The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society gets its 24th three-week summer season underway this coming weekend. This year’s theme is “Guilty as Charged.” Here is part 2 of 2 with weeks 2 and 3.

June 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musician of the Year two seasons ago – will begin their new summer season this weekend.

The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.

Here is the second part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 1 ran yesterday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/classical-music-the-madison-based-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-gets-its-24th-three-week-summer-season-the-theme-is-guilty-as-charged-underway-this-coming-weekend/

The second week of “Guilty as Charged” features “Honor Among Thieves” and “Breaking and Entering.”

In “Honor Among Thieves,” we feature composers who stole from others or themselves, but always in an effort to elevate what they stole and bring it to wider circulation.

John Harbison (below) “stole” familiar American songs in “Songs America Loves to Sing,” arranging them to show what incredible beauty lies in these everyday tunes and honoring the folk traditions of America.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Ludwig van Beethoven stole from himself to create his Piano Trio, Op. 38. Beethoven’s Septet was a wildly popular work, and many dishonorable publishers created bad arrangements of the work to capitalize on that popularity. Beethoven stopped them short by creating his own masterful arrangement of the Septet; giving the work the honor it was due.

Both programs feature the incredible clarinetist Alan Kay (below top), familiar to our audiences from his stunning performances last year, and the San Francisco Piano Trio (below bottom), with violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and pianist Jeffrey Sykes.

“Honor Among Thieves” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 21, at 2:30 p.m.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

Composers often have to break the rules in order to achieve their expressive ends. “Breaking and Entering” features composers who did precisely that: breaking with tradition and entering a new world of expression.

“Country Fiddle Pieces” by Paul Schoenfield were among the very first classical “crossover” works. Combining traditional fiddling, jazz, Latin, and pop influences together with a strong classical sense of phrasing and structure, Schoenfield (below) almost single-handedly created a whole new musical style.

Paul Schoenfield

The great Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, was the first masterpiece by Johannes Brahms (below), a work that boldly broke with the past and ushered in an era of chamber music of symphonic scope.

“Honor Among Thieves” concerts will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m.

brahmsBW

Our biggest and final week includes Crooked Business and “Highway Robbery.”

The world of classical music is not as pure and pristine as it sometimes seems. From unscrupulous managers falsifying box office receipts to dishonest publishers pirating successful compositions, classical music can be a “Crooked Business.“

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart exhausted himself arranging performances of his piano concertos—and he watched most of his profits get swallowed up by greedy impresarios.

Johannes Brahms was strongly encouraged to destroy the original chamber version of his Serenade in D Major and rewrite it as an orchestral composition simply because it would bring greater profit to him and his managers. We’re featuring the work in a reconstruction of its original form as a nonet.

“Crooked Business” concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m., and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 2:30 p.m.

A career in classical music—even a successful one—is not a quick road to power, influence, and wealth. And virtually every musician walking that road has been subject to “Highway Robbery” at one point or another.

Throughout his short life, Franz Schubert (below) was taken advantage of by “friends,” publishers, and promoters. He wrote his great Octet for performance in the home of the Archduke Rudolph (Beethoven’s patron) and received not one cent for his efforts.

Franz Schubert big

And we at BDDS have been guilty of highway robbery of a sort ourselves. In 2010 we commissioned American composer Kevin Puts—an extraordinarily talented, successful, but nonetheless struggling composer—for a work for our 25th season next summer. We agreed to a fee we thought was fair to him and comfortable for us.

In 2012 Kevin Puts (below) won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Thank goodness we signed the contract in 2010, because now it’s likely his talents would be out of our financial reach! It feels like we’re the perps in a highway robbery!

This seasons we’re featuring Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes,” a beautiful piece based on poems about the sea. (You can hear the first one of Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes” in YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Both programs feature extraordinary musicians: powerhouse violinists Carmit Lori (below) and Hye-Jin Kim, violist Ara Gregorian, and newcomers Katja Linfield, cello, and Zachary Cohen, double bass. They are joined by the great young clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and veteran French horn player Richard Todd.

