The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Take a FREE choral tour of the past year’s holidays this coming Saturday night at the UW-Madison. Plus, pianist Mark Valenti performs a FREE recital of Milhaud, Schubert and Prokofiev this Friday at noon.

November 18, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti. He will play Three Pieces from “Le Printemps” (Spring) by Darius Milhaud; the Sonata in A major by Franz Schubert; and the Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major by Sergei Prokofiev.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings two FREE concerts by several choral groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW Madrigal Singers

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Chorus, Women’s Choir and Master Singers will perform a FREE concert. Sorry, no word yet about the program.

Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale will perform a FREE concert called “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Director Bruce Gladstone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

NOTE: This concert is NOT to be confused with the usually packed Winter Choral Concert — with its theme of holidays, multiple choirs and several conductors — that will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 2 and 4 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church.

Here are some program notes:

“This fall, the UW Chorale gets into the holiday spirit.

“But which one?

“An entire year of them!

“The ensemble starts with New Year’s Day and moves through the calendar year singing choral works to commemorate each festive day.

“They’ll celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Earth Day (below) and so on, with a variety of great music that will leave you wondering why you only think about hearing a choir sing at Christmas.

earthdayplanet

“Works include “My Funny Valentine,” “Free at Last,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” and many more.” (You can hear Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” with words by poet Walt Whitman and with the famous Interlochen theme from his “Romantic” Symphony No. 2, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“There will be something for everyone as they explore the days we call “holy.””

 


Classical music: On Saint Patrick’s Day, The Ear explores Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland -– who composed it, who played it and how important it has been.

March 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.

ST PATRICK'S DAY logo

There will be big, loud. colorful and music-filled parades (below top), complete with leprechauns, around the country and around the world wherever the Irish gather and celebrate their heritage. Even the Chicago River even turns green (below bottom).

And a lot of us who aren’t remotely Irish will nonetheless eat the traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner of corned beef and cabbage.

saint patrick's day parade albany 2010 leprechaun

Green Chicago River on Saint Patricks Day

So The Ear asks: What about Irish classical music? And what about classical music in Ireland?

After all, the Irish seems a deeply musical culture. But there must be more to Irish music than Riverdance (below top), Celtic Woman, The Irish Tenors and The Chieftains (below bottom), don’t you think?

riverdance

The Chieftains

For all the immense popularity of Celtic music these days, for all the justly famous Irish literature by William Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Maeve Binchy and many others –- especially fiction, poetry and plays -– one never hears very much about Ireland and classical music.

(To be fair: The Ear does recall a memorable and rare performance a couple of seasons ago of a John Field piano concerto by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who also happens to be an adventurous programmer.)

So today seems a fitting occasion to take a look both those issues.

Oh, there are some well-known composers.

In the 19th century John Field (below), who spent much of his career in Russia, is said to have invented the nocturne form that Frederic Chopin turned to and mastered and made famous. He also wrote quite a few piano concertos and a piano quintet.

John Field

Of course Irish singing and fiddling are justly famous. But how did it affect the classical music tradition.

These days the early 20th-century composer E.J. Moeran (below) seems to be undergoing something of a revival. He had strong Irish roots, but is technically an English composer if you look at his biography.

e.j. moeran

So who are the Irish classical composers – and their masterpieces – that we should know about?

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford seems to be one candidate. 

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

What about Irish classical music performers? Perhaps the most well-known candidate today is the prize-winning and award-winning pianist John O’Conor, who, concertizing and teaching at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, has championed Irish piano music as well as the piano music by Ludwig van Beethoven and other standard classical composers?

John O'Conor_1

And what about the role that some famous, non-Irish classical music composers and performers –- including George Frideric Handel, who premiered his oratorio “Messiah” in Dublin, the violinist Paganini and the pianist Franz Liszt -– played in the history of Irish culture?

Here are some links to help you explore the question of Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland.

http://classicalartsireland.com/archive-project/

http://basilwalsh.wordpress.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Irish_classical_musicians

And here are two sound samples to help celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.

The first is the Irish Rhapsody No.1 by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford:

And the second sound sample is the lovely Nocturne No. 2 in C minor for solo piano by John Field as performed by John O’Conor:

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!

And the chances are good that some of you readers know more about Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland than The Ear does.

So be sure to leave what you know in the COMMENTS section along with links to websites, blogs and YouTube videos that will illuminate me and other readers.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Here are 8 lessons I learned from my day of “Berlitz Bach” at Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Bach Around the Clock 3” last Saturday

March 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

I call it “Berlitz Bach.”

That’s because my experience last Saturday amounted to total immersion, much the way the famous Berlitz school teaches foreign languages so effectively.

From noon to midnight, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House (“Pres” for Presbyterian) held the third annual Back Around the Clock to greet the 327th birthday — which was this past Wednesday — of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was webcast live and in real time by WPR.

Most performers played a couple of pieces, in 15- to 30-minute intervals. I heard much to enjoy. But I also learned some new things or had previous lessons reinforced. Most things remained similar to the two previous years, although this there time seemed to be more young students and amateur community members, fewer individual or group singers, fewer professional groups, and better refreshments and treats.

Here are the eight lessons I learned, although I could probably come up with more if I thought about it longer:

1. Call him the greatest composer. Call him the best composer. Call him the most influential composer. Call him whatever you want, but Johann Sebastian Bach (below) brings out the public like nobody else.

It is hard to imagine doing the same 12-hour community celebration as successfully with any other composer. In fact, it was so successful that WPR music director Cheryl Dring, who founded the event and continues to direct it, says that she had to turn away quite a few would-be performers.

