By Jacob Stockinger
What makes for great Chopin playing?
It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.
Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:
Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.
Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:
Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:
There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?
Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.
For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)
To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.
In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.
A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.
This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.
Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?
The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)
Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.
These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.
In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.
Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.
You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?
If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.
The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.
As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.
His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.
As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.
All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.
They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.
I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.
In there anything else you would like to say?
I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!
By Jacob Stockinger
Trevor Stephenson (below), who founded and co-directs the Madison Bach Musicians, may be best known in the Madison area for his work with early music and Baroque music.
But Stephenson, who is known for his outstanding pre-concert lectures as well as for his performances, is also deeply involved in period instruments and historically informed performance practices concerning Romantic music.
He writes to The Ear: “In February, I’m offering a four-part course on piano music by Frederic Chopin (below). This will meet on Thursday evenings 6-7:30 p.m. at my home studio. Information is below. Email me to enroll.
“Also, I’ll play an all-Chopin house concert on SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AT 7 P.M. — NOT Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. as first and mistakenly printed here — which will be here at the home studio as well. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required (email@example.com). Admission is $40.”
DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23
TIME: Thursdays 6−7:30 p.m.
PLACE: 5729 Forstyhia Place, Madison WI 53705
COST: Enrollment is $120
Reading knowledge of music is suggested.
Class size is limited to 15, and enrollment closes TODAY, Friday, Jan. 27.
Feb. 2: Waltzes, Preludes
Feb. 9: Nocturnes, Mazurkas
Feb. 16: Etudes, Polonaises
Feb. 23: Ballades, Scherzos
Instruments to be used are: an 18th-century Fortepiano (Sheppard after Stein) c. 1840; a Cottage Upright Piano (attr. C. Smart ) c. 1850; and English Parlor Piano (Collard & Collard) c. 1855; and a Viennese Concert Grand Piano (Bösendorfer)
Subject matter will include: Origins of Chopin’s compositional style; tonal qualities of his pianos, early 19th-century temperaments; fingering; pedaling; articulation; touch; tempo; and tempo rubato.
By Jacob Stockinger
The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)
Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.
Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.
But there are some important changes this year that you should note.
One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)
After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.
The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.
Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.
This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.
Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.
For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:
Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:
Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.
Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)
Franz von Schober (1796-1882)
Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)
Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)
Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)
Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)
4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)
No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh)
No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved)
Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)
From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)
Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)
Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)
Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)
Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)
Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)
Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)
Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)
Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)
Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)
Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)
Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)
Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)
Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)
Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)
Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)
Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)
An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)
Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)
Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)
Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)
Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)
8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)
Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)
Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)
An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)
Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.
Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:
And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Ann Arbor Ensemble. The group consists of Berlinda Lopez, flute; Marie Pauls, viola; and Stacy Feher-Regehr, piano. The all-French program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy and the Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op. 34, by Cecile Chaminade.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their 2016-2017 season with a concert titled Looking Within on this coming Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m.
The concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
Here are notes to the eclectic and unusually noteworthy program:
In 2011, American composer Byron Adams (below top) wrote a piece to honor the notable Czech-American composer Karel Husa (below bottom), who was also his composition teacher at Cornell University. The Serenade (Homage de Husa) not only illuminates Husa’s Czech heritage through musical references but also captures the essence of his positive influence in a piece that shows musical charm and wit. With the death of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Husa this past December, the intended tribute is particularly appropriate.
The Notturno (Nocturne) by Arnold Schoenberg (below) is a sweetly atmospheric, late Romantic work for harp and strings. After premiering in 1896 to an appreciative audience, this lovely piece of music was lost for decades and not rediscovered until 2001.
Originally written by French composer Maurice Ravel (below) in 1914, Kaddisch was set as a song using Aramaic text from the Jewish prayer book. The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform an evocative arrangement by David Bruce for a mixed ensemble of strings, winds, harp and English horn.