Enjoy a BDDS concert and stay for the fireworks downtown! Free reserved parking will be available for the first 100 cars, with reservations.

“Highway Robbery” concerts will be performed in The Playhouse in the Overture Center, Madison, on Saturday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m.

Carmit Zori

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.

This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse at the overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.

CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

Dianne Soffa and Tom Kovacich, artists-in-residence at Safi Studios in Milwaukee, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse will be followed by a meet-the-artists opportunity.

BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 East Main Street); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (County Highway 23 in Spring Green).

Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.

Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half-off.

For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com. Additional fees apply.

Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

 

 


Classical music: Meet composer Julia Wolfe, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for her oratorio about Coal Country.

April 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, the winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced.

You will hear a lot about the journalism recipients.

You will hear much, much less about the arts recipients.

So meet American composer Julia Wolfe (below).

Julia Wolfe full face

Wolfe, who is associated with the group Bang on a Can!, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for “Anthracite Fields,” her oratorio for chorus and sextet about families living in coal mining country.

Coal Miners

Wolfe (below, at the piano in her home in a photo by Richard Perry of The New York Times) did a fine interview with the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio.

julia Wolfe with piano CR Richard Perry NYT

Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/20/401010330/julia-wolfe-wins-music-pulitzer-for-anthracite-fields

And here is a link to her own website:

http://juliawolfemusic.com

Finally, here is a haunting documentary video with excerpts from “Anthracite Fields” in a YouTube video. A recording of the complete work is scheduled to be released in September.


Classical music: Go behind the scenes of the NEW Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen concerts with audio engineer Buzz Kemper. There is a song recital this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. to be attended or streamed.

April 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got a request from audio engineer Buzz Kemper. He wanted to write about streaming live the NEW monthly format of Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.

It is a timely topic because the once-a-month live chamber music concerts run from February through December on the first Sunday of the month. That means there is one this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. It offers a song recital of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Brahms with soprano Chelsea Morris (below top) and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (below bottom) of the Madison Bach Musicians.

At bottom you can hear a YouTube video of Chelsea Morris singing an aria from the opera “Giulio Cesare” by George Frideric Handel that helped her win first prize in the 2014 Handel Aria Competition at the Madison Early Music Festival.

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot

The concert is FREE and OPEN to the public.

It will also be streamed live at: http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/listen-to-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-live-stream-4.5.15

and also at:

www.audioforthearts.com/afa-live.html

Here is the essay by Buzz Kemper (below):

buzz kemper smiling

By Buzz Kemper

Traditions change and evolve, sometimes disappearing completely.

One long-running Wisconsin musical tradition has been saved from extinction, and indeed will not only continue, but will do so in a newer, more contemporary form.

Last spring, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen (below) — the much-loved, statewide live broadcast chamber music series – was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio after a 36-year run. The cancellation looked very much like the death knell of this very long-running and vital live music showcase.

SALsetupgallery

SALmicrophone sign

Public reaction was swift and strong, and almost completely negative, as you can see from the announcement on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Sunday+Afternoon+cancelled

The leadership at the Chazen, however, had a larger vision: Could the series be continued in some form, even without a broadcast outlet?

Museum Director Russell Panczenko (below) met with me and Steve Gotcher — my business partner at Audio for the Arts– as well as representatives from the Chazen and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music to discuss possibilities. The obvious solution was to do a series utilizing a more contemporary means of public distribution: live streaming via the Internet.

ChazenMusArt_open11_7430

While the cancellation of the broadcasts was unwelcome news to me, the opportunity to be involved once again in this series was quite welcome indeed.

I have a unique history with Sunday Afternoon Live. From 1983 until 1998, I served as Technical Director continuously, and had a long stint as host as well.

