The Well-Tempered Ear

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: Prize-winning composer John Harbison has turned 80. In February, Madison will see many celebrations of his birthday, starting this Friday night with the Imani Winds

January 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 1, a month-long celebration in Madison of the 80th birthday of critically acclaimed and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below) gets underway.

The festivities start with a concert by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds (below), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. – with a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. — in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The program includes Harbison’s popular Wind Quintet.

Here is a link with more information about the group, the program and tickets: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

Among America’s most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur ”genius grant’ and a Pulitzer Prize. His work encompasses all genres, from chamber music to opera, sacred to secular. (You can hear Harbison discuss his approach to composing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He has composed for most of America’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Institute Professor at MIT, Harbison serves as composer, conductor, performer, teacher and scholar. He divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Token Creek, Wis., where he co-founded and co-directs a summer chamber music festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison.

Other local birthday events include a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra; several chamber music and choral concerts at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, including one by the Mosaic Chamber Players; an exhibition of books and manuscripts at the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison’s Memorial Library.

There are also several concerts, including the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola, and a composer residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music; and the world premiere of a new motet by the Madison Choral Project.

Harbison will also be featured in radio interviews and broadcast retrospectives by both Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT community radio.

National and international celebrations include other world premieres of commissions, many new recordings and the publication of Harbison’s autobiographical book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “What Do We Make of Bach?”

For more details about the many local celebrations, you can go to the following two links. Schedules, programs and updates – events are subject to change — will be posted at www.tokencreekfestival.org and www.johnharbison.com.

To receive “Harbison Occasions,” an intermittent e-newsletter, write to arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com


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Classical music: The Token Creek Festival will “harvest” gardens of music from next Saturday through Sept. 2

August 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer season for classical music in Madison has gotten busier and busier. But the summer still ends on the same high note — the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that is co-directed by John Harbison and Rose Mary Harbison.

Here is the announcement about this year’s festival, the 29th, that begins this coming weekend:

“The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “Harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

“Both garden and festival share much in common:  risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece —whether a piece of ground or a piece of music — is capable of such nourishment, abundance and variety.

“In the musicians’ garden, with its unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables — but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drive us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below). “Each planting retains certain elements and adjusts others with the hope of increased productivity. But so many of the adjustments made in hope of improvement do not work, but create new problems, require new approaches.  What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Here are this year’s Concert Programs. Please note something new this year: All weekend concerts start at 4 p.m.

Program I: ROOTS – Music of Bach and Primosch. On Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4 p.m.

“Continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) in cantatas and instrumental works, and its reflection in the music of James Primosch (below bottom), one of the few composers in our time able to grasp both the possibilities and responsibilities available in sacred music in a tradition inherited from Bach.”

Program II: NEW GROWTH – The Kepler Quartet (below, with composer Ben Johnston, and playing Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7 in the YouTube video at the bottom) on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“A recital of beautifully alluring micro-tonal music “in between the notes.” The attractive and intelligible musical surface, and our experience hearing it, belies the at-times complex compositional methods.

“We are impressed by the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The recital will be augmented with a demonstration and discussion by the Keplers.

Works are by Ben Johnston, Stefano Scodanibbio (below top), Henry Cowell (below middle) and Harry Partch (below bottom).”

Program III: CORNUCOPIA – Saturday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m.

“Schumann’s beloved and timeless song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love) with tenor Frank Kelley (below) and his impassioned, enigmatic and exuberant Piano Trio in D minor anchor this program.

“The program also includes the Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Piano Sonata in E Major by Franz Joseph Haydn sonatas and the world premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, “In Early Evening,” to poems by Louise Gluck.”

The ARTISTS are Mark Bridges, cello; Laura Burns, violin; Ryne Cherry, baritone; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, portative organ and piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Frank Kelley, tenor; The Kepler Quartet; Karl Lavine, cello; Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; James Primosch, piano; Brek Renzelman, viola; Eric Segnitz, violin;  Janice Weber, piano; and Sarah Yanovitch, soprano.

Performances take place in the Festival Barn (below top and bottom), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). 

The charming and rustic venue — indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts — is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended, and casual dress is suggested. Ample parking is available.

