The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.


Classical music: The music of John Field remains underappreciated. Pianist John O’Conor will perform concertos by Field and Mozart this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

April 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell, will close out its current Masterworks season this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program – which features guest pianist John O’Conor (below) – includes the Piano Concerto No. 1 by John Field; the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (“Elvira Madigan”), by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky; and the Symphony No. 1 by Carl Maria von Weber.

john o'conor pink shirt horizontal

Tickets are $15-$80.

For more information, including a full biography of John O’Conor and the purchasing of tickets, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v-1/

John O’Conor, who has an extremely busy career performing, teaching, recording and judging piano competitions recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

john o'conor with piano

John Field is best known as the precursor of Chopin when it comes to composing nocturnes. How right or wrong is that perception and how would you change it? What else should we know about Field, his stylistic roots and his influence, especially through his other piano music, in particular his concertos?

John Field (below) is indeed the originator of the Nocturne form for piano music. He realized that the usual forms of music of the 18th century (sonatas, variations etc.) were not really suitable for after-dinner performances at the residences of the nobility in the 19th century, so he published various short pieces entitled “Pastorale” and other such names until he happened on the idea of the “Nocturne” in 1814 (when Chopin was only 4 !!) when he published his first three.

They were an immediate sensation and he quickly published many more. It is said that one of his Polish students in St. Petersburg went back to Poland in the 1820s, played some of his Nocturnes, Chopin heard them and wrote his own and the rest is history.

John Field

Field was a prodigy in his native Dublin where he was born in 1782. His father recognized his talent and spent the enormous sum of 100 pounds to apprentice him to Muzio Clementi in London when he was only barely in his teens. Clementi was not only a famous pianist and composer but also a piano manufacturer.

He soon realized that when Field demonstrated his pianos, he sold more pianos! So he brought him on a promotional your around Europe in 1802. They visited Paris and Vienna and then St. Petersburg, when winter set in and they had to stay there until they could travel again in spring.

But during the winter the very handsome Field became the darling of the salons and all the daughters of the nobility wanted to study piano with him. So when Clementi (below) left in spring, Field stayed on. He spent most of the rest of his life in Russia and died in Moscow in 1837.

Muzio Clementi

What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major by Field that you will perform in Madison?

Apart from Nocturnes, Field also wrote four sonatas and seven piano concertos. The concertos were tremendously popular in the 19th century and his second concerto was often the debut concerto of young virtuosi — in the same way that Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 became so in the 20th century.

The problem with the concertos is that they often lack an advanced sense of form and meander quite a bit — but quite beautifully!

I love the first concerto because it is the most concise and best organized of the concertos. It is full of youthful exuberance and he obviously wanted to show off his considerable technique in the flying fingers of the outer movements.

The middle movement is a set of variations on a Scottish folk song and though he composed this piece while still living in London with Clementi you can already hear the gentle filigree figurations that became such a characteristic of his later Nocturnes.

The Piano Concerto No. 21 by Mozart (below) is best known for its slow movement that was used as the soundtrack to the popular film “Elvira Madigan.” What else would you like to point out about this particular concerto to the public? In your view, where does it rank among Mozart’s 27 piano concertos?

There is no connection between Field and Mozart that I know of. But the Mozart Concerto is another example of a composer showing off his virtuosity. Both the outer movements sparkle with vivacity and charm, and the beauty of the slow movement needs no introduction from me. It is one of the most beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video — with 39 million hits!~ at the bottom.)

Mozart old 1782

You are very well known internationally as a both a teacher and an award-winning performer. For you, how does each activity inform the other?

I love teaching. I have always loved teaching piano. To some people, it might seem like drudgery, but I hope none of my students have ever felt that.

Nowadays I have incredibly gifted students who regularly win prizes at international piano competitions. But even when I started teaching, I hope I made the music fun for all my less talented students. It is a privilege to give them a love of the art that will keep for the rest of their lives.


Classical music: In a MUST-HEAR concert, pianist Emanuel Ax solos this weekend in Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which will also perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 4

March 9, 2016
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CORRECTION: Yesterday’s post about the University Opera’s production of “Transformations” this weekend and early next week contained an error in the performance times. The correct times for performances in Music Hall are Friday night at 7:30 p.m.,  Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The Ear apologizes and regrets the error.

