The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Despite some flawed comparisons, the Madison Bach Musicians turn in brilliant performances in a concept program of “imitations” by Bach and Vivaldi

September 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

An unusual program opened the 14th season of Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night, and was repeated on Sunday afternoon at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

Instead of a string of compositions with few or no connections, there was a cumulative assemblage illustrating an overriding theme, as summed up in the title of “Imitation.”

To be sure, only two composers were involved: Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach. The focus was on their uses of imitative textures, including canon and fugue. There were 11 pieces in all, mostly — although not entirely — grouped in pairs, Vivaldi leading each.

The organization was fugue-like, too, beginning with two-part textures and culminating in nine parts. Thus, the nine players (four violins, two violas, two cellos and a harpsichord) were gradually built into the full company by the end.

The pairings did not evoke any direct parallelisms between Vivaldi (below top) and Bach (below bottom), though the former’s experimental and extroverted Italian style stood in regular contrast with Bach’s Germanic seriousness, even as each explored similar contrapuntal possibilities.

The entire concept of the program was intriguing. I did, however, find that two specific selections, both by Bach, did not fit well. They were given in transcriptions rather than as the composer intended. Thus, a fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier was delivered not on the keyboard, but by five string players.

To be sure, that transformation allowed the three-voice counterpoint to be heard more distinctly, but the fact remains that it was written for keyboard and Bach’s part writing deserved to be heard as he intended.

A more serious instance was the tantalizing idea of hearing Bach’s own transcription of a work by Vivaldi. The original was the Concerto in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11, a true concerto grosso, matching a concertino of two violins and cello against a full four-part string ensemble.

Now, Bach made transcriptions of a number of Vivaldi concertos, but presenting any of them in this context posed practical concerns for these players. In this case, Bach’s adaptation was for solo organ. Instead, we heard it with Bach’s organ transcription transcribed, in turn, into a concerto for nine players by one of the group’s violists, Micah Behr.

(You can compare Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins to Bach’s reworking of the same concerto for four harpsichords in the YouTube video at bottom.)

Again, this third-hand edition allowed for contrapuntal clarity, but it totally distorted Bach’s intentions as a transcriber himself.

That said, the performances were all brilliant. Visiting Baroque cellist Steuart Pincombe (below) was something of a star, but all musicians played wonderfully, sitting in a circle for closest interaction and without an intermission.

Still, reservations about this program aside, this concept or idea concert is worth trying again.

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Classical music: What is the one piece of music you could listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored?

September 2, 2017
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Saturday —  time for another reader survey.

A few weeks ago, The Ear asked: Which composer or piece you really cannot stand or consider overrated, for whatever reason.

A lot of readers responded and their responses were very interesting, even unexpected. They included such composers as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Scriabin and Mahler.

It was a question of personal taste and of course was subjective – like music itself.

Here is a link to that blog post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/05/classical-music-which-well-known-composers-or-works-do-you-hate-and-consider-overrated/

Today, The Ear wants to know:

What piece could you listen to over and over and over again without getting tired or bored by it?

Of course, it may not have to do with the quality of the piece, but rather with how forcefully it speaks to you.

And the piece you name now may not be the one you would name next week or next month or next year.

Right now, for example, The Ear is on a kick with the Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, by Chopin (below). He loves the work for its development and counterpoint as well as its titanic emotion, which is both Classically restrained and Romantically effusive. That’s why The Ear sees it as Chopin’s response to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata.

The Ear has tried to play the Ballade and loves comparing different interpretations. (You can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in the YouTube video at the bottom. And there are a lot other versions on YouTube.)

As to your choice:

It could be larger work like a Beethoven symphony or a Rachmaninoff concerto or a Verdi opera. Or it could be smaller work, like a Schubert song or a Bach prelude or a Puccini aria.

Anyway, let us know what piece you are focused on right now. It might even serve as a recommendation to other readers.

And in the Comment section, tell us what you like about it and why, and include a YouTube link to a performance if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra introduces its new organist at this Saturday’s FREE Farmers’ Market concert at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall

August 24, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Greg Zelek (below) is the new organist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Zelek will make his official debut at the FREE Farmers’ Market organ recital this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the home of the MSO Concert Organ built by Klaisorgelbau of Germany.

Zelek is succeeding Samuel Hutchison, who has retired.

Here is a link to a previous blog post with more details about Zelek, a graduate of the Julliard School in New York City, and his impressive background:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/06/30/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-names-greg-zelek-as-its-new-principal-organist/

His virtuosic program this Saturday morning includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, American church composers Powell Weaver and Leo Sowerby, and Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. (Sorry, no word about specific pieces. But you can hear Zelek playing Lecuona’s well-known “Malagueña” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program will last about 45 minutes.

No tickets or reservation are needed, and all ages are welcome.

For more information, visit:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org/farmers


Classical music education: Madison Music Makers becomes part of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras

June 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has sent The Ear the following news announcement to post on the blog   He is very happy to do so and urges everyone to support the new venture. It is one of the best investments in the future of classical music that you can make:

“Recently, the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras unanimously voted to acquire the Madison Music Makers program (below are participants), founded by Bonnie Greene in 2007, making it a program of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

“This historic decision was the culmination of two years of research and due diligence to lay the groundwork for this action. This will insure that the mission of Madison Music Makers — to provide access to music education and performance opportunities for underserved children — will be properly supported well into the future.

