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-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
By Jacob Stockinger
It can’t be easy to start a new classical music group in a city that already has so many outstanding classical music groups and events.
Yet that is exactly what The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) have done – and with remarkable success.
To be honest, The Ear thought of awarding the same honor to them last year.
But that was their inaugural year. And launching a new enterprise is often easier than continuing and sustaining it.
But continue and sustain it they have – and even improved it.
The main season for The Willy Street Players is in July,, usually around noon or 6 p.m.
But they also usually offer a preview concert in the winter, and will do so again at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22, when they will perform string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla and Daniel Bernard Roumain at A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street. Admission is $20.
For tickets and more information about that concert as well as the group in general, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
The Ear finds so much to like about The Willy Street Chamber Players.
To start, the quality of the playing of the mostly string players and pianists — most of whom are products of the UW-Madison — is unquestionably superb. So are their guest artists such as Suzanne Beia. They have never disappointed The Ear, and others seem to agree.
The programming is ideal and adventurous, combining beloved classics, neglected works and new music from contemporary composers. And it all seems to fit together perfectly.
The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the Baroque era through the Classical, Romantic and modernist eras to today. They have performed an impressively eclectic mix of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Pietro Mascagni, Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb, Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger.
The concerts are very affordable.
The concerts are short, usually running only about an hour or 75 minutes. That allows you both to fully focus or concentrate on the performance but then also to do something else with your precious leisure time.
The group of sonic locavores stays true to its name and mission, playing at various venues on or near Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side – including the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street and at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. But they have also collaborated with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the post-concerts receptions, they even offer outstanding snack food from local purveyors in the Willy Street area. And it’s there that you can also meet the performers, who are fun, informative and congenial whenever they talk to the public, whether before and after a performance.
Most of all, The Ear has never heard anything dull or second-rate from the Willy Street Chamber Players. They are a fantastic breath of fresh air who invest their performances of even well-known works, such as the glorious Octet by Mendelssohn, with energy and drive, zest and good humor.
They are exactly what classical music – whether chamber music or orchestral music, choral or vocal music –needs to attract new and younger audiences and well as the usual fans. They have just the right balance of informality and professionalism.
The many musicians, all of them young, work hard but make the results seem easy. That is the very definition of virtuosity. Small wonder that many of them play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups. But this group seems special to them, and it shows.
If you don’t already know the Willy Street Chamber Players, you should get to know them. You should attend their concerts and, if you can, support them. They are a new gem, and constitute an outstanding and invaluable addition to Madison’s music scene.
NOTE: The Ear offers one piece of advice to The Willy Street Chamber Players: Since he can’t find a sample of you in action, please post some of your outstanding performances, which have been recorded by radio host Rich Samuels and broadcast on WORT-FM 89.9, on YouTube. The public needs a way to hear them and whet its appetite for your live performances.
In any case, The Ear wishes them well and hopes that, despite the inevitable personnel changes that will surely come in the future, The Willy Street Chamber Players stay on the Madison music scene for many years to come.
The Ear sends his best wishes for the New Year and another great season, the group’s third, to The Willy Street Chamber Players as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Christmas Day, 2016.
You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.
But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.
There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.
But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.
Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.
Here are two:
And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:
Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.
And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.
The Ear wants to hear.
And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
By Jacob Stockinger
The big classical music event this week is the opening of the 25th anniversary season of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
It was co-founded and is still co-directed by pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley; and by Stephanie Jutt, professor of flute at the UW-Madison School of Music who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Here is a link to the BDDS website with information about tickets, programs, venues and performers:
Recently, Jutt (below) spoke to The Ear about the upcoming season, which runs June 10-26:
“This silver anniversary season has something for everybody, and we’ve made it extra special in every way, with personnel, with repertoire and with audience favorites that we’re bringing back.
“In the first week, we have two short pieces by our featured composer, Kevin Puts “Air for Flute and Piano” and “Air for Violin and Piano,” and the world premiere of “In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry,” a piece we co-commissioned, with several other participating festivals, from the American composer Kevin Puts (below).
