By Jacob Stockinger
There are still some smaller-scale concerts left to the season – some chamber music and vocal music by the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Madison Choral Project, for example.
But the next big series of classical music events on tap are the concerts over three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green during June by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below).
As usual, the group – co-founded and co-directed by UW-Madison professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal flute Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a UW-Madison grad who teaches in Berkeley — is known for showcasing well-known and neglected works as well as imported and local musicians.
For full information, including tickets information and samples from the 2014 season, here is a link to the BDDS website:
In the meantime, here is a round-up of this summer’s programs and a schedule of performances.
WEEK ONE | JUNE 12, 13, 14
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Katarzyna Bryla, violin
Parry Karp (below top), cello Sponsored by Sue Cleary Koch
Timothy Jones, bass-baritone
Emily Birsan (below middle), soprano
Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), piano Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz
Johann Sebastian Bach: Arias and Duets — Sponsored by Carla & Dick Love
Felix Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata in D Major, op. 58
Franz Joseph Haydn: Divertimento in G Major, Hob. IV: 7 — Sponsored by Barbara Johnson
Ludwig van Beethoven: Scottish and Irish Folk Songs and Duets
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Friday, June 12, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green Sunday on June 14, 2:30 PM
ROB THE CRADLE
Dick Kattenburg: Sonata for flute and piano
Dmitri Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, op. 127
Modest Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death
Louise Farrenc: Trio in E minor, op. 45
The Playhouse (below), Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 13, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 14, 6:30 PM
WEEK TWO | JUNE 19, 20, 21
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Axel Strauss, violin Sponsored by James Dahlberg & Elsebet Lund
Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello Sponsored by Dan & Karen Baumann
Alan Kay, clarinet Sponsored by Vicki & Jerry Stewart and Katherine Naherny & Roger Ganser
Thomas Kasdorf, piano Sponsored by Anne & Peter Wadsack
HONOR AMONG THIEVES
Johann Sebastian Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038
John Harbison: Songs America Loves to Sing
Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, op. 38, arranged from the Septet, op. 20
Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 19, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 21, 2:30 PM
BREAKING AND ENTERING
Florent Schmitt: Sonatina in trio, op. 85 — Sponsored by Jane & David Villa
Paul Schoenfield: Country Fiddle Pieces — Sponsored by Martha & Charles Casey
Paul Desenne: Haydn Tuyero, Chicharras, Galeones — Sponsored by Jane Blumenfeld & Willow Harth
Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8 — Sponsored by Jacob Stockinger, in memory of Judy Schwaemle
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 20, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 21, 6:30 PM
WEEK THREE | JUNE 26, 27, 28
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Romie de Guise-Langloise, clarinet
Orlando Pimentel, clarinet
Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon
Richard Todd, horn
Carmit Zori (below), violin Sponsored by Daphne Webb
Hyejin Lee, violin
Ara Gregorian, viola Sponsored by the family of John Stoelting, in loving memory
Katja Linfield, cello
Zachary Cohen, bass
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030 — Sponsored by Linda & Keith Clifford
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 — Sponsored by Norma & Elliott Sober
Johannes Brahms: Serenade in D Major, op. 11, arr. Alan Boustead — Sponsored by Michael Bridgeman, in honor of Jack Holzhueter
Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 28, 2:30 PM
Claude Debussy: Première Rhapsodie — Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz
Kevin Puts: Seven Seascapes — Sponsored by Miriam Simmons & Jim Cain
Franz Peter Schubert: Octet in F Major, D. 803 — Sponsored by Larry Bechler & Patty Struck
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 27, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 28, 6:30 PM
By Jacob Stockinger
This year, the holiday gift-giving season went into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, not just Black Friday. That was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and on and on.
Doesn’t such commercialism of the holidays just make you want to break into “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” Chorus?
Traditionally, The Ear has offered many lists and compilations for suggested classical recordings for the holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever.
