The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Chamber versions of symphonies and piano concertos by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven helped secure the composers’ reputations back when they were new music

August 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you heard one at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts (below), where they have become a kind of signature.

Or perhaps you heard one at a concert by the Ancora String Quartet or the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.

What we’re talking about are scaled-down chamber versions of symphonies and piano concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Today they seem like curiosities, perhaps programmed to keep budgets smaller and use fewer performers.

But historically those same arrangements were more than conveniences or compromises. They proved vital in securing the works and reputations of those composers for posterity up until today.

Recently, The New York Times published a record review by Zachary Woolfe that provides valuable background about these rearranged works.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/19/arts/music/mozart-jupiter-hyperion.html

If you would like to experience one for yourself, you have the chance this Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

That’s when and where pianist and Harvard University professor of musicology Robert Levin (below) will perform a chamber version of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, by Beethoven. It is part of a program by Levin and pianist Ya-Fei Chuang that explores the piano and concludes this year’s 30th anniversary festival. (You can hear the opening movement of the Beethoven piano concerto in the version with string quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link with more information about tickets ($32) and the festival:

http://tokencreekfestival.org/2019-season/programs/


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Classical music: This Saturday and Sunday, the Token Creek Festival explores how an unrequited love for Clara Schumann helped make Brahms and his music autumnal

August 22, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Johannes Brahms (below) remains the only composer whose complete catalogue of chamber music is still in constant use. This is due to his fastidiously high standards, and to his ideal temperament for music played by smaller groups of players.

His music is universally admired for its combination of sheer craft and deep emotional impact, ranging from the most muted private conversation to the most passionate and revealing passages he ever composed.

But putting aside his own personal temperament as well as his melancholy melodies, his bittersweet harmonies, and his masterful use of strings and woodwinds, what gives Brahms’ music that quality of sadness that so many listeners and critics describe as “autumnal”?

No discussion of Brahms can take place without engaging with the most important person in his life — Clara Schumann (below, in a  Getty photo), who was born Clara Wieck and became a virtuoso pianist and a composer whose 200th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year.

Brahms was deeply in love with Clara. But unfortunately she was married to Robert Schumann (below right with Clara), one of Brahms’ closest friends and most loyal promoters. Even after a mentally ill Robert Schumann died of suicide at 46, Clara remained loyal to his memory. For the rest of her long life, she performed, edited and promoted his music and rejected Brahms as a lover or second husband.

Almost overnight, Clara’s rejection seemed to cause Brahms to turn from a handsome young man (below top) to the more familiar figure of an overweight, cigar-smoking, bearded and prematurely old curmudgeon (below bottom).

Clara Schumann’s hidden presence is involved with all of the pieces on the Token Creek Festival program, which will be performed at 4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24 and 25, in the festival’s refurbished barn (below) at 4037 Highway 19 in DeForest.

The program includes the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G major, illustrated with a performance of Brahms’ “Regenlied” (the “Rain Song” that precedes it and introduces the theme of the sonata); the Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano in E minor; and the Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor, a piece that retains its distinctive charge of unresolvable emotion. (You can hear that unresolved emotion in the beautiful slow movement of the Piano Quartet No. 3 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Performers are violinist Rose Mary Harbison, co-artistic director of the Token Creek Festival; violist Lila Brown; cellist Rhonda Rider; pianist Janice Weber; and Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson.

THE REST OF THE FEST

Upcoming programs include “Words & Music,” a belated 80th birthday tribute to artistic co-director John Harbison, on Wednesday night, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m. The intimate program will include readings by poet Lloyd Schwartz, the premiere of new Harbison songs, plus works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Arnold Schoenberg.

The festival closes with “The Piano” program on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, both at 4 p.m. The festival welcomes back pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, playing together and as soloists.

Their program explores the question of the composer-performer, here composers who were also formidable pianists:  Mozart, Maurice Ravel and Franz Liszt. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, arranged by the composer for chamber ensemble, and excerpts of John Harbison’s Sonata No. 2, written for Levin, complete the program.

For tickets ($32) and more information, go to www.tokencreekfestival.org or call (608) 241-2525.


