The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The talented new director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sets the acclaimed and still impressive group on a new path with mixed results and hopeful expectations

August 9, 2018
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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. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (IVE, below) is a well-established part of Madison’s musical summers. It offers dedicated choral singers a chance for intensive rehearsal preparation of highly accomplished choral music, and has delivered some truly memorable events over the years.

Of its concerts this year, I caught the second performance on Sunday afternoon. The choir itself doesn’t need to be shown off by now, but it was the choir’s chance to show off its new conductor in his first appearance here.

Michael McGaghie (below) is that new conductor. He is very plainly a brilliant choral technician who knows how to make a choir sound wonderful. (For more about McGaghie, who is the Director of Choral Activities at Macalester Collge in St. Paul and who leads the Harvard Glee Club Alumni Chorus in Cambridge, Mass., go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/artisticdirector/)

That he did throughout the program. The IVE — 69 singers strong — certainly responded with an infectious enthusiasm that was also communicated to the large audience that filled the Christ Presbyterian Church.  The concert was certainly a feast of great choral singing.

But what about the music?

To begin with, the actual music amounted to no more than about an hour’s worth. McGaghie planned the program as a progress of emotional moods, and he introduced each piece himself.

But what were the contents? McGaghie largely turned his back on the centuries of great choral music, the kind that his predecessor Scott MacPherson explored so ambitiously.

There were, at the beginning, two examples of that, motets by Thomas Tallis of the 16th century and Heinrich Schütz of the 17th century.

There was also an interesting nugget from the Russian composer and conductor Nikolai Golovanov (below), an early work of his (1917), setting the Lord’s Prayer (Otche naš) In a style departing from the previous two centuries of great Russian Orthodox choral writing.

Beyond those, however, the remaining nine items in the program — and the encore — were entirely by recent composers, mostly living and mostly American. These were his introductory calling cards, and so they invite scrutiny.

Ours is not an age of great, idiomatic choral writing, and composers go their own ways variously. Many of them rely upon a kind of chordal declamation with little sense of line or full-bodied texture.

Some pieces I don’t think I would want to hear again, and a couple I would not have wanted to hear even the first time.

An example of the latter is a piece about sirens and sailors by Chinese-American Chen Yi (below top), a collage of weird choral sounds but no musical content recognizable to any but Chinese ears.

Another was a loudly trashy adaptation of a Civil Rights “freedom song” by Jeffrey Douma (below bottom), plus the gesture to multicultural triviality in a Philippine folksong arrangement.

Three of the items came with piano accompaniment. In The Whole Sea in Motion by Dale Trumbore (below top) — which uses a text from Anne Brontë — the piano gave an underlying ripple to support declamatory, non-linear writing.

In Eternity by Donald Martino (below), the pleasantly lyrical choral writing really didn’t need the piano at all.  And that part was much too prominent against Morten Lauridsen’s nicely polyphonic, and quite self-sufficient, choral texture in “Sure on This Shining Night” that treated James Agee’s famous poem. (You can hear the Lauridsen work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were certainly some among these contemporary items that I found quite enjoyable.

In Ophelia, a setting the account of that woman’s death in Hamlet, Jocelyn Hagen (below top) was overly concerned with story-telling, but the work certainly contained some lovely writing. O Radiant Dawn by Scottish master James MacMillan (below bottom) was a beautifully sonorous tribute to Catholic liturgical tradition.

What does this conducting debut point to for the future?

McGaghie can create the most splendid choral beauty — though often at the sacrifice of clear diction. On the basis of this program, it looks like he could now focus the IVE on lots of short contemporary pieces, rather than on the vast traditional literature.

We will have to see.

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Classical music: The Madison Choral Project features a world premiere when it performs a “timeless” program this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

February 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project (below) bills itself as Madison’s only professional and paid choir, and judging by the results, the a cappella group has succeeded,  creating many loyal fans. (You can hear a sample performance — of a world premiere, no less — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Such success is in large part thanks to the efforts of its founder, director and conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below). Originally a music professor at Edgewood College, Pinsonneault now works at Northwestern University.

He commutes from his home in Madison where he continues his work with the Madison Choral Project.

You can sample his and the choir’s impressive music-making this weekend at two performances in two different venues of a concert called “Drown’d in One Endlesse Day.”

Here are details:

“Drown’d in One Endlesse Day” features a world premiere of Wisconsin composer Eric William Barnum (below).

The Madison Choral Project champions new music. But also on the eclectic program are new and old pieces exploring the transformational moments when “time seems to stop.”

Featured composers and compositions include: the motet Komm, Jesu, Komm by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Crucifixus” by Antonio Lotti (below top); There is an Old Belief by the British composer Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (below second); Credo by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (below third, in photo by Getty Images); I Live in Pain and Last Spring by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer David Lang (below fourth); and Entreat Me Not to Leave You by Dan Forrest (below bottom).

PERFORMANCES:

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.: CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 944 East Gorham Street in Madison on the near east side

On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.: St. ANDREW’S EPISCOPAL,
1833 Regent Street in Madison on the near west side

Tickets are $40 for preferred seating; $24 for general admission; and $10 for students.

To buy tickets online (they are also available at the door) as well as to see more background, reviews, information and several videos of MCP performances, go to:

http://themcp.org


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project will feature holiday music and seasonal texts at its concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon. A local Lawrence University alumni event follows the Sunday afternoon performance

December 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project has sent the following announcement to be posted:

PLEASE NOTE: WE’VE CHANGED VENUES!