Tickets are $12-$32, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-festival-2018-harvest-tickets-47217166817

For more information about the performers and specific works on programs, call (608) 241-2525 or go to www.tokencreekfestival.org

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Token Creek Festival has been called “ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields.” (Photo below is by Jess Anderson.)

“Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming; a deep engagement with the audience; and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a  comfortable refurbished barn.”


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Classical music: Composer-performer John Harbison explains why the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is revisiting “The Musical Offering” by Johann Sebastian Bach for a third time

August 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you have ever attended a concert at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival (below), which opens this Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., you know how insightful the short commentaries by John Harbison invariably are.

Perhaps that should come as no surprise. Harbison (below), the co-founder and co-artistic director with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison, has been awarded a MacArthur ‘genius grant” and won a Pulitzer Prize, all while teaching at MIT.

The concerts this weekend focus on Johann Sebastian Bach’s incredible “Musical Offering,” part of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a program note by composer-pianist Harbison, which will probably be complemented by some additional remarks:

”Every musician has the experience of understanding a piece better after they have performed it. A few have careers which welcome (sometimes to a fault) chances to re-perform, hopefully with greater insight, a piece they wish to carry with them and continue to share with colleagues and listeners.

“We have performed two complete Musical Offerings by Bach (below) at Token Creek. Why are we going back to its Trio Sonata? Because it has become necessary, for the fullness of our encounter, to present what is a revision, a reconsideration, a reinforcement of vows, regarding a masterpiece whose carrot remains forever on the stick.

“Such could be said about other elements on this program. One of the subtexts is about the fascinating issue of continuo realization — the piano or harpsichord part — the strange language in which harmonic structure is described to the player in cipher.

“In pieces by Bach this language is strained to the breaking point in works such as The Musical Offering and the E minor sonata for violin and continuo; it is in fact about to disappear, replaced by the explicit writing out, in pitches, all the musical information. Living in the world before and after this decision was taken is one of the preoccupations of this concert.

“In a concert dominated by Bach, the requirement of the other pieces (by Haydn and Harbison) is really sufficient originality and integrity not to be dwarfed or rendered ephemeral by his authority, a high bar, considered carefully by the management.”

For more information about the five concerts of three different programs, including ticket information, go to: http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: Songs and chamber music about water and nature by Franz Schubert flow with drama and assertiveness to conclude this year’s Token Creek Festival. The concert will be repeated today at 4 p.m.

September 4, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The context of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has been the reconstitution of a neglected trout stream on the property of John and Rose Mary Harbison, the festival directors.

With an overall festival title of “Water Music,” its final program is called “Water Colors,” and is devoted exclusively to music by this year’s featured composer, Franz Schubert (below).

Franz Schubert big

This program, first performed on Friday evening, contained just two major works.

The first was Schubert’s song cycle, “Die schöne Müllerian (The Lovely Miller Maid).

Setting a cycle of 20 poems by Wilhelm Müller (almost a pun!), Schubert has us follow episodically the story of a mill worker who falls in love with his boss’s daughter. She first encourages him and then betrays him, abandoning him to a hopeless death. Through all this, his guide, sustainer and, finally, consoler, is the mill brook, itself effectively a character in the saga.

Occupying the first half of the concert, this cycle was sung from memory by the highly acclaimed tenor William Hite (below). His voice is somewhat more of a dramatic than a lyric tenor, and some of his delivery had a vehemence that was almost too big for the intimate setting of “the barn” on the Harbison estate.

Token Creek 2016 William Hite Schubert Mullerin

But, in truth, Hite (below) could muster up delicacy and nuance as well as earthy strength. Above all, he became a story teller—at once narrator and protagonist—a singing actor who drew us into the tragic story.

He was also powerfully supported by pianist Kayo Iwama (below). Her playing was not subtle, but it struck just the right tone of assertiveness and caught the bucolic evocations.

Kayo Iwama

As their performance proceeded, I found I was no longer in “the barn” but transported into the world of nature and hopeless love. The poignance and humanity of Schubert’s cycle was thus truly realized.