We commissioned him just before he won the Pulitzer Prize, luckily for us! We have performed several works by him in the past (“Einstein on Mercer Street,” “Traveler” and “Seven Seascapes”), and he will be here for the premiere performances at the Overture Playhouse and the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen compound in Spring Green.
(NOTE: Composer Kevin Puts will speak about “How Did You Write That?” at the FREE family concert on this coming Saturday, to be held 11-11:45 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.)
“In Week 2, we have three crazy, inspired works by Miguel del Aguila (below), a Uruguayan composer from Montevideo, who now lives in Los Angeles, that we commissioned and premiered. We’ll be performing “Salon Buenos Aires,” the piece that we commissioned, along with “Presto II” and “Charango Capriccioso.”
During Week Two, we are also bringing back the amazing pianist, arranger and raconteur Pablo Zinger (below), also originally from Uruguay and a longtime New Yorker, to perform his arrangements of movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and others, as well as some of Pablo’s brilliant arrangements of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.
“In Week 3, we are bringing back the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla and the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. People have begged us to repeat this program for years. It’s one of the most thrilling programs we’ve done, and this seems like the perfect time to return to this beloved repertoire. (You can hear the Summer section of Piazzolla’s Four Season of Buenos Aires in the youTube video at the bottom.)
“In the same Week Three, you will also hear some favorite works, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and, in Week 1, Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, “Schwanengesang” (Swan Songs”) with one of our favorite artists, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top). That third week also features the Ravel Piano Trio with the San Francisco Trio (below bottom), comprised of Axel Strauss on violin, Jean-Michel Fontaneau on cello, and JeffreySykes on piano.
“We wanted to repeat special things and also do new pieces. Some of the music has links to the number 25 for our 25th anniversary – like Opus 25 for the Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms or the Piano Concerto No. 25 by Mozart.
“We’re spending a lot more on artist fees this summer – it increases our budget by a lot, but it makes for a very special 25th season. We will have special mystery guests and special door prizes, as we love to do, and some special audience participation activities. (Below is a standing ovation from the audience at The Playhouse.)
“Did we think we would reach 25 years when we started? Of course not! We didn’t even think we’d reach two. It was started on such a lark.
“But the festival resonated with the summer audience and has every single year. I think we’ve been a success because listeners love to approach serious music with a light touch. You don’t have to behave very seriously to play serious music in a serious way. Artists from all over the United States come to play with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and it’s what draws them back year after year.
“We make a huge effort to make the music approachable, for ourselves as well as the audience. We talk about the music itself, about what it is like to learn it, and what it’s like to be together in such an intense way during the festival.
“We try to share the whole experience with the audience, and it’s something you just don’t find anywhere else. The concert doesn’t just go on in front of you, presented on a fancy plate. It surrounds you and you are a part of it.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Increasingly, the regular concert season is filled with what The Wise Critic calls “train wrecks”: Competing, compelling and appealing events you have to choose between.
But now it happens in summer too.
Take tonight, when two competing concerts will conflict. The Ear would like to hear both and wishes the organizers would arrange it so there is not a conflict.
Here they are:
BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY
BDDS asks in a press release:
So, what does this year’s theme “Guilty As Charged” mean?
The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is clearly a criminal enterprise. After all, we are named after the only major composer to ever spend a significant amount of time in jail, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Our crime at BDDS?
We’ve destroyed the stuffy, starched-collar atmosphere of traditional chamber music concerts and replaced it with a seriously fun vibe. We’ve broken down the barriers that separate audience and performer, making our concerts into riotously interactive events. Rather than leading audiences through a museum, we invite audiences to trespass into the creative and re-creative process right in the concert hall.
We own up to our crimes, and we proudly proclaim that we are GUILTY AS CHARGED.
GUILTY AS CHARGED features six programs, each performed multiple times and in multiple venues, and each named after some “crime.”
In the first program of six, tonight’s “Stolen Moments,” we feature music that has been stolen in some fashion: stolen from another composer, stolen from oneself, stolen from a completely different land and culture.