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Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts this Friday and marks 30 years with jazz plus music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, Schoenberg and John Harbison

August 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this coming Friday, Aug. 16, and running through Sept. 1, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will mark its 30th anniversary with the theme of “Sanctuary.” (The festival takes place in a refurbished barn, below, at 4037 Highway 19 in DeForest.)


Add the festival directors: “The term ‘sanctuary’ attempts to capture in a single word something essential about what the festival has meant to players and listeners over all these years. From the start it aspired to offer something of retreat, an oasis, a place of refreshment and nourishment in art, both for musician participants who find a welcoming environment to “re-charge” their work, and for audience attendees who engage in and become a part of it.”

“In our small country barn,” writes prize-winning composer John Harbison (below top, in a photo by Tom Artin) who co-directs the festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom, in a photo by Tom Artin), “we have always remained devoted to the scale and address of much chamber music, which speaks as often in a whisper as in a shout.

“Where larger musical institutions have been habitually frustrated by trying to live in the business model of growth, we have remained devoted to the intensity of the experience, which explains why the music never goes away, rather than to claims of numbers, which begs the music itself to change its very nature.

“Our conviction is that today’s composers, just like Schubert and Mozart, are still striving to embody daily experience, to connect to the natural world, and to ask philosophically and spiritually unanswerable questions, surrounded and interrupting silence, asking only for our most precious commodity — time. We continue to look for valuable ways to offer this transaction to our listeners, and are grateful for their interest over so many years.”

The first two concerts, at 5 p.m., on Friday and Saturday nights, feature the return of a jazz cabaret featuring standard works in the Great American Songbook. For more information about the program and performers, as well as tickets, go to: www.tokencreekfestival.org or call (608) 241-2525.

Tickets for the two jazz concerts are $40 for the balcony and $45 for cafe seating. Tickets for the other concerts are $32 with a limited number of student tickets available for $12.

HERE IS THE LINEUP FOR THE REST OF THE FESTIVAL

Program 2: Music of Brahms at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, and Sunday, Aug. 25

Johannes Brahms is the only composer whose complete catalogue of chamber music is still in constant use.  This is due to his fastidious high standards, and to his ideal temperament for music played by smaller groups of players. His music is universally admired for the astounding combination of sheer craft and deep emotional impact.

The program includes the Regenlied (Rain Song), Op. 57 no. 3; Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 78; the Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38; and the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60. (The “Rain Song” is used as the theme of the last movement of the violin sonata. You can hear it performed by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom, which also features the score so that you can follow along.)

Performers are Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below top); violinist Rose Mary Harbison; violist Lila Brown (below second); cellist Rhonda Rider (below third, in a photo by Liz Linder); and pianist Janice Weber (below bottom).

Program 3: Then and Now, Words and Music – An 80th Birthday Tribute to John Harbison. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 p.m.

Last February, when Madison launched a citywide celebration of co-artistic director John Harbison’s 80th birthday, bitter cold and deep snow made it impossible for the festival to open up The Barn and join in the festivities.

The Wednesday program – an intimate concert of words and music curated by the Harbisons — is the festival’s belated birthday tribute. Harbison will read from his new book about Johann Sebastian Bach, and Boston poet Lloyd Schwartz (below top) will offer a reading of his poems that are the basis of a song cycle to presented by baritone Simon Barrad (below bottom). The evening will include a discussion on setting text, “Poem to Song,” and the world premiere of new Harbison songs, still in progress, on poems of Gary Snyder.

The program includes: Selections from the Violin Sonata in B minor, with violinist Rose Mary Harbison, and “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Four Songs of Solitude” and “Nocturne” by John Harbison; the Violin Sonata in G Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the “Phantasy” for violin and piano by Arnold Schoenberg; the “SchwartzSongs” and “Four Poems for Robin” by John Harbison.

Program 4: The Piano , at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1.

The closing program welcomes back husband-and-wife pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, playing together and as soloists.

Chuang (below top) is acclaimed by critics in the U.S. and abroad for performances of stunning virtuosity, refinement and communicative power. Levin (below bottom, in a photo by Clive Barda), who teaches at Harvard University, is revered for his Mozart completions and classical period improvisations.

