The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival will present a Grand Tour of musical styles to mark its success after 20 years. The “tour” starts this Saturday, July 6, and runs through Saturday, July 13. Part 1 of 2

July 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

A big anniversary deserves a big celebration – and that is exactly what the organizers of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival (below, the All-Festival Concert in 2018) have come up with.

Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe recently wrote about the festival in a Q&A interview for this blog. Here is Part 1 of 2:

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Madison Early Music Festival. Can you briefly summarize the progress of the festival over all those years and how you – through audience size, participants, media coverage – measure the success it has achieved?

How successful is this year’s festival compared to the beginning festival and to others in terms of enrollment, budgets and performers? How does this of MEMF’s reach nationally or even internationally compare to previous years?

What can you say about where the festival will go in the coming years?

As the 20th Madison Early Music Festival approaches, we have looked back at how far we have come from 1999 when we were a little festival of 60 participants and faculty. We have grown to our current size of 140 faculty members and participants — fellow lovers of early music.

Last year, we had the largest group of participants when 120 students enrolled. MEMF now attracts students of all ages, from 18 to 91, amateurs and professionals, from all over North America and Europe.

Our success is due to the help and support of many individuals and outside organizations. We could not manage MEMF without the amazing staff at the Division of the Arts at UW-Madison. They help with everything from printed materials, website design and management, social media, grant writing, fundraising, proofreading and on-site assistance at all of our events and more.

Paul and I (below) work with Sarah Marty, the Program Director of MEMF, who keeps things organized and running smoothly throughout the year.

Also, we are grateful to our dedicated MEMF Board, donations from many individuals, grants, and the generosity of William Wartmann, who created an endowment for the festival, and after his death left an additional $400,000 for our endowment. It takes a village!

Not only have we become an important part of the summer music scene in Madison, but we have contributed to the national and international early music community. The 2019 concert series will be featuring artists from California to New York, Indiana to Massachusetts, and from Leipzig, Germany.

We hope to have many old and new audience members join us for this exciting celebration of our 20th year. For future seasons our motto is “To infinity and beyond!” as we continue to build on our past successes.

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

This year we have a new program, the Advanced Voice Intensive, which provides an opportunity for auditioned advanced singers who are interested in a capella vocal music from the Renaissance – singing sacred polyphony and madrigals to improve their skills as ensemble singers.

Twenty singers from all over the country will be joining the inaugural program to rehearse and perform music from Italy, England and Germany.

At the end of the week they will sing in a masterclass with the vocal ensemble Calmus (below) on Thursday, July 11, at 11:30 a.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. On Saturday, July 13, they will perform in a FREE concert with the popular Advanced Loud Band ensemble in Morphy Recital Hall.

Here’s the link for all the information about MEMF: https://memf.wisc.edu/

All concerts include a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. and the concerts in Mils Hall begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $90 for an all-event pass; each individual concert is $22, for students $12. Tickets are available for purchase online and by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) with a $4 service fee, or in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office @ Memorial Union.

We also have two Fringe Concerts this year featuring new vocal ensembles from Wisconsin. On Monday, July 8, at 7 p.m. at Pres House, Schola Cantorum of Eau Claire (below), a 12-voice ensemble directed by UW-Madison graduate Jerry Hui, will perform “Mystery and Mirth: A Spanish Christmas.”

And on Wednesday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, the Milwaukee-based Aperi Animam (below) perform “Libera Nos,” a program of sacred vocal music.

The Fringe Concerts are FREE with donations accepted at the door.

Why was the theme of “The Grand Tour” chosen for the festival? What is the origin of the conceit, and what major composers and works will be highlighted?

We decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary by choosing a theme that would be broader than previous years and portray what people might experience when they are 20 years old – traveling abroad on a gap year.

We were also inspired by Englishman Thomas Coryat, aka “The First Tourist.” He published his travelogue Crudities in 1611, an amusing and thorough account of his five months of travel throughout Europe. This tradition of the Grand Tour of Europe continued through the 17th and 18th centuries, especially when wealthy young aristocrats finished their formal schooling.