Felix Mendelssohn stole a chorale tune from Johann Sebastian Bach as the basis of the slow movement of his second cello sonata; Franz Joseph Haydn stole from himself to create his flute divertimentos; Ludwig van Beethoven stole Irish and Scottish folksong texts and tunes as the basis for his songs with piano trio accompaniment.
“Stolen Moments” will be performed at The Playhouse (below) in the Overture Center for the Arts, TONIGHT — Friday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14 at 2:30 p.m.
Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.
Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First time subscriptions are half off.
For tickets and more information, including the specific pieces on the programs, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.
Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com additional fees apply).
Tickets for the Hillside Theater (below) can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.
NATIONAL SUMMER CELLO INSTITUTE
Writes NSCI director UW-Madison cellist Professor Uri Vardi (below):
It would be great if you could remind your blog readers about the FREE NSCI cello concert tonight — Friday, June 12 — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
The program will include solo pieces in the first half by:
After intermission, we will play ensemble pieces:
And the NSCI Cello Choir will perform the following pieces with UW-Madison graduate conducting student Kyle Knox (below):
Adagio from Violin Sonata No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach as arranged by Ohashi Akira
“Oblivion” (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by P. Villarejo
Requiem by David Popper
Requiem “In Memory of Connie Barrett” by UW-Madison School of Music student composer Kyle Price
And “Hymnus for Twelve Cellos” by J. Klengel
Here is a link to the previous post on this blog about the cello institute this summer:
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the National Summer Cello Institute have informed The Ear about the upcoming programs at the UW-Madison School of Music:
For complete information about “Your Body is Your Strad” Summer Program Events, under artistic director and UW cello professor Uri Vardi, visit www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com
Following the success of five previous seasons, the Your Body is Your Strad summer programs are open for auditors and concert-goers in 2015.
This includes events during the Feldenkrais for All Performers program (May 30-June 3) and the National Summer Cello Institute (May 30-June 12). The programs focus on the connection between body awareness and technical proficiency, artistic expression, effective teaching and injury prevention.
The workshops feature husband-and-wife musicians and Feldenkrais practitioners Uri Vardi and Hagit Vardi (below with a student), with other faculty including Paul Katz of the New England Conservatory and Tim Eddy of the Juilliard School and Mannes Conservatory.
There will also be featured presentations by specialists in Integrative Health, Authentic Performance, Mind-Eye Connection, Stage Anxiety and Improvisation.
All events will take place at the Humanities Building at 455 N. Park St. in Madison, Wisconsin unless noted otherwise.
The following presentations are open for auditors and audience members for a fee of $25:
Saturday, May 30, at 3:15 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master class: focused use of the body” presented by Artistic Director Uri Vardi (below), a performance-based class that focuses on enhancing body awareness through the Feldenkrais method
Sunday, May 31, at 4:30 PM in Morphy Hall: “Seminar with Dr. Deborah Zelinsky: ‘The mind-eye connection'” — presented by Dr. Zelinsky, a specialist of neuro-optometric rehabilitation and visual processing
Monday, June 1, at 2 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master class: focused use of the body” — the second presentation by Artistic Director Uri Vardi, a performance-based class that focuses on enhancing body awareness through the Feldenkrais method
Monday, June 1, at 4:30 PM in Mills Hall: “Seminar with Susan Sweeney: The Imaginative Voice” — presented by Susan Sweeney, Head Voice and Text Coach for the American Players Theatre with extensive coaching experience on an international scale
Tuesday, June 2, at 3:30 PM in Morphy Hall: “Presentation by Dr. Adam Rindfleisch, MD: The Art of Self Care” — presented by Dr. Adam Rindfleisch, MD in the Integrative Medicine Division of the UW Health system
Wednesday, June 3, at 3:30 PM in room 1321: “Seminar with Matt Turner on Improvisation” — presented by Matt Turner, one of the world’s leading improv cellists, who will lead participants in an improv session
Thursday, June 4, at 4 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master class with Paul Katz” — a performance-based master class for participants that will be led by Paul Katz, Professor of Cello at Boston’s New England Conservatory
Friday, June 5, at 2 PM at Capitol Lakes Retirement Center (FREE): “Outreach Concert” — a performance by the participants of the Your Body is Your Strad programs, selected on a national scale through audition
Friday, June 5, at 4:30 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master class: focused use of the body” — the third presentation by Artistic Director Uri Vardi, a performance-based class that focuses on enhancing body awareness through the Feldenkrais method (below is student Micah Cheng, on left, with Uri Vardi)
