The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers an clever program that mixes outstanding performances of “primitivistic” modern music with rarely heard cabaret songs

June 19, 2017
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This review is by guest contributor Kyle Johnson (below), who also took the performance photographs. As a pianist since elementary school, Kyle Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

If the rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” perhaps the rule for concert planning is “programming, programming, programming.”

Until the finale of Friday night’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performance, the directors lived up to that mantra.

The first half of the program was primarily devoted to greats of the modernist chamber music repertoire: Chansons madécasses (Madagascan Songs) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Contrasts by Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

For the former, Emily Birsan, a Chicago-based soprano who was educated at the UW-Madison, provided a dynamic, sensuous rendition even in the score’s most economical, lithe moments.

At the end of the work, Ravel’s inclusion of piccolo (played by Stephanie Jutt) and cello harmonics (played by Jean-Michel Fonteneau at a much higher than the fingered pitch) created an evocatively primitive effect, as the songs detail life in newly colonized Madagascar

The final line of the piece, “The evening breeze rises; the moon begins to shine through the trees of the mountain. Go, and prepare the meal,” received nervous chuckles from several audience members.

(You can hear the Ravel songs performed by Christa Ludwig in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The effect was also a transition to the Contrasts (1938), a trio for clarinet, violin and piano that was commissioned by jazz great Benny Goodman. As the title aptly describes, the three-movement work cycles between jovial, intense and playful moods.

Most striking in this rendition — played by Axel Strauss on violin, Alan Kay on clarinet and Christopher Taylor on piano (below) — was the second movement, entitled “Relaxation.” Moments of hushed and moody tones created an atmosphere that historians have referred to as Bartok’s “night music.” 

The audience responded with excitement, applauding through two curtain calls, to the climactic and frenzied close of the piece.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup” for the 26 letters marking the BDDS’ 26th anniversary. So after intermission, BDDS directors Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sikes introduced the audience to Madison’s four-time Spelling Bee Champion, Martius Bautista).

The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Edgewood Campus School tested his spelling of a variety of musical terms like crescendo (growing louder) and sforzando (marked emphasis) while Jeffrey Sykes played the theme from Jeopardy on the keyboard. Bautista (below) was successful and, when given a paper crown, turned to place it on the head of Samantha Crownover, who is celebrating her 20th year as executive director of the BDDS.

Sykes and Birsan served the audience a collection of cabaret songs by English composer Benjamin Britten, American composer William Bolcom and Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing missing from this portion of the program was chinking wine glasses and swirling smoke.

The programming of cabaret songs with the musical “primitivism” of Ravel and Bartok was a clever idea, and one that had similar roots at a recent concert at the UW-Madison, in which the Chansons madécasses were paired with Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (while some consider Pierrot a feat of highbrow expressionism, a strong case can be made for its cabaret nature – however grotesque and dark it may be).

Anyone weary of Arnold Schoenberg’s oftentimes deterring development of 12-tone and atonal music need only look as far as his own cabaret songs, which are as melodious and lush as music heard in the great black-and-white musicals of early film.

The programming of the final work, Johannes Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) – played by the San Francisco Trio (below) — was problematic in a number of ways.

The monolithic nature of the work – a staple of high Romanticism you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom – seemed off-putting, after the intimacy of works such as the Ravel songs, the Bartok Contrasts, and especially the cabaret numbers.

In a perfect world, Friday evening’s concert would have foregone an intermission and ended with the cabaret hodgepodge. The quirky and understated close would have certainly left the audience charmed and ever-enticed to attend the remainder of BDDS’s programs – the final weekend, of which, runs June 23-25.

For more information about the concluding BDDS weekend and its dates, times, venues, programs and performers, go to:

http://bachdancing.org

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Classical music: Madison Youth Choir’s sixth annual Boychoir Festival is this Saturday. Plus, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet performs this Sunday at the Chazen Museum of Art

January 29, 2016
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ALERT: This month’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, to start at 12:30 p.m. this Sunday, features the Wisconsin Brass Quintet from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music

The program includes music by  Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.

Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-feb.-7-with-the-wisconsin-brass-quintet

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:

“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m. 