Their program explores the question of the composer-performer — that is, composers who were also formidable pianists: Mozart, Ravel and Liszt.

Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, arranged by the composer for chamber ensemble, and excerpts of Harbison’s Piano Sonata No. 2, written for Levin, will be performed. Also on the program are Mozart’s Allegro in G Major, K. 357 (completion by Robert Levin); Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”; and Franz Liszt’s “Reminiscences of Don Juan.”

Other performers are: violinists Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsodie String Quartet; violists Jen Paulson and Kaleigh Acord; cellist Karl Lavine, who is principal cello of both the  Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as the Chamber Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO); and double bassist Ross Gilliland.


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Classical music: ECM Records finally streams its entire catalogue of award-winning artists and recordings

November 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed and award-winning independent label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1969 by the Grammy-winning producer Manfred Eicher (below).

Known for its penchant for the contemporary and even avant-garde, Eicher’s label was nonetheless a conservative hold-out when it came to the newer technology of digital streaming.

The old technology has its points besides superior sound quality. When you got an ECM CD, you usually also got one of their terrific black-and-white photographs, often a square-format landscape, as a cover. (ECM even published a book of its photographic covers.)

But as of this past Friday, ECM finally gave into the inevitable and streamed its entire catalogue. Its rationale was that it was more important for its music and musicians to be heard than to remain loyal to certain platforms.

ECM also cited the pressure from unauthorized uploads to YouTube and bootleg versions of its recordings as the reason for the decision.

So as of yesterday, ECM, which has won many awards for individual titles and artists, will be available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, Tidal and other streaming services.

ECM is known for its popular and critically acclaimed jazz artists including pianist Keith Jarrett (below, of “The Köln Concert” or The Cologne Concert) and saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (“Officium”). But it also included classical chamber music groups such as the Keller Quartet, the Trio Medieval, the Danish Quartet and others.

ECM is also known for championing contemporary classical composers (Arvo Pärt, below, who is the most performed contemporary composer, as well as Tigur Mansurian, Lera Auerbach, Gyorgy Kurtag and Valentin Silvestrov among others) and some outstanding crossover classical musicians, including Jarrett, a jazz great who has also recorded Bach, Handel and Shostakovich on both piano and harpsichord.

The Ear especially likes violist Kim Kashkashian and Harvard pianist Robert Levin (a frequent performer at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival) in sonatas of Brahms. He is also fond of Alexei Lubimov in various piano recitals as well as the many recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Janacek and Robert Schumann by the superb pianist Andras Schiff (below). In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Schiff in a live performance of the Gigue from Bach’s Keyboard Partita No. 3.)

And there are many, many more artists and recordings worth your attention. Here is a link to an extensive sampler on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ECMRecordsChannel

Who are your favorite ECM artists?

What are your favorite ECM recordings?

What ECM downloads do you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Lesson 1 from the 2015 season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing.

July 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.

The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressionsTalk about a hard-working group of performing artists!

BDDS poster 2015

Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.

Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.

I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.

(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)

The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.

BDDS 2015 Mozart C minor piano concerto

Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.

The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.

BDDS 2015 Brahms Serenade 1

Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.

It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.

But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.

To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!

What do you say?

The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival provides a thought-provoking and ear-delighting look into the intersection of Shakespeare’s plays and classical music.

August 29, 2013
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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 every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has long-established a reputation for unusual programming, combining seemingly distinct genres, and exploring rare or unconventional material within them.

This season, the Festival seems to have become even more adventurous. There is the usual balancing of jazz and classical music, with more investigation of improvisatory techniques. The tiptoe into Shakespeare (below) made last year has this time has been expanded into a full and quite adventurous program, called “Shakespeare: The Bard in Songs and Scenes.”

shakespeare

The program opened with the premiere of a new composition by John Harbison (below), the co-director of the Festival who is also an award-winning composer. Called “Invention on a Theme by Shakespeare,” it takes as its “theme” a sequence of six solmization pitches (notes in a scale that are equated to syllables)  talked of by a comic character in “Love’s Labours Lost — a piece of music by the poet, if you will.  Written for solo cello with string quartet, it begins with a long solo monologue and then develops into a sequence of more animated ensemble episodes.