Over this past weekend, the nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards were announced.
Of course, this event – no matter how hyped and prestigious for helping music — is an industry honoring and promoting itself. So of course classical music is way down on the list, far behind more money-making and better selling genres.
But over the years The Ear has found that the nominees are actually more useful than the much shorter list of winners, which doesn’t come out anyway until well after the holidays.
So here is a link to the complete list of Grammy nominations. Just go the website, and scroll down to Category 72 though Category 81.
Sure, the Big Labels and Gray Ladies – such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI – are represented.
And so are some pretty big New Names, including the astonishingly gifted prize-winning young pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), who, The Ear thinks, show get a Grammy for his Carnegie Hall recital. (Just listen to the YouTube video, taken from that live recital, at the bottom. It features a difficult Chopin prelude and notice the virtuosic ferocity combined with lyricism, the voicing, and the flexibility of tempo or rubato.)
But once again The Ear notices how many recordings are being done by labels that have been established by the performing groups themselves or by smaller labels. Decentralization continues. So does the rediscovery of Baroque opera and early music as well as new music.
In addition, there continues to be an emphasis, established in recent years, on newer music and lesser known composers. So specialization also continues.
Notice too that veteran independent record producer Judith Sherman (below, holding the Grammy she won in 2012) is once again up for Producer of The Year – she has won it several times already.
Sherman is the same person who recorded the impressive first double CD of four centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet. That release included string quartets by John Harbison and Walter Mays as well as Piano Quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.
This spring Judith Sherman is coming back to the UW-Madison School to record the last two commissions: the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poem “Howl’ by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below top) and for the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below bottom, in a photo by Lise Mernier).
More such suggestions for classical music gifts are to come.
Usually critics from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal weigh in, as does Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine and the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), and The Ear will include those.
And often The Ear throws in his own idea for gifts, which often involves linking a local live concert with a CD or a book and a CD. Stay tuned.
And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales (below) in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume again this Friday, Oct. 3, at 12:15 to 1 p.m. This week’s featured group is the Arbor Ensemble with flutist Berlinda Lopez, violinist Marie Pauls and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr in the music of Jacques Ibert, Cesar Cui, Bohuslav Martinu, Astor Piazzolla and Josef Suk.
By Jacob Stockinger
Imagine my unexpected joy at hearing the new Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below), who was inspired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” last Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
The reason for my happiness is because I heard music that was so compelling and so moving that it made me want to listen to it again and again.
I know, I know.
A lot of proponents of new music say you have to listen to any new and unheard piece several times before you can pass judgment.
I don’t buy it.
True, as loyal readers know, I am generally not a fan of new music. I find too much of it unenjoyable and forgettable. It just doesn’t speak to me, for whatever reason. I like tunes and melody and harmonic mood as well as rhythmic pulse. New music too often seems detached from the emotional life of the listeners– or at least this listener.
I prefer music that speaks so deeply and movingly to me on the first hearing that I welcome any chance to hear it more often as another chance to experience beauty — not to fulfill some intellectual obligation or duty to the composer or the art form.
When I first heard Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, for example, I knew within one minute that I just had to hear it again and would hear it again many times. It never fails to disappoint. And so it is with any masterwork, from early music, through Baroque and Romantic music, to modern and contemporary music.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert was performed last Friday night by the Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The guest clarinetist was Charles Niedich (below bottom) from New York City, who has a major international reputation from working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and other well-known ensembles.
The performance came at the newly remodeled Wisconsin Union Theater, which the old Pro Arte Quartet helped to inaugurate when the theater opened 75 years ago in 1939. The theater was not sold-out Friday night, but there was a good and enthusiastic audience that rewarded the Jalbert with a prolonged standing ovation (below). So I know that I was not alone in my positive and approving reaction.
