor; the American premiere of contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall‘s “Rain, Steam and Speed”; and the Symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le Matin” or Morning) by Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the sound painting that gives the symphony its nickname in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

 


Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it.

May 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.

UWcommencement

The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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