The Well-Tempered Ear

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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Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison will celebrate Wisconsin composers, unknown Tchaikovsky and the 25th anniversary of Aaron Copland’s death during its 2014-2015 season.

August 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison has announced its concerts for 2014-15 — its 40th anniversary season of three one-performance programs —  that include a variety of music, from rarely heard Tchaikovsky vespers to choral music by Aaron Copland, and an entire concert that highlights living Wisconsin composers.

Festival Choir of Madison 2013

Here is a press release:

Concerts will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

“Pre-concert lectures by the group’s Artistic Director Bryson Mortensen (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County, will be on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m., with concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Bryson Mortensen BW

“Season tickets can be purchased at http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm or by calling (608) 274-7089.

“Season ticket prices are: General, $40; Senior, $32; Student, $25. No word yet on single tickets or when they will be available.

“1. All-Night Vigil: Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky on Saturday, November 1, 2014

Written nearly 35 years before the more popular Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky (below) set the text of the All-Night Vigil to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins, and First Hour), is a sublime representation of Russian church music that inspired other Russian composers in the previously untouched genre of religious music. With the uniquely shifting harmonies and meditative melodies, this a capella work will be particularly suited to the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s chapel. (You can hear some of Tchaikovsky’s a cappella choral music in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tchaikovsky 1

“2. Wisconsin Sings! on Saturday, March 7, 2015

The traditional of vocal and choral music is strong throughout Wisconsin, from the Appleton Boy Choir, to the Milwaukee Choral Artists, to the Festival Choir of Madison. Wisconsin is also home to many internationally recognized choral composers, and this concert celebrates the best of them. We will be singing works by composers such as Blake Henson (below 1) who teaches at the St. Norbert College; Eric William Barnum (below 2), Zach Moore (below 3), Jerry Hui (below 4), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout; and Andrew Steffen.

blake henson

Eric William Barnum

zach moore

Jerry Hui

“3. Aaron Copland: 25 Years on Saturday, May 2, 2015

2015 marks the 25th year since Aaron Copland’s death, and is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his significant contribution to choral music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style, the compositions of Aaron Copland (below) are perfect to celebrate the beginning of summer. This concert will include performances of “In the Beginning” and his “Four Motets” as well as selections from Irving Fine’s choral arrangement of the Old American Songs.

aaron copland

“For more information, call (608) 274-7089 or contact bryson.mortensen@uwc.edu.”

 

 


Classical music: Choral music is key to Johann Sebastian Bach as both man and musician, says expert conductor John Eliot Gardiner in his new book. You can hear the St. Thomas Church Boys Choir of Leipzig sing Bach this Sunday night at 7 in Luther Memorial Church.

November 2, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

To say that Johann Sebastian Bach loved choral music is something of an understatement.

This Sunday night, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., tomorrow night, you can hear some of that sublime music performed by the same boys choir that Bach himself (below) directed from 1723 to his death in 1750 at the Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. (The choir was founded in 1212. For more information, visit www.thomaskirche.org)

Bach1

Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave., will host the St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig during the first U.S. concert tour of its 800-year history. The choir will sing from the church’s rear balcony, just as it performs at St. Thomas.

St. Thomas Boys Choir

The program includes music of Bach (Cantata Nos. 196 and 150; and the Motet “Singet dem Herrn”); and Antonio Vivaldi (“Magnificat” and “Gloria”). All are masterpieces that have survived the test of time.

For tickets and further information go to: www.luthermem.org

Tickets are available for purchase online on the Luther Memorial website at www.luthermem.org via Brown Paper Tickets. You can select your seats from a seating chart of the church’s nave at $20, $30 or $60. (Below is the Luther Memorial Church interior.)

luther memorial church madison

But the music is about more than beauty, if you listen to John Eliot Gardiner (below), the distinguished British conductor of the Monteverdi Choir who has recorded all the surviving cantatas (about 100 of 300 were lost) after performing them around the world.

John Eliot Gardiner

This week, Gardiner published a book about Bach: “Bach: Music In the Castle of Heaven” (Alfred A. Knopf). It promises to be as important to Bach scholarship and studies as works by Harvard scholar Christoph Wolff, Albert Schweitzer and Philipp Spitta.

Bach Music in the Castle of Heaven

Gardiner also did a long, insightful and informative Q&A with Tom Huizenga, the director of NPR’s terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

The surprising interview includes sound snippets as examples, drawn from Gardiner’s extensive discography. And Gardiner even suggests which single cantata if the best one to listen to if you can only listen to one. (Can you guess which one? It is at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

It would be perfect to read or listen either before the St. Thomas Boys Choir concert or after.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/10/25/240780499/bach-unwigged-the-man-behind-the-music


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