Music by British composer Gabriel Jackson (below, in a photo by Joel Garthwaite) is written with directness and clarity. In the Mendips, written in 2014, depicts the natural beauty of limestone hills in Somerset, England. The influence of generations of British composers, such as Vaughan Williams who was also inspired by pastoral beauty, is deftly woven into this piece for flute, clarinet, string trio, and harp.
Composer Frances Poulenc (below) was surrounded by the impressionist influence of his fellow French contemporaries Debussy and Ravel.
However, known for humor in how he approached his compositions, his creativity is resoundingly experienced in the high-energy Sextet for piano and woodwind quintet.
The listener will experience quicksilver shifts from the zesty vivace opening to glimpses of introspection to a dazzling high velocity finale. (You can hear the opening of the Sextet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Oakwood Chamber Players are joined by guests Geri Hamilton and Maureen McCarty, violins; Brad Townsend, string bass; Aaron Hill, oboe and English horn; and Mary Ann Harr, harp (below).
This is the third of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have long been known for programming new music as well as neglected old music or neglected composers that they perform with top-quality music-making – often with a unifying theme to the programs.
Just look at the details of the following announcement of the new season:
The Oakwood Chamber Players are excited to announce their 2016-2017 concert series, “Perspective.”
Full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships, the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help concertgoers see things from another’s point of view.
All concerts will be held in the auditorium (below) at Oakwood’s Center for Arts and Education, 6002 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.
Tickets can be purchased at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. More information can be found at www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com
LOOKING ACROSS THE TABLE: CAN WE FIND COMMON GROUND?
Saturday, September 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 11, at 2 p.m.
Paul Schoenfield (below) – Café Music for piano trio
Michael Colina – Stairway to Midnight Café for mixed instruments
Jean Françaix – Dixtuor for woodwind quintet and string quintet
Edward Elgar – Elegy for string quintet
LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD: CAN THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE CHANGE US?
Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Frank Bridge (below) – Sir Roger de Coverly Christmas Dance for strings
Jon Deak – “Passion of Scrooge” for large mixed ensemble with baritone voice
LOOKING WITHIN: CAN WE SEE WITHIN OURSELVES THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE?
Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Byron Adams (below) – Serenade (Homage de Husa) for large mixed ensemble
Arnold Schoenberg – Notturno (Nocturne) for strings and harp (in the YouTube video at the bottom)
Francis Poulenc – Sextet for woodwind quintet and piano
Maurice Ravel/David Bruce – Kaddish for large mixed ensemble
LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS: CAN WE SPEAK WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS?
Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Paul Bowles (below) – Music for a Farce (Movie – The Fireman) for clarinet, trumpet, piano and percussion
Dan Visconti – Low Country Haze with film for large mixed ensemble
Gaetano Donizetti – Trio for flute, bassoon and piano
LOOKING CLOSELY AT THE SCORE: CAN WE GET INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE COMPOSERS?
Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Joan Trimble (below) – Phantasy Trio for piano trio
Vincent d’Indy – Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for winds
Joachim Raff – Sinfonietta for double woodwind quintet
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell, will close out its current Masterworks season this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
The program – which features guest pianist John O’Conor (below) – includes the Piano Concerto No. 1 by John Field; the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (“Elvira Madigan”), by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky; and the Symphony No. 1 by Carl Maria von Weber.
Tickets are $15-$80.
For more information, including a full biography of John O’Conor and the purchasing of tickets, visit:
John O’Conor, who has an extremely busy career performing, teaching, recording and judging piano competitions recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
John Field is best known as the precursor of Chopin when it comes to composing nocturnes. How right or wrong is that perception and how would you change it? What else should we know about Field, his stylistic roots and his influence, especially through his other piano music, in particular his concertos?
John Field (below) is indeed the originator of the Nocturne form for piano music. He realized that the usual forms of music of the 18th century (sonatas, variations etc.) were not really suitable for after-dinner performances at the residences of the nobility in the 19th century, so he published various short pieces entitled “Pastorale” and other such names until he happened on the idea of the “Nocturne” in 1814 (when Chopin was only 4 !!) when he published his first three.