“Says Greene (below): “I’m absolutely thrilled that the WYSO organization is willing to adopt the Music Makers program, which has been so meaningful for so many children. This is another instance of how much support is in place in the Madison area community for children whose opportunities are so limited. This move will better ensure the long-term health of Music Makers.” (You can learn more about Madison Music Makers in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The members of the WYSO Music Makers program will have the opportunity to take private lessons on violin, guitar, piano and drums at a free or reduced cost. Group lessons will be held each week. There will be no audition required to be a part of WYSO Music Makers.

“WYSO has hired Paran Amirinazari (below) to act as the Program Director of WYSO Music Makers.

Says Amirinazari: “Over the years it has been a joy getting to know both Music Makers and WYSO students and families. I’m honored to be able to work closely with Bonnie Greene and WYSO to continue the vision of quality music education for all. I’m constantly inspired by the amount of support the city of Madison has for the arts and I look forward to becoming closer and more engaged in the community at large.”

“Amirinazari is a WYSO chamber music coach and has led the Music Makers Honors Ensembles for the past few years. Her many musical accomplishments and her familiarity with both WYSO and the Music Makers programs make her uniquely qualified to build a successful program that will benefit many children in our community.

“She is also a professional violinist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players. She will receive her Doctor of Musical Arts in Violin Performance from UW-Madison in the fall and is looking forward to carrying out the WYSO Music Makers mission and being a part of the WYSO team.

“The acquisition of Madison Music Makers will not only help to serve the mission of WYSO by enriching lives by providing transformational musical experiences and opportunities, but also provide access to a quality music education, the opportunity to improve confidence, focus and discipline to achieve better academic results, and performance opportunities that will make members proud of themselves and improve their self-esteem.

“Over the last 52 years, WYSO has continued to evolve and grow both in the size of its membership and the scope of its programs. Without a doubt, under the WYSO umbrella, WYSO Music Makers will continue to evolve and grow as well.

“With the addition of WYSO Music Makers, WYSO will be able to expand the outreach of its music education program to a wonderfully diverse group of children who will come to know the joy of music.”

For more information about WYSO, got to: https://www.wysomusic.org

For more information about Madison Music Makers of Madison, go to: http://madisonmusicmakers.org


Classical music: You’re invited to a FREE 12-hour marathon birthday party for Johann Sebastian Bach this Saturday. Plus, tonight’s concert of African-American music has been CANCELLED

March 14, 2017
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ALERT: Tonight’s concert of African-American spirituals and songs has been CANCELLED because guest scholar and singer Emery Stephens is ill. The UW-Madison School of Music hopes to reschedule the event later this spring. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Guess who turns 332 on March 21?

This coming Saturday will bring a 12-hour, noon to midnight, marathon party for the Birthday Boy – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, seen below in a humorous poster for a similar event held several years ago).

The local event – now part of the nationwide “Early Music Month” — is being revived, thanks to Madison violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below), who performs with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Ancora String Quartet  and the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  and to many sponsors.

The party will take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on Regent Street. (Several years ago, the event, when it was sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, was held at the Pres House.) There will be live audio-visual streaming and free wi-fi, and the event will be recorded.

Here is a link to the updated schedule of performances:

https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com/concert-schedule/

Here is a link to an earlier post about the upcoming event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=bach+around+the+clock

If you love the music of Bach (below) – and The Ear doesn’t know anyone who is into classical music who doesn’t revere Bach — there will be a lot to love and to listen to at this FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC  celebration.

The event is modeled after a longtime similar event in New Orleans and those who attend it can come and go and come back again.

Local performers include groups and individuals who are professionals (Madison Bach Musicians and Wisconsin Chamber Choir), amateurs and students (Suzuki Strings of Madison).

The impressive program includes lots of variety.

There will be preludes and fugues.

Cantatas and concertos.

Sonatas and suites.

Obscure works will be performed.

But there will also be popular works such as two Brandenburg Concertos (Nos. 3 and 5), The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books I and II), the Magnificat, a Violin Concerto, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and some of The Art of Fugue. (You can hear Fugue No. 1  from “The Art of Fugue,” which will be performed at BATC, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

There will be music played on period instruments and on modern instruments, including the harpsichord and the piano; the baroque violin and the modern violin; older recorders and newer flutes, the viola da gamba and the cello. And of course there will be lots and lots of singing and organ music.

Given such a marathon undertaking, you should know that there will be refreshments (coffee, tea, bottled water and snacks), comfortable seating and special birthday cakes — served at midnight — provided by Clausen’s Eurpean Bakery in Middleton.

NOTE: You can find out more when several organizers and performers from Bach Around the Clock are Norman Gilliland’s guests on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” this coming Thursday from noon to 12:30 p.m.

For more information –including how to support the event with a donation and how to participate in it as a performer – go to the event’s homepage:

https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

Here are some links to previous posts on this blog about attending earlier versions of Bach Around the Clock. Read them and look at the pictures, and you will see how enjoyable they are and how informative they are.

From 2010:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/03/20/classical-music-events-here-is-the-line-up-for-saturdays-bach-around-the-clock/

From 2011:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/classical-music-review-the-marathon-“bach-around-the-clock”-concert-is-now-officially-a-tradition-in-madison-wisconsin/

From 2012:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/classical-music-here-are-8-lessons-i-learned-from-my-day-of-berlitz-bach-at-wisconsin-public-radios-bach-around-the-clock-3-last-saturday/

See you there!


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