By Jacob Stockinger
Little wonder that Hough was the first musician to win a MacArthur Fellowship or “genius grant.”
The virtuosic Hough (below) wowed local audiences here a couple of months ago when he performed the dazzling Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Recently, he gave an interview in which he talked about the importance of silence to musicians.
Along the way, he also remarked on and lauded the “thrilling” rise of Western classical music – shown in audiences as well as the huge numbers and high quality of professional performing artists, amateurs and students – in Asia.
Hough also talked about the role of composing for performers, why it is a valuable skill and whether the performer-composer tradition is returning. (You can hear Stephen Hough perform his own Piano Sonata No. 3 “Trinitas” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear found Stephen Hough’s interview engaging and informative, and hopes you do too.
Here is a link:
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 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. Barker also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
The second of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s three public concerts, which took place on Tuesday evening, was a study in the old and the new, and the mingling thereof.
The program title was, in fact, “Viol Music, Then and Now.” The performing group was the Second City Musick Consort of Viols of Chicago (below) — three players from there, plus visitor Brady Lanier.
Much, but hardly all, of their contributions were consort pieces of the 16th and 17th centuries, although a certain number of transcriptions — ironically, of later music — were involved.
Three Fantasias for three viols by William Byrd and one by John Jenkins for four viols were prime specimens. Two pairs of examples from Henry Purcell’s Fantasias in 4 Parts represented a late contribution to the consort literature, but were probably intended — primarily, if not exclusively — for members of the violin family, not viols.
With the addition of countertenor Nathan Medley, groups of “consort songs” were presented: three by Byrd and one each by four different composers of the late-Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. These were capped by one of the favorite airs of Purcell, “Fairest Isle”— which is a part of his large “semi-opera” King Arthur.
The program’s centerpiece, however, was a new work by festival co-founder and co-artistic director, John Harbison (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellow and who teaches at MIT.
The nature and the scoring of this work, The Cross of Snow, was defined by the patron who commissioned it. This was local businessman William Wartmann (below), who intended it as a tribute to his deceased wife, the painter and singer Joyce Wartmann.
It was understood from the outset that it would be written for countertenor and consort of viols, and that the texts set would come from 19th-century poetic literature.
The choice eventually fell on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who also lost his wife tragically, in a fire. The three poems set are: The Cross of Snow, Suspira and “Some day, some day.” All of them deal with the deep and enduring pain over the loss of a loved one. The three settings are framed by a Prelude and a Postlude for the consort alone. (You can hear the poem “The Cross of Snow” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Harbison has a strong sense of tradition and a genuine sympathy for Baroque music. Still, in this composition he by no means attempts simply to imitate long-past styles. While he is interested in exploring the special coloring and harmonics of the viols, he also brings to them a lot of the playing techniques familiar from writing for modern stringed instruments, but alien to viols. Indeed, the instrumental role in this work could pretty easily be transferred from viols to modern strings.
Nevertheless, Harbison’s stylistic assimilations run deep. The five movements, and especially the quite contrapuntal Postlude, are built upon allusions to chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). And, quite wisely, the consort played transcriptions of three such pieces in conjunction with Harbison’s score.
Moreover, it was decided to perform Harbison’s new work twice, once in each half of the concert. This was most helpful in allowing a deepened appreciation of the emotional content of both the poetry and the music. The vocal lines are strongly etched, and were beautifully sung by countertenor Medley, a superb artist.
With the final program, on this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the spotlight will be exclusively on Franz Schubert (below) — his “Die Schoene Muellerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) song cycle and the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet — music in a world between the two evoked by this concert.
For more information, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org
By Jacob Stockinger
The third time is the charm.
By then you know a tradition has been born.
For the third year in a row, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is holding a Schubertiade at the end of January, near the birthday of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828, below). Can there be a better way to kick off the second semester of concerts and music-making?