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about great performers making great music! This weekend’s concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra are a MUST-HEAR program of all masterpieces.

A Madison favorite — world-renowned pianist Emanuel Ax (below) — reunites for the third time with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and its music director and conductor John DeMain for three concerts this weekend in Overture Hall.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

The concerts will feature music by Ludwig van Beethoven, beginning with his Coriolan Overture. Ax will then perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the orchestra. The concert will end with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.

The program will begin with Ludwig Van Beethoven’s brief but stormy Coriolan Overture. The concert will continue with Beethoven’s lyrical and impressive Piano Concerto No. 4.

Gustav Mahler’s light and sunny Symphony No. 4, with its famous finale featuring a soprano singing folk poetry, will bring the program to an elegant conclusion with the help of soprano Alisa Jordheim (below).

alisa jordheim 2016

The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

Born in Lvov, Poland, and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, pianist Emanuel Ax (below) first came to the public’s attention in 1974 when he won the first Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. Ax concertizes extensively with the world’s top orchestras, and has been awarded seven Grammy Awards. He also teaches at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he himself studied.

A devoted chamber musician, Ax has worked regularly with artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Peter Serkin, violinist Jaime Laredo, and the late violinist Isaac Stern. He has often performed solo recitals, chamber music and concertos in Madison with the MSO and at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Emanuel Ax playing LA Times

Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture reflects the struggle of Roman general Coriolanus as he debates whether or not to invade Rome, a story told in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus. The first part is introduced by explosive chords and almost violent strings representing the fires of war, while the second theme is much more graceful, inspired by the voice of his mother.

Piano Concerto No. 4 written by Beethoven in 1806 was one of the first piano concertos where the piano begins alone. Beethoven’s innovation of this concept was noted by scholars as was the rapidly developing technology behind pianos at the time. (You can hear Emanuel Ax discuss Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Symphony No. 4 by Mahler (below) represents a kind of peaceful interlude in his series of works as it is almost completely upbeat and joyful. Scored for a fairly small orchestra by Mahler’s standards, the work is built around the song, “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life), which is finally sung in its entirety by a solo soprano in the fourth movement.

Gustav Mahler big

One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below), Wisconsin Public Radio host, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

anders yocom studio head shot cr Jim Gill

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ax

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/ax and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall. Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

There will also be a Club 201 event for this concert on Saturday night. For $35, young professionals between 21 and 39 get a ticket and are invited to a post-concert party. Reservations must be made by TOMORROW, Thursday, March 10. For information, visit:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201

Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

Major funding for the March concerts is provided by The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, Stephen Morton, University Research Park, UW Health & Unity Health Insurance, and Marvin J. Levy. Additional funding is provided by James Gallegos and George Anglin, JP Cullen, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so The Ear asks: Who are the winners and champions in the concert hall? Here are the most popular pieces, composers and soloists. Plus, on Tuesday night, violist Elias Goldstein returns to perform Paganini’s fiendish Caprices in a FREE recital

February 7, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”

Elias Goldstein big

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.

It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.

super bowl 50 logo

So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?

It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.

What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?

Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?

A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.

The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.

And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/04/08/league-american-orchestras-performance-data

See what you think and leave a COMMENT.

Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?

In your opinion, what makes them so popular?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players opens their new season with violin sonatas by Mozart, Grieg and Szymanowski this Friday night.

October 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Violinist Wes Luke and pianist Jess Salek will perform a “passionate program”of violin and piano music called “Sonatas and Myths” tomorrow night, Friday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes: the elegant and intense Sonata in G Major K. 379, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (you can hear the sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom); the fiery Sonata in C minor, Op. 45, by the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; and the extraordinary and unique “Myths,” Op. 30, by the 20th-century Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.

There will be a reception following the program.

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for seniors; and $5 for students. Check or cash only will be accepted.

Information about upcoming concerts can be found on Mosaic’s website http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com/ or you can “like” or follow Mosaic Chamber Players on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Here is some background information about the performers::

Wes Luke (below) is a violinist and educator who performs and teaches across the upper Midwest.  He currently serves as the Concertmaster of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra, the Principal Second Violinist of the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, and a section violinist in the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He also regularly plays in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, where he has also served as Concertmaster.