In the second half, another of Schubert’s “nature” evocations was fittingly offered: the beloved Quintet in A for piano and an adjusted string quartet (D.667). This bears the nickname of “the Trout,” because the fourth of its five movements is a set of variations on his own song, Die Forelle (The Trout). (You can hear that fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Performers (below) were Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine; cello, and Ross Gilliland, bass; with pianist Molly Morkoski.

Token Creek 2016 Schubert Trout JWB

It was given a lively performance, and made me pay particular attention to the role of the piano in the scoring. Aside from the two piano trios, this is Schubert’s only full-scale chamber work in which he matches the piano with a string ensemble. It’s not a quasi-concerto, but there is a clear understanding of the sonic distinctions between the piano and the strings as they contrast and collaborate.

The piano’s role was indeed the backbone of this performance, thanks to the work of Morkoski (below), who again—as in the opening concert program last weekend—showed herself a born Schubert pianist of great flair.

molly morkoski

NOTE: This program is to be repeated this afternoon at 4 p.m., and will conclude this year’s festival.

For more information, here is a link:

http://tokencreekfestival.org


Classical music: The founders and co-artistic directors of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival explain the origins of the upcoming “water music” programs

August 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

In the essay below, John and Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), the founders and co-artistic directors of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, explain the origins of the upcoming “water music” programs that mark the 27th festival.

You can hear that famous “trout” theme of the original song used in Franz Schubert‘s “Trout” Piano Quintet, which will be performed at the festival, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here is a link to a posting earlier this week with much more information about the concerts, the programs and the performers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/classical-music-this-years-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-celebrates-local-ecological-restoration-with-water-music/

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: THE BROOK AT TOKEN CREEK — WHY NOW?

By John and Rose Mary Harbison

In 1932 Dan and Alice Pedersen, Rose Mary Harbison’s parents, came from Chicago to Madison and purchased a small farm on State Highway 19, then a seldom travelled dirt road. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson of a more recent barn built on the farm property.)

Token Creek land:barn Jess Anderson

The farm eventually became a producer of organic vegetables for sale, and a place of contemplation, leading to Dan’s life as a Swedenborgian pastor, wartime fireman and early sustainable farmer; and Alice’s as a Sunday school teacher and eventually a much published anti-Vietnam War activist. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson of a field on the farm.)

Token Creek land 2 Jess Anderson

But it was just three years into their tenure on the farm that the State of Wisconsin came up with a plan to raise carp for New York markets, and by eminent domain seized four acres of land from the Pedersen farm, building a 400-foot carp pond, and routing the tributary trout stream on the Pedersen farm into it. (Historic photos are from the Token Creek Watershed Association.)

Token Creek Watershed 1

This was a loss from which the couple never really recovered, since it cost the stream, which had originally flowed into Token Creek, much loss of vitality, swiftness and natural flow.

Within a decade the State had lost interest in the original project, but the Pedersens were never able to persuade the necessary agencies to undertake restoration of the trout stream and repair the damage.

Token Creek watershed 2

The 2012 Token Creek Festival season included a forum, “Listen to the Land,” with an eminent group of ecologists commenting on our attempt to redevelop as prairie a large set-aside field.

As it turned out, the best outcome of this gathering, in spite of the expensive and to this point discouraging track of that project, was the unanimous view of that forum that the restoration of the tributary trout stream, and the elimination of the carp pond, would dynamically and radically upgrade the entire ecology of the area, one that is an extremely important component of the Cherokee Marsh and Lake Mendota watershed. (below is a picnic by Token Creek.)

Token Creek picnic

This year’s festival, “Water Music,” celebrates the unlikely achievement of that goal. Unable to find civic partners, the transformation was a private initiative, brilliantly realized by the river restoration firm Inter-Fluve, and spearheaded by the participants in our opening forum. (Below is a mill on the creek.)

Token Creek mill

Art and Nature are already familiar partners; Art and Technology increasingly so. One common impulse seems to be to increase harmony and invention; to limit pointless destruction; and to preserve enhance and develop, positively, some of the forces we cannot control, or fully understand.


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival celebrates local ecological restoration with “water music”

August 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an overview of the upcoming 27th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which starts this Saturday, Aug. 27, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 4.

