The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The second annual Madison New Music Festival will take place this Thursday through Sunday

August 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer classical season in Madison just keeps getting busier and more interesting.

The Ear has received the following announcement from Zachary Green (below), a native Madisonian and composer who graduated from Oregon High School and the Juilliard School, which awarded him a grant to start the first Madison New Music Festival last year. He now directs the event:

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and mentors,

I am extremely pleased to invite you to the second season of the Madison New Music Festival, taking place this Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 10-12.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual weekend-long concert series dedicated to strengthening Madison’s cultural vitality through the celebration of fresh classical music from our lifetimes.

The festival strives to affordably and accessibly share music by the world’s leading living composers with the Madison community, with special emphasis placed on Wisconsin-based composers and performers.

This year, over the course of four concerts, we will be featuring 30 performers playing the music of over 20 composers— including the music of a different living Wisconsin composer at every concert.

The concerts will take place Thursday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (8 p.m.), Friday at Bethel Lutheran Church (8 p.m.), and Saturday at the Memorial Union Terrace (3 p.m.) and Robinia Courtyard (7:30 p.m.).

PROGRAM AND TICKET INFORMATION:

Thursday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. (Below is a photo at MMoCA from last year’s festival)

After an incredibly successful launch in 2016, the Madison New Music Festival is set to return to MMoCA for a concert combining contemporary visual art and new music.

The festival presents brand new pieces by emerging composers, underplayed classics of the contemporary repertoire, and shines a spotlight on new music created here in Wisconsin.

The concert at MMoCA features music with thematic ties to MMoCA’s current exhibitions, including politically charged works such as “But I Still Believe” by composer Zachary Green and inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and “Drums of Winter” from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams (below). You can hear “Drums of Winter” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

There will be a cash bar and opportunities to walk around the exhibits. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and FREE for MMoCA members.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13011

Friday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Avenue

The festival’s second night features an eclectic range of music, from the inventive, folk-inspired music of Romanian composer Doina Rotaru (below top) to the improvisatory soundscapes of recently departed legend Pauline Oliveros (below bottom).

Also featured is local composer Scott Gendel (below top) , who will present a set of his own music with frequent Madison Opera guest soprano Emily Birsan (below middle). Both are graduates of the UW-Madison.

Other performers include Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse (below top), local flutist Iva Ugrcic (below middle) and local violinist Lydia Sewell (below bottom).  Tickets are $10, $5 for students.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13028

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 3 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace

Local new music wind quintet Black Marigold (below top) will perform “Beer Music” by Brian DuFord (below bottom), inspired by different kinds of beer– and you can sip as you listen!

But first, get your groove on with rhythmic works by emerging composer Andy Akiho (below top), Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and local percussionist Dave Alcorn (below bottom) of Clocks in Motion — interspersed with interactive interpretations of Renaissance motets and an electroacoustic work for vibraphone. Featured musicians include percussionist Garrett Mendelow and Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse.  Admission is FREE.

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 PM, Robinia Courtyard (Jardin Restaurant) at 827 East Washington Avenue. 

Join us at Jardin Restaurant, part of the newly redeveloped Robinia Courtyard to hear local ensemble Mr. Chair (below) present an eclectic, head-banging set ranging from original compositions to versions of Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky.

Also featured are the genre-bending Echelon String Quartet(below) and a mesmerizing solo bass piece performed by Grant Blaschka.  Cash bar.  ($10/$5 student)

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13029


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs Bach’s “Magnificat” and other music by Handel and Schütz this Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Madison and Whitewater

April 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat with full orchestra and additional works by Bach, George Frideric Handel and Heinrich Schütz on this coming Friday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, in Madison.

There will be an additional concert on Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. at the Young Auditorium, UW-Whitewater, 930 West Main Street, in Whitewater.

 

The Baroque splendor of Bach’s Magnificat will be performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir with its professional orchestra, Sinfonia Sacra.