On one Christmas edition of the show, I even appeared as a performer, singing a real duet by a fake composer, “Please, Kind Sir” by PDQ Bach, with fellow engineer Richard Moses. We discovered after the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below), were in attendance. (I’m glad we didn’t know this ahead of time.) The Harbisons had very kind words for our musical shenanigans.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

With such a long and varied history with the show, I was delighted that Audio for the Arts, the audio company of which I am co-owner, would be involved in the new incarnation of the series. (Below is a photo of Buzz Kemper in his commercial recording studio.)

Buzz Kemper studio

Along with the changes, there are several aspects that remain the same: Lori Skelton (below top), longtime producer and host of the series, has signed on once again. Also, the concerts will, as before, take place in Gallery III (below bottom), though on a monthly rather than weekly basis, and on the first Sunday of the month.

Lori Skelton

SALProArteMay2010

The dedication and commitment to this series by Lori Skelton, the Chazen Museum of Art and the musical community — in particular the UW School of Music — is commendable. Gratitude is also due to Kato Perlman, who provided a generous gift to get us started.

Here’s hoping for another 36 years.

 

 


Classical music: Go inside the Money Opera at the Met with the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial reporter James B. Stewart.

March 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City has been having major financial and labor problems during the tenure of its General Director Peter Gelb (below).

Peter Gelb 2.jpg

But it is hard to find a better researched or more detailed account of what is going on than the account that was written by the journalist James B. Stewart and appeared in the March 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

A graduate of the Harvard University Law School, Stewart (below), you may recall, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently a columnist for the New York Times. He has also written best-selling books. Such qualifications give him added credibility when reporting on the fiscal state of the arts.

James B. Stewart

Plus, Stewart got access to documents and records as well as to members of the board of directors. His account is filled with specific details about costs and fundraising that are convincing.

The discrepancy, for example, between what the Met said was the official cost of its recent and controversial “Ring” cycle (below) by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil and what others say it cost is both astonishing and appalling.

Lepage Ring set

In an interview with Jim Zirin, Peter Gelb defends himself and his tenure in a YouTube video at the bottom.

To The Ear, the larger question is whether some of the same criticisms apply to other large performing arts groups, opera companies and symphony orchestras in other cities.

But that is another story for another day.

Here is a link to the story about the Met by James B. Stewart:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/a-fight-at-the-opera

 


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2014 from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and The Boston Globe as well as NPR.

December 20, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.

But whether you go to a local brick-and-mortar store such as Barnes & Noble or use the Internet, there is still time to order and receive such items as gifts.

Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.

The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=0

It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.

The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

John Luther Adams

Paul Lewis

Here is a link to a previous Top 10 Best of 2014 list from NPR (National Public Radio), complete with CD covers and sound samples, that I posted:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/classical-music-need-gift-suggestions-npr-names-its-top-10-classical-music-albums-of-2014/

Happy shopping!

And even happier listening!!

It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.


Classical music education: Superstar violinist Joshua Bell talks about the importance of music education and reaching people in unusual places — like subways. Plus, his terrific new all-Bach CD merits your attention.

October 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The perennially boyish Joshua Bell, now a veteran of the concert stage and recording studio for more than 25 years, is in his third season as the artistic director of the famed British chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

joshua Bell

Sony Classical has just released his new recording – which has a program that is all by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It features two violin concertos plus three arrangements, including the famous Chaconne from the Solo Partita No. 2, for violin and orchestra. (His previous release as conductor and concertmaster of the ASMF players was a fine reading of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

And despite his Pretty Boy status, Bell — who has performed recitals here at the Wisconsin Union Theater and concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — once again shows himself to be a gifted and serious musician. The Ear finds that he makes sense of notes that often get passed over by other violinists. Bells finds patterns in scales of climbing notes that help give the music momentum and melodic appeal. When he wants, Bell can be absolutely revelatory.