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. – Years in the planning, summer 2016 marks the completion of a major ecological restoration project on the Token Creek Festival property in the northeast corner of Dane County, part of the watersheds vital to the hydrology of Madison and southeastern Wisconsin.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

During the 1930s, one of the most important feeder streams in the area, and its only cold-water trout stream, was ruined when it was widened to support short-lived commercial interests and development. Now, decades later, in a monumental effort, that stream has at long last been relocated, restored and rescued.

Festival-goers will be able to experience the project firsthand on the opening weekend, when each concert is preceded by an optional stroll along the new stream, with conversation guided by restoration ecologists and project managers.

Celebrating this monumental ecological project, the season theme of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is: Water Music. Virtually all of the works programmed evoke brooks and streams and rivers and water in its many forms, with its ritual meanings, associations, allusions, and as metaphor.

In keeping with the theme, the Festival has adopted Franz Schubert (below) as the summer’s featured composer. His poetic, melancholic, ultimately organic and inevitable relationship to the natural world was expressed in composition after composition, wedded to his intense involvement with the poetry of his era, itself so infatuated with birds, fields, clouds and streams.

Franz Schubert big

The second program emphasis continues the festival’s most persistent theme: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach1

Three strands of Bach’s music previously explored at Token Creek will be taken up again. We will present our third complete cantata performance, O heiliges Geist und Wasserbad, a mysterious and poetic piece from early in the composer’s career, with soloists from the Madison Choral Project (below).

Madison Choral Project color

We will conclude our survey of the three Bach violin concertos, this year the E major, co-artistic director Rose Mary Harbison (below top) again as soloist. And we take up our sequence of fugues from The Art of Fugue, co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below bottom), who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius grant,” adding three more to his personal odyssey with this work, due to conclude in 2030.

RosemaryHarbison

JohnHarbisonatpiano

NEW ARTISTS

Token Creek is pleased to introduce several new artists this season, including Grammy Award-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, who has been praised for her “glorious instrument” and dubbed an “undisputed star…who has it all – looks, intelligence, musicianship, personality, technique, and a voice of bewitching amber color.”

Ms. Lattimore will offer works of Franz Schubert and John Harbison on the Festival’s opening concerts, By the Brook (August 27 and 28), where she will be joined by pianist Molly Morkoski.

www.margaretlattimore.net

Margaret Lattimore

Ms. Morkoski (below), who last appeared at Token Creek in 2013, consistently garners praise for her refined virtuosity and “the bold confidence and interactive grace one wants in a devoted chamber music maker.” In addition to the opening program, Morkoski will also be heard on the season finale in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (Sept. 2 and 4).

http://www.mollymorkoski.com/

molly morkoski

On that same concert, tenor William Hite and pianist Kayo Iwama join forces in Schubert’s devastating and tragic song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter), in which a brook functions prominently as the protagonist’s confidante. (You can hear the legendary baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing “The Miller and the Brook” from the flowing song cycle in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini has called Hite (below) a “breathtaking communicator of spoken nuance” for his ability to reveal the meaning and emotion embodied in the text and the music, solidifying his reputation as an engaging and expressive artist.

http://www.williamhitetenor.com/

william hite

Kayo Iwama (below) is associate director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music graduate vocal arts program, the master’s degree program for classical singers, and she also coordinates the vocal studies program at the Tanglewood Music Center. Her frequent concert partners include Dawn Upshaw and Lucy Shelton.

http://www.bard.edu/academics/faculty/details/?action=details&id=1838

Kayo Iwama

VIOLS AND WILLIAM WARTMANN

Finally, the “technically faultless and consistently sensitive and expressive,” consort of viols, Second City Musick (below), based in Chicago, will offer a guest recital on Tuesday, Aug. 30, anchored by John Harbison’s The Cross of Snow.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Commissioned by local businessman and philanthropist William John Wartmann (below) in memory of his wife, mezzo-soprano Joyce Wartmann, this evocative new piece, on texts of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, blends the ethereal lushness of violas da gamba with the haunting clarity of the countertenor voice, here Nathan Medley (below bottom), to explore the emotions of grief, loss and love.

wiiliam wartmann

Nathan Medley

At its first performance in Chicago last May, a local critic praised both the work and the musicians: “The Chicago-based ensemble was ideally suited to premiere this profoundly affecting work, and the shared sensibility between composer and performers was noticeable.”