Several of the concert programs this summer feature quotes from different travelogues, including Coryat’s, as an organizational concept. If you search all over Europe, you find an American at Versailles learning courtly manners, and a fictional Englishman, born in 1620, sending postcards from the Grand Tour.

We will also have a stop at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris with the silent film version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and a musical tour of sacred vocal music and madrigals. This theme allowed us to include music from many different time periods from all over Europe — a rich Grand Tour of musical offerings!

The opening concert on this Saturday, July 6, features Dark Horse Consort returning to Madison with Wanderlust, their newly created program for MEMF’s Grand Tour theme.  The program follows the misadventures of an English gentleman as he embarks on a continental Grand Tour adventure in search of love and fulfillment.

Our hero’s travelogue includes springtime consort songs by Alfonso Ferrabosco and William Byrd; Erasmus Widmann’s beguiling German dances dedicated to women; the wooing songs of the Italian gondolier; and sultry Spanish airs.

On Sunday, July 7, Alchymy Viols (below) performs “American at Versailles,” an original ballet masque of French baroque music, dance and drama written and choreographed by Sarah Edgar, featuring Carrie Henneman Shaw, soprano; Sarah Edgar, director and dancer; and guest soprano Paulina Francisco. The American on the Grand Tour encounters the exotic world of French baroque manners, dress, dance and love.

TOMORROW: Part 2 explores the rest of the festival next week, including a rare book exhibit and the All-Festival finale on Saturday night


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Classical music: Will Madison help celebrate the 330th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach on Saturday, March 21, 2015 when “Bach in the Subways” Day takes place nationwide and around the world?

November 8, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently came across this news item — reprinted below.

He remembers when Wisconsin Public Radio, under the direction of its former music program director Cheryl Dring, marked the annual birthday of Baroque master composer Johann Sebastian Bach (below). At bottom you can hear almost two hours of Bach’s best and most popular music — from solo piano to orchestra —  in YouTube video that has almost 10 million hits.

Bach1

The noon-to-midnight event was called “Bach Around the Clock” (below) and was based on an event that Dring used to go to in New Orleans, Louisiana. It featured singers and choral music, instrumental music of all kinds and at all levels, and audiences who wandered in and out as well as a special birthday cake for The Birthday Boy.

BATC2ColorCollage

The FREE and PUBLIC event took place in the Pres House, 731 State St., near the UW-Madison School of Music. It featured lots of classical amateur musicians – including The Ear who played solo piano works and also collaborated with a flutist – but also professional musicians, including members of the UW-Madison School of Music,UW-Whitewater, Edgewood College, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber orchestra  the Madison Bach Musicians and its keyboardist founder and director Trevor Stephenson, church organists and various choral groups. It was also webcast live by WPR.

BATC1Dring

I wrote about it every year, and was also surprised and pleased by the quality of the music-making I heard from young students through adult amateurs and of course professional musicians. I loved it, both as a participant and as an audience member.

Here are some links with lots of photos:

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/

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/

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

But Wisconsin Public Radio backed out of the celebration after four years, citing weekend staff time and expense. No one stepped in to pick it up, though I suppose you could make the case that the “Make Music Madison” citywide event of the past two summers took up the baton. But that event includes all kinds of music — not just classical and not mainly classical and not just Bach.

BATC1Michael Xie

Now there is a similar populist movement nationwide and even worldwide, but based in New York City, to mark Bach’s birthday. It is called “Bach in the Subways” and started several years ago. Since then it has been growing.

My question now is: Who, if anybody, will host the Madison event in this movement in 2015 and in coming years?

The UW-Madison has the School of Music, including Morphy Hall (below) and Music Hall as well as Mills Hall.

Morphy Hall 2

The centrally located Pres House, which also features an organ, a piano, a low-profile stage, many chairs and good acoustics as well as a dining room for snacks and socializing, is an excellent candidate.

Farley’s House of Pianos seems the kind of customer-friendly and community-helping business that might be open to the event.