Here is a link with more background:
The program started off with the rarely heard and pretty tame String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a Spanish composer known as “the Spanish Mozart” who died at 20. The program’s fitting finale was the sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In between the Arriaga and the Mozart came the Jalbert Clarinet Quintet, which was the final of six commissions done to mark the Pro Arte’s centennial. (The Pro Arte Quartet, originally from Belgium, is now the oldest continuously performing string quartet in the world.)
Other elements added to the effectiveness. For one, the Pro Arte Quartet was in top form. Each voice was distinct and yet the overall blend was smooth, resonant and perfect in pitch. And their playing was enhanced by the terrific acoustics of the remodeled Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the new on-stage shell (below, in the background).
But it was really the music itself that swept The Ear away.
It started right away, with the pulsing and almost hypnotic rhythms of the opening measures.
The two outer fast movements proved infectious and involving. But I particularly loved the way the middle movement developed.
I heard various audience members talk about how the work reminded them of Samuel Barber, of Philip Glass, of John Adams, of Steve Reich. And yet it didn’t seem to imitate any of them. It possessed a pure, strong voice of its own that used the idea of “Howl” without becoming a didactic piece of program music.
It isn’t often you get to hear a new work that holds the promise of becoming a staple in the repertoire. But that is exactly how it felt as I listened to the Jalbert quintet. Others I spoke to agreed.
Of the six centennial commissions that the Pro Arte has premiered over the past three years, this one seems the best one to end on because it seems the most likely one to succeed in coming years.
Sure, we may hear repeat performances of the String Quartets by John Harbison, Walter Mays and Benoît Mernier; of the Piano Quintets by William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield. They are all recognized composers of quality.
But my money is on the work by Pierre Jalbert, which was by turns pensive and joyous, outraged and lamenting, much like the original poem “Howl.” The tone of both matched, and the clarinet, with its klezmer-like qualities, proved the perfect narrative voice imparted by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (below).
It is a memorable night when you get to hear a masterwork in the making. All that work of chamber music needs now is history and many more repeat performances. I expect it will get those.
And to top it off, Pierre Jalbert (below right) -– who hails from Vermont and teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas — was a very nice artist who was extremely amiable at the pre-concert dinner at the Chazen Museum of Art as well as insightfully candid during the pre-concert Q&A (below) that was so expertly hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (center) and also included clarinetist Charles Neidich.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert will be recorded by the same players for Albany Records, under the supervision of the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, and then released with the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.
I will be first in line to get it and set my CD player on repeat.
If you heard it, what do you think of the Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert, who offers his thoughts about composing in a YouTube video at the bottom?
Do you think it will become a staple of the repertoire?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Friday night will bring the FREE world premiere of the final work of the six commissions to mark the centennial of the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The work is a Clarinet Quintet, written Pierre Jalbert (below), a prize-winning American composer with French-Canadian roots. It will receive its world premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday night in the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. A FREE dessert reception in the Memorial Union follows. There is also a FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC rehearsal, with the composer advising the string quartet, from 9 a.m. to noon on this Thursday morning in Mills Hall.
Here is a link to the Pro Arte Quartet’s website
And here is the official press release about the new work and the upcoming concert. It was researched and written by Mike Muckian (below), who also writes and blogs for Brava Magazine and the Wisconsin Gazette.
MADISON, Wis. – When Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (below) published “Howl” in 1956, he may have anticipated the obscenity charges he faced because of the work’s highly charged content. Chances are he didn’t foresee his epic poem, now considered a significant work of American literature, as the source of inspiration for a 21st-century chamber music composition.
Pierre Jalbert, an American composer of French-Canadian descent, thought otherwise. When commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet to compose an original work to help the quartet celebrate its centennial season, Jalbert chose Ginsberg’s poem as his source of inspiration.
Jalbert’s “Howl” for clarinet and string quartet will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Union Theater in the historic Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
The event, free and open to the public, will be the first classical music concert to take place in the venerable theater’s newly refurbished Shannon Hall (below top).