Friday, June 5, at 8 PM in Mills Hall: “Seminar with Paul Katz” — led by Paul Katz, Professor of Cello at New England Conservatory, who will cover topics of musicianship and wellness
Saturday, June 6, at 9 AM in Morphy Hall: “Master class with Paul Katz” — the second performance-based master class for participants that will be led by Paul Katz, Professor of Cello at Boston’s New England Conservatory
Sunday, June 7, at 2 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master class: focused use of the body” — the fourth presentation by Artistic Director Uri Vardi, a performance-based class that focuses on enhancing body awareness through the Feldenkrais method
Monday, June 8, at 10:15 AM in Morphy Hall: “Master class: focused use of the body” — the fifth and final presentation by Artistic Director Uri Vardi, a performance-based class that focuses on enhancing body awareness through the Feldenkrais method
Tuesday, June 9, at 4:30 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master Class with Tim Eddy” — a performance-based master class for participants that will be led by Tim Eddy (below), Professor of Cello at the Juilliard School and Mannes Conservatory
Wednesday, June 10, at 8 PM in Morphy Hall: “Master Class with Tim Eddy” — the second performance-based master class for participants that will be led by Tim Eddy, Professor of Cello at the Juilliard School and Mannes Conservatory
Thursday, June 11 at 2 PM at Fair Trade Coffee (FREE): “Outreach Concert” — a performance of cello ensembles at the Fair Trade Coffee Shop on State Street
Thursday, June 11 at 8 PM in Mills Hall: “Seminar with Tim Eddy” — led by Tim Eddy, Professor of Cello at the Juilliard School and Mannes Conservatory, who will cover topics related to musicianship and wellness
Friday, June 12 at 8 PM in Mills Hall (FREE): “Final Concert” — the culminating concert of the National Summer Cello Institute, featuring solo performances of the Institute’s talented participants and the NSCI Cello Choir led by Kyle Knox (below).
The program for the final concert is partially set: the first half will be solo performances by participants of the National Summer Cello Institute, and the after intermission will be pieces for the NSCI Cello Choir. The solos will be decided through audition next week, but the rep for the Cello Choir is decided.
The pieces to be included in the public concert (which The Ear heard and loved last year) are:
Johann Sebastian Bach/arr. Akira: Adagio from the C major Sonata for Violin
Astor Piazzolla/arr. Villarejo: “Oblivion” (see the YouTube video at the bottom)
David Popper: Requiem
Kyle Price*: Requiem (movements 4 and 5)
Klengel: Hymnus for 12 cellos
*Kyle Price is the student composer and a Collins Fellow at the UW-Madison School of Music, studying cello as a Masters student with Uri Vardi. He is also an avid composer, and runs a music festival in upstate New York called Caroga Lake. The Requiem to be performed was written in memory of his aunt, a cellist who had attended NSCI in previous summers.
REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about mixing politics and art!
And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.
No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.
Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.
But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”)
And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:
And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):
What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?
Would you be a defender?
Or a detractor and protester?
The Ear wants to hear.
REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:
BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.
And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.
The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.
The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org
Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?
Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.
After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.
My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.
I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.
I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.
My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).
The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).
At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.
To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).
Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?
Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.
Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.
Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.
Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?
I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.
As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.
Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.
I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.
How do you think classical music can attract more young people?
We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.
I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.
I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.
What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?
Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra
The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.
Is there something else you would like to say or add?
I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.
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.