The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will sing a varied holiday program about peace on Earth this coming Saturday night

December 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will sing its holiday concert featuring works about peace on Earth.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium, (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The holiday message of peace and good will to all people resonates across the centuries. Tragically, the proclamation, “Peace on earth” is every bit as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

WCC director and conductor Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the UW-Whitewater and who is celebrating his 10th season with the group, writes in his program notes to the concert:

“According to New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, “Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.” “This evening’s program by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir explores humanity’s yearning for peace through the centuries. 

The centerpiece of the WCC’s 2017 holiday concert is British composer Gerald Finzi’s exquisite retelling of the Christmas story, In terra pax, for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra. Baritone Brian Leeper (below top) and soprano Ann Baltes (below bottom) are among the featured soloists, performing with members of Sinfonia Sacra, the WCC’s professional orchestra.

In his own program notes, Finzi explained that the Nativity “becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Chrismas Eve, in our own familiar landscape.”

Finzi scholar Andrew Burn elaborates: “On New Year’s Eve, 1926, the 25-year old Gerald Finzi (below) joined the bell-ringers of the tiny church of St. Bartholomew perched on the crest of Chosen Hill, near Gloucester, as they rang in the New Year. For Finzi, the experience was unforgettable—the frosty starlit night with bells ringing out from churches far and near across the Severn valley—and from it sprang the orchestral New Year Music and [25 years later] In terra pax, his last major composition.

In terra pax is a masterpiece in miniature. Finzi’s pacifism is at its heart, and his belief that men and women of goodwill should live harmoniously together. Weaving through the music are three ideas: the pealing of the bells with their joyous message, a phrase from the carol The First Nowell, and the alleluia refrain from the hymn Lasst uns erfreuen (‘Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones”).”  (You can hear the opening of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Complementing Finzi’s music are two other works with instrumental accompaniment: Felix Mendelssohn’s moving prayer for peace, Verleih uns Frieden, and an energetic Gloria from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in A major.

Several more recent works bring the concert’s message up to date, including Cry Peace by Libby Larsen (below top) and the haunting Winter Solstice Carol by Giles Swayne (below bottom).

A varied selection of carol arrangements rounds out the program, including a resplendent setting of Silent Night by one of the WCC’s favorite composers, Peter Bloesch (below).

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres.

Advance tickets for the Dec. 16 performance are available for $20 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).

Tickets will also be available at the door for $25 ($10 for students).

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs a varied holiday concert of all-classical music this Saturday night

December 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice to post:

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “O Wondrous Mystery” this coming Saturday night, Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison.

Tickets are $15 (for students, $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (East, West and North locations).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Explore the magic and mystery of the holiday season with the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, whose program highlights the beloved Latin chant ”O magnum mysterium” in musical settings by Tomas Luís de Victoria and Francis Poulenc. (You can hear Poulenc’s setting, conducted by the legendary Robert Shaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Rounding out the performance are the remainder of Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets along with seasonal works spanning five centuries by William Byrd, Heinrich Schütz, Johannes Brahms, Herbert Howells and Bob Chilcott, plus the world premiere of “Methinks I See a Heavenly Host” by Peter Bloesch (below).

Peter Bloesch

The 50-voice choir will be joined by organist Mark Brampton Smith (below top) of Grace Episcopal Church, and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program annotator J. Michael Allsen (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who will accompany the Schütz selections on the sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Mark Brampton Smith

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms; a cappella masterworks from six centuries; and world premieres.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the UW-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE


Classical music: It’s Christmas Eve — a good time to revisit how the Wisconsin Chamber Choir imaginatively and successfully used many versions of the “Magnificat” to combine the holiday seasonal and the musically substantial  

December 24, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificat audience

The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.

Marys magnificat

The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.

Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).

That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.

Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)

Then we had settings of the Latin text.

First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.

Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin,  who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.

Andy Olson oboe

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.

This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).

Arvo Part

English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.

The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).

Peter Bloesch

stephen paulus

Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).

Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.

The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.

Mark Brampton Smith

It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.

For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:

http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an unusual holiday program of several settings of the “Magnificat” as well as two world premieres this Saturday night. Plus, today is the 245th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven.

December 16, 2015
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ALERT: Today is the 245th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). You’re sure to hear a lot of Beethoven on the radio. And maybe you will play some Beethoven. Why not let The Ear and other readers know what is your favorite symphony, piano sonata, concerto and string quartet or other chamber music work? Leave your choice in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video, if that is possible.

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) is known delivering first-rate music in first-rate performance, often with some original twist or take or concept.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

This weekend of this holiday season is no different.

On this Saturday night, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an ambitious and unusual holiday concert called “Magnificat.”

The performance is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below), at 116 West Washington Avenue, where it joins Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

MBM Grace altar

Tickets are $15 (students $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports.

Featured performers include Andy Olson, oboe; Laura Burns, violin; Eric Miller, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ

BACKGROUND AND PROGRAM NOTES

Here is more information from the Wisconsin Chamber Choir:

“My soul magnifies the Lord…”

Marys magnificat

It is how Mary’s song of praise, from the Gospel of Luke, begins. And it is one of the oldest Christian hymns, known as the Magnificat. (The hymn’s title comes from first word of the Latin version, Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will offer Mary’s song in English, Latin, German and Church Slavonic, with music by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Arvo Pärt, Herbert Howells and two world premieres by the Iowa-based composer, Peter Bloesch.

Widely regarded as the greatest German composer before Bach, Heinrich Schütz’s double-choir “German Magnificat” was his very last composition. In this piece, Schütz (below) brings the vivid imagery of the Magnificat text to life in some of his most inventive and compelling music.

Heinrich Schutz

Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, known as “the Catholic Bach,” was the official church composer to the Catholic court in Dresden. A master of counterpoint like Bach, Zelenka frequently utilized energetic, syncopated rhythms and daring harmonic progressions in his music, qualities on display in his Magnificat in D-major for soloists, choir, and instruments.

jan dismas zelenka BIG use

From Bach himself, the WCC presents three charming, rarely heard movements that Bach inserted into his own “Magnificat” setting for performances during the Christmas season. (NOTE: You can  hear Bach’s complete “Magnificat” with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bach1

Complimenting these choral works by Bach, Zelenka and Schütz, organist Mark Brampton Smith performs solo organ works by Baroque composers Johann Pachelbel and Johann Kindermann.

Mark Brampton Smith

The spritely Bogoroditse Devo (the Russian equivalent of the Latin Ave Maria) by Arvo Part (below top) opens the second half of the program, followed by a glorious, Romantic version of the “Magnificat” sung in Church Slavonic. The musical setting is composed by César Cui (below bottom), a close associate of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.

Arvo Part

Cesar Cui

Representing the Magnificat text in English is the setting for Gloucester Cathedral, composed in 1946 by Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

The WCC’s program concludes with a set of seasonal carols by the late Grammy-nominated Stephen Paulus (below top) and Peter Bloesch, a multifaceted composer from Iowa City with extensive experience in choral music, holiday pops arrangements, and film and television scores, including collaborations with Mike Post on TV hits “LA Law” and “Law and Order.”

stephen paulus

The WCC will present two world premieres by Peter Bloesch (below): an original version of the medieval carol, Out of Your Sleep Arise and Wake, and a virtuoso, eight-part setting of the beloved French melody, Ding Dong, Merrily on High.

Peter Bloesch

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the artistic director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


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