The 8 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. concert preview discussion with Pierre Jalbert in Shannon Hall. In addition to Jalbert’s composition, the evening’s program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (below top) -– known as “the Spanish Mozart” — and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1791) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below bottom).
The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) includes violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.
PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet concert will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 28, at 12:30 p.m. in Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art, also on the UW-Madison campus. The concert will be streamed live worldwide on the Internet by the Madison-based Audio for the Arts. Check the Chazen Museum of Art’s website (www.chazen.wisc.edu) on the day of the concert. Details of the Chazen music series for 2015 will be announced on Sunday at the concert. The new series is designed to replace the “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series (below) of live chamber music concerts that was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio last spring after 36 years. Sunday’s concert is FREE and OPEN to the public; however, Chazen Museum of Art members can call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating.
Joining the Pro Arte for both concerts will be guest clarinetist Charles Neidich (below, in a photo by Sallie Eichson), a regular member of the New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and noted guest performer with orchestras and string quartets worldwide. Here is a link to Neidich’s own impressive website:
“The Jalbert quintet is a very exciting composition, often very rhythmic, but with very serenely quiet contrasting sections,” said Neidich. “It is also interesting in that the clarinetist has to switch to bass clarinet, creating a very different sound for the group.” (At bottom is a YouTube interview with Pierre Jalbert, who explains his philosophy of composing and his concern with the audience’s understanding of his work.)
Ginsberg (below, young), who died in 1997, began work on “Howl” as early as 1954. The poem was first published in “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956 as part of the “Pocket Poets” series by fellow beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, also known as founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.
Upon the poem’s release, both Ferlinghetti and City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested and charged with distributing obscene material because of the poem’s profanity, drug references and frank sexual content. Four months later, Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the work was not obscene and charges against Ferlinghetti and his employee were dropped.
Judge Horn deemed “Howl” to have redeeming social content, and over the years it has proved its worth both in terms of social and literary value, according to Dr. Lynn Keller, the Martha Meier Renk Bascom Professor of Poetry in the UW-Madison Department of English.
“’Howl’ stands out stylistically in its compellingly and varied repetition of words beginning successive lines, its near surrealist imagery, and its combination of agonized depictions at once hellish and lofty with a very appealing sense of humor,” Dr. Keller said. “In terms of content, it also stands out in celebrating the down-and-out hipster as spiritual quester and visionary.”
As part of the Beat Generation – as much a social as a literary phenomenon – Ginsberg’s celebration of physical pleasures and suspicions about “the military industrial complex” created a new path that still appeals to younger audiences.
“It is a powerful poem, a howl from the heart of an agonized generation in a repressive era,” Dr. Keller said.
Jalbert was familiar with the poem prior to the Pro Arte commission, but it was only after he started composing the work that he began to realize the influence Ginsberg had on the music. Those similarities had less to do with the poem’s content and more to do with its structure and rhythm, the composer said.
“At the beginning of my piece, the clarinet is basically playing long tones, creating a long line much like the long lines in Ginsberg’s poem, while the strings present the rhythmically pulsating harmonic underpinning,” Jalbert said. “Ginsberg’s poem has been called a ‘litany of praise,’ and the second movement of my work becomes a litany, much like a series of prayers in a liturgy, with the strings creating chant-like lines while the clarinet becomes the vox Dei, or “voice of God,” hovering mysteriously over everything. The third movement returns to the musical materials from the first movement, but now the bass clarinet takes on the virtuosic role.”
In keeping with emotional soundings in parts of “Howl,” Jalbert also has attempted to capture the “shrieks” that were characteristic to the poem alongside the aforementioned litany of praise.
“There are buildups to shrieking moments in my piece as well as a “howl” motive of a low chord slurred up to an immediate high cluster, all played very forcefully,” said Jalbert. “There’s also something very urban about parts of the poem and to me, there’s an urban quality in my first and third movements. There are also many religious allusions and the last words of Christ on the cross, so the second movement uses some of this.”