Wes Luke 2015

Jess Salek holds degrees from Lawrence University (Bachelor of Music in piano performance) in Appleton, Wisconsin, and State University of New York at Stony Brook (Master of Music in piano performance). He has worked as Music Theory Instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and as a piano instructor at Prairie Music Academy in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He also has served as a judge for piano competitions and music festivals throughout Wisconsin.

From 2009-2013, Salek (below) served as Music Director of Fresco Opera Theatre, which in 2013 received Bronze in the Performing Arts Group category in Madison Magazine’s “Best Of Madison” competition -– an award voted by fans.

He is the founder and owner of Salek Piano Studio, Inc., where he teaches a diverse group of over 45 students of all ages and levels on the west side of Madison.

jess Salek 2015

Salek performs as substitute keyboardist with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for Concerts on the Square and Madison Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW), a non-profit chamber music organization in Madison, and serves as accompanist for Madison Youth Choirs, a non-profit performing group based in Madison.

Most recently, Salek founded the Mosaic Chamber Players, a professional group dedicated to performing varied chamber music programs throughout Wisconsin. The Mosaics were recently described as “among the finest purveyors of chamber music in Madison” in a review by John W. Barker for The Well-Tempered Ear blog.

Here is a poster about the upcoming season of the Mosaic Chamber Players (using the magnifying tool will help you read it):

Mosaic 2015-2016 season poster jpeg


Classical music: This week the UW School of Music offers two free classical concerts: two symphonies by Beethoven and a cello recital by Parry Karp.

October 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night — Halloween Eve — will be a busy one.

So far, three fine classical music concerts compete for your attendance. They including a UW faculty cello recital, a program of Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert by Con Vivo and a concert of violin and piano sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edvard Grieg and Karol Szymanowski by the Mosaic Chamber Players.

All will receive preview attention here.

But first things first.

The Ear tends to favor FREE and PUBLIC concerts. So he is starting with the two very appealing events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the strings (below) of the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Graduate student Kyle Knox (center right) will conduct.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

For more information about the program and about clarinetist-turned-conductor Kyle Knox, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-symphony-strings/

FRIDAY

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison cello professor Parry Karp (below left), who is also a member of the Pro Arte Quartet, will perform with pianist Eli Kalman (below right), who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW-Oshkosh.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

The exotic program mixes the known and the unusual. It includes:

The “Ruralia Hungarica” for Cello and Piano, Op. 34/d (1923) by Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnanyi; the Violin Sonata in E-flat Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12 No. 3 (1798) by Ludwig van Beethoven, as transcribed for piano and cello by Parry Karp; the Capriccio for Violoncello and Piano (1985) American composer William Bolcom; the First Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1928) by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (you can hear the work in a YouTube video at the bottom); and the Sonata in B-flat Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 8 (1899) by Ernst Dohnanyi.

PLEASE NOTE: Parry Karp and Eli  Kalman will also repeat their Friday night recital program this Sunday, Nov. 1,  for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE and PUBLIC performance will start at 12:30 p.m. for the audience in Brittingham Gallery 3. The recital will be streamed LIVE on the website for the Chazen Museum of Art.

Here is a link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-november-1-with-parry-karp-and-eli-kalm

 


Classical music: Another Stradivarius violin is rescued – and teaches us a valuable lesson about loss and perspective.

August 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Stradivarius violins may be rare, but they have sure come in for their share of adventure in the past year and a half.

First, there was the theft of the “Lipinski” violin owned and played by Frank Almond, the Paganini Competition-winning concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

That story made national headlines.

Now comes word of a second Strad (below) that has been rescued 35 years after it was stolen.

Ames Totenberg Stradivarius

This violin belonged to Roman Totenberg. He was the concertizing violinist and violin teacher at Boston University who was the father of the well-known and prize-winning legal affairs reporter for NPR, or National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg (below center with her two sisters). She is probably best known for her stories on the U.S. Supreme Court. When her father died in 2012 at 101, she also did a memorable obituary.

(At the bottom in a YouTube video, you can hear Roman Totenberg playing the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of his 90th birthday.)

Stradivarius Totenberg sisters

Roman Totenberg bought the so-called Ames Stradivarius for $15,000 in 1943. It is now said to be worth tens of millions of dollars after restoration. But his daughters promise it will be sold to a great violinist who will play it and perform with it as their father did — and not go into some museum or investment collection.

