The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Robert Mann, a founder and longtime first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, has died at 97

January 4, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

On New Year’s Day, Robert Mann, a founder and longtime first violinist of the famed Juilliard String Quartet died at 97.

He had played with the group from its beginning in 1946 until his retirement in 1997.

He was in every way a complete musician – an esteemed teacher who was also an acclaimed performer.

Mann and the quartet proved to be pivotal figures in the post-World War II rise of chamber music in America, performing both classic repertoire such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms as well as modern works such as Bartok and contemporary works or new music.

Here is a link to the obituary in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/obituaries/robert-mann-dead-juilliard-string-quartet-violinist.html?_r=0

Here is a link to the quartet’s website:

https://www.juilliardstringquartet.org

And here is a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Juilliard String Quartet (below, in a 1996 photo by Ruby Washington for The New York Times, with Mann on the far left followed by second violinist Joel Smirnoff, cellist Joel Krosnick and violist Samuel Rhodes.)

The entry includes comments on its significance in live performance and recordings as well as repertoire and changes in its personnel over the years:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juilliard_String_Quartet

It is hard to choose the right piece of music as a memorial.

But in the YouTube video below is a the gently gorgeous and exquisite slow movement of Claude Debussy’s only string quartet with Mann playing with other veteran members of the original quartet, including violist Samuel Rhodes, who has often come to Madison to play with the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2014/A-Piano-Concerto-Doubleheader-and-Beethoven-to-the-Max/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42237

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH

It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon

PRO ARTE QUARTET

Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?

Haydn

PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?

MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA

Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music: John W. Barker says the world premiere of the new string quartet by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier proved a memorable, satisfying and successful way to celebrate the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte Quartet, as does the rarely heard String Quintet of Anton Bruckner.

March 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

This past week witnessed the fifth in the projected six events in the centennial celebration for the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer; event photos are by The Ear), which has served as artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1940, when its members were stranded here by World War II and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi invasion of their homeland Belgium.  For me, it proved the most satisfying centennial event yet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Here full disclosure is necessary. I am a member of the committee that has been planning all of these celebrations, under the diligent leadership of Sarah Schaffer. Accordingly, the piece that follows has more of a personal reminiscence than an objective distance.

Each of the events is focused on a composer who has been commissioned to write a piece for the Pro Arte Quartet. The first four resulting works were given their premieres, under the supervision of the individual composers, during the course of the 2011-12 season. (The PAQ performances of these four works have now appeared in a 2-CD set from the Albany label.)  The fifth premiere had to be deferred from last autumn, and finally came about on Saturday night in Mills Hall.

pro arte cd commission cover

Whereas the previous four composers were all Americans, it was felt that the remaining ones should have Belgian connections, in view of the initial PAQ’s origins in that country.  After much scouting, the choice was given to Benoit Mernier (below, in a photo by Bernard Coutant), who is a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

benoit mernier by bernard coutant

Born in 1964, Mernier has rapidly emerged as one of the pre-eminent composers in Belgium today, perhaps the leading one.  The hallmark of his output as a composer is his range and versatility. He has composed three operas — a scene of his opera “La Dispute,” based on a play by Pierre de Marivaux, is in a YouTube video at bottom — and he says he loves writing for voices in settings of poetry.  He has also written widely for choral, chamber and orchestral media. He studied both organ and harpsichord, and is himself an accomplished performing organist, composing extensively for the instrument.

His commission, funded by both the Pro Arte Quartet and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, has resulted in his String Quartet No. 3, completed last year.  He arrived in Madison early last week, flying directly from Belgium, to supervise the work’s premiere. He established an immediate and cordial rapport with his hosts here. He had warned that his command of English was poor, but he soon disproved that in quite workable facility (with occasional help from local Francophones).

Above all, he plunged into work with the PAQ with zest.  The group had been working on his score for weeks before, by contrast with some groups with which he has worked, groups still struggling to master his music.  As a result, our four players were fully in command of the quartet, so that Mernier (below) could move beyond technical drilling and concentrate on their expression of his ideas.

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

I sat in on a three-hour “public” rehearsal in Mills Hall on Thursday, Feb. 27, and was fascinated to see Mernier bustle about in constant consultation with the players as he polished their mastery of the work. Lithe, energetic, spontaneous, he is a bundle of energy and insight.

In addition, he has an open, unforced, and vivacious personality that makes working with him a great delight.  In numerous social and planning contacts, he was bubbly, engaged company.  Indeed, my perception was that he conveyed to all of us not only his music but also that very outgoing personality itself

Mernier had a chance to go along with the quartet members for an “out-of-town tryout”, a so-called “pre-premiere” of his quartet as part of a full concert in Prairie du Sac last Friday evening. Then, the next evening its program was given for the official world premiere.