The event, which was founded by and now is organized by and performed by the wife-and-husband team of UW-Madison collaborative piano professor Martha Fischer and piano teacher and former music director for Wisconsin Public Radio Bill Lutes, takes place this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Admission is $15 for adults, free for students of all ages. A post-concert reception is included.
ALSO, BE ADVISED THAT THERE IS A UW HOCKEY GAME THAT NIGHT, SO FINDNG PARKING WILL BE MORE CHALLENGING THAN USUAL. ALLOW FOR EXTRA TIME TO GET TO THE CONCERT. THE HALL WILL OPEN AT 7:30 P.M., IF YOU WANT TO COME EARLY AND GET TO YOUR FAVORITE SEATS.
What is it about Schubert that makes him special to the many performers and listeners who will take part?
One answer can be found in a press release from the UW-Madison:
More can be found in a story written by Sandy Tabachnick for Isthmus:
But Bill Lutes also agreed to talk about Schubert (below) and the Schubertiade in an email Q&A with The Ear:
This is the third consecutive year of the UW-Madison Schubertiades that you have presented in honor of his birthday on Jan. 31, this year being the 219th. What is it about Schubert that draws audiences and performers to his music?
Probably the most obvious thing we love about Schubert is the endless stream of glorious, memorable melody – melodies that we can only call “Schubertian.” Who can forget a tune like “The Trout” or “Ave Maria” or the famous “Serenade”? These are part of our cultural DNA.
Then there is Schubert’s rich harmonic vocabulary, and his expansiveness and generosity of form. Although he fashioned innumerable miniatures of exquisite perfection – short songs and piano pieces – he also wrote some of the biggest works of the time, including some of the songs we are performing.
They are big in every way, the “heavenly length” that Robert Schumann wrote about and loved, the sense of adventure and the unexpected and the sheer spaciousness of his musical paragraphs — and the long passages of rhythmic obsession that seem to anticipate today’s Minimalist composers.
Above all, his music is unique in the ways it explores the most joyful and the most tragic aspects of our experience, often interwoven, and ambiguously overlapping.
Those of us who are attracted to Schubert feel that he is our friend, our consoler, our guru and our guide to something that shines beyond the travails of our earthly life. He left us such a rich and varied body of music. The amount he composed in his 31 years is absolutely incredible. But also the level of inspiration is so high throughout so much of it.
Your program has a lot of variety. Is there some overarching “theme” that ties the program together?
This year, the pieces we are doing are all inspired by Schubert’s exploration of the sounds and imagery of nature. We’re calling it Schubertian “Naturescapes: Water, Winds and Woodlands.” Schubert came along at a time when the Romantic poets, painters and musicians began to think of nature in a new way.
Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Schubert and his poets spelled Nature with a capital N. The poetry he set to music often evokes the grandeur and sublimity of Nature, and the ways that we humans experience transcendence by observing mountains, forests, lakes and seas, and rushing winds or gentle breezes. All of the lieder that we have selected for this program reflect this almost religious attitude toward Nature (depicted below in the painting “Summer,” with a couple embracing amorously under a tree, by the Romantic German artist Casper David Friedrich.)
What are some of the challenges that Schubert’s music poses to pianists in particular?
Schubert’s piano style is unique, and calls for an ability to sing on the instrument, and to play with an array of orchestral colors.
Playing his songs of course means that you understand something about what it takes to sing them, and you have to completely get into the poetry and the ideas being explored.
He was a very social and sociable composer, and so a lot of playing Schubert involves playing nicely with others. That includes of course playing duets by two pianists at one keyboard.
Schubert was probably the greatest composer for this medium and wrote some of this greatest works for piano duet.
The two pianists must play the same instrument, and sound as one. It is harder than you might think! The issue of playing in such close proximity to your partner invites a level of physical intimacy that can be quite pleasant or quite awkward, depending on the music in question.
The great pianist Artur Schnabel (below) spoke of “music that is better than it can be played.” He included most of Schubert in this category.