Thereafter, the program developed into a series of nine sets, each built around one of the plays.  In each case, a passage from the given play was recited by actor Allison Schaffer, while the songs around it were sung by soprano Mary Mackenzie), with pianist Molly Morkoski (below) accompanying stylishly.

molly morkoski

The pattern worked very well, with song composers ranging from Thomas Morley, a contemporary and friend of Shakespeare, to John Harbison himself, our contemporary and friend.

What was most engaging was the frequent pairing of settings by different composers of the same texts. This practice was brought to a peak by the presentation of three of the song texts from “The Tempest,” first as set by Henry Purcell (2) and Pelham Humfrey (1), and then all by Michael Tippett. It provided fascinating insights into the varied possibilities and aesthetics of musical word treatment.

For me, though, at least as fascinating was the unit devoted to “Hamlet,” and to the sad character Ophelia. Framing Queen Gertrude’s famous description of Ophelia’s death were two complete song cycles, each setting the words of the demented songs that the poor girl sings in her madness.

One cycle, using five of those song cycles was a rarely heard and posthumously published set by Johannes Brahms (below top). The other, using only three of the texts, was a set published as his Op. 67 by Richard Strauss (below bottom).  (And not by Johann Strauss, as the program erroneously claimed, and as carefully corrected by Harbison in his astute spoken commentary.)

brahms3

richard strauss

These texts were set by each composer in German translations, which itself highlighted the Bard’s important cultural outreach beyond the English language.  (And that point was furthered by inclusion of two Shakespeare songs by Schubert, in German; as well as one by Haydn, if in English.) The Brahms settings were in a direct and rather simple style, perhaps reflecting his extensive activity in treating German folksong.

By contrast, Strauss used them to venture into almost experimental writing, in treatments that emphasized dramatic and powerfully tragic sensibilities. I wondered when anyone else would have the enterprise to put these two cycles together for comparison.

It was a measure of their total commitment that both actress and singer delivered their work totally from memory.

Allison Schaffer (below) is just beginning a career in theater, but she demonstrates a firm sense of textual integrity, vocal clarity, and stage instincts.  She will be a local product to watch for.

Allison Schaffer

Mary Mackenzie (below) has a full, ripe soprano voice of great power and beauty. She put it to use, with effective utilization of facial expression, body movement, and even gestures, to make each song an individual piece, with its own distinct mood.  This is a superb artist of whom I want to hear more.

Mackenzie

The usual printed program was supplemented this time by a set of notes by Harbison himself, giving a concise and helpful roadmap through the plays and the selections offered.

There was, alas, one fly in the ointment. Each of the spoken selections was “accompanied” by improvisations for violin and cello devised by guest composer and violinist Andrew Waggoner (below).

Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed with me that these improvisations were intrusive, distracting, and often downright unpleasant–certainly a serious injustice to Ms. Schaffer’s work.  I know that Harbison himself is most interested in the art of improvisation, and it deserves its space; but this was not the space into which to impose it.

Andrew WaggonerThat was the one miscalculation in an otherwise splendidly artistic and thought-provoking presentation.

The Festival concludes on this Saturday, Aug. 31, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. with a program called ‘The Old and the Unfamiliar,” which features unfinished Mozart works completed by Harvard University scholar and pianist Robert Levin and by festival co-director and composer John Harbison. As always, it will take place in “The Barn” (below) off Highway 19.

For more information and tickets, call (608) 241-2525 or visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

TokenCreekbarn interior


Classical music: This Thursday is a good day to hear local musicians Trevor Stephenson, Token Creek Festival participant Robert Levin and members of the Karp Family perform music and do interviews on the radio. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will offer a course this fall at his home studio about the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

August 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard from two loyal readers and friends – period keyboardist Trevor Stephenson and the WORT FM radio host Rich Samuels about events that will take place on the airwaves this Thursday morning and noon.