Maybe there are other churches or community centers or organizations that would be willing to set this up.

Anyway, your reactions and suggestions are welcome.

And here is the original announcement I found:

CALLING ALL  MUSICIANS

Bach in the Subways Day

Saturday, March 21, 2015

On J.S. Bach’s 330th birthday, musicians around the world will unite to perform Bach for free in subways and public spaces, throughout the day and night, to celebrate our art and to sow the seeds for future generations of classical music lovers.

Musicians, organizers and everyone else who wish to spread the joy of Bach are invited to join us! Solos, ensembles, flash mobs and Bach marathons are all encouraged.

Join us as we fill the world with Bach!

For more information visit http://bachinthesubways.com, facebook.com/bachinthesubways, or twitter.com/bachinthesubway. (The list of participants on the main website says that Madison, Wisconsin, is taking part, along with many cities around the country and world. But I don’t see any specifics. Does anyone know the details of the local celebration?)

For more information, write to info@bachinthesubways.com.

Need inspiration? Free Bach scores (in the public domain), as well as transcriptions for many solo instruments and a wide variety of ensembles, are available at www.imslp.org

Meanwhile, here are almost two hours of popular music by J.S. Bach to listen to:


Classical music: Here are 8 lessons I learned from my day of “Berlitz Bach” at Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Bach Around the Clock 3” last Saturday

March 23, 2012
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I call it “Berlitz Bach.”

That’s because my experience last Saturday amounted to total immersion, much the way the famous Berlitz school teaches foreign languages so effectively.

From noon to midnight, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House (“Pres” for Presbyterian) held the third annual Back Around the Clock to greet the 327th birthday — which was this past Wednesday — of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was webcast live and in real time by WPR.

Most performers played a couple of pieces, in 15- to 30-minute intervals. I heard much to enjoy. But I also learned some new things or had previous lessons reinforced. Most things remained similar to the two previous years, although this there time seemed to be more young students and amateur community members, fewer individual or group singers, fewer professional groups, and better refreshments and treats.

Here are the eight lessons I learned, although I could probably come up with more if I thought about it longer:

1. Call him the greatest composer. Call him the best composer. Call him the most influential composer. Call him whatever you want, but Johann Sebastian Bach (below) brings out the public like nobody else.

It is hard to imagine doing the same 12-hour community celebration as successfully with any other composer. In fact, it was so successful that WPR music director Cheryl Dring, who founded the event and continues to direct it, says that she had to turn away quite a few would-be performers.

As a result she has already set a date for BATC 4: March 16. 2013. And, she says, she may expand it by two hours, from 10 a.m. to midnight, just to accommodate all the people – professionals, amateurs and students – who want to participate. Stay tuned.

2. Madison truly is a haven for classical music.

Madison has an awful lot of classical music for a city of 250,000 in a county of 300,000 – as those of us who live here well know since we often have to choose between conflicting or competing events.

But apparently others in the area and region also know it and appreciate it, and so Madison now has a reputation beyond the city limits. One example: Husband and wife Roy and Nancy Carroll — he is a keyboard player and she is a flutist — drove all the way, with a harpsichord,  from Dubuque, Iowa, to perform, according to Dring, who also said that listeners came from as far away as Racine to attend the event. And the listeners who wandered in and out all day and night were young, old and in-between as well as attentive and appreciative.

3. Bach transplants well and survives in just about any setting, form or genre. He truly is timeless.

I heard Bach’s “Musette” on bagpipe from a Saint Patrick’s Day bagpiper – Sean Michael Dargan — who wandered in. But, sad to say, I missed Michael Briggs playing Bach on the accordion and the jazz piano stylings of another participant..

I also heard Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 1, superbly and beautifully done on cello and two saxophones (the saxophone didn’t even exist unit the late 19th century) by the Simonson Trio (bel0w), which featured cellist Brian Grimm, alto saxophonist Pete Ross and soprano saxophonist Dennis Simonson.

I heard original scorings of the solo violin partitas and sonatas (Michelle Xie, below bottom, played the Adagio from the Solo Violin Sonata No. 1) and solo cello suites (Lindsay Crab, below top, played the entire Cello Suite No. 3).