They were an immediate sensation and he quickly published many more. It is said that one of his Polish students in St. Petersburg went back to Poland in the 1820s, played some of his Nocturnes, Chopin heard them and wrote his own and the rest is history.
Field was a prodigy in his native Dublin where he was born in 1782. His father recognized his talent and spent the enormous sum of 100 pounds to apprentice him to Muzio Clementi in London when he was only barely in his teens. Clementi was not only a famous pianist and composer but also a piano manufacturer.
He soon realized that when Field demonstrated his pianos, he sold more pianos! So he brought him on a promotional your around Europe in 1802. They visited Paris and Vienna and then St. Petersburg, when winter set in and they had to stay there until they could travel again in spring.
But during the winter the very handsome Field became the darling of the salons and all the daughters of the nobility wanted to study piano with him. So when Clementi (below) left in spring, Field stayed on. He spent most of the rest of his life in Russia and died in Moscow in 1837.
What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major by Field that you will perform in Madison?
Apart from Nocturnes, Field also wrote four sonatas and seven piano concertos. The concertos were tremendously popular in the 19th century and his second concerto was often the debut concerto of young virtuosi — in the same way that Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 became so in the 20th century.
The problem with the concertos is that they often lack an advanced sense of form and meander quite a bit — but quite beautifully!
I love the first concerto because it is the most concise and best organized of the concertos. It is full of youthful exuberance and he obviously wanted to show off his considerable technique in the flying fingers of the outer movements.
The middle movement is a set of variations on a Scottish folk song and though he composed this piece while still living in London with Clementi you can already hear the gentle filigree figurations that became such a characteristic of his later Nocturnes.
The Piano Concerto No. 21 by Mozart (below) is best known for its slow movement that was used as the soundtrack to the popular film “Elvira Madigan.” What else would you like to point out about this particular concerto to the public? In your view, where does it rank among Mozart’s 27 piano concertos?
There is no connection between Field and Mozart that I know of. But the Mozart Concerto is another example of a composer showing off his virtuosity. Both the outer movements sparkle with vivacity and charm, and the beauty of the slow movement needs no introduction from me. It is one of the most beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video — with 39 million hits!~ at the bottom.)
You are very well known internationally as a both a teacher and an award-winning performer. For you, how does each activity inform the other?
I love teaching. I have always loved teaching piano. To some people, it might seem like drudgery, but I hope none of my students have ever felt that.
Nowadays I have incredibly gifted students who regularly win prizes at international piano competitions. But even when I started teaching, I hope I made the music fun for all my less talented students. It is a privilege to give them a love of the art that will keep for the rest of their lives.
By Jacob Stockinger
All around The Ear, even very knowledgeable people were asking:
“What is that piece?”
“Who’s the composer?”
After a recent and superb performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director John DeMain, the renowned American pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who received a well-deserved standing ovation, played an encore.
And he played it beautifully.
But he was negligent in one way.
He didn’t announce what the encore was.
So most of the audience was left wondering and guessing.
Now, The Ear knew the composer and piece because The Ear is an avid amateur pianist and knows the piano repertoire pretty well.
The encore in question was the Valse Oubliée No. 1 in F-sharp Major by Franz Liszt, which used to be more popular and more frequently heard than it is now. (You can hear it below played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video.)
On previous nights, Ax – who is a friendly, informed, articulate and talkative guy — also had apparently not announced the encores. But on Friday night it was the Waltz No. 2 in A minor by Frederic Chopin and on Saturday night is was the Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2, also by Chopin. Chopin is a composer who is a specialty of Ax, as you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom, which features his encore in an unusual setting pertaining to the Holocaust.
It’s a relatively small annoyance, but The Ear really thinks that performers ought to announce encores. Audiences have a right to know what they are about to hear or have just heard. It is just a matter of politeness and concert etiquette, of being audience-friendly.