Featured soloists include trumpet virtuoso John Aley, oboist Marc Fink, violinist Leanne League, New York-based tenor (and former Madisonian) Alex Gmeinder (below top) and mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Cooper.)

Sharing billing with the Bach is Handel’s impressive Utrecht Te Deum, which, like the Magnificat, exalts in the colors of voices, trumpets, timpani, oboes, flutes and strings.

Rounding out the program are Bach’s double-choir motet, Fürchte dich nicht (Be Not Afraid), and a work by Bach’s great predecessor Heinrich Schütz: Nun danket alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God).

Inspired by Mary’s song of praise from the Gospel of Luke (depicted below), the Magnificat is one of Bach’s most glorious and varied pieces. Its music offers a sampling of every style of music in Bach’s repertoire as a composer.

Imposing, concerto-like movements crowned by brilliant trumpet fanfares highlight the full chorus, whereas solo arias, duets and trios deepen the mood of the text in counterpoint with constantly changing instrumental colors—from lush strings to playful flutes to the dolorous oboe d’amore. (You can hear the “Magnificat” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In the solo movements the professional singers share the stage with highly accomplished members of the choir including Christopher Eggers and Nicole McCarty; Madison Savoyards regulars Bill Rosholt and Natalie Falconer; and many others.

The members of Sinfonia Sacra are drawn from the rosters of the Madison Symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the music faculties of UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh.

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres. Artistic Director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks.

Advance tickets for the April 28 performance at Luther Memorial Church in Madison are available for $20 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).

Advance tickets for the April 30 performance at Young Auditorium in Whitewater are available from www.uww.edu/youngauditorium/tickets


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs a varied holiday concert of all-classical music this Saturday night

December 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice to post:

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “O Wondrous Mystery” this coming Saturday night, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison.

Tickets are $15 (for students, $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (East, West and North locations).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Explore the magic and mystery of the holiday season with the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, whose program highlights the beloved Latin chant ”O magnum mysterium” in musical settings by Tomas Luís de Victoria and Francis Poulenc. (You can hear Poulenc’s setting, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Rounding out the performance are the remainder of Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets along with seasonal works spanning five centuries by William Byrd, Heinrich Schütz, Johannes Brahms, Herbert Howells and Bob Chilcott, plus the world premiere of “Methinks I See a Heavenly Host” by Peter Bloesch (below).

Peter Bloesch

The 50-voice choir will be joined by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below top) of Grace Episcopal Church, and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program annotator J. Michael Allsen (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who will accompany the Schütz selections on the sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Mark Brampton Smith

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms; a cappella masterworks from six centuries; and world premieres.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE


Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will mark its 15th anniversary this Friday night and Sunday afternoon with the “German Requiem” by Brahms and the world premiere of a new work commissioned from Andrew Rindfleisch

August 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) will mark its 15th anniversary with two performances this coming weekend of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms and the world premiere of a work by the contemporary American composer Andrew Rindfleisch.

These performances mark the first time the vocal group will be joined by an orchestra.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble 2015

Performances are in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus this Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.

Soloists are soprano Sarah Brailey (below top) and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom).

Sarah Brailey headshot

Paul Rowe headshot

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 with a student ID. Children under 6 under should not attend. More information can be found at www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

The Ear asked Scott P MacPherson (below), formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now the director of choral activities at Kent State University in Ohio, to talk about the anniversary and concert. MacPherson is the founder and artistic director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Scott MacPherson headshot BW 2016

MacPherson writes:

“We are excited to announce that the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary with two performances of Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) with soloists and professional musicians for the 45-piece orchestra.

“Additionally, IVE marks this significant milestone by presenting the world premiere of the Song of Jubilation, by Andrew Rindfliesch, the native Wisconsin composer’s first choral-orchestral piece.