WORT-FM 89.9

Rich Samuels (below), who hosts the weekly classical radio program “Anything Goes” from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT FM 89.9 and who records and emphasizes local music and local musicians, writes:

Rich Samuels WORT use this

“This Thursday morning, Aug. 29, starting at 30 seconds past 7:07 to about 7:45 a.m., I’ll be airing (on WORT 89.9) a recut of an interview I recorded last August with Howard, Frances, Parry, Ariana and Isabel Karp in anticipation of the 36th FREE annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. (As you recall, that same concert last year was cancelled on account of Illness).

karps 2008 - 13

“Recorded music for this segment includes recordings of Howard and Parry performing the final movement of John Ireland’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Violin (adapted for violin and cello); Howard and Frances Karp playing Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72, No. 2, for piano, four hands version; and Joel Hoffman’s “Karptet” (featuring Frances Karp, Howard Karp, Christopher Karp, Parry Karp and Katrin Talbot).”

The program this year includes Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia plus the above Karp family members. The program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel (below in a YouTube video); “
November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison
; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven
; and music and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. Notes about the concert will be featured on this blog on Friday. (Below are daughter Ariana Karp and father Parry Karp at the Labor Day family concert in 2011.)

Ariana and Parry Karp 2011

Adds Samuels: The Karp segment runs 37 minutes and 43 second. The show concludes with a recording John Harbison gave me from last year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival: the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 537 in a chamber arrangement featuring some pretty amazing improvising by Harvard University pianist Robert Levin (below) who will perform some of his Mozart completions this coming weekend at the Token Creek Festival. Other instrumentalists are Heidi Braun-Hill and Rose Mary Harbison (violins), John Harbison (viola) and Rhonda Rider (cello).

Token Creek 2011 Robert Levin

WERN 88.7 FM

Another fan and friend, Trevor Stephenson (below) writes:

On Thursday, August 29, l will be playing fortepiano live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s (88.7 FM) “Midday” program, hosted by Norman Gilliland.

I’ll play selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and Norman will interview me about the all things fortepiano: How and why it came about in the 18th century? How its construction (thinner wire, leather hammers, all wooden frame, etc.) facilitates playing of Classical-era repertoire?

Trevor Stephenson marking scores

I’ll talk about why the fortepiano is particularly theatrical, affectively polarized really — from its giddy, fizzy, articulate highs, to its moody, menacing, growling lows. Wisconsin Public Television will also be filming the broadcast and that will air on WPT later in the year.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Also, this Fall — on Monday evenings from October 14 through November 18 — I’m offering a course on the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I’ll discuss the stylistic similarities and divergences of these three masters — all born in 1685 — and will also examine how each composer integrated elements of various national styles (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian . . .) to form their own personal compositional voice.

I’ll talk about each composer’s life and personality as well as the social circles within which they moved. I’ll also discuss and demonstrate—at both the harpsichord and piano — approaches to performing their music and we will look into elements of performance such as fingering, tempo, rubato, articulation, voicing, instruments, and the ever-elusive yet oh-so-important Affect, or interpretation, or feeling for the moment at hand!

Here is some of the specific repertoire we’ll look at: 
Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite in G minor, “Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother,” “Art of Fugue” Contrapunctus XIX (ending with the B-A-C-H fugue), the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book I and Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier to compare them; George Frideric Handel – Suite in E major (which concludes with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations), Gavotte in G major, Suite in D minor (which includes the famous Sarabande), Impertinence, Allegro in G major; Domenico 
Scarlatti – Sonatas: K. 238 and 239 both in F minor, K. 159 in C major, K. 9 in D minor “Pastorale,” and K. 380 in E major.

The course is geared for those people with a reading knowledge of music. The classes will be given at my home studio from 7-8:30 p.m. on the following Monday evenings: October 14, 21, Nov. 4, 11, 18. My home studio (below during a “house concert”) is at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison, WI 53705. Enrollment for the course is $180. Please let me know by September 15 if you’d like to attend. Contact me at www.trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.