(Below is a photo of middle school singers, conducted by Margaret Jenks, from last year’s festival. You can also hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Boychoir Festival 2015 Elem School Choir

“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”

“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”

The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:

COMBINED CHOIRS

Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum

YOUTH CHOIR

Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion

Banaha — Congolese folk song

MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR

Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum

“Riflemen of Bennington  Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum

 HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR

Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano

Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler

THE MADISON BOYCHOIR

Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors

Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)

COMBINED CHOIRS

Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason

“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)

Boychoir Festival 2014 Middle School Choir

“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”

About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC)

“Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

“Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self -confidence, personal responsibility and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.”

For further information, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra will perform an all-20th century program of works by Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky and Poulenc this coming Saturday night. Plus, conductor Beverly Taylor talks about how severe budget cuts are hurting the choral program at the UW-Madison.

December 8, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union, a campus and community chorus, and the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform an all 20th-century program. (Both are below.)

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Featured are the “Symphony of Psalms” by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; the “Gloria” by French composer Francis Poulenc; and the Overture to “The Wasps” by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Tickets are $15, $8 for seniors and students.

Here is a link to more information, including how to buy tickets:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union1/

Beverly Taylor, who heads up the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is assistant music director at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will conduct.

Taylor agreed to a recent email interview with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

This year, you are giving only one performance, both now and in the spring for “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn. For many years, you have generally given two performances. Why the change? Is it an experiment or trial, or is it permanent?

Three things combined:  Really, the main reason was that the hall and players were only available one night.  As more groups emerge and the hall is booked, and string players may be playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra or several new chamber groups, it’s hard to get everyone together on the same night.

Also, we thought we’d pack them in for one night, although with all that goes on in town, we may leave some people out.

Third, because we did not have a full chamber ensemble yet available at the time we planned “The Creation,” and knowing I’d have to hire some additional players, we planned on one night for budget reasons.

Next year?  Who knows?  Check back in February …

UW Choral singers

It is a great program of very different 20th-century works. What was your idea or reason for linking them by putting them on the same program?

Great question, and yes I’ve given it a fair amount of thought.

Before I answer that, I should say that I’ve added a bonus piece to the program in the form of the orchestra-only Overture to “The Wasps” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Because the program is a bit on the short side, I had an overture in mind, but hadn’t confirmed it till I saw how quickly the orchestra took on the challenges of the Poulenc and Stravinsky.

One of the great things about programming 20th century music — and I expect will be the same as we add more 21st century music — is the astounding variety of styles available to us. And many of the 20th-century composers lived long enough to provide differing styles within their own work.

UW Symphony violins 2015

UW Symphony Strings cellos

What can you tell us about the work by Stravinsky (below)?

Stravinsky’s earliest works were late Romantic, then, with pulsing rhythms, sometimes called primitive; later there was neo-Classicism, and 12-tone, etc.  If forced to choose a title, I would call “Symphony of Psalms” a mixture of the primitive and the Romantic.

What makes it Romantic is the writing for the choir, which entails long lines, some stunning dynamic changes from loud to soft, and a pure, almost disembodied gentle melody at the end.

What makes it Primitive is the pulsing rhythms in the orchestra in movement III and the unexpected chord interpolations in the first.

What makes it clever intellectually is the difficult, jagged but fascinating double fugue in the second movement; and what makes it a wonderful sonic treat is the elimination of Violin I, II and Viola in favor of FIVE flutes, FIVE oboes, FOUR bassoons, FOUR horns, FIVE trumpets, THREE trombones TWO pianos, ONE harp and ONE tuba, some cellos, double basses and a partridge in a pear tree.

When you get four flutes and a piccolo, playing sometimes a half-step apart, you set up weird shimmering overtones.  It’s fascinating to hear, although I may be deaf after the concert from being so close to them.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

What about the work by Poulenc (below top)?

I wanted to contrast the modern instrumentation of the pulsing rhythms of Stravinsky with an equally interesting 20th-century work with a different flavor.