The Jalbert composition is the final of six commissions for the Pro Arte Centennial seasons, and it has all the earmarks of a contemporary work with staying power, according to clarinetist Neidich.
“Having studied the score, I believe that it will be accessible to listeners and exciting to hear,” said Neidich. “It features the clarinet both in the role of soloist and as contributor to the sonority of the ensemble. It has all the necessary attributes to become a significant work.”
The Jalbert commission also brings to an end the Pro Arte’s seasons of centennial celebration in honor of the quartet’s long and storied history.
The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven at the then-new Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans.
By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artists ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. At more than 100 years old, Pro Arte also is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.
The Pro Arte in May traveled back to Belgium to perform the European premiere of its fifth centennial commissioned work, Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The work had received its world premiere on March 1 in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus with the composer in attendance.
A 2-CD set (below) of the first four commissions was released last year by Albany Records. It includes two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison as well as two piano quintets, one by William Bolcom and the other by Paul Schoenfield.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) – which became the world’s first artists-in-residence in the world when they agreed to stay at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1940 — kicks off its new season with two FREE concerts this week and much more this fall.
The Pro Arte – which celebrated its historically unprecedented centennial two seasons ago — will perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Prussia” String Quartet in D Major, K 575, Darius Milhaud’s Quartet No. 7 and the rarely heard Quartet in A Minor by the Viennese violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler who is best known for his miniature works, transcriptions and pastiches.
Then at 7:30 p.m. on next Thursday, Oct. 3 in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte will perform a FREE and MUST-HEAR concert in Mills Hall. It will perform the same Mozart and Kreisler quartets as above, but the Milhaud will be replaced by the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 51, No. 1, by Johannes Brahms.
Also, stay tuned for word about an airing date for the program that the Pro Arte is recording this coming Monday night for Wisconsin Public Television.
The by-invitation-only TV concert has a program that features a prelude by Ernest Bloch (at bottom in a YouTube video) and the famous “Adagio for Strings” quartet movement – later transcribed for string orchestra at the request of famed conductor Arturo Toscanini (below top) — by Samuel Barber (below bottom).
Many people forget that the Pro Arte Quartet gave the world premiere of the famous “Adagio for Strings” — the slow movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11 — in Rome in 1936.
Also watch for news this fall of an Albany Records CD release — with a local release party — of the four commissions (two string quartets and two piano quintets)– that the Pro Arte Quartet commissioned for its centennial two seasons ago. The CD was engineered by the multiple Grammy Award-winner Judith Sherman (below).
The two string quartets were composed from Walter Mays (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom), who is also the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.
The two piano quintets were composed by Paul Schoenfield (below top) and William Bolcom (below middle) and featured the celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom).
Then at its FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, the Pro Arte will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission: a String Quartet by the contemporary Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The Pro Arte originally started, you may recall, at the conservatory in Brussels.
And finally, next May, the Pro Arte Quartet travels to Europe – to its home city of Brussels, Belgium, as well as London and maybe Paris – to perform works from its centennial commissions.
And there is still more to come, including a book about the Pro Arte Quartet by the retired UW-Madison historian turned music critic and guest writer for Isthmus and for this blog John W. Barker (below).
By Jacob Stockinger
There are so many reasons to like the third 2-CD installment of a projected four volumes of “The Soviet Experience,” (below) performed by the Pacifica String Quartet and recorded by the non-profit Cedille Records that is based in Chicago and specializes in regional artists.
I suppose one has to start with the music and the performances.
Suffice it to say that I have never heard the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich (below) performed with such appeal and subtlety as by this group. These performances grab and hold your attention as much as the music does. (See the YouTube video at bottom with a member of the Pacifica explaining the appeal of Shostakovich.)