The Ear is not alone in his admiration for Bell at his best. Read the review by New York Times critic Steve Smith when Bell performed the glorious Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at this past summer’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/arts/music/joshua-bell-plays-mostly-mozart.html?_r=0

Joshua Bell Bach CD cover

But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.

Joshua Bell with students

In that capacity he recently was featured in a 30-minute HBO special program about master classes with 9 students.

The Ear recently heard and saw him defend music education as a means not just to raise musicians but to give student more self-esteem and self-confidence. Playing music also brings other benefits, he adds, from better grades and a better sense of teamwork to a lower likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.

But it is best to let Joshua Bell speak for himself.

Here is a link to an interview his did with NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/29/352494911/three-quick-lessons-from-the-violin-wunderkind-who-became-a-master

And here is a link to a television interview Bell did with reporter Jeffrey Brown of PBS’ The NewsHour as well as to the second, and final, subway appearance. (You may recall how his first anonymous appearance, at the bottom in a popular YouTube video with more than 5 million hits, made such a splash and even won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.)

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/violinist-joshua-bell-turns-train-station-concert-hall-encourage-arts-education/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/grammy-winning-violinist-joshua-bell-takes-another-turn-at-a-subway-concert/

Here is a 10-question video interview Bell did with Time magazine, in which he also discusses his love of gambling, his $5-million violin and possible alternative career choices:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9grpRj-KvtU

And here is the original “anonymous” “Stop and Hear the Music” subway busking “concert” with more than 5 million hits:

Do you have any thoughts about Joshua Bell?

The Ear wants to hear. 


Classical music education: An impressive and long overdue brass festival -– “Celebrate Brass!” — will be held at the UW-Madison School of Music. It opens next Wednesday, Oct. 8, and runs through next Monday, Oct. 13.

October 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A good friend in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who also happens to be an avid brass fan, recently wrote to The Ear:

“A young violinist I know heard a brass quintet perform last spring at the UW-Madison School of Music, and afterwards she said to me: ‘I had no idea this music is so beautiful.’

brass photo UW Celebrate Brass festival 2014

“She’s not alone. Most people don’t know. They associate brass with marching bands, or with obnoxious loud horns. And occasionally they notice a high trumpet solo in an orchestra concert (and don’t actually see the trumpeter as she or he is seated so far in back).

“But there’s much, much more. Think of the beauty of strings, with its complex interweavings of melodies and lushness of sound, but applied to trumpets, trombones, “French” horns and the tuba.

And then there are the works that are dramatic and insistent, such as “Quidditch,” written by John Williams (below) for the Harry Potter movie.

john williams 1

That is what the UW is offering during its weeklong Brass Festival — “Celebrate Brass”  — the first in 32 years at the School of Music and organized by John Aley (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor and principal trumpet with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as well as a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

This event will even bookend John’s tenure here at the School of Music, as he helped organize the first brass festival 32 years ago.

John Aley Talbot

The main concert, called “Brass Alchemy,” on next Saturday, Oct. 11, will present a varied program of lyrical music that is just as much a part of the classical repertory as anything else.

“And the visiting performers are tops in their fields.

One is Oystein Baadsvik (below) an iconoclastic virtuoso tubist from Norway. Two are UW-Madison women alumna horn players. Another is a top composer and trumpeter.

oystein baadsvik behind tuba

“The two brass quintets – including the Western Brass Quintet (below top) from Michigan and Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below bottom in a photo by Megan Aley) at the UW-Madison School of Music — are frequent commissioners of new works, essential if one is to continue the growth and development of classical music. (The Western Brass Quintet will feature a new work by American composer Pierre Jalbert whose “Howl” Clarinet Quintet scored such a success in its world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet last Friday night. Below is a link to The Ear’s rave review of the Jalbert work.)

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/classical-music-the-ear-gets-to-hear-a-masterpiece-in-the-making-pierre-jalbert-howl-clarinet-quintet-it-sure-sounds-like-it-will-become-a-chamber-music-staple-of-new-mu/

Western Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2014 CR Megan Aley

“The School of Music is ticketing this main concert only — a departure from the recent past but long overdue, one that will be followed during the year for selected other concerts. Money raised will be put toward the many needs of the UW-Madison School of Music, which is another topic in itself.