The story was all over the media -– maybe because it was good news amid so much bad news, a happy ending amid so many unhappy endings.

And what do you say when Nina Totenberg explains that her heart-broken father, who suspected who the thief was, moved on after the theft and bought another violin – a Guarneri del Jesu -– because he had personally suffered much bigger losses such as the deaths of his family in Nazi death camps during World War II.

That is perspective at a time when we sorely need perspective, especially about the worth of material objects versus humanist values.

Here is a story from NPR in which Nina Totenberg takes part and in which you can hear excerpts of her father playing a violin and piano sonata by Johannes Brahms and solo violin music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

http://www.npr.org/2015/08/06/427718240/a-rarity-reclaimed-stolen-stradivarius-recovered-after-35-years

And here is the big story it got in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/roman-totenbergs-stolen-stradivarius-is-found-after-35-years.html


Classical music: The Ear gives a hearty Shout Out! to the All-Festival Concert of early Slavic music by the Madison Early Music Festival.

July 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, in Mills Hall, The Ear saw and heard the All-Festival Concert by the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF).

MEMF 2015 All Festival group

Historically, that concert – which brings together students, faculty and guest artists – is the closing wrap-up of the festival, and The Ear has been to quite a few of them over the past years.

But this year’s event proved one of the best ever, right at the top of the list.

The topic this year was “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

To be honest, the music itself was not one of my all-time favorites of MEMF, although it had many beautiful moments.

What proved most impressive to my ears and eyes was the incredible variety that the various performers managed to instill into a concert that otherwise could have been pretty monotonous.

But this concert was anything but monotonous. The performances were well-rehearsed and quite polished.

The program presented a wide variety of works by Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian composers from the 16th through the 18th centuries.

MEMF 2015 John Barker

There was, as usual, a lot of vocal music by some of the biggest orchestral and choral forces I recall seeing.

But there was also some impressive instrumental music that featured some pretty eye-catching instruments, including the oversized lute-like theorbo (below top) and the Celtic harp (below bottom).

MEMF 2015 All Festival Theorbo

MEMF 2015 All Festival Celtic harp

And the forces used the entire hall, even putting brass at the top of the back balcony at one point.

Plus, early music expert and retired UW-Madison professor Medieval history John W. Barker served as the narrator in an engaging piece about the slain Polish trumpeter whose battle call is still played today in Krakow in his honor.

MEMF 2015 All Festival John W. Barker

The singers sang in large groups and small groups — solo, duets (below) and quartets — and all permutations performed superbly. The voices were strong and clear, and the diction always seemed excellent.

MEMF 2015 All Festival duet

Conducting duties – split between guest main conductor Kristina Boerger (below top) and assistant conductor Jerry Hui (below bottom) – were exemplary.

It can be easy to lose a sense of balance and control with such large forces. But the range of dynamics from soft to loud, from slow to fast, never felt awkward or wrong. Not here. The blending and flow were superb.

MEMF 2015 All Festival Kristina Boerger

MEMF 2015 All Festival Jerry Hui

So The Ear offers a hearty Thank You! to all the participants of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival who made this final concert so satisfying.

And to listeners, I say: If you can only make one concert during the Madison Early Music Festival each summer, the All-Festival Concert is a good bet — and a great place to start if early music is new to you. 

Judging from this latest installment, you won’t be disappointed.

And you just might catch The Bug!

 


Classical music: The opening of this week’s Madison Early Music Festival blossomed with a stunning performance of early Slavic choral music by The Rose Ensemble of St. Paul, Minnesota.

July 13, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opened on Saturday night.

The coming week of daily workshops, lectures and concerts could hardly have enjoyed a more promising opening than the stunning a cappella singing turned in by the justly acclaimed Rose Ensemble (below) of St. Paul, Minnesota. (You can hear the Rose Ensemble in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

MEMF Rose Ensemble 12

The group consists of 12 singers and one string player – she plays a Medieval violin-like instrument called “la vielle” — with some singers doing double duty and playing a drum or recorder.

MEMF 2015 solo and instruments

Somewhere around two-thirds of a house (below) turned out in Mills Hall to hear a thoroughly masterful display of early Eastern European music from the 11th century through the 16th century, which is the topic of this year’s festival.

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

MEMF 2015 Rose audience

Start with the basics.

As far as The Ear could tell, there was not a single weak link in the chain. Each singer sang strongly and with conviction.

