ALERT: A FREE one-hour community Hymn Sing will take place this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ played by guest Joe Chrisman. The event is put on jointly by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today’s YOU MUST HEAR THIS comes from a recent concert that I attended.
I first heard this work — the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below top) — at the concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom) on Wednesday night a week ago.
Not that it is too late. It could stand being programmed again and having a wider hearing. I think it would even be welcome at Concerts on the Square.
I also can’t recall ever hearing it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, although it seems a perfect choice and could well have been part of a student recital with a piano instead of the orchestra.
In any case, the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra was a last work -– the middle movement on an unfinished oboe concerto, much like British composer Gerald Finzi’s beautiful “Eclogue” was the middle movement of an uncompleted piano concerto.
The piece has all the hallmarks of Barber, who is best known for his Adagio for Strings. It is neo-Romantic, melodic, tonal and wholly accessible while being unmistakably modern. It is poignant and bittersweet, like many moments in the gorgeous and widely performed Violin Concerto that Barber composed.
In fact, some of the harmonies in the Canzonetta remind The Ear of the sublime and moving “Nimrod” Variation in Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.
I am not alone in being introduced to this work for the first time. A few very seasoned musicians and music fans in the audience I spoke to had never heard it either.
But it was given a splendid performance by the MCO under conductor Kyle Knox and guest oboist Andy Olson (below), who was trained at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and who now works at Epic Systems near Madison.
Here is a link to a rave review that John W. Barker (below), who normally writes for Isthmus, did for this blog:
So here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece itself — the seven-minute “canzonetta” or little song, as the title announces. It is sadly telling of the work’s fate that you cannot find a version with either a well-known oboist or well-known string orchestra.
Enjoy and let us know what you think of it.
The Ear wants to hear.
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.
By John W. Barker
The concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, at Middleton High School, drew an audience little deterred by snow and slow traffic, and greatly rewarded by the results.
The orchestra appeared this time under a guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who has prior and future connections with it and who is currently both pursuing graduate studies and conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Knox (below) is a musician of very distinct talents: a knowing perspective on the works he conducts, a propensity for well-thought phrasing, and an ability to achieve definite rapport with his players.
Regular MCO conductor Steve Kerr was wise to give Knox an opportunity to hone the podium talents of this very promising conductor, and as a stimulus to this steadily maturing ensemble. (Kerr himself eventually turned up working the bass drum.)
The MCO delights in taking on compositions that are both challenging and quite familiar. In testing themselves thus, the orchestra invites its listeners to measure its progress against the orchestras that have set extremely high performing standards in concerts and recordings. So it is proper that we do just that, especially in the beloved music from the score for the Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn.
The conventional five movements were played. In the fabled Overture, the strings had some struggles with their extremely demanding parts, but generally Knox achieved a well-integrated balancing of the elfin and the eerie.
Perhaps to avoid straining the players too much, Knox set a slightly slow tempo in the fairyland Scherzo, which sagged just a bit, but the Intermezzo was beautifully shaped.
Best was the evocative Nocturne, in which the French horn section demonstrated greatly improved tone and ensemble over recent showings, in a truly beautiful rendition. (You can hear the Nocturne in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Wedding March was also marked by a bit of ragged playing, but Knox paced it nicely and integrated it successfully. Overall, they get good marks for showing distinct progress in some very satisfying Mendelssohn.
The novelty of the program was the rarely played Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below). This was a late work, the only completed movement of what was to be a full-length oboe concerto, and was published posthumously.
It displays the familiar qualities of Barber as the pre-eminent American neo-Romantic, in music that is gentle, gracious and lyrically flowing. But it also highlights another feature of Barber: the composer’s identification with the human voice. A fine singer himself (he was a baritone), Barber was a master of song and vocal music, and the solo oboe part is, to a considerable degree, a kind of song — as the title says, a “canzonetta” or small song.
The oboe soloist, Andy Olson (below), with his own long affiliations with the MCO, clearly recognized this characteristic, and realized it in his beautiful playing.
For the finale, the other super-familiar score, was the dazzling — and very tricky — orchestration by Maurice Ravel of the solo piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (below).
At the very outset, in the opening “Promenade,” the brass section displayed a new level of power and ensemble. The saxophone solo in “The Old Castle” was truly compelling. The heavy cartwheels of “Byddlo” were inexorable, and “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” or “Baba-Yaga” (a sorceress) was truly ferocious.