“Started in 2002, the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is Madison’s “temporary” choir—it gathers some of the region’s finest singers every summer for two intensive weeks of rehearsal (below) culminating in two performances on the first weekend of August.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing 2016

“IVE started up as a summer group of dedicated singers who wanted to perform great choral music together. Many charter members sang under the direction of Robert Fountain in the Concert Choir or with me and the UW Madrigal Singers or Chamber Singers when I was on the UW faculty in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The group has grown from about 35 in its first year to averaging over 60 singers each year. This summer, I have expanded the choir to 115 singers in order to meet the musical and vocal demands of the Brahms German Requiem. (You can hear one of the most popular movements, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place,” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the beginning, IVE has served the Madison choral community with excellent performances of a varied and demanding repertoire, from Renaissance and Baroque motets to part songs and motets of the 19th century to choral works either unaccompanied or with piano or organ accompaniment in the 20th century to music by living composers of our time.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and Scott MacPherson rehearsing

“A few years ago, I suggested to the IVE board that we commemorate our 15th anniversary in 2016 by performing a completely different repertoire than our usual fare.

“The Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem immediately came to mind—there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this would be the right piece to commemorate this milestone. A favorite for the singers and audiences alike, the music of Brahms has frequently been highlighted on IVE’s programs over the years.

“Also, IVE has never before collaborated with an orchestra for an entire concert, although in 2008 we prepared Coronation Anthem No. 2 by George Frideric Handel for Concerts on the Square with Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra). Performing the German Requiem, arguably Brahms’s finest work, symbolizes the “pinnacle achievement” for many choirs.

I also approached my dear friend composer Andrew Rindflebisch (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as professor of music and heads the composition program at Cleveland State University, about sharing in our celebration by writing a choral-orchestral piece especially for IVE.

I asked Andy for a brief piece to serve as an opener for the Brahms. Song of Jubilation is a fanfare, a short celebratory anthem of power and beauty. Since it specifically introduces the Brahms, Rindfleisch uses nearly the same instrumentation and even selected one of the texts from the Requiem for his new composition. We are honored and privileged to present the world premiere of this fine work.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

Brahms (below) was likely inspired to write his Requiem by the death of his mother in 1865 and possibly also by losing his dear friend Robert Schumann a decade earlier.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Requiem or Mass for the Dead, which places a great deal of emphasis on the hoped-for salvation of the deceased, Brahms chose a path unheard of in his time: he selected biblical texts in his native German language mostly with themes of consoling the living, comfort in the time of loss, hope, and even a sense of joy for the bereaved for his Requiem.

brahms3

The resulting 7-movement work quickly became an enduring statement of universal consolation, a “Human” Requiem as Brahms once called it. We hope that not only our dedicated audience members over the years will come and be moved by this incredible music, but that many more new audience members will be there as well.


Classical music: Spend a week in the Age of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I when the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival is held, starting this Saturday. Part 2 of 2.

July 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Saturday, the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival will take place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The theme this year focuses on William Shakespeare and the Age of Queen Elizabeth I.

You can check out all the details of the festival at: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

The co-directors of the festival – the wife-and-husband team of singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot and signaled in the answers by the initials CBR and PR) took time out from the hectic preparations to answer an email Q&A with The Ear.

Here is a link to Part 1 that appeared yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/classical-music-spend-a-week-in-the-age-of-shakespeare-and-queen-elizabeth-i-when-the-17th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-is-held-starting-this-saturday-part-1-of-2/

Today is the last of two parts:

Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe 2016 CR KATRIN TALBOT

Why was the theme of the “Shakespeare 400: An Elizabethan Celebration” chosen for this year’s festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?l

CBR: We chose the theme to honor the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the musical connections in his plays and sonnets, which also reflect the world of Queen Elizabeth I.

Audiences will hear many works of famous Elizabethan composers including Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis, Anthony Holborne, John Dowland and others.

How does Elizabethan music differ from its counterparts in, say, Italy, France and Spain. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era?