Schubert house concert

The Madison Bach Musicians 2013-14 season is now posted and tickets are available! This is our 10th season! Opening concert is October 5.
 See www.madisonbachmusicians.org Sign up and more details will com by email in a couple of days.


Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens this Wednesday and runs through Sept. 1. It will feature members of Boston’s Open End Ensemble as artists-in-residence; the music of Andrew Waggoner and John Harbison; music about and readings of Shakespeare; and the world premiere of completed versions of unfinished works by Mozart. Plus, retired UW-Madison singer and teacher Ilona Kombrink has died.

August 19, 2013
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ALERT: Singer and Edgewood College voice teacher Kathleen Otterson writes: “It is with sadness that I announce the death of Emeritus Professor Ilona Kombrink (below) on Friday, August 9, in Stoughton, Wisconsin.  She passed away after being in poor health for the last several years. There has been no obituary posted yet, and no plans for a service that I am aware of. She was my teacher and one of my primary vocal and musical influences. Ilona was a longtime member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison voice faculty, and counted among her students hundreds of singers and teachers – many of us in Wisconsin — working all over the world today.  A native of St. Louis, Missouri, her natural vocal gifts were evident at an early age, and she entered the Curtis Institute at age 17, where among her classmates were Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti. She loved to retell stories of her arrival in the big city of Phildelphia – “just a country girl from ‘St. Louie‘” – and the establishment there of friendships which would last through her life.  She came to the UW in the late 1960s, seeking a more stable life than that of a touring singer for herself and daughter, Nancy, retiring in 2003. She performed frequently with the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and UW ensembles as well as in recital alone or with her UW faculty colleagues. As an artist, she was uncompromising in her search for vocal artistry and honesty. In her teaching, she never stopped encouraging her students to seek and find the same.

Ilona Kombrink

By Jacob Stockinger

The rustic yet sophisticated Token Creek Chamber Festival, which is now about 25 years old, has become the traditional closing of the local summer concert season that offers the last major events before the new fall season gets underway after Labor Day.

The festival -– which is co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of composer-violist John Harbison and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– features talented local artists and imported guest artists, and the programs are more unusual than the typical concert fare.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

This year is no exception.

Here is a list of events. More information can be found by calling (608) 241-2525 or visiting www.tokencreekfestival.org

Program I: Jazz – Music of Harry Warren (below) with the Vocal Jazz Ensemble on Wednesday August 21, at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Thursday, August 22, at 5 p.m. (sold out) and 8:30 p.m.

This summer the Festival’s jazz program surveys composer Harry Warren, an especially appropriate choice for a 10th anniversary celebration.  The program includes some of his best-known hits (“I Only Have Eyes for You,” “At Last,” “Lulu’s Back In Town”), while also – as always – offering some choice little-known treasures like “I Want to be a Dancing Man,” “You’re Gettin’ to be a Habit” and “This Heart of Mine.”

harry warren

The Vocal Jazz Ensemble (below) was formed at MIT in the spring of 2011, and has been coached since its inception by Institute Professor John Harbison. The 10 singers, each of whom passes a rigorous audition process by peers, have quickly risen to notoriety not only on campus but throughout Boston.

Recent performances include an appearance in May with the Boston Pops at Boston’s Symphony Hall, and a professional recording with the Festival Jazz Ensemble. Five members of the VJE will perform at Token Creek with the house band, made up of John Harbison (piano), John Schaffer (bass), Todd Steward (drums), Tom Artin (trombone), and Rose Mary Harbison (violin).

MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. For the jazz program the barn is transformed into an authentic jazz club, complete with small tables, candles, dim lighting, and refreshments served during sets.

TokenCreekbarn interior

The jazz concert is offered on Wednesday, August 21 at 8:30 p.m. (a waiting list is being compiled for a possible added performance that day at 5 p.m.), and on Thursday August 22 at 5 p.m. (sold-out) and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 for café seating, and $35 for balcony seats. A limited number of student tickets are available for $10.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and this event can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.  Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.  

TokenCreekentrance

Program II: Open End Ensemble – New Works & Improvisations on Sunday, August 25, at 4 p.m.