The triumphant final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev” was stunning. One feature of old Russian city portals was the inclusion of working chapels. I have never heard the hymn-like quality of the whole piece, with its interludes of liturgical chanting and tolling bells, so successfully evoked.
Overall, this performance was magnificent, and I have never heard this orchestra play so well.
It was a performance full of head and heart, with open-throttle devotion from the players. Knox obviously deserves much credit for this, but the players themselves made it clear that they owed no apologies for the results they could produce. (Below, conductor Kyle Knox singles out the brass for recognition by the audience.)
The MCO has proven itself to be, more than ever, a really extraordinary factor in the Madison area’s musical life. It is a non-, or semi-, or extra-professional ensemble whose music-making is truly inspirational. Its concerts should be supported and enjoyed by all our cultural community.
By Jacob Stockinger
Last weekend brought a lot of conflicting classical music concerts to Madison.
The program featured the supremely gifted but much under-publicized pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve). He performed two contrasting keyboard concertos by Joseph Haydn — No. 4 in G Major and the better known No. 11 in D Major.
It was simply a sublime use of a modern instrument to make older music that was originally composed for the harpsichord. Never was the witty music by Haydn overpedaled or overly percussive or distorted for virtuosity’s sake. In every way, Wosner served Haydn — not himself.
The concert was also noteworthy because it featured the longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell. He led the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) to shine in an eclectic program that included the Samuel Barber-like neo-Romantic and neo-Baroque Prelude and Fugue by the 20th-century Italian-American composer Vittorio Giannini and especially the youthful Symphony No. 2 by Franz Schubert.
Plus, Sewell (below) proved a perfect accompanist in the Haydn concertos. Clearly, chemistry exists between Sewell and Wosner, who have also performed together concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with the WCO.
It was, in short, a program that was beautifully planned and beautifully played – even down to Wosner playing an encore by Schubert (the late Hungarian Melody, a lovely bittersweet miniature) that set up the second half with the Schubert, whose musical attractions Wosner explains so insightfully in a YouTube video at the bottom.
For his part, Sewell brought out balance and voicing, along with the expressive, but not excessive, lyricism that befits the ever-songful Schubert. As he has proven many times with his readings of Haydn and Mozart symphonies and concertos, Sewell is a master of the Classical style.
Wosner’s subtle and suitably quiet playing — he always puts virtuosity at the service of musicality — was also a model of clarity and restraint, perfectly suited to Haydn. But it left me with only one question:
When will we in Madison get to hear Shai Wosner in a solo recital?
Three of Wosner’s four acclaimed recordings are solo recitals of difficult works. They feature the music of Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, the contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli and especially Franz Schubert, with whom Wosner obviously feels, and shows, a special affinity. The fourth CD is a violin and piano duo done with the gifted young violinist Jennifer Koh.
I don’t know what presenter, besides the Wisconsin Union Theater, would bring Wosner back — and benefit from the WCO audiences that already have heard him. Or maybe the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra could sponsor a solo recital as a sideline. But we could use more solo piano recitals in Madison — especially if they offer playing of the scale of Wosner’s.
I don’t know how it would happen, but I sure hope it does happen.
Shai Wosner is a great pianist who deserves a wider hearing in a wider repertoire.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following invitation from his good friends over at the Middleton Community Orchestra:
We invite you to step out of the cold to enjoy the winter concert of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) under the baton of guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), who is a graduate student in conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The program includes the short but hauntingly beautiful Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by the 20th-century neo-Romantic American composer Samuel Barber (below top), with oboe soloist Andy Olson (below bottom), who was educated at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and who now works at Epic Systems digital health care records near Madison.
Also included on the program are the popular, playful and tuneful “Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn (below top); and the darkly dramatic “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky (below bottom), a work famous for the familiar and regal “The Great Gate of Kiev” finale, which you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video as performed by Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. this coming Wednesday evening, Feb. 25, at the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.
Tickets are $10, and are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door on the night of the show. Students are admitted free of charge.
The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and doors open at 7 p.m.
There will be a meet-and-greet reception for the musicians and the audience following the performance.
For more information, please call 608-212-8690. You can also visit www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org for information about upcoming concerts and how to join or support the ensemble.
Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, Co-founders, Middleton Community Orchestra
Editor’s note: If you are not familiar with the Middleton Community Orchestra, you might want to read the post from this past December in which The Ear named the four-year-old Middleton group and other amateur musicians the Musician of the Year for 2014
HERE ARE TWO ALERTS FOR SUNDAY:
The “Summer Voices” concert was recorded live last August 22 at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Included are interviews with MAYCO founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky and guest soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below).
The program includes: the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the cantata “Knoxville Summer of 1915” by American composer Samuel Barber; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The hosts of Musica Antiqua yielded the final hour of their early music show so that WORT can provide these young musicians with the station’s largest classical music audience.
Then at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area and online at wpr.org): Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) will broadcast a concert of 16th-century Renaissance music from Italy inspired by “I Trionfi” by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). The concert was designed and conducted by Grant Herreid, and was performed at the Madison Early Music Festival’s concluding All-Festival Concert (bel0w) in July 2014 at Luther Memorial Church in Madison. This recording is part of WPR’s new program, “Wisconsin Classical.”
Listen to station 88.7 FM at 1 p.m.or stream it online at http://www.wpr.org/
By Jacob Stockinger
Writing about Strauss is timely, if belatedly so, because 2014 was the 150th anniversary year of his birth.
But better late than never.
Strauss composed in every genre, from orchestra and opera to chamber music, and the last part of his career was controversial because of his involvement with Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.
What is your favorite work by Richard Strauss?
Your favorite performances and performers?
Your favorite recordings?
Various critics for The New York Times recently offered their own year-end takes on those questions.
Here is a link:
ALERT: This just in: This afternoon’s performance at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Christmas concert, with guest soloist and local groups under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) is virtually SOLD OUT. But you can call the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141) to determine any availability.
By Jacob Stockinger
Sure, you look at the entirety of classical music history and you can name your favorite composers and favorite works: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Ninth Symphony, right?
But there are surprises awaiting you, if you restrict the choices to the past century.
Looking over the past 100 years — starting Jan, 1, 1914 — who would have guessed, for example, that: Music for 18 Musicians (at bottom, in a complete performance in a YouTube video by the acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning new music group eighth blackbird) by contemporary minimalist composer Steve Reich (below, in a photo by Wonge Bergmann) would pull out ahead of George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Alban Berg and all others in last year’s Q2 Music poll?
Anyway, the terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently posted a story about the Q2 Music poll.
It included an entry form that will allow readers to pick up to FIVE works and composers as they participate in this year’s poll that dates back to Jan. 1, 1915.
Voting closes on Dec. 20, 2014.
Then, starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, as a way to close out the old year and ring in the new, a marathon countdown will begin and all the works will be played in reverse order of the survey results.
No word if it will be webcast, but The Ear suspects you can easily tune into Q2 Music by going to the website for WQXR.
Here is a link to the NPR story by Anastasia Tsioulcas and to the poll entry form.
And here is a link to WQXR where you can find a way to listen (at the top of the page), to sign up for the Q2 Music Newsletter and also see the results of the Q2 polls for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the upcoming 2014. It makes for some interesting reading and listening.
And here is a link to a Dec. 2 concert, now archived at NPR, in which some of the best new recordings and music from 2014 was performed:
As for the Q2 Music poll, The Ear hopes someone chooses – make that that many people choose – the gorgeous Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, who was less hot and controversial but much more gifted as a composer.
But whatever happens, have fun choosing and voting.
Don’t forget to use the COMMENTS section to tell The Ear and his readers what works you entered.
And don’t forget to fill in your date book for some happy listening to new music.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Nov. 22, 2014.
The Ear remembers the deep sadness and immense sense of frustration that surrounded the assassination. American politics has never seemed the same since his death.
He also remembers hearing broadcasts of the Requiem by Gabriel Faure and the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms – both fitting choices to honor the dead president.
But since then, The Ear has learned that JFK -– whose own family was well acquainted with tragedy and loss — especially liked the saddest of all music, the “Adagio for Strings” by American composer Samuel Barber. Barber (below) had arranged it from the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in B Minor to a String Orchestra at the request of the world-famous conductor Arturo Toscanini.
By the way, in the original string quartet form, the work was given its world premiere by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet in Rome in 1936. And the original quartet form seems somehow less lush and self-indulgent, more restrained and dignified or even complex, while the string orchestra version seems more overpowering and Romantic.
