The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superb music-making offset awkward acting and dancing in a concert that the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society gave last weekend. This summer’s last BDDS concerts are tonight, Saturday and Sunday 

June 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, published belatedly but in time for this weekend’s upcoming closing concerts – two performances each of two programs — of the current summer season by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

Performance photos were taken by Dick Ainsworth for BDDS.

By John W. Barker

One of the two programs of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s second weekend this season was held in the Overture Center’s Playhouse last Saturday night.

The associations of its three works with war were somewhat strained, most of all for Robert Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 94. They were composed in 1849 for the options of oboe and violin or clarinet with piano.

On this occasion they were presented in a transcription for bassoon, made by the performer, Adrian Morejon (below). He played these brief and lovely pieces beautifully, but I confess I would have liked them more if one of the stipulated, higher-range instruments had been used.

The first major work was from the contemporary American composer Kevin Puts (below), called Einstein on Mercer Street. It is a kind of cantata, a half-hour in length, cast in five sections, each beginning with spoken words but moving to singing.

The text, whose origins were not made clear, purports to represent the thinking of Albert Einstein in his last years in Princeton, N.J., as he contemplates his place in science and in the creation of the atomic bomb.

The vocal part was written for baritone Timothy Jones (below center), who performed it this time, delivering it with confident eloquence. To tell the truth, though, a lot of his words, spoken and sung, did not come through clearly, at least for where I sat.

Though the vocal writing goes through one ear and out the other, there is a lot of very pleasant melodic music in the score, and it occurred to me that, with a little tightening, the work could nicely be left just to the instrumental ensemble (violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, percussion and piano), the vocal part dispensed with — heresy, of course.

The second half of the program was devoted to the classic work of 1918, L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), originally with a French text by the Swiss writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, and with brilliant music, in the style of blues, jazz and ragtime by Igor Stravinsky.

The spoken text, in a rhymed English translation, calls for three actors: a narrator, a Soldier and the Devil. Jones was quite good as the narrator, but well enough could not be left alone.

With utter arbitrariness, the character of the Soldier was turned into the soldierette “Josie,” so that the Prince he woos and wins becomes a “Princess.”

This absurdity was absolutely pointless, save, perhaps, to allow the two co-directors of the festival, Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes (below) to play soldierette and the Devil against each other. In hilarious costumes, the two did well enough, Sykes especially, but the gender change grated all the way through the piece.

And there was another problem. The work was not only written for actors and musicians, but also with dancers in mind. No choreography survives, and the use of dancers in performances of the work is patchy.

Here we had hip-hop dancer Blake Washington introduced during the Three Dances movement as the recovering “Prince,” with a lot of spastic shivering and shaking that suggested more of painful decomposition than recovery.

The stars of the piece, however, were the seven outstanding instrumentalists: violinist Axel Strauss; David Scholl, double bass; Alan Kay, clarinet; Morejon, bassoon; Matt Onstad, trumpet; Dylan Chmura-Moore, trombone; and Anthony di Sanza, percussion. With truly superb playing, they upheld the high standards of the musicians that the BDDS brings us.

For more information about BDDS’ closing concerts this weekend – featuring guest soprano and critically acclaimed UW-Madison alumna Emily Birsan and music by Mozart, Schumann, Saint-Saens, Fauré, Ravel, Prokofiev, Barber and other composers in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green tonight, Saturday and Sunday, go to: http://bachdancing.org/concerts/festival-concerts/

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Classical music: The fifth FREE citywide annual Make Music Madison – featuring 300 concerts at 100 venues — takes place all day tomorrow

June 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow – Thursday, June 21, 2018 — is the Summer Solstice.

That means summer arrives.

That makes it the longest day and shortest night of the year.

And that also makes it the day when the fifth annual Make Music Madison will take place. The FREE citywide festival of outdoor music-making will go on all day.

According to the official website, there will be more than 300 concerts at more than 100 venues.

The website also has a very well-organized listing of concerts, artists and venues. It features a very user-friendly search engine – called a Filter Map — where you can check out the events by genre of music, name of the performers and the venue. It also includes rain accommodations, and given the weather this week, that could come in handy.

Here is a link to the complete listings:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/2018/locations/

Here is a link to the website, which has a fascinating and impressive overview and also a gallery of photos from last year’s event:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org

Of course the majority of the music that will be played by both amateurs and professionals, both individuals and groups, will be non-classical: jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock and roll, folk, world, musical theater, early music, blues, Celtic, funk, gospel and many more.