Yes, I much admire and often listen to the Grammy-winning set by the Emerson String Quartet. And I also like the softer readings by the St. Petersburg Quartet. But there is something special about these performances from the Pacifica Quartet (below).
For one, I find the Pacifica projects a lot of subtlety, flexibility and nuances, and also emphasizes a certain a traditional Russian sound or musicality that extended right into Soviet music.
That is, the Pacifica Quartet – the members are now artists-in-residence at the famed Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University — has been acclaimed for its compete Mendelssohn quartet cycle and for a terrific turn-of-the century recital (“Declarations,” below) of music by Leos Janacek, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Paul Hindemith.
Most of that music is much less dark than Shostakovich’s. But the members of the Pacifica Quartet can be as modern, spiky and aggressive as Shostakovich’s music demands; yet the quartet also knows when to interject a contrasting lyricism that can be traced back to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.
I am especially partial to this latest release. The third volume has my favorite Shostakovich quartet – No. 14 in F-sharp-minor – that is short and with seven uninterrupted movements and a cyclic structure you can easily discern.
Some listeners might prefer the first volume (below) because it has the most famous of the 16 Shostakovich quartets — No. 8 in C minor dedicated to victims of fascism, by which the composer meant both Nazi and Soviet cruelty and terror.
Others might prefer volume No. 2 (below) that includes some of the first big and mature quartets.
I say get all three and also the fourth, which is supposed to be released this October and will complete the Shostakovich cycle with Quartets 13, 14 and 15 plus Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3.
But here are other reasons to like this 2-CD recording.
The packaging, art and liner notes by David Fanning are all first-rate. The timings are generally very generous.
The engineering is superb, with a sonic presence that makes it sound like the quartet is playing right in front of you. There is no reverb or resonance allowed for since your own livingroom or car interior IS the playback venue.
In fact, I am particularly fond of the engineering because the freelancer producer and engineer is Judith Sherman. She is a legend in the business for winning several Grammy awards.
Plus, Sherman (below) is the engineer for the four commissions by the University of Wiscosin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet for its centennial two seasons. They includes quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison, and piano quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.
The Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD centennial commission set will be released on Albany Records this fall. And Sherman has told The Ear that the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a recording session for Sherman, who si adjusting microphones in Mills Hall) at the UW-Madison is the equal of any she has recorded and could well be nominated for a Grammy since the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences favors new contemporary works, small labels and unknown performers – all of which apply to the Pro Arte commissions.
But back to the Pacifica’s Soviet CD.
It is worth recalling that Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets served roughly the same purpose at Beethoven’s cycle of 16: a workshop or laboratory to work out ideas and confide private thoughts and techniques that might be too revolutionary or unsuitable for other genres and bigger public consumption.
But I like that more than being a survey of just the Shostakovich quartets, each volume includes a quartet by as contemporary composer of Shostakovich –- Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky and Mieczslaw Weinberg. That program format helps to put a frame around the picture and show what makes Shostakovich so distinctive and original in his time and also gives a sense of that terrible time so that you can also hear what similarities he shares with his contemporaries.
To be fair, The Ear is not alone in his praise for this recording.
The BBC Music Magazine singled out the CD for a Recording of the Month award.
Here is a link:
And the Telegraph newspaper of London also raved about it. Here is a link to that review, reproduced in a newsletter from Indiana University:
When that many discerning a critics agree, you can be pretty sure that this is a recording that is a must-have and must-hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
If you have been following this blog, you know that this past season has been the historic and landmark centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer).
In four centers over the season, the quartet gave the world premieres of four commissions: two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison; and two piano quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.
If you missed the last concert a week ago last Saturday (at bottom) or want to hear it again, you can stream the live concert that the Pro Arte Quartet will perform tonight Monday night, April 30, from 8 to 10 p.m. in the studios of Chicago’s famed classical music radio station WFMT.