It was a truly rich menu, beginning with Haydn’s early Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, a little microcosm all its own; then came the new Mernier Quartet; and, finally, Anton Bruckner’s expansive String Quintet.

So, how was the new Mernier work?  Well, it seems perhaps thorny music at first encounter, although it did receive a prolonged standing ovation (below, with members of the quartet and the composer standing second from right ).  Long gone are traditional structural forms and lush melodies.  But it is a very thoughtfully and skillfully composed piece of about 25 minutes in length.  It is cast in nine movements of varying length, interrelated in ideas and ultimately cohering into a comprehensive structure.

Benoit Mernier with Pro Arte Quartet and standing ovation

Before the concert, in a “conversation” onstage (below, which—full disclosure again — I moderated) Mernier discussed the sonic elements, the “signposts” that he used recurrently in putting together the whole piece.

Benoit Mernier at Q&A with John W. Barker

Met honestly, the score has a logic and even power to it that one might compare to Bela Bartók’s quartets — and we have all caught up with those by now, haven’t we? I had worried that the latest blizzard that day would result in an empty house.  But Mills was packed with people, and they gave an enthusiastic, and justified, standing ovation to Mernier and the PAQ players.

Pro Arte Quartet Mernier good house

For my part, I think I have found this Mernier Quartet the most musically satisfying of all the commissioned works presented so far.

The concert program, minus the Haydn, was repeated the following day at the midday presentation of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” a concert open to the public and broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But, if as an epilogue, I must point out the performance of the work by Bruckner (below) was an event in itself.  This involves one of only two substantial chamber works composed by Bruckner, better known for massive and grandly architectural symphonies for large orchestra. 

Completed in 1879, between his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, this is an extensive (one should not say “sprawling”) work, calling for a second viola as the fifth instrument.  Composed in the same format and style as symphonic works of Bruckner (below), this score might almost be understood as the blueprint for a kind of mini-symphony by the composer.

Anton Bruckner 2

The performance by the PAQ, their first address to it, was for me another reminder of the value of experiencing in a “live performance” a work I have known only from recordings.

Pro Arte Quartet playing Bruckner

Being able to watch the players in action helps to understand the writing. I realized for the first time, for example, just how much of a prominent role is accorded to the first viola in the string texture here. And in this performance, that role was vividly fulfilled by a guest player, Samuel Rhodes (below) of the Juilliard School , who recently retired from the Juilliard String Quartet and remains one of the country’s leading violists, and a good friend of many of the PAQ players.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Also, I could observe clearly how Bruckner, in this chamber writing, treated the two violins and the two violas (below, Sally Chisholm on the left and Samuel Rhodes on the right) as distinct entities, variously using them in either interplay or opposition, while the cello receded to pizzicato rhythms, or dropped out entirely. Such are the revelations that direct personal experience of performances allow!

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

In all, then, a truly wonderful event this centennial concert proved to be a truly wonderful event.  And there is still one more, with the world premiere of a Clarinet Quintet by French-Canadian composer Pierre Jalbert (below) next September, with another delightful pre-concert dinner (below) and art tour in the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art scheduled to take place.

Pierre Jalbert

Mernier dinner at Chazen Museum

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Classical music: Under guest conductor Kevin McMahon of Sheboygan, the Middleton Community Orchestra rises to guest string soloists Daniel Kim and Eleanor Bartsch in Mozart, then warms up the winter with colorful Rimsky-Korsakov and lyrical Brahms.

February 28, 2014
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ALERT and REMINDER: Just a reminder that the Pro Arte Quartet will perform a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features the WORLD PREMIERE of the quartet’s fifth of six commissions to mark its centennial. (Also on the work is Franz Jospeh Haydn’s Quartet, Op. 20, Np. 4, and Anton Bruckner’s Viola Quintet with guest Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and formerly of the Juilliard String Quartet.) The new work is the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, who is in Madison to coach the quartet and attend the premiere, where he will be interviewed by John W. Barker preceding the concert at 7:15 p.m. And here is a link to a review of the new CD recording (below) of the first four commissions by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes Madison Magazine’s classical music blog “Classically Speaking.”

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Pro-Arte-Quartets-New-CDs-Renew-a-Legacy/

pro arte cd commission cover

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 hosts 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The third program in the current season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), on Wednesday night at the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, was a rich and ambitious one.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

For this concert, the regular MCO conductor Steve Kurr retired modestly to the viola and percussion sections, and yielded the podium to a visiting maestro, Kevin McMahon (below), a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus who directs the Sheboygan Symphony.