PR: The most familiar music from this time, the madrigal, is “borrowed” from the Italians. There were several Italian composers who came to England to instruct the English in their music. The most famous collection of these pieces is called “Musica transalpine” or Italian madrigals “Englished.”

The lute song also originated in Italy but was taken to new poetic heights by John Dowland and his compatriots.

The English composers did create a unique style of sacred music with William Byrd (below top) and Thomas Tallis (below bottom) as the greatest of these Elizabethan composers.

William Byrd

Thomas Tallis

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers? What big things should the public know about Elizabethan music?

PR: Audience members may be less familiar with the vocal and instrumental consort music of this era. Many of these pieces were not intended for public performance, but were played as home or parlor entertainment. The pieces were designed to be very flexible and could be played with a variety of voices and instruments.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below) with her active encouragement of the arts was a peak of artistic achievement in the long history of the British Empire. Music, poetry, dance and theater all thrived for more than 20 years and produced some of the greatest masterworks of Western culture, including the plays of Shakespeare.

Queen Elizabeth I

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday night, July 16?

CBR: The All-Festival Concert will feature MEMF students and faculty performing a new program created exclusively for MEMF by Grant Herried (below), “Shakespeare’s Musical World: A Day in the Life of Elizabethan London.

Grant Herreid

The program is organized by times of the day with speeches from different plays of Shakespeare. Musical reflections include several wonderful pieces by Orlando Gibbons including “The Cries of London,” “O Come Let Us Sing Unto the Lord” and a setting of the “Magnificat” by Orlando Gibbons, “Music Divine” by Thomas Tomkins, a motet by Thomas Tallis, and other works by Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Morely, John Coperario and John Dowland.

Retired UW-Madison history professor John W. Barker will be giving the 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture on “Queen Elizabeth I: The Politician” in the Elvehjem Building of the Chazen Museum of Art.

MEMF all festival concert 2015

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers or performances that you especially recommend for the general public?

PR: We would like to encourage everyone to see all the concerts and experience the entire week. It’s like stepping back in time to a different era—a living history lesson complete with an authentic sound track.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CBR and PR: Check out our website for more details about everything. There is a lot to hear, see, and experience! You can purchase tickets: online; at the Vilas Hall Box Office; at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office (Memorial Union); by calling 608-265-ARTS (2787); or the door. For more information about the MEMF concert series and workshop, please visit our website: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

 


Classical music: This Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs music composed by immigrants to the U.S.

April 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), the talented and energetic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir who also directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, writes:

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present “Songs In a New Land” on this Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison and on Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. at Cargill United Methodist Church, 2000 Wesley Ave., in Janesville.

Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org. They are also available at the door.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The WCC’s concert will celebrate composers who were immigrants from the 15th century to the present, including emigres to the United States from China, Russia, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

At a time when immigration has become a burning issue in national politics, the WCC’s program highlights composers who emigrated from the country of their birth to make new homes elsewhere. They imported traditions from their homelands and enriched the cultural life of their adopted countries in innumerable ways.

Their reasons for leaving home were varied-some moved voluntarily but many were forced to emigrate for political, economic or religious reasons or, often, a combination of all of these.

While the experience of leaving behind all that is familiar and making a new life in a foreign country was rarely easy, the interaction of old and new influences resulted in some of the most lasting and unique artistic creations in history.

Most of the featured composers were or are immigrants to the United States, but the program opens with a set of Renaissance motets—“Stabat Mater” by Josquin des Prez (below top) and “Domine, Convertere” by Orlando di Lasso (below bottom) — demonstrating that migrant composers have played a major role throughout history.

Josquin Des Prez

Orlando Gibbons

Some of the more recent composers represented are: Kurt Weill, whose Kiddush was composed for Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City; Chen Yi (below top), represented by “A Set of Chinese Folksongs”; Osvaldo Golijov (below bottom), with an excerpt from his “Pasion segun San Marcos” (Passion According to St. Mark); and 20th-century giants Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.