But from what The Ear sees there are about 25 noteworthy classical offerings too. They include music for guitar, organ, brass, strings, cello, flute and piano, including a public piano that will be at the UW-Madison’s Alumni Park from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Other venues include churches and libraries, schools and shopping malls, parks and businesses.

Here is a more detailed list of classical offerings with artists as well as venues (you can hear a vocal group from 2015 in the YouTube video at the bottom):

http://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/2018/artists?artist_name=&genre=Classical

Happy Listening!

If you go, leave a message about your reaction and how well it went in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky has died at 87

June 19, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past Saturday, the great Soviet and Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky (below) died at 87.

A friend of the blog said to The Ear, “He certainly deserves a mention.”

The Friend is right. Indeed he does.

In fact, Rozhdestvensky he deserves more than a mention.

The Ear isn’t sure why the West generally knows the names of Russian instrumentalists – pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, cellist (later turned conductor) Mstislav Rostropovich – more than its knows the names of conductors.

Perhaps it has to do with infrequent touring and the priority in using non-Russian conductors by major recording labels.

But as far as Russian conductors go, Gennady Rozhdestvensky was the last of The Great Four that The Ear recalls.

The other three were: Kirill Kondrashin, who conducted Van Cliburn in his victory concerts in Moscow and New York City and died at 67 in 1986; Yevgeny Mvrinsky, who died at 84 in 1988; and Yevgeny Svetlanov, who died at 73 in 2002.

Rozhdestvensky (below, conducting in his young years) was particularly well-known for his championing the music of his compatriot Dmitri Shostakovich both in his homeland and in the West.

(You can hear some of his interpretation of music by Shostakovich, which many considered definitive and revelatory, in the YouTube video of the electrifying finale of the well-known Symphony No. 5 at the bottom.)

Here is his entry in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gennady_Rozhdestvensky

Here is the obituary by The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/17/obituaries/gennady-rozhdestvensky-russian-conductor-dies-at-87.html

Here is the obituary by the BBC:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44505749

And here is an obituary by The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jun/17/gennady-rozhdestvensky-obituary

Do you ever hear Gennady Rozhdestvensky live?

Do you have any comment about him?

Please leave it the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The first-rate and listener-friendly Willy Street Chamber Players announce their five impressive July concerts – three with admission and two for FREE — as both subscription and single tickets go on sale

June 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) remains one of The Ear’s favorite chamber music ensembles, which his why he named it “Musicians of the Year” in 2016.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

Nothing has changed, although some programs hold more appeal than others, as you would expect for anyone.

What’s not to like about the Willys?

The Willys emphasize friendliness and informality, putting a premium on accessible communication with the audience. You never get that snobby or exclusive feeling that some classical music concerts exude.

The price is right — $15 for each concert, $40 for the series of three — plus a FREE community concerts at the Goodman Center (below) and another FREE community concert at the Union Terrace.

The playing is always first-rate by both group members and guest artists. Many of both groups are local and come from the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music or play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and other groups.

The programming is always inventive and eclectic. The music the Willys play includes both old and new works, familiar and unfamiliar composers, classic and contemporary music.

The Friday night concerts start at 6 p.m. and  last 60 to 90 minutes, giving you plenty of time to do something else to kick off the weekend. (See the YouTube video by Paul Baker at there bottom.) 

True to their name, at the post-concert receptions the Willys serve snacks that promote businesses on the east side. And trust The Ear, the food is very good. 

Here is a link to the new season, the group’s third:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

And here is a link to the Willys’ outstanding, informative and well organized website where you can find much more, including the full programs; the names of the core players; how to order tickets; how to donate and support The Willys; the names and location of the food providers; the rave reviews by several critics; favorite east side restaurants; frequently asked questions; and more (don’t ignore the heading FAQ on the home page).

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

You can order season tickets and, if you go to the home page and look at each concert under Summer Series, individual tickets. You can also click on the box “Tickets Available.”

It all starts Friday, July 6, at 6 p.m. in the usually well attended Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), 1021 Spaight Street.

The Ear can hardly wait.


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Classical music: The impressive second weekend of four concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society adds elements of theater and dance to chamber music

June 14, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The second weekend of the three-weekend summer series of concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society features two performances each of two programs.

The programs in this 27th season with its “Toy Stories” theme – “Play-Do(h)” and “GI Joe” – will be performed at The Playhouse (below) of the Overture Center on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday performances are at the Hillside Theater (below) at Taliesin, at the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green, at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Each program introduces elements of drama, using a narrator, and of dance.