What makes Poulenc’s “Gloria” (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) hard to sing is what we hear all the time in popular music — the major seventh chord — think C, E, G and B natural.  For performers, singing C’s against B’s can be hard to tune, but the chords are closely allied with jazz and the piano bar!  And the piano was Poulenc’s composing instrument.

With long lines in the strings, we are treated to the lushest of lines in the third, fifth and sixth movements. The first movement is regally strong; the second and fourth are playful.

Our wonderful soprano soloist, Tyana O’Connor, sings gorgeously in three of the movements, both powerfully direct, and then in soft floating sounds.

Francis Poulenc

And the work by Vaughan Williams?

I chose the Vaughan Williams for its length, its instrumentation (lots for the upper strings, which weren’t playing in the Stravinsky, and nice parts for the harps that we have already playing in the Poulenc and Stravinsky) and its buoyant, positive nature as an opening to our concert.

Vaughan Williams (below) wrote it while he was fairly young, as occasional music to a production of Aristophanes’ play “The Wasps.” He makes a nod to “The Wasps” in the form of a string buzz in the opening and toward the end. But for the most part the overture is formed of two tunes — a perky, angular march and a warm, lush tune aligned with English folksong.  These tunes are presented separately and then combined.

By choosing three different flavors of 20th-century music, I hope to present a balanced evening with appeal to everyone.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Have steep budget cuts to the UW-Madison hurt the Choral Union? Do such cuts affect your ability to hire guest soloists? Do they account for the reduction in performances? Do they alter the repertoire that you can do?

Yes, they have hurt the Choral Union in certain ways, although I don’t think our excellence will be any the less.

Without the availability of some discretionary concert funds, we have had to increase some fees for members, and we have had to postpone some special works that might include high rentals of materials or special instruments or another venue to perform in.

We sometimes program using the great soloists available to us from our faculty and graduate students, and save funds for when we need to hire a professional voice that we don’t have. With more money we might do that more often, but we are lucky to have gifted people within our reach.

Good classical music has costs that the public often doesn’t know about — high costs for copyrighted parts and scores (below) for recent works, and specialty instruments such as viols or oboes d’amore and portative organs for early music.

Beethoven Symphony 5 score

What else would you like to say?

I’m so glad you asked me to write.  Although this concert by the Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra is a ticketed event, the great majority of our concerts are FREE.

We encourage listeners of all types and generations to TRY to listen to something new and LIVE, and perhaps in a different genre than they’ve ever tried before.

 


Classical music: The UW-Madison School of Music has a busy weekend, including a FREE orchestra concert for the Wisconsin Academy’s marking of the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon plus a FREE cello recital and a voice faculty showcase.

October 29, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It will be a busy weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Events include a FREE orchestra concert on Sunday afternoon for the Wisconsin Academy’s marking of the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon.

But there is also a FREE cello recital on Saturday night and a voice faculty showcase concert on Sunday evening.

Here are details.

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, cello Professor Parry Karp (below left), who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, will play a FREE recital with his longtime pianist partner Eli Kalman (below right), who teaches at UW-Oshkosh and did his doctoral work at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

The program includes the Sonata in C Minor for Piano and Violin, Op; 30, No. 2 (1802), by Ludwig van Beethoven as transcribed for cello by Parry Karp, who also transcribed all the violin sonatas by Johannes Brahms; the Sonata in E-flat Major for cello and piano (1922) by Ettore Desderi; and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op 22 (1945) by Samuel Barber.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman 2014

REMEMBERING THE PASSENGER PIGEON

On Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform the Wisconsin premiere of “The Columbiad,” preceded by a talk by acclaimed emeritus wildlife professor Stanley Temple (below).

Stanley Temple

The music program is: A. P. Heinrich, “The Columbiad, or Migration of American Wild Passenger Pigeons”; the Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski; and the “Tragic” Overture by Johannes Brahms.

The concert is part of a two-day symposium on the 100th anniversary of the demise of the fabled passenger pigeon. It features a short talk by Stanley Temple, Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Learn more here.