Chen Yi

Osvaldo Golijov 2

Although Schoenberg and Stravinsky were known for their dissonant, modernist works, much of the music they composed in the U.S. was tempered by an effort to communicate with audiences here. During the 1940s, both men ended up settling in Hollywood, along with countless other exiled European artists fleeing totalitarian regimes and persecution at home.

In the case of Schoenberg (below), even though he is known as “the father of atonality,” and the originator of “12-tone” music, he continued to compose tonal music throughout his life, and often wrote in a more accessible style for amateur musicians. The WCC will present two such tonal works by Schoenberg: “Verbundenheit” (Solidarity) for male chorus, and the folksong arrangement, “Mein Herz in steten treuen” (My Heart, Forever Faithful).

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

In the American works of Stravinsky (below), the Credo movement of his 1947 Mass was subtly influenced by American Jazz.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Joining the WCC will be Madison organist Mark Brampton Smith, who will accompany several pieces at the organ as well as perform solo organ works by Paul Hindemith and Joaquin Nin-Culmell (two additional mid-century immigrants to the U.S.).

Mark Brampton Smith

The movements from Stravinsky’s Mass will be performed with Brampton Smith at organ and guest trombonist Michael Dugan (below), who will also enhance Josquin des Prez’s “Stabat Mater” by playing sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Michael Dugan

Guest percussionist Stephen Cherek will enliven several of the Latin American selections, playing a variety of instruments.

Here are some YouTube links to sample performances:

Josquin des Prez, “Stabat Mater”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsayDDRl3kI

Orlando di Lasso, “Domine Convertere”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufP3S_M4mog

Kurt Weill, “Kiddush”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RI2jTYqso0

Chen Yi, “Mo Li Hwa” (“Jasmine Flower” from A Set of Chinese Folksongs)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtlsW2ZjSHA

Osvaldo Golijov, “Demos Gracias” (from La Pasion segun San Marcos)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vldVEk29s3Y

Arnold Schoenberg, “Verbundenheit” (from Six Pieces for Male Chorus)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPAeA3sIoc8

Arnold Schoenberg, “Mein Herz in steten Treuen”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPsE1LBMHrs&index=5&list=PLdXviD-nr2a7RIabEqL5XrXLi4G7V71tP

Igor Stravinsky, Credo (from Mass)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBpfSfq9v0A


Classical music: It’s Christmas Eve — a good time to revisit how the Wisconsin Chamber Choir imaginatively and successfully used many versions of the “Magnificat” to combine the holiday seasonal and the musically substantial  

December 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificat audience

The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.

Marys magnificat

The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.

Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).

That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.

Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)

Then we had settings of the Latin text.

First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.

Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin,  who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.

Andy Olson oboe

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.

This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).

Arvo Part

English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.

The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).

Peter Bloesch

stephen paulus

Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).

Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.

The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.

Mark Brampton Smith

It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.

For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:

http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org

 


Classical music: John W. Barker reviews conflicting concerts by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the choral group Voces Aestatis.

August 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a two-fer or double 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Scheduled train-wrecks are, sadly, all too familiar in the regular music season, say in October and April. But at the very end of August? Absurd! Unacceptable!

And yet there it was. Last Friday night, August 21, we had two concerts needlessly set at loggerheads. One had been scheduled for months; the other was hastily set and on terms that had little to do with the risks of spoiling the logical audience for both.

The two events were: the second and final summer concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and the only summer concert by the new choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Voices of Summer).

Feeling the need to report on both, I was boxed in and forced by circumstances to review one concert directly and the other though its dress rehearsal.

That is grossly unfair to the disadvantaged choice, the MAYCO concert, for obviously the ensemble needs to be judged on its definitive public performance. Still, rehearsals are themselves often fascinating, and so I hope my approach is not without merits of it own.