Kevin McMahon MCO

Of three works on the program, the first was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. Well-known, especially from many recordings, the work is in fact rarely performed in concerts, perhaps because of the demand for two soloists of high and equal merit.

In this case, it got them.

Local violin star Eleanor Bartsch and Juilliard-trained violist Daniel Kim of New York City — but both distinguished and prize-winning former students in the UW School of Music — have known each other since childhood. They were clearly on a shared wavelength in this performance, paired beautifully in music that makes one glad to be alive. (At bottom, you can hear a popular YouTube recording of the work with violinist Itzhak Perlman and violist Pinchas Zukerman under the baton of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.)

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

The orchestra, a sturdy accompanist in the Mozart, came into its own in the next piece, the flashy “Capriccio espagnol” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (below).  It is really a short five-movement concerto for orchestra, showing off a kaleidoscope of colors, and demanding a performance of virtuosic capacity.

Rimsky-Korsakov

Clearly, guest maestro McMahon had drilled the orchestra thoroughly, so that the performance was a stellar achievement for the MCO. And it also gave the concertmaster, Alice Bartsch, sister of the violin soloist in the Mozart, her own opportunities for some brilliant solo moments.

Alice Bartsch MCO concertmaster

Finally came the longest work of the night, the Symphony No. 2 in D Major of Johannes Brahms (below).

brahms3

This is perhaps the most genial of the composer’s four symphonies, but its lyricism conceals some challenging demands made on the orchestra.  Brahms requires absolute perfection of technique and fully polished sonorities. And so, precisely because it is a very well-known score, it really puts an orchestra like the MCO to the test.

The group met the test quite creditably. Perhaps out of mercy, McMahon dropped the first-movement repeat. He had some very good ideas about phrasing and nuances throughout, and the players worked hard to put them to good effect.

Indeed, the performance gave one a chance to assess the community orchestra’s progress in no more than its fourth season of existence.

Well, there are still concerns to be faced. There are rough elements in the brass playing, but the woodwinds provide a secure and reliable anchor for the orchestra. The strings still lack that full sheen we might crave, but they are growing in security and discipline, especially the violins.

And so, after not that much time in the growing yet, music director and usual conductor Steve Kurr (below) has succeeded in building the MCO into a treasure for the city of Middleton and a genuine asset to the musical life of the Madison area. It deserves all possible support and encouragement — and attendance.

Steve Kurr conducting

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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.

brahms3

The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music: Belgian composer Benoit Mernier talks about his String Quartet No. 3, which will receive its world premiere from the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet on this Saturday, March 1, in a FREE concert at 8 p.m.

February 24, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This post is more of a reminder and an embellishment than something that is brand new.

It is a reminder that on this coming Saturday, March 1, at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert that features the WORLD PREMIERE of the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The concert to celebrate the  historic centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet — which is now the long lived active quartet in history — had been postponed from the original date last Fall.

Benoit Mernier 1

The guest artist of the night is the former Juilliard String Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Schaaf). The program includes an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn (Op. 20, No. 4, in D Major) and the String Quintet in F Major by Anton Bruckner, which has a soulful and elegy-like slow movement that you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) commissioned the Mernier Quartet as part of its centennial celebration two years ago, and the group will take in on a tour to Belgium, the original home of the Pro Arte Quartet this May. It will even play again in the same royal court where the Pro Arte was once the official court quartet. (Its current members, below from left, are first violinist David Perry, second violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The outstanding blog “Fanfare” that is done by concert manager Kathy Esposito at the UW School of Music recently posted an interview, with historic background, that critic Mike Muckian, who often writes for Brava magazine, did with Benoit Mernier (below in a photo by Lise Mernier) and appeared on the terrific blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/mernier-pro-arte-quartet-march2014/

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

Also, I want to remind everyone that the concert will be preceded at 7:15 p.m. by a public  conversation-interview with the composer, also to be held in Mills Hall, in a home or living room environment with a light, carpet and cozy chairs – as was done to years ago with other composers (below, is music critic John W. Barker talking with composer Walter Mays on the left and cultural historian Joseph Horowitz on the right.) 

Barker, Mays, Horowitz

For more information about the various events and background, including an open quartet rehearsal with the composer on Thursday from 9 a,m. to noon in Mills Hall, and a “Sunday Afternon Live From the Chazen” Museum broadcast  12:30 to 2 p.m. of the quartet’s second performance on Wisconsin Public Radio, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (below): 

www.proartequartet.org

I hope to be there and I hope to see you there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geybyYGej1o

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