Compare the two versions for yourself by listening to both of them on YouTube.
And here is the more familiar version for string orchestra in a version that has more than 3 million hits:
Which one do you like best and why?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be a busy weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Events include a FREE orchestra concert on Sunday afternoon for the Wisconsin Academy’s marking of the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon.
But there is also a FREE cello recital on Saturday night and a voice faculty showcase concert on Sunday evening.
Here are details.
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, cello Professor Parry Karp (below left), who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, will play a FREE recital with his longtime pianist partner Eli Kalman (below right), who teaches at UW-Oshkosh and did his doctoral work at the UW-Madison School of Music.
The program includes the Sonata in C Minor for Piano and Violin, Op; 30, No. 2 (1802), by Ludwig van Beethoven as transcribed for cello by Parry Karp, who also transcribed all the violin sonatas by Johannes Brahms; the Sonata in E-flat Major for cello and piano (1922) by Ettore Desderi; and the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op 22 (1945) by Samuel Barber.
REMEMBERING THE PASSENGER PIGEON
On Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform the Wisconsin premiere of “The Columbiad,” preceded by a talk by acclaimed emeritus wildlife professor Stanley Temple (below).
The concert is part of a two-day symposium on the 100th anniversary of the demise of the fabled passenger pigeon. It features a short talk by Stanley Temple, Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation.
Learn more here.
On the occasion of the 2014 centenary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters and the UW-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology invite the public to join in an exploration of the sobering story of the passenger pigeon (below is a photo of a stuffed real passenger pigeon) and what it can tell us about the ongoing extinction crisis and our relationship with other species.
Events include the Wisconsin premiere of The Columbiad, a symphony by Anthony Philip Heinrich, performed by the UW Symphony Orchestra. The Columbiad created a sensation at its premiere in Prague in 1858 and will be performed once again this fall at UW-Madison and Yale University. (You can hear the beginning of the work as performed at Yale in early October in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Heinrich was inspired by witnessing vast flocks of passenger pigeons in 1831. Known in his day as “the log cabin composer” and “the Beethoven of America,” Anthony Philip Heinrich is the only important composer of the early 19th century to have experienced the North American frontier as he did. He saw Niagara Falls, he encountered Native Americans and slave musicians, and he witnessed the astonishing migration of giant flocks of passenger pigeons.
To learn about the national effort, please see Project Passenger Pigeon.
Here are related events and links:
A staged reading of a new play about the passenger pigeon by The Bricks Theatre
Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 7 to 9 p.m.
UW-Madison Biotechnology Auditorium, 425 Henry Mall
An afternoon documentary screening and panel discussion on the demise of the passenger pigeon
Saturday, November 1, 2014 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
UW–Madison Union South, Marquee Theater
1308 W. Dayton St.
Stanley A. Temple is the Beers-Bascom Professor Emeritus in Conservation in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and former Chairman of the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development Program in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW–Madison. For 32 years he held the academic position once occupied by Aldo Leopold, and during that time he won every teaching award for which he was eligible. Temple has a PhD in ecology from Cornell University where he studied at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (below is a photo of one mass shooting of passenger pigeons.)
At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, Nov. 2, in Mills Hall the UW-Madison voice faculty presents an evening of chamber music featuring the solo voice. Featuring a premiere, “White Clouds, Yellow Leaves,” written by composer and saxophone professor Les Thimmig (below).
Participants includes: Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn, sopranos; Paul Rowe, baritone; with Karen Atz, harp; Thomas Kasdorf, piano; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Parry Karp, cello; and many students and faculty from the UW-Madison School of Music.
Tickets are $10 with students getting in for FREE. Tickets will be available at the door as well as online or at the box office. Please see this link.
Here is the full program:
“Don Quichotte à Dulcinée” (1934) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Chanson Romanesque; Chanson épique; Chanson á boire with Paul Rowe, baritone, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano.
“La lettre” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
“Absence” by Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
“L’invitation au voyage” by Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) with Elizabeth Hagedorn, soprano; Marc Vallon, bassoon, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano, and Karen Atz, harp.
“Barcarolle” by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) with Elizabeth Hagedorn, soprano; Paul Rowe, baritone, with Thomas Kasdorf, piano.