The works include “The Kitchen Revue” by Bohuslav Martinu and “The Masked Ball” by Francis Poulenc as well as “Einstein on Mercer Street” by American composer Kevin Puts and “The Solder’s Tale” by Igor Stravinsky. (You can hear the first part of the Stravinsky work — “The Soldier’s March”  — with Jeremy Irons narrating and the composer conducting in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The baritone singer is Timothy Jones (below top), a longtime favorite of BDDS audiences, and Milwaukee-based hip-hop dancer and choreographer Blake Washington (below bottom), who is returning for his second season with BDDS.

Here is a link to the introduction and complete schedule to the entire summer season, including a FREE concert of “American Haiku: for violin and cello this coming Wednesday night:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/classical-music-this-weekend-kicks-of-the-27th-season-of-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-concerts-with-the-theme-of-musical-works-as-toys-to-be-played-with-for-serious-fun/

Also included this weekend are various works for bassoon, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, double bass and percussion by Alexandre Tansman; Georg Philipp Telemann, Gabriel Pierné and Robert Schumann.

A bonus to notice: This year for the first time, at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin, Enos Farms is offering picnic dinners that can be ordered, then picked up and eaten outside or in the Taliesin dining room. For food reservations, go to Tickets at http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: Rehearsals for the Madison Summer Choir’s 10th anniversary concert, featuring the Mass in D minor by Bruckner on July 18, start this Monday and Tuesday nights

June 10, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year since 2008, founder Ben Luedcke (below top) directs and rehearses the annual Madison Summer Choir (below bottom), which took the place of a summer choral concert dropped and defunded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The choir sings a cappella as well as accompanied by piano and orchestra.

Membership and rehearsals start TOMORROW, June 11.

The choir rehearses on Monday and Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. The rehearsals last for six weeks.

Then on Wednesday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall Stadium, the Madison Summer Choir plus a pick-up orchestra will perform the Mass in D Minor by Anton Bruckner. (You can hear the opening Kyrie movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sorry, no word has been received about ticket prices and availability, or about other possible works on the program.

For information about auditions, rehearsals and membership fees, go to:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org/join-us.html

Here is a link with more information about concerts this summer and in past summers:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org/concerts.html

Here is a link to the home website, where under “People” you can find background and a biography of Ben Luedcke and the names of the members in last summer’s choir:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org


Classical music: Thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society celebrating women, you can hear this beautiful Romance for violin and piano LIVE tonight in Madison and Sunday night in Spring Green

June 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight and Sunday night bring the second of six programs on the 27th annual summer series by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The theme of the whole series, along with the number 27, is “Toy Stories” and this particular program is called “American Girls” because it features so much music written by women composers — something in keeping with the timeliness and relevance of the #MeToo movement.

The first performance is TONIGHT, Saturday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse at the Overture Center. The second performance is tomorrow, Sunday, June 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater of Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green.

For more information about the BDDS season and about buying tickets ($43 and $48), go to http://bachdancing.org or to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/classical-music-this-weekend-kicks-of-the-27th-season-of-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-concerts-with-the-theme-of-musical-works-as-toys-to-be-played-with-for-serious-fun/

Included in the “American Girls” program is the very lyrical and beautiful Romance for Violin and Piano, Op. 23, by American composer Amy Beach (below).

If you want a taste of what awaits you if you go, at the bottom is a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who has appeared in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, performing the Romance by Beach at the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert.

Pine also explains the context that includes a very famous American woman violin virtuoso, Maud Powell, whom The Ear — and probably most others –had never heard of before.

The Romance will be performed tonight and Sunday night by BDDS veteran Yura Lee (below). She is an outstanding violinist and violist who hails from New York City and performs with the prestigious Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The rest of the program includes: “Chambi’s Dreams: Snapshots for an Andean Album” for flute, violin and piano by living composer Gabriela Lena Frank (below top); “Qi” for flute, cello, piano and percussion by Chen Yi (below middle); the Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV:27 by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the Piano Trio by American composer Rebecca Clarke (below bottom, above the YouTube video).


Classical music: This weekend kicks off the 27th annual summer season of Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts with the theme of musical works as toys to be “played” with for serious fun

June 7, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Four performances on this coming Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night will open the 27th annual summer concert series of the critically acclaimed but always informal and light-hearted Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below and in the YouTube video at the bottom).

There will be six programs in 12 concerts performed in three venues over the next three weekends.

The venues are: The Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top) at 7:30 p.m.; the Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 7:30 p.m.; and the Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green, at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $43, or $48 if you want a prime seat at the Overture Center. For more information, go to: http://bachdancing.org/tickets/season-tickets/

This opening weekend features a lot of flute music and a lot of string music plus some unusual arrangements or transcription and music by unknown women composers.

