The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: From Palestrina to Part, the pioneering early music vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble will disband into silence in 2014. Plus, the date for the next Handel Aria Competition is set for July 17 during this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival.

January 9, 2014
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ALERT: Mark your calendars and datebooks. The second annual Handel Aria Competition — with an encore appearance by the winner last summer — that is sponsored by local business owners Dean and Orange Schroeder will take place on July 17, 2014 as part of the annual Madison Early Music Festival. Last summer, the “slam down” format proved to be a lot of fun, as you can see for yourself if you revisit my coverage with these links:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/classical-music-qa-organizer-dean-schroeder-talks-about-the-inaugural-handel-aria-competition-at-this-years-madison-early-music-festival-on-monday-night-july-8/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/classical-music-the-ear-finds-himself-in-handel-himmel-and-enjoys-the-first-handel-aria-competition-at-the-14th-annual-madison-early-music-festival/

Handel etching

By Jacob Stockinger

The pioneering early music vocal group the Hilliard Ensemble (below) has sounded another sour note to open the new year in classical music.

The ensemble, founded in 1973 and celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, will disband in 2014 after one last world tour, according to a story on NPR’s excellent classical music blog “Deceptive Candence.”

hilliard ensemble portrait

One has to wonder: How many more unfortunate events like this will we see as the Baby Boomer generation — which also fed and fostered the early music revival — ages and falls ill, then decides to retire or perhaps even dies?

Already we have seen some string quartets like the Guarneri and Tokyo  (below), decide to disband, although the venerable Emerson Quartet has decided to continue on after cellist David Finckel retired and was replaced by Paul Watkins, formerly of the British Nash Ensemble. The Hilliard Ensemble has only one of its original members still singing.

tokyo-qt

Unlike so many other early music groups, the Hilliard Ensemble specialized in late Medieval and Renaissance music rather than the more popular and well-known Baroque music and composers. Their specialities included works by Giovanni da Palestrina, Carlo Gesualdo, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis and Josquin Des Prez plus a host of generally unknown names (like the work by William Cornish in the YouTube video at the bottom.). But they also did perform Baroque music and especially made headlines when they revealed parallels between certain Bach works on the CD “Morimur.”

hilliard ensemble singing

The Hilliard Ensemble was also eclectic and adventurous. In its extensive catalogue of recordings, mostly on the innovative and inventive ECM label – an ideal home for the Hilliard Ensemble — it also performed music with best-selling New Age jazz saxophonist Jan Gabarek as well as the complete Bach motets. And they also recorded several works by the living popular Estonian composer Arvo Part.

Here is a link to see their impressive and extensive discography and impressive user review at amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dclassical&field-keywords=Hilliard+Ensemble

And to top it off, the members of the Hilliard Ensemble themselves set the tone for receiving this news with their calm acceptance of the end of their era and their mission, successfully accomplished.

Here is a link to the NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/19/255572105/leaders-in-early-music-face-a-final-curtain-with-grace


Classical music: Meet Paul Watkins -– the new British cellist in the New York-based Emerson String Quartet who replaces 34-year-veteran and Emerson co-founder David Finckel.

June 9, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of this concert season has meant something special for fans of American chamber music.

It means the end of cellist David Finckel (below) playing with the venerated and globally acclaimed Emerson String Quartet, often called the best string quartet in the world. And it has performed frequently in Madison, always at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

David Finckel BIG

Finckel announced at the beginning of last season that he would retire. He has said he wants to devote more time to his solo career; to his duo performances with his pianist wife Wu Han (below); to concerts of piano trios with his wife and Emerson violinist Philip Setzer; and to his job as co-director (with his pianist wife Wu Han) of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

David Finckel and Wu Han

Still, it is a loss. Finckel was an original member of the Emerson Quartet (below) and has played with them for 34 years, winning many Grammy awards and rave reviews in the process. The quartet is so good, one wonders just what it took in the way of money and artistic freedom to lure the quartet away from its longtime recording home of Deutsche Grammophon to its new home Sony Classical.

Emerson

Something The Ear particularly liked about Finckel is that he often played on and recorded with instruments that are made today.

Apparently, the quartet considered disbanding but decided instead to replace Finckel.

The choice was Paul Watkins (below), a distinguished British or, more specifically, Welsh cellist who was born in 1970 and who was a member of the Nash Ensemble, which is also acclaimed for its performances and prolific recordings, before joining the Emerson.

Paul Watkins

He remains someone to be discovered through his performances, but here is a fine interview with Watkins:

http://thethread.dukeperformances.duke.edu/2013/05/interview-incoming-emerson-string-quartet-cellist-paul-watkins/

And here is a review of a performance in Montreal of Haydn. Beethoven and Bartok string quartets that featured the new Emerson Quartet with Paul Watkins. It is promising indeed, as is his performance of Francis Poulenc‘s cello sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.

http://www.bachtrack.com/review-montreal-chamber-music-festival-emerson-quartet-paul-watkins

What do you think of David Finckel? Any good wishes or other things you want to leave in the COMMENTS section?

And what do you know about or think of cellist Paul Watkins?

The Ear wants to hear.


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