The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Organist Greg Zelek, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will give a FREE celebratory recital at First United Methodist Church this coming Tuesday night

November 10, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

“Greg Zelek (below), the new principal organist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Curator of the Overture Concert Organ and Series, will present a FREE public organ recital on this coming Tuesday night, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue, in downtown Madison.

“The evening’s program of masterpieces includes: the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Organ Sonata in F minor, Op. 65, No. 1, by Felix Mendelssohn; the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543, by J.S. Bach (heard performed by Zelek in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the Organ Sonata in D minor, Op. 42, No. 1, by Alexandre Guilmant.

“A public reception follows the recital where people can share their thoughts about the program and meet the artist.

“Zelek says he relishes the creative aspect of playing the organ. Because no two instruments are alike, every time he sits down at a new console he reinvents the repertoire that he has played thousands of times for that specific instrument and that specific space.

“Zelek adds: “It gives me the opportunity to be as creative as possible when it comes to the selecting of different sounds and colors for each individual instrument and composition.”

“The First Church organ console (below top), as well as the one (below bottom) at the Overture Center, is in front of the audience, offering the organist opportunities to interact and engage with them.

“I speak to the audience in between pieces,” Zelek explains. “Having a greater understanding of the music sheds light onto its immense beauty and enhances the listener’s appreciation of the performance.

“The organ is also such a physical instrument. When the audience can see what the organist is doing, it draws everybody in. There is so much going on. It’s not just the hands and the feet, but also the different buttons we’re pushing and sounds we’re generating from the instrument. It is a full body workout when I play! The audience should never be bored.”

“Zelek’s recital is part of the 180th anniversary celebration of First United Methodist Church as well as the 25th anniversary of its Austin organ.

“Admission for the recital is FREE with donation envelopes available to support The Arts program at First Church. The church has a deep tradition in featuring varied musical offerings and provides much needed rehearsal and performing space for local music and performing arts groups.”


Classical music: Composer-performer John Harbison explains why the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is revisiting “The Musical Offering” by Johann Sebastian Bach for a third time

August 25, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you have ever attended a concert at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival (below), which opens this Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., you know how insightful the short commentaries by John Harbison invariably are.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. Harbison (below), the co-founder and co-artistic director with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison, has been awarded a MacArthur ‘genius grant” and won a Pulitzer Prize, all while teaching at MIT.

The concerts this weekend focus on Johann Sebastian Bach’s incredible “Musical Offering,” part of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a program note by composer-pianist Harbison, which will probably be complemented by some additional remarks:

”Every musician has the experience of understanding a piece better after they have performed it. A few have careers which welcome (sometimes to a fault) chances to re-perform, hopefully with greater insight, a piece they wish to carry with them and continue to share with colleagues and listeners.

“We have performed two complete Musical Offerings by Bach (below) at Token Creek. Why are we going back to its Trio Sonata? Because it has become necessary, for the fullness of our encounter, to present what is a revision, a reconsideration, a reinforcement of vows, regarding a masterpiece whose carrot remains forever on the stick.

“Such could be said about other elements on this program. One of the subtexts is about the fascinating issue of continuo realization — the piano or harpsichord part — the strange language in which harmonic structure is described to the player in cipher.

“In pieces by Bach this language is strained to the breaking point in works such as The Musical Offering and the E minor sonata for violin and continuo; it is in fact about to disappear, replaced by the explicit writing out, in pitches, all the musical information. Living in the world before and after this decision was taken is one of the preoccupations of this concert.

“In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces (by Haydn and Harbison) is really sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority, a high bar, considered carefully by the management.”

For more information about the five concerts of three different programs, including ticket information, go to: http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will explore “Necessary Music” by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Harbison and other composers from Aug. 26 through Sept 3

August 17, 2017
1 Comment

 By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an annual event that puts on a lot of MUST-HEAR programs:

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. –    In what way, and for whom, is a certain kind of music necessary?

Certainly the presenters of a chamber music festival would be presumptuous to offer a program as a sort of prescription for listeners. And at Token Creek we won’t.