As usual, BDDS has lined up a series of impressive local talent as well as favorite guest performers, including the critically acclaimed soprano Emily Birsan (below top) and bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).

Also on the schedule is a Madison-based hip-hop dancer and choreographer, Blake Washington (below), for two pieces during the second weekend: Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Francis Poulenc’s “The Masked Ball.” In addition, four players from the BDDS Dynamite Factory – the apprentice school of BDDS for emerging performers – will take part.

Again, as always, there is a unifying theme to the season. This year it is “Toy Stories,” playing off the idea of “playing” pieces of chamber music.

Here is a background and overview story that appeared this week in The Wisconsin State Journal: http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/bach-dancing-and-dynamite-gets-playful-with-toy-stories/article_918d38c4-1eba-5196-822e-2b2616eddb75.html

Here is an explanation from UW-Madison graduate and San Francisco-based teacher and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below left), who co-founded, co-directs and performs in the series with retired UW-Madison and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal flutist Stephanie Jutt (below right):

“When we were kids, we would ride our hobby horses around the back yard pretending to be knights on a quest. We’d race our Slinkies down the stairs, cheering their contorted yet gymnastic moves. We made crazy cyborgs with our Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads. The cyborgs would fight for world domination, and then they’d sit down to tea with our dolls. We cuddled our stuffed animals as we prepared for bed, confessing our deepest dreams and aspirations to them. How easily those toys sparked our imaginations and transported us to fantastic realms!

“I’m a grownup now, sort of, and while I might get a short-lived bang out of newfangled tech toys, I’ve mostly left behind the dolls, bears and rubber ducks (below) of my childhood. The “toys” that really light my fire are incredible pieces of chamber music that have their own personalities; that delight me, surprise me, cry with me, and laugh with me.

CHAMBER

“Performing chamber music is called “playing” for a good reason. Ask any artist who joins BDDS for our festival: chamber music is a magical way to recapture the spirit of imaginative play that came to us so easily as kids.

“We cherish favorite old toys — the great chamber works of Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, for example. Yet we can also delight in the new toys that come our way — the music of Gabriela Lena Frank (below top), Paul Wiancko (below middle) and Kevin Puts (below bottom).

“Whether these new playthings become favorite old friends, who’s to say? One thing’s for sure, we’ll never know unless we play with them.

“BDDS’s 27th season theme is TOY STORIES, and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt and I have organized each of our programs around a quirky take on iconic toys.

“To celebrate the festival’s age, we’ve also scattered various “27s” across our programs. In the spirit of imaginative play, rather than spell ing everything out, here are some clues to what you’ll hear this June.

TEDDY TALKS. Just change the motto “ideas worth spreading” to “music worth hearing” and you have our modus operandi. In this case, we have all sorts of Teddies talking to us through their music: I wonder what they’ll say.

AMERICAN GIRLS. Proud and multi-ethnic, they have been coming on strong as composers for a hundred years, and here’s the proof!

PLAY DO(H). C Major is the most malleable of keys.

GI JOE. War is no game, but it has inspired some seriously imaginative music.

RUBBER DUCKY, YOU’RE THE ONE. Sesame Street’s beloved Ernie adored his bath toy: see who else jumps into the tub.

TRANSFORMERS. I’m amazed how a couple of twists and turns can transform a few unassuming blocks into something breathtakingly complex.

“Join us June 8-24 for TOY STORIES in Madison, Stoughton, and Spring Green. We’ll play together with some irresistible toys and have ourselves some serious fun.

“With a bang!”

For the schedule of performances, with times and places, go to: http://bachdancing.org

For the full programs, including the many new or neglected composers and works to be performed, go to: http://bachdancing.org/concerts/festival-concerts/

For a complete list of performing and helping personnel, go to:

http://bachdancing.org/concerts/cast-crew/

And for a complete and impressive list of BDDS repertoire throughout the years, listed in alphabetical order by the composer’s last name, go to:

http://bachdancing.org/about/repertoire-through-the-seasons/


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Classical music: The second annual Mineral Point Chamber Festival – with both free and ticketed performances — takes place this coming weekend

June 5, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer music season in the Madison area — which kicks off big-time this weekend – just seems to get busier and busier.

The second annual Mineral Point Chamber Music Festival will take place this coming Friday through Sunday, June 8-10.