“Improvisations on a Theme” is the watchword that shapes the 2013 Token Creek Festival:  in the opening jazz program; in incidental music to accompany Shakespeare scenes; and in the completions of unfinished works of Mozart.

But perhaps nowhere is it more baldly and boldy evident than in the concert presented by guest ensemble from New York, Open End (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), three of whose members will be in residence for a week at this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

Open End Ensemble BW

Essential to the Open End mission is the reclaiming of improvisation as the birthright of all musicians. Audiences at Open End concerts come to think of spontaneous creation as being part of a natural, ongoing dialogue between performers creating in the moment and a written body of work that continues to expand, to transform. At home in venues from galleries and living rooms to concert halls, Open End seeks nothing less than to engage audiences in an experience that is wonderful, intimate, challenging and beautiful.

On Sunday August 25 at 4 p.m. Open End members Andrew Waggoner (violin), Caroline Stinson, (cello) and Molly Morkoski (piano) will present a program of recent works and improvisations in a program including music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Anna Weesner, Andrew Waggoner, and Johann Sebastian Bach, concluding with the premiere of a new work by Waggoner (below).

Waggoner has been characterized by The New Yorker  as “the gifted practitioner of a complex but dramatic and vividly colored style” His new piano quintet, inspired by the acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was written this summer for the 2013 Token Creek Festival and is  dedicated to Artistic Directors John and Rose Mary Harbison.

Andrew Waggoner

Program III: Shakespeare – The Bard in Songs and Scenes will be presented on Tuesday, August 27, at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, August 28, at 8 p.m.

Open End members (see Program 2) participate in one of the Festival’s most unusual programs ever offered: William Shakespeare (below) in scenes and songs. The program opens with the premiere of John Harbison’s “Invention on a Theme of Shakespeare” (solo cello and small ensemble), followed by scenes from Shakespeare plays accompanied by new incidental music, and songs and arias on texts from the same plays set by to music by composers from the Renaissance to the present day. The plays include “As You Like It,” “Hamlet,” “Cymbeline,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “The Tempest.”

shakespeare BW

The two principal performers for the evening both were born and raised in Madison and return for this Token Creek Event: Guthrie Theatre-trained actor, Allison Schaffer (below) will dramatize the play excerpts, and New York soprano Mary Mackenzie (below), together with pianists Molly Morkoski, will offer songs by composers including Morley, Arne, and Purcell; Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf; and Poulenc, Bridge, Tippett and Harbison.

Allison Schaffer

Mackenzie

All performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the village of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets ($30, and $10 for students) can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or  by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Program IV: Finale – “The Old and Unfamiliar” will be performed on Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, September 1, at 4 p.m.

It’s not a contradiction. In a program titled “The Old and Unfamiliar,” the Token Creek Festival will offer world premieres, both of a new work and of completions of old works never heard before.

What composer is more beloved and performed than Mozart (below)? Yet he was in the habit of leaving pieces unfinished, to be taken up later. He was above all practical and pragmatic — if he was working on a violin sonata when a commission for a wind piece came in, he’d suspend work on the sonata, planning to return to it later.

mozart big

There is now conclusive evidence that some of his pieces lay unfinished for 10 years.  His early death prevented the completion of many of them.  Can they be recovered, “new” Mozart works that add to our sense of his prolific variety?  The Token Creek musicians think so.

Three Mozart completions anchor the last concerts of the Festival:

• The violin sonata in C, K. 403 (1784-85), in which Mozart composed the first two movements and the first 20 measures of the last; the final movement was completed by John Harbison (below) in 1968.

• The Allegro in A major (K. Anh. 48), the opening 35 measures of this violin sonata first movement written by Mozart, the remainder completed in 2012 by Harvard University scholar and classical period keyboard expert and improviser Robert Levin (below), who is a frequent guest at Token Creek.

• The Allegro in G Major (K. Anh. 47), another sonata first movement begun by Mozart (the first 31 measures), also completed by Levin last year.