As a result she has already set a date for BATC 4: March 16. 2013. And, she says, she may expand it by two hours, from 10 a.m. to midnight, just to accommodate all the people – professionals, amateurs and students – who want to participate. Stay tuned.

2. Madison truly is a haven for classical music.

Madison has an awful lot of classical music for a city of 250,000 in a county of 300,000 – as those of us who live here well know since we often have to choose between conflicting or competing events.

But apparently others in the area and region also know it and appreciate it, and so Madison now has a reputation beyond the city limits. One example: Husband and wife Roy and Nancy Carroll — he is a keyboard player and she is a flutist — drove all the way, with a harpsichord,  from Dubuque, Iowa, to perform, according to Dring, who also said that listeners came from as far away as Racine to attend the event. And the listeners who wandered in and out all day and night were young, old and in-between as well as attentive and appreciative.

3. Bach transplants well and survives in just about any setting, form or genre. He truly is timeless.

I heard Bach’s “Musette” on bagpipe from a Saint Patrick’s Day bagpiper – Sean Michael Dargan — who wandered in. But, sad to say, I missed Michael Briggs playing Bach on the accordion and the jazz piano stylings of another participant..

I also heard Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 1, superbly and beautifully done on cello and two saxophones (the saxophone didn’t even exist unit the late 19th century) by the Simonson Trio (bel0w), which featured cellist Brian Grimm, alto saxophonist Pete Ross and soprano saxophonist Dennis Simonson.

I heard original scorings of the solo violin partitas and sonatas (Michelle Xie, below bottom, played the Adagio from the Solo Violin Sonata No. 1) and solo cello suites (Lindsay Crab, below top, played the entire Cello Suite No. 3).

I heard a ear-catching duet arrangement for flute (right hand) and bassoon (left hand) by Casey Oelkers and Cynthia Cameron Fix of Two-Part Inventions that were originally composed for solo for keyboard and played by countless students for the instructional intent Bach intended them to have. Here they are (below) playing Invention No. 4 in D Minor:

I heard pianists play works for the organ, and organ people — like Alex Ford — play all kinds of organ works on the digital organ that features sound samplings from the organ Bach himself used.

I heard the all-adult and many-elder New Horizons Wind Ensemble play chorale preludes, including Martin Luther’s own tune “A Mighty Fortress” (below):

3. No Bach is easy or small.

Forget titles. Even the so-called “Little Preludes” are challenging to play. But all Bach, big or small, is worth it. It is hard to think of another composer with so much music to his credit and so few failures among it. Bach (1685-1759) wrote an enormous amount in his 65 years. All the more reason, then, it is good to take some time to appreciate his variety, productivity and quality – and to play him with confidence. His music holds up to just about anything.

4. The future of classical music is secure, no matter what sales figures and prognosticators say.

How do I know? BATC is a great event for students to learn to perform and to share their musical gifts with others, and we need more such events.

Once again, as you can see from the photos, dozens of students came from the studios of teachers Gloria Chuang, Bill Lutes, Irmgard Bittar, Denise Taylor and others.

BATC 3 was also a family affair in many cases. For example, Madison piano teacher Denise Taylor accompanied her daughter Ellie Taylor on violin (below top) in a transcription of the two Gavottes from the Orchestral Suite in D Major, and then herself played the Prelude and Fugue in E Minor from Book I of “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” despite being unnerved when she was asked to cut out one of the two pieces she had prepared in order to save a couple of minutes (Unfair, I say!):

5. Adults, even older adults, can start at the beginning and learn to play an instrument – and to play Bach, and to be rewarded for their efforts.

Take David Pilmer (below): He started late in life but played beautifully and from memory. And he wasn’t alone.

6. Bach was a prophet who prefigures the rest of music that followed him.

You can see Bach as the summation of what came before him. No surprise, there.

But when retired University Opera director Karlos Moser explained and then played half a dozen fugues (without their Preludes) from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier – and played them more beautifully and robustly than I have ever heard – Bach’s legacy became clear.

Listen closely. Your hear seeds, stalks and blossoms.  You could hear the Baroque, of course. But you could also hear Classicism. You could hear Romanticism. You could even hear 12-tone and serial music, such as the theme from Fugue 24 where Bach uses all 12 tones in the scale in the theme. Maybe such comprehensiveness helps to explain Bach’s universality.

7. You do not have to be old, wise or experienced to have musicality.

I heard some astounding playing from very young students who performed on the piano, the violin, the viola, the organ. It was full of confidence and technical precision and, for lack of a better term, soul– just like the playing of Allen Chang (below).

8. Wrong notes don’t matter.

BATC started as an informal community celebration, a public event where casual dress and casual playing remain the norm. People could pick and choose movements according to their taste.

But more importantly, the event made you realize just how little mistakes matter. Music exists for the joy of communicating beauty and joy to others. There were no Olympics judges holding up scorecards and awarding medals. Instead, there was plenty of appreciation and applause for everyone – whether they were old or young;  professionals or amateurs; using modern old instruments; hitting right notes or wrong ones.

That is the joy of music.

And the joy of Bach, who apparently had a good sense of humor and would have appreciated the Warhol-like poster for BATC 3:

Thank you, all – Cheryl Dring, Wisconsin Public Radio, Pres House and the many dozens of performers and listeners.

I will see you again – and maybe even play for you – next March 16.

As either a performer or a listener, do you have some comments about or reactions to Bach Around the Clock 3?

The Ear wants to hear.

Meanwhile, here are viola da gambist Eric Miller and harpsichordist Max Yount, who performed two of the three gamba (or cello) sonatas by Bach:


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