All the information — including ensembles, complete repertoire and concerts times and venues — is available at artsmp.org under “Chamber Music Festival.” You will also find there some extensive audio samples of the performers.

There are three ticketed concerts that will take place at the refurbished Mineral Point Opera House (below top, by Michael J. Smith, and bottom):

Tickets are $20, and a package pass for all three concerts is $49.

The schedule for ticketed events is:

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m., the cello-and-piano Artu Duo (below) from the University of Minnesota will perform music by Robert Schumann, Bohuslav Martinu and Ludwig van Beethoven.

On Saturday at 7:30 p.m. the Volante Winds (below) from Indiana University will perform music by Samuel Barber, Karl Pilss, Gyorgy Orban and Giulio Briccialdi.

On Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., the Altino Duo (below), from Madison, will perform music by Zoltan Kodaly, Maurice Ravel and Johan Halvorsen.

There are also two FREE concerts. They feature many other works by many other composers including George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachelbel, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Jacques Ibert and Samuel Barber.

The first FREE concert is on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 300 Maiden St., and features Q&A sessions after each ensemble’s performance.

The second FREE concert — weather permitting — is on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. in Library Park (below) and features the Festival Brass.

The festival’s director Peter Schmalz explains the philosophy of the festival, which strikes The Ear as a savvy way to host a festival of fine performers and great music for very reasonable ticket prices:

“We are a festival devoted to providing opportunity to emerging talent,” says Schmalz. “At least 50 percent of the membership of each ensemble must be currently enrolled students.

“This year we ran into an insoluble problem, when one member of the Zima Piano Trio from Indiana University could not be approved for employment because of her current status as an international student.

“Hence we have the last-minute substitution of the Altino Duo from Madison – cellist Leonardo Altino and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino – who are both college professors and obviously not a student ensemble. (She teaches at the UW-Madison, and he teaches privately in Madison and at the Wheaton College Conservatory near Chicago.)

(Editor’s note: You can read more background about the Altinos, and about playing together as spouses, here: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/classical-music-what-is-it-like-to-play-music-with-a-spouse-local-wife-and-husband-violinist-and-cellist-open-the-winter-masterworks-season-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-with-the-brahms-double/

“The Altinos were very gracious about helping us in this situation, and will present a concert Sunday, June 10, of music that is included on their recently released CD “En voyage.”” (You can hear them perform the Duo for Violin and Cello by Zoltan Kodaly, which is on the recording, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

If you want to see the sponsors of the festival or become a sponsor, go to the bottom of the page at: http://www.artsmp.org/chamber-music-fest/


Classical music: Con Vivo closes its chamber music season with satisfying performances of string duos, violin romances and a clarinet quintet in a new, more intimate space

June 4, 2018
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The season’s closing concert by the Con Vivo! chamber ensemble (below) took on an extra degree of novelty.

Usually the group has performed in the main sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ. But the acoustics there are variable and not always ideal for small ensembles.

This time, the performers moved to the chapel, a much smaller room in the building complex. With a high ceiling but modest space, this venue has a much more appropriate quality for chamber music. It’s a trifle hard, but not reverberant — a good place for intimacy and directness of sound. This should become one base of choice for the ensemble now.

The program was split interestingly between two different musical realms.

The first half consisted of duos. At the core was a set of six brief pieces drawn from the 44 Duos by Bela Bartok, published as his Op. 104. Written for two violins, but adaptable to other string instruments, they were delivered here by violist Janse Vincent and cellist Maggie Darby Townsend (below), in charming fashion.

Framing them were two violin romances, each written with orchestral accompaniment that was rendered on the piano by Dan Lyons. One was the Romance No. 2 in F Major, Op. 50, by Ludwig van Beethoven played by Kathryn Taylor (below).

The other — which in fact originally began life as a movement of a string quartet — was the Romance in F minor, Op. 11, by Antonin Dvorak. This was played by Olga Pomolova (below). It is no disrespect to the other players to note that her performance was outstanding for rich tone and strong feeling. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance in its orchestral version in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A different world was drawn upon after the intermission, one for larger-scale chamber writing. This was the wonderful Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, for Clarinet and Strings. In this work, clarinetist Robert Taylor joined the four string players.

This is a mellow late work from Brahms, full of his artful denseness of textures, yet finely sensitive to balances. It is remarkable how the clarinet is constantly shifted between blending with the strings and standing apart from them. The performance was worthy of the challenges, full of spirit yet carefully controlled at all times — a performance that allowed the listener to ponder, and savor.

The sum total was a very satisfying concert, and one that suggested experiences with this chapel chamber should continue to be explored.


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