The fifth annual holiday concert by the Madison Choral Project (below) is called “Old Lessons and New Carols” and features a carefully curated selection of vocal music and readings.

The intent is to lead the listener along a sublime journey of music and text, perfect for this reflective season. (Sorry, The Ear has received no word about specific composers, authors or works on the program.)

Performances are: Friday night, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 17, at 3 p.m.

Both concerts are located at the CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 944 East Gorham Street.

Tickets are $24 for adults and $10 for students, who must show an ID.

For more information, go to: Old Lessons and New Carols

In addition, the Lawrence University Club of Madison will hold a gathering of alumni and prospective students after the concert on Sunday afternoon.

A special Lawrence reception will be held after the performance that will include a Q&A with Lawrence alumna and Madison Choral Project soprano Rachel Edie Warrick ’99 (below top), as well as the choir’s artistic director and conductor, Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom).

General admission is $24 per adult in advance, and $28 at the door. Admission for students, who must show ID, is $10 either in advance or at the door.

For tickets and more information about the Madison Choral Project, go to: http://themcp.org


Classical music: The acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs its annual summer concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

July 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble write:

When conductor Scott MacPherson convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions.

Known as “Madison’s most temporary choir,” the ensemble – a semi-professional choir of approximately 60 singers – brings new life to over 500 years of choral music within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular remarkable experience, year after year. (You can hear the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sing the “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Josef Rheinberger in 2012 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This summer, Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2015 program.

The traditional Friday night concert takes place on at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, July 31, at Christ Presbyterian Church (below), located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 2, at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ (below), located at 110 North Gammon Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Lutheran Church of the Living Christ

General admission tickets are available online at isthmusvocalensemble.org or at the door. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. 

The program, “Unconventional Images” is a tapestry of unexpected beauty, including works spanning from the 1500s up to brand new compositions, featuring a world premiere from composer Corey Rubin (below) entitled “The Snow Man.”

Corey Rubin

Director Scott MacPherson writes: “For these concerts, prepare your ears and mind to be led down an unconventional path, where you will ponder such images as the nativity, snow in the summer, sensual beauty, the desert, glory, mortality and divine renewal.”

Other featured works include “Three Nativity Carols” by the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below top); “Beati quorum via” and “Coelos ascendit hodie” by Charles Villiers Stanford; “Du bist aller Dinge schön” and “Fahet uns die Füchse” by Melchoir Franck; “Schaffe in mir Gott” by Johannes Brahms; the Gloria by Dominick Argento; and several newly composed pieces, including “Desert Rose” by Frank Wiley, as well as “I Sing to Use the Waiting” and “An Irish Blessing” by University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus, Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom).

stephen paulus

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Its members include professional singers, choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two professional CDs.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson


Classical music: Violinist Katie Lansdale performs a solo recital sponsored by Suzuki Strings this Saturday afternoon. Plus, a FREE recital of art songs is at noon on Friday. And pianist Martin Kasik plays Beethoven, Ravel and Prokofiev on Saturday night at Farley’s House of Pianos.

April 16, 2015
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ALERTS:

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature contralto Allissane Apple and pianist Jane Peckham in music of Leonard Bernstein, Hugo Wolf, Francis Poulenc, William Bolcom, Aaron Copland and Peter Warlock.

FUS1jake

Czech pianist Martin Kasik (below) will perform a recital on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, located at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison far west side near West Towne. The program includes works by Ludwig van Beethoven (the “Les Adieux” and “Moonlight” Sonatas), Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev. For more information, go to: http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

Martin Kasik w piano

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement: 

Violinist Katie Lansdale (below), assistant professor of violin at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, will present a recital of works for solo violin on this Saturday afternoon, April 18 at 1:30 pm in the sanctuary of Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road in Madison.

Katie Lansdale B&W

The recital is sponsored by Suzuki Strings of Madison and a $5 donation is suggested for attendees.

The program will include a selection of Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, Etudes Caracteristiques by Edward Elgar and Cleopatra by Fazil Say.

Lansdale is an active recitalist and chamber musician in Europe and the United States. Lauded for her wide interests and repertoire, she has a particular passion for solo Bach, often performing the complete works in concert.

A champion of new music, she has collaborated with a number of leading composers internationally, as a member of both the Lions Gate Trio, and as a member of the Locrian Ensemble.  She has recorded for the Triton and Centaur labels — most recently a double CD of duos and trios by Robert Schumann (below).

Katie Lansdale Schumann CD cover

Lansdale’s awards have included the Schlosspreis for the performance of solo Bach at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the grand prize winner at both the Yellow Springs and Fischoff National Chamber Music competitions, and awards for both Outstanding Violinist and Outstanding Participant at Tanglewood’s Fellowship Program.

Lansdale received her B.A. cum laude in humanities from Yale University, a Master of Music degree and an Artist Diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a D.M.A. from Manhattan School of Music.  She has studied with Josef Gingold, Felix Galimir, Ronda Cole, Donald Weilerstein and Mitchell Stern.

In 2001, Lansdale (seen below with two students) initiated a school outreach program called Music for 1,000 Children. She challenged her studio to play for 1,000 children, promising to play for another 1,000 herself. Her studio then joined with the Hartt student chapter of the American String Teachers’ Association to challenge other groups in North America to play for 1,000 school children. Responses were highly enthusiastic, and in the end, musical performances were brought to 13,000 children from Quebec to Texas.

katie lansdale with students

 

 


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