“All the rest of the week’s events — master classes, colloquia and several other concerts — are FREE and open to the public.

“Tickets for the general public are $25 for the one concert listed below, but all students get in FREE. For information, visit http://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

“One hopes that these performances and educational festivals this year can be continued into the future, as they offer so much more than a stand-alone guest artist.

“One can also hope that listeners will discover an angle that is particularly interesting to them –whether it’s a solo tuba work called “Fnugg” (seriously) or the grace of a choral work performed by soaring brass.

“Here are a few links that illustrate the program for that night’s concert:”

“Quidditch” by John Williams:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdVRaCibYLU

“Of Kingdoms and Glory” by Anthony Di Lorenzo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4eeOPPon28

“O Magnum Mysterium” (choral music arranged for brass) by Morten Lauridsen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8y5GYboGdc

“Elegy” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oliao3JixtY

http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Bells-Works-Brass-Ensemble/dp/B004DKDNYS

The Ear is also providing some other links that seem relevant and informative.

Here is one to the official UW-Madison School of Music press release with the full schedule and list of programs and performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/brass-festival/

And here is one to Wisconsin Public Radio’s recent session of “The Midday” with host Norman Gilliland and guest UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley. It has lots of good commentary and great samples of brass music:

http://www.wpr.org/shows/john-aley

And here is a link to a Tiny Desk Concert, given by the Canadian Brass, playing Johann Sebastian Bach in a studio for NPR or National Public Radio:

 


Classical music: Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. What music will you play or listen to in order to commemorate the tragic events and loss of life?

September 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.

Twin Towers on 9-11

There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.

There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.

Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.

So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving  “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”

Hard to disagree, don’t you think?

So here it is.

But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.

 

 

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s exploration of keyboard miniatures by Chopin and Scarlatti proves beautifully compelling and teases one’s desire to attend one of the two remaining concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, read two reviews of the festival’s opening concert.

August 29, 2014
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ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43447&sid=9664bddf418a3137f76a449de690c285

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.

In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.

Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.

Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.

Rose Mary Harbison plays Spring 2014

Then, on both halves of the program, came music by Frederic Chopin and Domenico Scarlatti.

In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.

Domenico Scarlatti muted

Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.

Chopinphoto

But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.

John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.

For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)

The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.

Judith Gordon and John Harbison 2014

The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.

It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.

Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).

carl philipp emanuel bach

To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.

To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.

And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.

It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.

What can one say but: Thank You!

 


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts Saturday. It celebrates 25 years with observing the 300th anniversary of C.P.E. Bach and by offering a wide range of works and composers that includes a world premiere by Jeffrey Stanek and a Midwest premiere by John Harbison.

August 18, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.

But this year brings something special.

This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.

TokenCreekbarn interior

In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.

The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.

carl philipp emanuel bach

The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).

Levin with piano

Ya-Fei Chuang 2014

Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.

judith gordon

But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).

IV Karl Lavine, CR Brynn Bruijn

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Dawn Lawler

Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.

And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”

jeffrey Stanek

Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.

For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):

Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING

Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)

Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.

Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.

“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’

“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”

“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”

The program includes:

J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)

Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24

Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5

John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

Dawn Lawler, flute; 
Joe Morris, clarinet; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin; 
Karl Lavine, cello; 
John Harbison, piano
; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer

TokenCreekentrance

Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m.
 Works of C.P.E. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven

“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.

“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”

The program includes:

Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas

Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano

C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79

Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)

Judith Gordon, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison violin

Chopinphoto

PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE

Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.

Works of C.P.E. Bach, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy

“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”

The program includes:

C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; 
 Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78

Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)

Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands

Robert Levin, piano; 
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison, violin

Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.

 

 


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