The program features the Pro Arte Quartet’s third performance of the String Quartet No. 5, written in 10 short movements, by John Harbison (below). The String Quartet in D Major by the Belgian composer Cesar Franck will also be on the program. The quartet by Haydn, which was such a great counterpart to the Harbison will NOT be performed because of time constraints.
The Pro Arte Quartet, by the way, will also perform John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 this summer at the acclaimed Aspen Festival.
Here is a link — click on the LISTEN LIVE button — to use so you can hear the live Monday night concert by the Pro Arte Quartet as well as much other terrific programming on WFMT, the home of Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” that airs weekday nights at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. (McGlaughlin was the guest lecturer for the concert that featured Paul Schoenfield’s Piano Quintet No. 2 last November.)
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, you won’t find a lot to linger over in this year’s classical music Grammys. After all, the “Academy,” as they call the Industry’s Enforcer, chopped the categories from 109 to 78 for the 54th annual competition. (Classical Music wasn’t the only category to lose a lot; so did quite a few ethnic music categories including Latin Jazz and Hawaiian Music.)
So the really big names in classical music are missing in this year’s bunch of classical Grammys – no Beethoven or Bach, no Mahler or Mozart, although superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel (below) did win one with an outstanding performance of the Brahms Fourth Symphony in digital download-only release.
NOTE: Today’s “LA Live in HD” broadcast at 4 p.m. at the Eastgate and Point cinemas features Dudamel conducting a performance from Caracas, Venezuela of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 “Symphony of a Thousand.”)
But you will find more contemporary composers than in past years. In fact, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus took home two Grammys for their live performance of Robert Aldridge’s opera “Elmer Gantry,” based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis.
Nor will you find a lot of big name prestige labels, which have been largely replaced by smaller labels with more niche-like focuses.
But you will nonetheless find some great performances and some great music, including arias sung by the great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.
You will also find something of great local interest: Record producer Judith Sherman received her third Grammy, the second in a row and the third of seven nominations. And if you look at her long and impressive list of releases, she certainly seems worthy of winning.
Sherman’s Grammy is good news for Madison and for the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet, which performs a FREE concert at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, in the Wisconsin Union Theater. That’s because the Pro Arte has hired Sherman (below, in Mills Hall setting up microphones with the Pro Arte Quartet and pianist Brian Hsu for the December sessions to record composer Paul Schoenfield‘s Three Rhapsodies for String Quartet) to produce the 2-CD set of the world premiere commissions by Walter Mays, Paul Schoenfield, William Bolcom and John Harbison that the Pro Arte is performing during its centennial season.
That could mean that Sherman (seen below backstage at Mills Hall closely following and taking notes on the Schoenfield score during mike checks), who is a freelance producer working for Albany Records, might well end up next year appealing to the Grammy trends toward rewarding smaller labels and new music. And that, in turn, means that the Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD set might get nominated for a Grammy. Now, that would be grand and well deserved for the grueling 11 – and 12-hour recording sessions that she and the musicians turned in here over two days.
By the way, the program for the FREE March 24 concert by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, by the way, include the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 with UW pianist Christopher Taylor; Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz”; Darius Milhaud’s String Quartet No. 7, which was written for and premiered by the Pro Arte (below, today) in 1925.
Also on the program is Mozart’s great and sublimely beautiful String Quintet in G minor (at bottom), K. 516, with guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Shaarf) of the Juilliard String Quartet.
You would pay a lot of money to hear those same performers in that same program in, say, New York City’s Carnegie Hall. But here in Madison it is FREE and easy to get to. So plan to attend that concert and take along family and friends. And spread the word.
For more information visit www.proartequartet.org
Anyway, here is the classical music list for the 54th annual Grammys:
Want to see who the accomplished and worthwhile “losers” were? Here is a link to all the nominees:
And here is a link to the blog post I did around the holidays with all the nominees and the music they performed (plus all the recordings the Producer nominees, including Sherman, worked on):
Here are links to some other analyses and documentaries:
mozart string quintet g minor