The idea for the Schubertiades originated in Schubert’s lifetime — social gatherings devoted to hearing Schubert’s music, but also to having a good time with friends. How do modern performers recreate this informal atmosphere?
Part of it is the variety of the music, and the large number of performers who will be joining us, most of whom will be seated around the piano on stage during the concert (below top). We will also have seating on stage for audience members who want to have a bit of the intimate feeling of those first legendary Schubertiades (below bottom) held in salons in Vienna.
We aim for an atmosphere of spontaneity and informality, as we have in the past two Schubertiades. We are thrilled this year that our concert is underwritten by a generous donor, Ann Boyer, whose gift has allowed us to include opera singer Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko) as our featured guest artist and alumna.
We both worked a lot with Jamie-Rose when she was a student here and she’s a wonderful singer who will be travelling to us from New England where she is a new voice faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
And of course we are delighted to be making music with so many of our UW-Madison School of Music faculty, other alumni and friends.
Anything else you want to add?
We will be performing all the songs in their original German. However, you’ll find full German texts and translations at the door. We encourage people to come early and read the poetry before the concert begins. It’s a nice way to familiarize yourself with the gist of the poems without having to be glued to your program while the songs are being sung.
Here is the impressive and appealing complete list of works and performers:
Schubertian Naturescapes – Water, Winds and Woodlands
Jamie-Rose Guarrine (JRG), Mimmi Fulmer (MF), Sara Guttenberg (SG), Marie McManama (MM), Daniel O’Dea (DO), David Ronis (DR), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz, (BS), singers
Soh-hyun Park Altino (SP), violin
Sally Chisholm (SC), viola
Parry Karp (PK), cello
Ben Ferris, (BF), double bass
Daniel Grabois (DG), horn
Wesley Warnhoff (WW), clarinet
Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), piano
Wanderers Nachtlied (II), D. 768 Wayfarer’s Night Song (MF, BL) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Der Fluss D. 693 The River (JRG, BL) Friedrich von Schlegel
Widerspruch, D. 865, Contrariness (DO, DR, BS, PR, MF) Johann Gabriel Seidl
Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, D. 774, To Be Sung on the Water (SG, MF) Friedrich Leopold, Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg
Fischerweise D. 881, Fisherman’s Ditty, (BS, MF) Franz Xaver von Schlechta
Die Forelle, D. 550, The Trout (MM, BL) Christian Friedrich Schubart
Piano Quintet in A major “Trout,” D. 667 (SP, SC, PK, BF, MF) Movement IV: Theme and Variations (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom)
Suleika I, D. 720 (JRG, BL); Suleika II, D. 717 (JRG,MF) Marianne von Willemer, rev. Goethe
Auf dem Strom, D. 943, On the River (DO, DG, MF) Ludwig Rellstab
Frühlingsglaube, D. 686, Faith in Spring (DR, BL) Ludwig Uhland
Im Walde “Waldesnacht,” D. 707, In the Forest “Forest Night” (PR, BL) Friedrich Schlegel
Dass sie hier gewesen, D. 775, That She has Been Here (MF, BL) Friedrich Rückert
Allegro in a minor ”Lebensstürme,” D. 947, Life’s Storms (MF, BL)
Der 23 Psalm, D. 706, (MM, SG, MF, MF, BL) The Bible, trans. Moses Mendelssohn
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D. 965, The Shepherd on the Rock (JRG, WW, MF) Wilhelm Müller/Karl August Varnhagen von Ense
An die Musik, D. 547 To Music. Franz von Schober. Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.
By Jacob Stockinger
Proposals range from making tickets cheaper and concerts shorter, stressing music education and community outreach, moving to informal concert venues like bars and coffeehouses, and programming more new music.