On the occasion of the 2014 centenary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters and the UW-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology invite the public to join in an exploration of the sobering story of the passenger pigeon (below is a photo of a stuffed real passenger pigeon) and what it can tell us about the ongoing extinction crisis and our relationship with other species.

passenger pigeon stuffed

Events include the Wisconsin premiere of The Columbiad, a symphony by Anthony Philip Heinrich, performed by the UW Symphony Orchestra. The Columbiad created a sensation at its premiere in Prague in 1858 and will be performed once again this fall at UW-Madison and Yale University. (You can hear the beginning of the work as performed at Yale in early October in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Anthony Philip Heinrich

Heinrich was inspired by witnessing vast flocks of passenger pigeons in 1831. Known in his day as “the log cabin composer” and “the Beethoven of America,” Anthony Philip Heinrich is the only important composer of the early 19th century to have experienced the North American frontier as he did. He saw Niagara Falls, he encountered Native Americans and slave musicians, and he witnessed the astonishing migration of giant flocks of passenger pigeons.

To learn about the national effort, please see Project Passenger Pigeon.

Here are related events and links:

The Savage Passengers (play)

A staged reading of a new play about the passenger pigeon by The Bricks Theatre

Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 7 to 9 p.m.

UW-Madison Biotechnology Auditorium, 425 Henry Mall

From Billions to None (Documentary)

An afternoon documentary screening and panel discussion on the demise of the passenger pigeon

Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

UW–Madison Union South, Marquee Theater

1308 W. Dayton St.

Stanley Temple: “A Bird We Have Lost and a Doubt We Have Gained” (Fellows Forum).

Stanley A. Temple is the Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and former Chairman of the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Program in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW–Madison. For 32 years he held the academic position once occupied by Aldo Leopold, and during that time he won every teaching award for which he was eligible. Temple has a PhD in ecology from Cornell University where he studied at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (below is a photo of one mass shooting of passenger pigeons.)

passenger pigeon slaughter

VOICE FACULTY SHOWCASE CONCERT

At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, Nov. 2, in Mills Hall the UW-Madison voice faculty presents an evening of chamber music featuring the solo voice. Featuring a premiere, “White Clouds, Yellow Leaves,” written by composer and saxophone professor Les Thimmig (below).

Les Thimmig color

Participants includes: Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn, sopranos; Paul Rowe, baritone; with Karen Atz, harp; Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Parry Karp, cello; and many students and faculty from the UW-Madison School of Music.

Tickets are $10 with students getting in for FREE. Tickets will be available at the door as well as online or at the box office. Please see this link.

Here is the full program:

“Don Quichotte à Dulcinée” (1934) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Chanson Romanesque; Chanson épique; Chanson á boire with Paul Rowe, baritone, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano.

“La lettre” by Jules Massenet  (1842-1912)

“Absence” by Georges Bizet  (1838-1875)

“L’invitation au voyage” by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) with Elizabeth Hagedorn, soprano; Marc Vallon, bassoon, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano, and Karen Atz, harp.

“Barcarolle” by Charles Gounod  (1818-1893) with Elizabeth Hagedorn, soprano; Paul Rowe, baritone, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano.

INTERMISSION

“Long Pond Revisited” (2002) by Lori Laitman (below, b. 1955). From poetry by C.G.R. Shepard: “I Looked for Reasons,” “The Pond Seems Smaller,” “Late in the Day,” “Days Turn,” “Long Pond Revisited” with Paul Rowe, baritone; Parry Karp, cello.

lori laitman

“White Clouds, Yellow Leaves” (2013) by UW-Madison composer Les Thimmig (b. 1943) fromTexts derived from 8th- and 9th-century Chinese poetry with Mimmi Fulmer: mezzo-soprano; Mi-Li Chang: flute, piccolo, alto flute; Kostas Tiliakos,: English horn; Marc Vallon: bassoon; Sean Kleve: percussion; Karen Atz, harp; Paran Amirinizari: violin; Rachel Hauser: viola; Andrew Briggs: violoncello; and Les Thimmig: conductor.

Here is a link to the full program with program notes:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/voice-faculty-recital/

Tickets are $10 for the public; students get in free.

Ticket info here.

 

 

 

 


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