“Long Pond Revisited” (2002) by Lori Laitman (below, b. 1955). From poetry by C.G.R. Shepard: “I Looked for Reasons,” “The Pond Seems Smaller,” “Late in the Day,” “Days Turn,” “Long Pond Revisited” with Paul Rowe, baritone; Parry Karp, cello.
“White Clouds, Yellow Leaves” (2013) by UW-Madison composer Les Thimmig (b. 1943) fromTexts derived from 8th- and 9th-century Chinese poetry with Mimmi Fulmer: mezzo-soprano; Mi-Li Chang: flute, piccolo, alto flute; Kostas Tiliakos,: English horn; Marc Vallon: bassoon; Sean Kleve: percussion; Karen Atz, harp; Paran Amirinizari: violin; Rachel Hauser: viola; Andrew Briggs: violoncello; and Les Thimmig: conductor.
Here is a link to the full program with program notes:
Tickets are $10 for the public; students get in free.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales (below) in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume again this Friday, Oct. 3, at 12:15 to 1 p.m. This week’s featured group is the Arbor Ensemble with flutist Berlinda Lopez, violinist Marie Pauls and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr in the music of Jacques Ibert, Cesar Cui, Bohuslav Martinu, Astor Piazzolla and Josef Suk.
By Jacob Stockinger
Imagine my unexpected joy at hearing the new Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below), who was inspired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” last Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
The reason for my happiness is because I heard music that was so compelling and so moving that it made me want to listen to it again and again.
I know, I know.
A lot of proponents of new music say you have to listen to any new and unheard piece several times before you can pass judgment.
I don’t buy it.
True, as loyal readers know, I am generally not a fan of new music. I find too much of it unenjoyable and forgettable. It just doesn’t speak to me, for whatever reason. I like tunes and melody and harmonic mood as well as rhythmic pulse. New music too often seems detached from the emotional life of the listeners– or at least this listener.
I prefer music that speaks so deeply and movingly to me on the first hearing that I welcome any chance to hear it more often as another chance to experience beauty — not to fulfill some intellectual obligation or duty to the composer or the art form.
When I first heard Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, for example, I knew within one minute that I just had to hear it again and would hear it again many times. It never fails to disappoint. And so it is with any masterwork, from early music, through Baroque and Romantic music, to modern and contemporary music.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert was performed last Friday night by the Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The guest clarinetist was Charles Niedich (below bottom) from New York City, who has a major international reputation from working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and other well-known ensembles.
The performance came at the newly remodeled Wisconsin Union Theater, which the old Pro Arte Quartet helped to inaugurate when the theater opened 75 years ago in 1939. The theater was not sold-out Friday night, but there was a good and enthusiastic audience that rewarded the Jalbert with a prolonged standing ovation (below). So I know that I was not alone in my positive and approving reaction.
Here is a link with more background:
The program started off with the rarely heard and pretty tame String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a Spanish composer known as “the Spanish Mozart” who died at 20. The program’s fitting finale was the sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In between the Arriaga and the Mozart came the Jalbert Clarinet Quintet, which was the final of six commissions done to mark the Pro Arte’s centennial. (The Pro Arte Quartet, originally from Belgium, is now the oldest continuously performing string quartet in the world.)
Other elements added to the effectiveness. For one, the Pro Arte Quartet was in top form. Each voice was distinct and yet the overall blend was smooth, resonant and perfect in pitch. And their playing was enhanced by the terrific acoustics of the remodeled Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the new on-stage shell (below, in the background).
But it was really the music itself that swept The Ear away.
It started right away, with the pulsing and almost hypnotic rhythms of the opening measures.
The two outer fast movements proved infectious and involving. But I particularly loved the way the middle movement developed.
I heard various audience members talk about how the work reminded them of Samuel Barber, of Philip Glass, of John Adams, of Steve Reich. And yet it didn’t seem to imitate any of them. It possessed a pure, strong voice of its own that used the idea of “Howl” without becoming a didactic piece of program music.
It isn’t often you get to hear a new work that holds the promise of becoming a staple in the repertoire. But that is exactly how it felt as I listened to the Jalbert quintet. Others I spoke to agreed.
Of the six centennial commissions that the Pro Arte has premiered over the past three years, this one seems the best one to end on because it seems the most likely one to succeed in coming years.
Sure, we may hear repeat performances of the String Quartets by John Harbison, Walter Mays and Benoît Mernier; of the Piano Quintets by William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield. They are all recognized composers of quality.