Each excelled at pitch and diction, even in multiple Slavic languages from Poland, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and Russia.

And the balance that allowed different lines to emerge was nothing short of miraculous.

They sang as a large group of 12.

They sang smaller motets with groups of six women or six men (below).

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 women

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 men

They sang duets and they sang solos.

And all of the permutations proved successful.

They were terrific in all the liturgical music that makes up the bulk of the early Slavic repertory.

But The Ear’s favorite pieces were some of the folksongs from Ukraine and elsewhere. The performers moved around the stage and used their voices in what American poet Walt Whitman aptly described as a “barbaric yawp” that came close to artful shouting.

The singing was nothing short of thrilling as the performers cut loose with chopping arms, moving feet and howling mouths. Yet it all remained controlled and convincing. It reminded The Ear of plain chant and shape-note singing.

The Rose Ensemble organized a masterful display of varied programming and performances that, to be honest, helped offset a lot of the similarities of so much of the music.

MEMF Rose folk

One other thing: If you wonder about attending the lectures, just go. They start one hour before the concerts, at 6:30 p.m. in 2650 Mosse Humanities Building.

For this concert, John W. Barker, a veteran music critic and retired professor of Medieval history at the UW-Madison, provided a terrific historical context that help the audience appreciate the achievement of early Slavonic music. His lecture was filled with wit and facts as he pointed to the map to show how Slavic culture was born and how extensive it became.

What we learned in one hour!

MEMF 2015 John Barker

For more detail about events, venues and prices, go to the comprehensive website:

http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/MEMF2015.htm

 


Classical music: What makes early Slavic music different? What composers are being rediscovered? And what will the All-Festival concert offer? Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman Rowe talks about the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF). The festival starts this coming Saturday and runs through the next Saturday. Here is Part 2 of 2 parts.

July 7, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens this coming Saturday night and runs through the All-Festival concert the next Saturday night. The topic is “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

Here is a link to the home website where you can information and event, times and prices: http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below), who co-directs the festival with her husband, UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, agreed to talk about the festival and its lineup of workshops, lectures and concerts. Her interview is running in two parts.

Here is a link to Part 1, which ran yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/classical-music-co-artistic-director-cheryl-bensman-rowe-talks-about-early-eastern-european-music-which-is-the-focus-of-this-summers-madison-early-music-festival-memf-the-festival-starts/

Today is Part 2.

Cheryl Rowe color 1

How does early Slavic or Eastern European music differ from its counterparts in, say, Western Europe such as Italy, France, Spain and England. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world?

The early Slavs came from Indo-European lands, spreading from various parts of Asia into Eastern Europe around 2000 B.C. Under the pressure of nomadic hordes, the Slavic tribes crossed the Carpathian Mountains and pushed their way down to the Balkans. Others moved westward toward the upper Danube, and still others eastward toward the River Dniper and Black Sea.

This migration continued from the fourth through the eighth century, giving birth to the Slavic nations that we know today. East of the River (below) explores the dance music and traditional melodies from these indigenous cultures, and you will hear the haunting and virtuosic melodies from these Slavic traditions that influenced the music of many Eastern European compositions.

East of the River

Bob Wiemken (below), from Piffaro explains: “It would seem at first consideration that an immersion in music of Slavic lands and peoples to the East during the medieval through baroque periods would yield some sounds, styles and repertoire strikingly different from that produced by composers from western lands, and in some cases and during certain times that assumption yields expected results.

“However, when comparing what might be considered composed art music, the fodder of courts and cathedrals, a surprising similarity between the two, between East and West, emerges, at least insofar as the lands bordering on what is normally considered “western Europe” are concerned.

“On closer examination the reasons for this similarity seem clear. Political and cultural interchange between East and West burgeoned during the late 15th through early 17th centuries. Eastern rulers, especially in Poland and Hungary, sought to build their courts and chapels after western fashion. They thus attracted some of the best western composers to create and/or head their musical establishments for a time. Easterners studied and worked in western environs, most notably the Slovenian Jakob Handl in Vienna and the Hungarian Bálint Bakfark in Paris and Padua, and many western composers occupied lofty musical positions or spent a portion of their professional careers at eastern courts.