Tuesday’s program will also include works of Henry Purcell, William Byrd, John Jenkins and Johann Sebastian Bach.

www.secondcitymusick.org

Other festival artists this season include vocalists Rachel Warricke, Sarah Leuwerke, Daniel O’Dea, and Nathan Krueger; violinists Rose Mary Harbison, Laura Burns, and Isabella Lippi; Jen Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; Linda Kimball, horn; and John Harbison, piano.

HERE ARE FESTIVAL PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE:

Program 1: By the Brook – Schubert, Bach and Harbison

Saturday, Aug. 27: 6:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 8 p.m. – concert

Sunday, Aug. 28:  2:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 4 p.m. – concert

*(The stream stroll is free, but reservations are recommended)

Program 2: Music for Viols, Then & Now

Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Program 3: Water Colors = Two Schubert Masterworks

Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). The preview stream stroll on opening weekend is free to concertgoers, but advance reservations are recommended.

Reservations can be made in several ways:

  • Online:    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-chamber-music-festival-2016-tickets-26070692142
  • Website (printable order form): www.tokencreekfestival.org
  • Phone: 608-241-2525 (voicemail only, please leave a message)
  • Email: info@tokencreekfestival.org
  • U.S. mail: P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

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


Classical music: Works by Haydn and Mozart open the 2015 Token Creek Festival this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

August 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Token Creek Festival will open its 26th season this coming weekend with a recital of works by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Festival co-founders and co-artistic directors John and Rose Mary Harbison (below top) – who will play the piano and the violin, respectively — explore sonatas and, with local cellist Karl Lavine (below bottom), who is principal cello of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — piano trios of these celebrated composers.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

RosemaryHarbison

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

Performances are this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The program includes Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K 526 (1787); Hadyn’s Piano Trio in A major (1785); Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, K. 304 (1778, heard in a YouTube video at the bottom); Haydn’s Piano Trio in E-flat (1795), and others works to be announced.

Tickets are $30, $10 for students. Tickets can be obtained by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org; by phone at (608) 241-2525; by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org,; and by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekbarn interior

According to a press release from the Token Creek Festival:

There are not many instances in the history of concert music of the best composers becoming close friends. Haydn (below left) and Mozart (below right) formed what is still the most significant and nourishing bond between colleagues that we can find in the annals of symphonic music.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

They had some advantages: they were of different generations and Haydn, the older of the pair, managed to treat the younger with generosity, never pulling rank or promoting his seniority.

They had very different gifts: Mozart was an actor, a free spender, a swaggerer; Haydn was a croupier, a dealer of the cards, a fortune-teller. They learned and borrowed from each other, both aware of the other’s fields of domination: Mozart in opera and the concerto; Haydn in the string quartet, the piano trio and the symphony.

At the level at which both men composed, it is futile to label one of them as better at what they did.

But their modern reputations are another story.

Mozart is here; Haydn is not.

Haydn (below) officially has been consigned to the historical performance movement, where he has not received the celebrated status he deserves. Some string quartets, aware when they play his pieces of a quality and variety hardly found in any later music, keep him as an opener for their concerts.

Haydn

But the real issue is this: Mozart (below) brings a sense of theater to virtually every piece he writes. The pose, the gesture, the entrance and exit, the initial announcing speech, these rhyme with our times in a very present way.

Haydn’s philosophical and often droll wisdom and his brilliant commentary on music’s syntax, on the markers of musical form, require acute and engrossed listeners for whom these are dramatic.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

This is why the lovers of Haydn’s music cherish him, and miss him so much, and why the Token Creek Festival returns to him often — on this occasion pairing him with his old quartet-playing partner whose appreciation for his every sly twist in the game was uniquely sharp.

The Token Creek Festival has been called a gem, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields, a late-summer fixture just outside of Madison. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson.)

Token Creek Land 1 Jess Anderson

The Festival has become known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a rustic but comfortably refurbished barn. Now in its 26th season, the 2015 Festival offers eight events in the week August 22-30.

TokenCreekentrance

More information about the Token Creek Festival, which runs through Aug. 30, and about all events plus directions for driving can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling (608) 241-2525.

 


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!

 


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