“Revisiting these pieces I think is interesting,” says Levin. “The idea of course is not to suggest to people whom you’re going to write something which is as audacious, as inspired, as pleasurable to listen to as what Mozart would surely have done had he lived to complete these pieces but it gives you an idea. It’s like an artist’s conception of an idea before the building is actually constructed.”

“And of course there is this combustible attitude of improvisation in which one realizes that no text that Mozart wrote was really sacrosanct,” Levin adds. “He did not write pieces down so that people would play exactly what he wrote and nothing else. This was not the way music was done in the 18th century, and in the early 19th century it wasn’t done that way either. That is, just the way every performance invited improvisation so, in a sense, the score was a blueprint.”

Levin with piano

In addition to the completion premieres, the program also includes the premiere of John Harbison’s Violin Sonata No. 2 (2013), some rare old things — Purcell sonatas for two violins – and Mozart’s infrequently heard and bizarrely scored Horn Quintet (for two violas, one violin, and cello.

All performances take place at the  Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the town of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. Arrive early and tour the beautiful setting and farm fields (below in a photo by Jess Anderson).

Token Creek Land 1 Jess Anderson

More information about the  Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Concert tickets are $30, and a limited number of student tickets are available for $10. Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: French composer Henri Dutilleux is dead at 97. He was an accessible modernist who embodied many traditional values of French culture. And here are some of the best remembrances and obituaries.

May 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The French composer Henri Dutilleux (seen below in 2005 in a photo by Jean Pierre Muller for Getty Images) died Wednesday in Paris. He was 97.

Henri Dutilleux i 2005 Jean-Pierre Muller Getty Images

Henri Dutilleux was clearly a modernist, but not a militant or revolutionary modernist, who was known for his use of color and harmony. Like much of traditional French culture in general, he had a deep appreciation for formal beauty -– for melody, for structure, for clarity.

Here is his 1976 string quartet “Ainsi la nuit” (Thus the Night) in a YouTube video:

But even though he found critical acclaim, he never found widespread favor or popularity with the general public in the U.S. and around the world.

That is too bad.

The Ear very much likes Dutilleux’s work – his symphonies, his chamber music and his solo piano music (such as the Piano Sonata performed in a YouTube video at the bottom by his wife Genevieve Joy, who died at 90 in 2009). In fact I much prefer it to the much more famous and more frequently performed music by the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, who was too Catholic, too mystical and religious, too self-consciously spiritual and aggressively dissonant and percussive for my taste.

Even as I am writing this, Wisconsin Public Radio is airing Dutilleux’s early Symphony No. 1.

It strikes me that Dutilleux (below, seen earlier in his career in 1959, in a photo by Ed Fitzgerald), who chided himself for not being prolific, worked in the great tradition of French refinement and craft, composing in the shadow of Maurice Ravel (who studied with Gabriel Faure, a family friend of Dutilleux’s father), that famous “watchmaker” musician.

Henri Dutilleux in 1959 CR Ed Fitzgerald

So here are some of the best remembrances and obituaries to appear so far, though curiously I have not found a great piece from the French press (if you find one, please leave a link or reference).

Here is a great overview from NPR’s wonderful classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/22/186052590/henri-dutilleux-leading-french-composer-dies-at-97

As always, The New York Times provides a terrifically detailed and comprehensive overview of the composer’s life and career:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/23/arts/music/henri-dutilleux-modernist-composer-dies-at-97.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And here is along and detailed piece from the British newspaper The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/22/henri-dutilleux

And a shorter obit from the Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-henri-dutilleux-20130523,0,6606521.story

And here is an obit from the New York City radio station WQXR FM that features conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) discussing Dutilleux’s music along with an audio sample of his orchestral music:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2013/may/22/henri-dutilleux-french-composer-dies-age-97/

Esa Pekka Salonen

If you don’t know Henri Dutilleux’s music, I particularly recommend an all-Dutilleux record of solo piano music (the cover is below) by the Harvard University professor, pianist and musicologist Robert Levin, who often appears at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, on the ECM Records label.

Henri Dutilleux CD Robert Levin ECM 2010

What are your favorite works by Henri Dutilleux, and what remembrances of anecdotes do you have to tell and leave in the COMMENTS section?

The Ear wants to hear.


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