But my money is on the work by Pierre Jalbert, which was by turns pensive and joyous, outraged and lamenting, much like the original poem “Howl.” The tone of both matched, and the clarinet, with its klezmer-like qualities, proved the perfect narrative voice imparted by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (below).
It is a memorable night when you get to hear a masterwork in the making. All that work of chamber music needs now is history and many more repeat performances. I expect it will get those.
And to top it off, Pierre Jalbert (below right) -– who hails from Vermont and teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas — was a very nice artist who was extremely amiable at the pre-concert dinner at the Chazen Museum of Art as well as insightfully candid during the pre-concert Q&A (below) that was so expertly hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (center) and also included clarinetist Charles Neidich.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert will be recorded by the same players for Albany Records, under the supervision of the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, and then released with the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.
I will be first in line to get it and set my CD player on repeat.
If you heard it, what do you think of the Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert, who offers his thoughts about composing in a YouTube video at the bottom?
Do you think it will become a staple of the repertoire?
The Ear wants to hear.
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 many 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.
By John W. Barker
Hope for humanity is not always easy to conjure up these days. But last Friday night at Music Hall, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, brought me a genuine dollop of it, thanks to the concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below. Performance photos are by The Ear.)
That came, in fact, despite the frustration of an infuriating schedule conflict with the debut performance by the new early music chamber choir Summer Voices the same evening. Even in summer, we have these train wrecks now — and always on weekends! Have we reached the point of such musical riches here that no one person can really catch all the worthy musical events any more?
MAYCO was founded in 2010 by Mikko Utevsky (below) as a “summer training orchestra” for local high school and college students — and, at the same time, as a kind of training program for himself in conducting (while just moving from high school to college himself).
What he has accomplished over four seasons is little short of a miracle. Here are young musicians, looking like confident kids, but playing with adult skill and intensity. And Utevsky’s enterprise has prompted him to take on challenging examples of orchestral literature, with convincing success.
The program this time was a very engaging one.
It began with the beloved Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, itself a musical miracle, and wrought by a precocious young musician at the end of his scant 36 years. It took a few measures for security to settle in, but the performance was spirited, well-gauged and thoroughly satisfying.
For this concert, the student orchestra had a vocal soloist. She was soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below left), herself a recent product of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music voice program, and currently studies with former UW-Madison professor soprano Julia Faulkner, who now teaches in the Ryan Center program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Miller and Utevsky discovered a shared love for Samuel Barber’s solo cantata, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and arranged to have her perform it.
It proved ideal for Miller, whose full, ripe, beautiful soprano voice has been trained in careful diction, allowing her to escape a lot of the word-swallowing that afflicts the soprano range. The full text was printed in the program, but it was almost unnecessary, thanks to the very clear projection of the words by Miller (below). She was supported, in a slightly reduced chamber version of the orchestral score, with a very sensitive accompaniment, marked by truly beautiful woodwind playing.
As a treat, Miller sang an encore, the beguiling song “Early in the Morning of a Lovely Summer Day” by the 90-year-old contemporary American composer Ned Rorem (below, in a photo by Christian Steiner) in an orchestrated version — made by Utevsky himself. (You can hear the original version for voice and piano with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a YouTube video at the bottom. Talk about diction!)
After the intermission came perhaps the most demanding test for the orchestra players: the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). Composed in the aftermath of World War II, this is a piece of whimsy and of defiance to Soviet expectations — it brought the composer a raft of trouble and danger.
But its relatively brief five movements add up to a gem of Shostakovichian satire and sarcasm. It is full of theatrical suggestions, and its texture is as much that of chamber music as orchestral writing, with intimate interaction of sections and soloists.
The MAYCO players brought it off with real flair, under Utevsky’s amazingly expert direction. (And, by the way, he is a splendid writer as well, as his notes for the program booklet demonstrated.)
Considering the fact that there could only be four or five rehearsals for each concert, it is astounding what this group of 42 gifted youngsters (only 19 of them string players) could bring off in the way of effective orchestral ensemble—even allowing for some rare blips and less than ultimate string polish.
That our area alone could produce such talent is what has stirred my hope for humanity. Assuming, of course, that our country, in its currently muddled cultural condition, can find for these youngsters, as they mature, the jobs in which to make the careers they so richly deserve.