I heard a ear-catching duet arrangement for flute (right hand) and bassoon (left hand) by Casey Oelkers and Cynthia Cameron Fix of Two-Part Inventions that were originally composed for solo for keyboard and played by countless students for the instructional intent Bach intended them to have. Here they are (below) playing Invention No. 4 in D Minor:

I heard pianists play works for the organ, and organ people — like Alex Ford — play all kinds of organ works on the digital organ that features sound samplings from the organ Bach himself used.

I heard the all-adult and many-elder New Horizons Wind Ensemble play chorale preludes, including Martin Luther’s own tune “A Mighty Fortress” (below):

3. No Bach is easy or small.

Forget titles. Even the so-called “Little Preludes” are challenging to play. But all Bach, big or small, is worth it. It is hard to think of another composer with so much music to his credit and so few failures among it. Bach (1685-1759) wrote an enormous amount in his 65 years. All the more reason, then, it is good to take some time to appreciate his variety, productivity and quality – and to play him with confidence. His music holds up to just about anything.

4. The future of classical music is secure, no matter what sales figures and prognosticators say.

How do I know? BATC is a great event for students to learn to perform and to share their musical gifts with others, and we need more such events.

Once again, as you can see from the photos, dozens of students came from the studios of teachers Gloria Chuang, Bill Lutes, Irmgard Bittar, Denise Taylor and others.

BATC 3 was also a family affair in many cases. For example, Madison piano teacher Denise Taylor accompanied her daughter Ellie Taylor on violin (below top) in a transcription of the two Gavottes from the Orchestral Suite in D Major, and then herself played the Prelude and Fugue in E Minor from Book I of “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” despite being unnerved when she was asked to cut out one of the two pieces she had prepared in order to save a couple of minutes (Unfair, I say!):

5. Adults, even older adults, can start at the beginning and learn to play an instrument – and to play Bach, and to be rewarded for their efforts.

Take David Pilmer (below): He started late in life but played beautifully and from memory. And he wasn’t alone.

6. Bach was a prophet who prefigures the rest of music that followed him.

You can see Bach as the summation of what came before him. No surprise, there.

But when retired University Opera director Karlos Moser explained and then played half a dozen fugues (without their Preludes) from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier – and played them more beautifully and robustly than I have ever heard – Bach’s legacy became clear.

Listen closely. Your hear seeds, stalks and blossoms.  You could hear the Baroque, of course. But you could also hear Classicism. You could hear Romanticism. You could even hear 12-tone and serial music, such as the theme from Fugue 24 where Bach uses all 12 tones in the scale in the theme. Maybe such comprehensiveness helps to explain Bach’s universality.

7. You do not have to be old, wise or experienced to have musicality.

I heard some astounding playing from very young students who performed on the piano, the violin, the viola, the organ. It was full of confidence and technical precision and, for lack of a better term, soul– just like the playing of Allen Chang (below).

8. Wrong notes don’t matter.

BATC started as an informal community celebration, a public event where casual dress and casual playing remain the norm. People could pick and choose movements according to their taste.

But more importantly, the event made you realize just how little mistakes matter. Music exists for the joy of communicating beauty and joy to others. There were no Olympics judges holding up scorecards and awarding medals. Instead, there was plenty of appreciation and applause for everyone – whether they were old or young;  professionals or amateurs; using modern old instruments; hitting right notes or wrong ones.

That is the joy of music.

And the joy of Bach, who apparently had a good sense of humor and would have appreciated the Warhol-like poster for BATC 3:

Thank you, all – Cheryl Dring, Wisconsin Public Radio, Pres House and the many dozens of performers and listeners.

I will see you again – and maybe even play for you – next March 16.

As either a performer or a listener, do you have some comments about or reactions to Bach Around the Clock 3?

The Ear wants to hear.

Meanwhile, here are viola da gambist Eric Miller and harpsichordist Max Yount, who performed two of the three gamba (or cello) sonatas by Bach:


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