“As a result, western sacred polyphony, the international musical language of the day, traveled east and settled in Slavic courts and cathedrals, and eastern dances, such as the Polnischer Tanz, the Passamezzo ongaro and the Ungarescha journeyed east, creating a tale of cross-cultural influence and engagement in the musical interaction between western and eastern composers.”

And Jordan Sramek, director of the Rose Ensemble, writes:

“During the 17th century there is an often-forgotten relationship between Poland and Italy and there is a striking influence the Italianate style had on Polish composers of the time. Also, Italian composers were invited to the Imperial Russian court to be in residence in St. Petersburg.”

Bob Wiemken

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

Many composers and their works have only been neglected because the music was unavailable to us in Western countries. The music in some of the Eastern European collections has been out of print, or inaccessible in libraries. It’s the same with recordings—Amazon does not have everything!

Ancora String Quartet violist and Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt (below center) should be interviewed about her experience in Hungary. Tom Zajac was in Poland several years ago, and talked to Polish musicians, went to libraries, and tried to soak up as much information as he could while he was there.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

As time goes by, it will become easier to travel to some of these countries, and more materials will become available, there will be more ensembles presenting this music. Music historians from the East have been doing research, but a lot of their books and articles need to be translated into English.

Jordan Sramek (below), the director of the Rose Ensemble, describes the situation so well, “Among scholars and performers of early vocal music, there is, perhaps, an unreasonable lack of attention paid to music from what is contemporarily referred to as “Eastern Europe.” While some musicians spend their careers digging in the “Western” libraries of Florence and Paris, the shelves of the manuscript libraries and monasteries of Krakow, Moscow and Prague often remain dusty, either due to lack of interest or perceived inaccessibility.”

The Rose Ensemble concert features only a glimpse of the great wealth of early vocal repertoire from Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Bohemia, in an attempt to shine some light on some truly brilliant gems.

Jordan Sramek 

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday, July 18th?

At the All-Festival Concert (below is a photo of last year’s, held in Luther Memorial Church instead of Mills Hall) at the end of the festival on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, there will be a wonderful program of Slavic music. The first half will feature Polish composers:

“Missa Lombardesca” by Bartołomiej Pękiel: https://youtu.be/lT8ZBRqQWZ8

That will be followed by a triple-choir “Magnificat” by Mikołaj Zieleński: https://youtu.be/Rb414r9IScE and motets by Mikołaj z Krakowa.

The second half of the program will feature excerpts from a wonderful Hungarian collection that Marika Fischer Hoyt found for MEMF when she was in Hungary this past summer. She was visiting family, but also spent a lot of time in the library researching music that is only available in Hungarian libraries. Libraries are still so valuable, and it’s wonderful to know that we can’t find everything on the Internet!

Take Harmonia Caelestis, a cycle of 55 sacred cantatas attributed to the Hungarian composer Paul I, First Prince Esterházy of Galántha (1635–1713) and published in 1711. They are in the Baroque style, and each of the cantatas consists of one movement, composed for solo voices, choir, and orchestra. https://youtu.be/txE-Levn_vM

The program will end with Ukrainian composers Ephiphanius Slavinetsky (below, depicted revising service books), a sacred choral concerto by Dmitri Bortnianski.

Epiphanius Slavinetsky

Next on the program, you will hear a stunningly beautiful a cappella choral work, “Now the Powers of Heaven,” by Giuseppe Sarti. https://youtu.be/4VI6chNJe50

In 1784, Sarti was invited by Catherine the Great to succeed Paisiello as director of the Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. We will end the program with a work by Nikolai Diletski.

Many of these works have not been recorded, so we hope the Madison community will join us to hear these unknown works. Also, it’s not too late to sign up to sing or play in the workshop! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/classes.htm

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers that you especially recommend for the general public?

I think everything is highly recommended, and I’m looking forward our first day on Saturday, July 11, with the opening concert of the Rose Ensemble. John W. Barker, who is well known to The Ear, will be presenting the opening 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture, “Discovering the ‘Other Europe’”, which will give a wonderful overview for the week. There will be other lectures throughout the week, and the Balkan Dance event with live music, on Wednesday, July 15, will be really fun.

I’ve included the link, which has more information about these and all the other events. Try to see them all! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/events.htm

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’re looking forward to an entire week immersed in the wonderful Slavic sounds.

And in 2016 we will be celebrating Shakespeare!


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