It is a good question to revisit today, when the 14th annual family-friendly Opera in the Park, put on by the Madison Opera at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on the far west side, takes place and will draw up to 15,000. Here is a link to a posting about the event with more details:
But such a discussion about audiences usually runs the risk of almost always underestimating and even insulting the contribution of older audiences. (The Sunday afternoon crowd at the Madison Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind.)
Not that we should ever stop looking for ways to attract young people. But isn’t it maybe a little like asking: How can we attract more blue hairs to young punk band or rap concerts? Maybe we just need different music at different stages of our life.
In any case, let us not forget to praise the immense contribution of older people or to be grateful for them.
That is the welcome and long overdue message of British pianist-composer-painter and polymath MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner Stephen Hough (below), who has performed in Madison several times, in his blog for The Guardian.
Here is a link to his posting. Read it and see if you agree and leave a message in the COMMENT section:
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The talented Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) – who is a conductor, a violist and a baritone singer in the UW-Madison School of Music – writes about the concert this Saturday night by the Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which he founded in high school, and still directs and conducts:
This week kicks off the fifth season of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below), consisting of two concerts loosely organized around the theme “Concerto Grosso.”
We will be presenting three works explicitly in that form this summer — one of them on this week’s concert — and others touching on it in various fashions: the late Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann, which integrates a solo part into the orchestral texture; and a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn that features soloists drawn from the orchestra, more akin to a “sinfonia concertante.”
The first concert is this Saturday night, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Tickets are $7. Students are admitted by donation.
More information about the orchestra can be found on our website: www.mayco.org
On August 21, we will welcome members of the Madison Bach Musicians and UW-Madison faculty for a workshop on historical performance practices. This season also marks the first year of a new conducting program for high school students. (Below is a photo by Steve Rankin of MAYCO rehearsing.)
For those unfamiliar with us, MAYCO is a student-run training orchestra for players ranging in level from middle school and high school through doctoral study. Each summer, the group presents two public concerts, each preceeded by a week of intensive rehearsal.
The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which many of our players are members or alumni. The ensemble typically numbers 25-35 players, balanced evenly between high school and university students.
Our program this Saturday night opens with Franz Joseph Haydn’s early Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin” (Morning) — it is the first part of the composer’s triptych “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night” Symphonies. This symphony was his first written for the Esterhazy family that would employ him for most of his career.
It owes its nickname to a majestic Adagio introduction that sounds like a sunrise. (You can hear the opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.) Nearly every principal player, all the way down to the principal bassist, has some sort of solo passage -– the way that Haydn (below) signaled to the orchestra at his new post that they were going to like working with him.
The most prominent part is given to the concertmaster, in this case the acclaimed Valerie Sanders, whom you may know as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra or the violinist of the Perlman Piano Trio at the UW-Madison School of Music. I am particularly delighted to note that we will be performing the work with natural horns, a fascination of mine.
Composer Jonathan Posthuma (below) received his Master’s from the UW-Madison School of Music in 2015, studying with Professors Steve Dembski and Laura Schwendinger. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor, cast in three movements, is the first of a set of 12, and melds strict Baroque form with minimalist-influenced textures.
It will receive its premiere at this concert, with the percussionists of Clocks in Motion (below, not in order, are members Sean Kleve, Dave Alcorn, James McKenzie, and Michael Koszewski) and pianist Kyle Johnson, a doctoral student of Christopher Taylor. It is tremendously exciting music, with great melodies and complex soundscapes.
British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), winner of the 2014 British Composer Award for choral music, came to the UW-Madison for a residency in February.
I was quite taken with her distinctive style — communicative, cogent and highly expressive. I’m honored to be giving the U.S. premiere of her orchestral work “Rain, Steam and Speed,” named after the J.M.W. Turner painting of the same title.
Finishing our program is an acknowledged masterwork, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in a minor, Op. 129. Pro Arte Quartet cellist and professor Parry Karp (below) will be joining us for this monumental piece. Its three movements are played without break in a tightly integrated web of melody that is also one of the great orchestral works in Schumann’s body of works.