MAYCO

The MAYCO rehearsal (below, in a photo by John W. Barker; other performance photos were taken by The Ear) was held on Thursday morning, August 20, in the venue of the concert itself, Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

The program is one that was connected to that of the earlier concert this summer, on June 20, in that each explored approaches to the Baroque ensemble idiom of the concerto grosso and brought together examples old and new.

MAYCO rehearsal 2015 JWB

This second program opened with an outstanding example of a Late Baroque masterwork, the fifth of George Frideric Handel’s great set of 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6.

Conductor and ensemble founder, Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) showed his fresh and enterprising approach in so many ways.

Mikko Rankin Utevsky MAYCO 8-15

He used the supplemental wind parts that double merely the string voices but are authentic survivals. He opposes first and second violins, allowing the concertino’s trio of soloists a proper place in the texture. He had the players (save for cellos) stand for the performance, rather than sit. (In the rehearsal, too, he himself conducted while playing the viola part.) The performance stressed vitality and vigor, and showed that the 19 string players could make a quite coherent ensemble sonority.

By contrast, the second work was a modern counterpart, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings and Piano, the latter played by UW-Madison student Jason Kutz (below). Composed in 1925 — and followed by a second one some years later — this is a remarkable example of neo-Classicism, in which a Baroque form and mentality could be recast in 20th-century harmony.

Bloch knew that the piano could not match the harpsichord as an “authentic” continuo instrument: while he often uses it to reinforce the string bass line, he gives it roles across the texture, while even allowing it tiny solo moments. The style is richly varied, with elements of folk dances, and an overall suggestion of the neo-Hebraic sound with which he was becoming identified.

Jason Kutz MAYCO

The final work was Franz Joseph Haydn’s beloved Symphony No. 94 in G major, the “Surprise.” Utevsky showed a thorough command of the score’s varieties and possibilities, exploiting them with some fine subtleties.

At the dress rehearsal and at the performance, Utevsky also gave two of his conducting students Maynie Bradley and Majestic Lor (below top and bottom respectively)  the chance to lead parts of the slow movement, as an introduction to actual podium experience — a wonderful idea!

Maynie Bradley

Majestica Lor

This has been the MAYCO’s fifth summer season. Utevsky promises to be back leading it at least one more year. He deserves every encouragement to arrange the extension beyond that, as an extension of this wonderful program he has created to allow talented young student players to have orchestral experience.

SUMMER VOICES

The conflicting choral concert was held Friday night in St. Andrew’s Church on Regent Street.

The group “Voces Aetatis” (Voices of Summer) is in its second season and offered a single concert. The group consists of 16 mixed voices, four singers to a part. They are devoted to “early” choral music, predominantly from the Renaissance, an age that offers particularly superlative choral writing just waiting to be exploited. Conductor Ben Luedcke has shaped them into a finely balanced ensemble, with beautifully nuanced overall sound.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The first (and larger) part of the program was devoted to sacred music by eight composers, chronologically: Jean Mouton (1459-1522), Jean Lhéritier (1480-1551), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1512), Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), and Antonio Lotti (667-1740). Of the last two, Gesualdo is a very late Mannerist, while Lotti is really a Baroque composer, represented by his retro-polyphonic warhorse, the eight-voice Crucifixus. Otherwise, the selection represented some prime Renaissance art.

The selections sounded lovely — and all the same. Director Luedcke (below) takes everything at a consistently smooth and stately pace, often rather too slowly to get at the textual and spiritual meanings. Only the Gesualdo Tenebrae motet conveyed any propulsive power. Pieces by Byrd and Gabrieli should have surged in excitement, but did not.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

The program’s second part was devoted to madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), John Bennet (1575-1614) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Now, the problem is that madrigals are not (and were not) intended as choral music. The particular attention to the texts the composers so carefully set is simply steamrollered by the blurred diction of a sizable chorus.

The ideal is one singer per part, and it is a pity that Luedcke did not pull out individual singers from the ensemble in varying combinations of such limited scale.

