By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a record review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.
A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.
Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.
Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).
It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”
It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.
Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)
Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.
The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.
Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.
Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.
I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.
They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.
While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.
One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.
This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.
By Jacob Stockinger
Pianist Philippe Bianconi (below, in a photo by Bernard Martinez) returns this weekend to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in one of the most challenging works written for piano, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
The program opens with Schumann’s dramatic Manfred Overture, followed by the MSO’s premiere performance of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.
Concluding the program is a performance of the notoriously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1973-1943). The performance features French pianist Bianconi, who won a silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition and who has performed frequently with the MSO.
The concerts take place in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, April 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 9 at 2:30 p.m. Ticket information is further down.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856, below) composed the Overture to Manfred in 1848 during a time of many revolutions throughout Europe, with political feelings running high across the continent.
In Bryon’s mystical poem, Manfred, Bryon’s hero, a “freedom fighter who is tortured by guilt and melancholy” perfectly suited the time and political environment of Europe.
Schumann once wrote in a letter to Franz Liszt (who directed the complete version in 1851): “I feel that it is one of the strongest of my artistic children, and I hope that you will agree with me.”
Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994, below), began work on Concerto for Orchestra in 1950. This is the first time this piece will be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the dramatic opening of the work, performed by Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the YouTube videos at the bottom.)
Originally from Warsaw, Poland, the Lutoslawski family fled to Russia to escape the German occupation of World War I. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lutoslawski’s father and uncle were executed by the Bolsheviks for their political activism and the family returned to Warsaw. Lutoslawski had studied piano and composition between the wars, but was then drafted into the Polish army and captured by the Nazi’s in 1933.
He escaped captivity and found his way back to Warsaw where he worked as a cabaret pianist. Lutoslawski fled Warsaw a second time, just months before the Nazis leveled the city in 1945 – “losing most of his scores in the process.” He then returned to Warsaw when it was controlled by the Soviets.
Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra is based in part on folk styles – apparently at the request of conductor Witold Rowicki, to whom it is dedicated. It is his most popular piece.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1909. He spent the summer in the Russian countryside, relaxing on his wife’s family’s estate, while also writing one of the most challenging works for piano in the repertoire. This piece is a “fiery display of piano technique” that has been called “The Mt. Everest of piano concertos.”
One hour before each performance, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the MSO, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
For more background on the music, visit the Program Notes, written by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/7.Apr17.html
Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/bianconi and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Exclusive funding for the April concerts is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.
For more information about the Madison Symphony Orchestra, go to madisonsymphony.org
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison features Danielle Breisach and Taya König-Tarasevich playing music for baroque and modern flutes. They will play works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jacques-Martin Hottetere and Yuko Uebayashi. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
“Con Vivo! … music with life,” (below) continues its 15th season with a chamber music concert entitled “Capital Europeans” on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, at 2:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. Admission is $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
The winter concert, called, “Capital Europeans,” features pieces from three distinct European composers, each with his own style.
Representing Paris, the program includes selections from the Organ Preludes by French composer Darius Milhaud.
Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the concert.
Adds Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor: “With this concert, we are performing a Sunday matinee with three unique composers, each with his own musical language. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”
Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.
For more information about Con Vivo and its upcoming concerts, go to: http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is an announcement from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about two performances of a special concert this coming weekend:
Join the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below top) and Music Director John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad) as they explore one of the most popular orchestral works ever written with Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade this coming weekend in Overture Hall.
The concerts are this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.
The first half experience encompasses video, photos, musical excerpts, and actors Jim DeVita (below top) and Brenda DeVita (below bottom), of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, telling the story.
In the second half, Scheherazade will be performed from start to finish, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with John DeMain conducting.
The captivating music of Scheherazade evokes images and passions with a solo violin representing the intoxicating storyteller, Scheherazade. Based on an ancient Persian legend, Scheherazade staves off her death at the hands of her cruel Sultan husband, by regaling him with stories for 1001 nights until he falls in love with her.
Rimsky-Korsakov evokes the moods of her various tales with memorable and haunting melodies. (You can hear “Scheherazade,” conducted by the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Designed for classical music aficionados and newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music, Beyond the Score explores Scheherazade’s context in history, how it relates to the work of other composers, and the events of Rimsky-Korsakov’s life that influenced its creation. The Chicago Tribune said of the Beyond the Score series, “Seldom has enlightenment proved so entertaining.”
As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov (below) spent almost three years at sea with the Russian Navy and was exposed to other cultures. With 19th-century readers fascinated by exotic settings and fairy tales, he first conceived of creating an orchestral work based on the tales known as The Thousand and One Nights in 1887, when he was the leading teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit madisonsymphony.org/groups.
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students receive 20% savings on advance ticket purchases for seats in select areas of the hall.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may NOT be combined.
Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Score®.
ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.
By Jacob Stockinger
Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.
This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.
The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.
This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.
Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.
This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”
But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.
Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:
On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.
The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.
The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”
But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:
You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.
Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.
But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.
Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”
Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert.
Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.
Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.
Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.
In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).
And there were many other events.
But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.
This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.
Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.
Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.
The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Grace Presents, now entering its seventh year offering FREE public concerts at Grace Episcopal Church (below), located at 116 West Washington Avenue on the Capitol Square, will host resident organist Mark Brampton Smith with violinist Maureen McCarty on this Saturday, Nov. 19.
The concert begins at noon and ends at 1 p.m. Audience members are invited to bring their lunch.
The program — an asterisk indicates that both the violin and organ will play — includes:
Psalm 19: “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” by Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)
Partita on “Werde munter, mein Gemüte” (Sing not yet, my soul, to slumber) by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
*”Ornament of Grace” by Bernard Wayne Sanders (b. 1957)
Variations on ‘Cwm Rhondda’ by Mark Brampton Smith (b. 1954) Introduction – Allegro – Duo – Reflection – Finale
*Meditation from “Thaïs” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Concerto in a minor, after Vivaldi (BWV 593) – Johann Sebastian Bach Allegro
Toccata and Fugue in d minor (BWV 565) – Johann Sebastian Bach
The final concert of 2016 will feature the widely renowned Russian Folk Orchestra on Dec. 10.
Mark Brampton Smith Biography:
Mark Brampton Smith (below) serves as the current organist at Grace Episcopal Church. Mark began his church music career as a boy soprano at St. Paul’s Parish on K Street in Washington, D.C., eventually serving on the music staff of churches in seven states. He holds degrees in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan.
As an organist, Mark won prizes in the Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor, and American Guild of Organists National Competitions, and he’s performed solo recitals at venues such as Overture Hall. As a collaborative pianist, Mark has worked with numerous singers, instrumentalists, and ensembles, including the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, University of Michigan choirs, Colgate University Chorus, and currently the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.
Maureen McCarty Biography:
Maureen McCarty (below) began the violin in the Madison public schools, and played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for many years. She received a BA in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While working on her degree, she performed as a musician with American Players Theatre for five seasons. She has extensive orchestral experience playing in such local ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, as well as various orchestras in five Midwestern states, the Barcelona City Orchestra and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria in Spain.
Maureen returned to UW-Madison for a teaching certificate in music education in 1999, and taught strings and general music for students in grades 3-12 in Monona Grove during her fifteen years in the district. Recently retired from public school teaching, she now teaches privately, performs with the Camerata String Quartet, tutors Spanish, and takes photographs for her local newspaper. Formative violin teachers include Eva Szekely, Sharan Leventhal, Thomas Moore and Vartan Manoogian.
For more information, visit www.GracePresents.org
ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Jess Salek (below).
The program includes: the “Italian” Concerto, BWV 971, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); the Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827); the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39, by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849); and “Reflets dans l’eau” (Reflections in Water) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918).
By Jacob Stockinger
At 8 p.m. this coming Friday in Mills Hall, cello professor Parry Karp (below), who has performed for more than four decades with the Pro Arte Quartet, will play an ambitious recital, featuring one of his own many transcriptions.
He will be joined by two pianists: his mother Frances Karp and his faculty colleague Martha Fischer, who teaches collaborative piano.
Here is the decidedly varied and international program:
Sonata in D Minor for Cello and Piano (1913-7) by English composer Frank Bridge (below, 1879-1941), the teacher of Benjamin Britten. With Martha Fischer. (In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear the first movement of the Bridge sonata performed by cello Mstislav Rostropovich and pianistBenjamin Britten.)
Sonata No. 1 in A Minor for Violin and Piano (1897) by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), as transcribed for Cello and Piano by Christian Proske (1875-1937). With Martha Fischer.
By Jacob Stockinger
One by one, the major groups in town are getting their new concert season under way.
PLEASE NOTE: The traditional starting time for the WCO Masterworks concerts has been changed from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Ear isn’t sure whether it is for the convenience of audiences or because of the new security measures at the Overture Center. But he likes the earlier starting time since WCO programs are usually very generous.
True to his programming philosophy, WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell is mixing the very popular with the rarely heard and the almost completely unknown.
Kaler sounds very promising, since he is the only violinist ever to won gold medals at three prestigious competitions — the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini competitions. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him perform a work by Fritz Kreisler at the Heifetz Festival.
The Symphony No. 4 in C minor by Franz Schubert (below) is a youthful work, but it possesses a surprisingly mature power deriving from its mood and mystery — perhaps because he composed it in the favorite key of his mentor and idol Ludwig van Beethoven. Hence its nickname, “Tragic.”
It should also be an outstanding performance because Schubert’s music is one of conductor Sewell’s many strengths.
William Boyce (1711-1779) was a Baroque-era English composer, a contemporary of George Frideric Handel, who was more popular in his own day. But who has been making something of a comeback, thanks to the early music movement.
Boyce (below) wrote six symphonies, and No. 5 in D Major on this program promises some pleasant surprises. The Ear doesn’t recall ever hearing Boyce performed live in Madison, though that is hardly the definitive word. Maybe he just missed it.
Single tickets are $10 to $80. For tickets, a sample of Ilya Kaler’s playing and background information, visit: