The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Violinist Rose Mary Harbison talks about the 25th anniversary of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, while composer John Harbison discusses C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will be observed during the festival.

August 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

TokenCreekbarn interior

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

For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets): Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/

TokenCreekentrance

Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.

The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.

The second is a personal essay by composer John Harbison about the composer C.P.E. Bach, whose 300th anniversary will play an important role in the festival.

NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK

By Rose Mary Harbison (below)

RosemaryHarbison

When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.

The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.

We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.

In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.

Bach1

Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.

We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).

Beethoven big

Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.

One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”

Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.

Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.

I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.

CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY

By John Harbison (below)

JohnHarbisonatpiano

One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music.  This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger.  The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering.  The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.

Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person.  In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.

I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed.  CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.

He was J.S. Bach’s second son.  The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.

Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance.  This took courage and an investigative mind.  It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career.  Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.

Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man.  He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.

But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.

J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.

Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.

In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon.  A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.

“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.

We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music.  It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.

Haydn

 

 


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

August 18, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

But this year brings something special.

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

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

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

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

TokenCreekbarn interior

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

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

carl philipp emanuel bach

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

Levin with piano

Ya-Fei Chuang 2014

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

judith gordon

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

IV Karl Lavine, CR Brynn Bruijn

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Dawn Lawler

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

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

jeffrey Stanek

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

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

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

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

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING

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

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

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

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

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

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

The program includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TokenCreekentrance

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

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

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

The program includes:

Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas

Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano

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

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

Judith Gordon, piano; 
Rose Mary Harbison violin

Chopinphoto

PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE

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

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

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

The program includes:

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

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

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

Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands

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

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

 

 


Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will feature Shakespeare readings, reconstructed violin sonatas by Mozart and a new violin sonata composed by John Harbison for his wife Rose Mary Harbison.

January 16, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

During the dark cold days of deep winter, it is always welcome to be reminded of the warm weather and the summer season of music that awaits us.

So far we have heard about the Madison Early Music Festival and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Now comes the latest update on the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which will be held Aug. 20 through Sept. 1 in the refurbished barn (below) and surrounding fields near Madison where last summer’s theme of the environment proved especially popular.

TokenCreekbarn interior

Here are the largest themes.

Drama is the main theme—and where drama intersects with music.

Specifically, Shakespeare (below) will be highlighted with dramatic readings and musical accompaniment. No details yet about specific texts or plays.

shakespeare

An improvisational ensemble, a piano quintet called the Open End Ensemble, based at Syracuse University, will be a major player and will provide classical improvisations by Andy Waggoner (see the YouTube video at bottom).

Open End Ensemble BW

Shakespeare monologues will be interpreted by Madison-born Ali Schaffer and guest artists.

Robert Levin (below top), the Harvard professor who specializes in completing Mozart’s unfinished manuscripts, will reveal his latest discoveries and reconstructions:  completions of violin sonatas with John Harbison (below bottom).

robert levin mug BIG USE

JohnHarbisonatpiano

A world premiere will also be featured: A violin sonata that composer and festival co-direction has long promised for his violinist wife and festival co-director Rose Mary Harbison (below).

RosemaryHarbison

Much more is in store, including the usually sold-out jazz cabarets, but often the detailed planning comes later and closer to the actual festival.

“The rest we leave to our imaginations, with the thought that the Token Creek Festival is likely to continue in an experimental, free-thinking way,” write John and Rose Mary Harbison in the brief winter update preview that also seeks donations and support.


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