The obscured clarity of the Italian texts was bad enough, but was disastrous in the English pieces. The words to The Silver Swan (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Orlando Gibbons (below), offered as an encore, and to his What Is Our Life? were totally lost — a particular injustice since the latter sets an ironic poem attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh as he awaited execution, with interesting Shakespearian parallels. To render the words unintelligible is no way to treat madrigals, however prettily.

Orlando Gibbons

This ensemble has so much potential, and is a brave vehicle for an area of musical literature too little performed. One hopes it can mature in future years to the effectiveness of which it is capable.

And without competing with another event for attendance.

 


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 Madison Bach Musicians successfully mines early music for its latest holiday concert of unusual offerings superbly performed.

December 15, 2014
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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 20 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 (MEMF) and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. And he also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stephenson (below top) and his Madison Bach Musicians (below bottom) have established a solid tradition of offering a December “holiday” concert as a triumphant antidote to the debasement of musical life that the Christmas season seems to bring inevitably with it.

MBM holiday 2014 Trevor speaks JWB

MBM holiday 2014 all usicians JWB

This time around — specifically, last Saturday night at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ — was no exception, and even a step forward.

It was further testimony, also, of Stephenson’s thriving collaboration with Marc Vallon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty. Vallon chose a good many of the selections, organized the program, conducted (below top) some of it, and played the dulcian (Baroque bassoon, below bottom on the right).

MBM holiday 2014 Vallon conducting JWB

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

In that last, Vallon was joined by his wife, Martha Vallon, on viola da gamba as well as by Anna Steinhoff on the same instrument, violinists Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, plus Linda Pereksta on recorder.

IMG_1307

There was also a fine vocal quartet of soprano Chelsea Morris (below, far left), alto Sarah Leuwerke (far right), tenor Kyle Bielfeld (center left) and bass Davonne Tines.

MBM holiday 2014 singers

Stephenson himself, held much of it together playing on a dandy “orgel positif” or chamber organ, made all of wood.

MBM holiday 2014 pos tive or chamber organ JWB

The program was a nicely varied mix of vocal and instrumental music, and going back further than the usually featured 18th century.

Of the vocal works, all but one were sacred in character and function, though few were specifically related to the Christmas season.

The 16th century was represented by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) in four Latin pieces for the vocal group alone.  (One was an extraordinary chromatic study, typical of the composer’s experimentation with tonic bypassing of the old modal system.) The rest of the material was effectively from the 17th century, a time of wide explorations of the new Baroque idiom.

Orlando di Lasso

After an organ fugue by Giovanni Gabrieli, the explicitly instrumental pieces came from the pens of Johann Schenck (1660-1716), and Antonio Bertali (1605-1669), with varying instrumentations—the one by Schenck for two gambas (below, with Martha Vallon on the left and Anna Steinhoff) was particularly delicious.

MBM holiday 2014 Martha Vallon left and Anna Steinhoff CR JWB

Again in varying combinations, singers and players joined in selections by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1682), Johann Froberger (1616-1692), and Johann Schelle (1648-1701), as well as by two members of the musically prolific Bach family, of generations before Johann Sebastian Bach: Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), and Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694).  The latter’s double-choir German motet provided a chance for all 11 performers to come together for a grand finale (singers in one choir, instruments in the other).

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

German was the predominant language of these vocal works. But an interesting curiosity was an adaptation that Heinrich Schütz made (his SWV 440), fitting a German translation to Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Italian madrigal, “Chiome d’oro” (the Monteverdi version is in a YouTube video at the bottom).

All the performers were expert in their work, though the two gamba players were particularly appealing among the instrumentalists, while — with no disrespect to the others — Morris and Leuwerke were truly wonderful in their singing assignments.

What matters most is that Stephenson and his colleagues have once again demonstrated that the realms of early music have endless treasures to offer — ones most particularly welcome on the parched December scene.

A large and enthusiastic audience testified to public recognition of that fact.


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