Plus it is fun to hear the ordinary speaking voice of the artist, even if it is only just briefly to announce a piece of music, as you can hear below with Ax discussing the three concerts in Carnegie Hall that he did to celebrate the bicentennials of Chopin and Robert Schumann.
And it isn’t just a matter of big names or small names.
Emanuel Ax is hardly alone.
A partial list this season of performers who did NOT announce encores include violinist Benjamin Beilman, who played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; violist Nobuko Imai, who performed with the Pro Arte Quartet; pianist Maurizio Pollini in a solo recital in Chicago; and a UW professor who played a work by Robert Schumann that even The Ear didn’t know.
Performing artists who DID announce encores — many of then by Johann Sebastian Bach — included pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; violinist James Ehnes and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, both with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, who played sick but nonetheless announced and commented humorously on his encore by Scott Joplin, “The Wall Street Rag”; and violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who played recently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
So it seems like there is no consistent standard that concert artists learn or adopt about handling encores. The Ear’s best guess is that it is just a personal habit the performers get used to over time.
But the Ear sure wishes that all performing artists would announce encores, program changes or additions.
It just makes the concert experience more fun and informative as well as less frustrating.
Is The Ear alone?
Do you prefer that artists announce or not announce their encores?
Or doesn’t it matter to you?
The Ear wants to hear.
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 provided 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.
By John W. Barker
For its final concert of the season, the Mosaic Chamber Players (below) gave a program Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. It combined two of the great quintets for piano and strings: the second of that type, in C minor, Op. 115, by Gabriel Fauré (1847-1924); and the only one if its kind, in F minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).
So close together, one would think, and yet, so far apart. Contrasts result from distinct differences between the two composers in both nationality and personality — between Gallic eloquence and German burliness.
The work by Fauré (below) was completed in 1921, by which time Debussy was dead and Ravel, who was Faure’s student, was in his prime. It is one of a half-dozen chamber pieces with which the composer rounded out his final years — almost, one might think, as an extension of his long output of piano writing.
Its expansive four-movement format is conventional in scope and with a range of expression. But its heart is a long and rapturous slow movement that flows with the unfolding elegance of one of Fauré’s piano nocturnes. (You can hear the slow movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
By contrast, the quintet by Brahms (below) is one of the masterpieces of his early chamber-music writing. It dates from 1862, when Richard Wagner was between the composition of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”
Starting as some ideas for a symphony, it exists also in Brahms’s own adaptation of it as a sonata for two pianos. Its four movements are more conventionally conceived than Fauré’s, combining masterful Classical craftsmanship with powerful Romantic urgency.
The performances involved five players from the group. The two violinists alternated in the first chair: Laura Burns for the Fauré, Wes Luke for the Brahms. Micah Behr and Michael Allen played viola and cello, respectively, while pianist Jess Salek (below) was the anchor as pianist, just as he is as the group’s guiding spirit.
These players have worked together before, but not as a consistent ensemble, although they suggested a close collegiality that more established groups might envy. They fully captured the moods, nuances and strengths of the two works.
If there were problems, it had to do with some balances, above all disadvantaging the viola. Some of the explanation could be in the choice of the cavernous Atrium Hall (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) as performing venue, rather then the more intimate Landmark auditorium, the original meeting house of the First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Atrium’s highly reverberant acoustics overwhelmed the players’ sound, and, at the same time, prompted over-exertions in volume output, to the detriment of carefully calculated ensemble.
The size of the hall also pointed up the painfully small size of the audience. There are always weekend competitions for attention, especially in the spring. Still, the Mosaic group is only beginning to develop sufficient promotion and publicity for its activities. Potential audience members need to be made aware of what the group offers.
What it does offer is one of the high-quality sources of chamber music performance in Madison’s very rich spectrum of events in that category.
The next Mosaic season should win the wider attention it greatly deserves.