So often the music we need arrives by chance, and we did not even know we needed it until it appears. And other times we know exactly what we are missing. And so we offer this year’s programs of pieces that feed the soul.

Saturday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 27, at 4 p.m., Program I: Continuo

Some works of art are so rich that they sustain a lifetime of inquiry and encounters, each time revealing fresh new insights only possible through sustained engagement, pieces so resilient they admit multiple interpretations, approaches, nuances, shadings.

We open the season with music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), pieces we’ve played before and some we have not, music that continues to compel for the very reason that it can never be fully plumbed, music that rewards over and over again. In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces is really only that they offer sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority.

Flutist Dawn Lawler (below top), cellist Sara Sitzer (below second) and pianist Jeffrey Stanek (below third join the artistic directors composer-pianist John and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom) for this opening program.

Works:
BACH Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo, BWV 1023

HAYDN    Trio in F major for flute, cello and piano XV:17

BACH   Two Fugues, from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

HARBISON    Mark the Date, for flute and piano (pre-premiere)

BACH Sonata in G major for violin and continuo, BWV 1021

BACH Three-Voice Ricercar, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

BACH Sonata in C minor, from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m. Program II: Schubert

A sequel to last year’s all-Schubert program, which offered Die Schöne Müllerin and the “Trout” Quintet, this season we offer two late masterworks by  Schubert (below): the song cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song) and the solo piano set of six Moments Musicaux (Musical Moments).

In structure, ingenuity and invention these two large works offer an eloquent counterpoint and complement to one another. We are pleased to welcome back pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (below top), and to introduce tenor Charles Blandy (below middle) with pianist Linda Osborn (below bottom).

Works:

SCHUBERT      Andante, from Sonata in C for Piano Four Hands (“Grand Duo”),  D.812

SCHUBERT     Moments Musicaux, D.780

SCHUBERT      Schwanengesang, D.957

Saturday, Sept. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 3, at 4 p.m. Program III: Waltz

This program explores the familiar form of the waltz as an unexpectedly flexible and diverse musical type, with uncommon approaches from a wide variety of composers from Schubert through Sur.

We conclude the season with Schumann’s splendid Piano Quartet, whose third movement offers one of the greatest of slow waltzes of all time. (You can hear it performed by the Faure Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We are pleased to introduce violist Becky Menghini (below top) and cellist Kyle Price (below bottom).

Works:

FRITZ KREISLER   Three Old Viennese Melodies for Violin and  Piano

DONALD SUR        Berceuse for Violin and Piano

SCHUBERT      Waltz Sequence

RAVEL     Valses nobles et sentimentales

GEORGE CRUMB    Sonata for Solo Cello

SCHUMANN     Quartet in E-flat for Piano and Strings, Op.   47

The Token Creek Festival has been called a gem, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields, a late-summer fixture just outside of Madison.

Now in its 28th season, the Festival has become known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a comfortable refurbished barn.

The 2017 festival offers five events to close the summer concert season, Aug. 26–Sept. 3.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie) with ample parking available.

The charmingly rustic venue—indoors and air-conditioned with modern comforts—is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). Reservations can be secured in several ways:

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: Violinist Rose Mary Harbison talks about the 25th anniversary of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, while composer John Harbison discusses C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will be observed during the festival.

August 21, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

TokenCreekbarn interior

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets): Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

TokenCreekentrance

Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.

The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.

The second is a personal essay by composer John Harbison about the composer C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will play an important role in the festival.

NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK

By Rose Mary Harbison (below)

RosemaryHarbison

When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.

The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.

We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.

In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.

Bach1

Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.

We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).

Beethoven big

Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.

One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”

Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.

Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.

I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.

CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY

By John Harbison (below)

JohnHarbisonatpiano

One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music.  This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger.  The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering.  The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.

Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person.  In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.

I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed.  CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.

He was J.S. Bach’s second son.  The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.

Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance.  This took courage and an investigative mind.  It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career.  Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.

Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man.  He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.

But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.

J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.

Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.

In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon.  A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.

“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.

We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music.  It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.

Haydn

 

 


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
5 Comments

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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