The Well-Tempered Ear

Chamber music: The Oakwood Chamber Players wraps up its current season on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with a concert that explores musical scores and the composers’ intentions

May 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) wraps up its 2016-17 season series “Perspective” with a concert titled “Looking Closely at the Score” on this coming Saturday night,  May 13, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, May 14, at 2 p.m.

Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Looking Closely at the Score considers composers and influences on their scoring.

The concert includes an array of guest artists, with the Oakwood Chamber Players partnering with musical colleagues from the woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below) to expand their programmatic possibilities.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

French composer Vincent D’Indy (below, in 1911) wrote Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for woodwind septet in 1898. He was greatly influenced by Cesar Franck who was his composition teacher and by a personal enthusiasm for the music of Richard Wagner.

This piece has a subtle feel of the pastoral quality of Siegfried’s Idyll and takes the listener from a sweetly stated Chanson through increasing animation of the Danses and a serene return to the song theme at its conclusion.

A student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, admired Irish composer, renowned pianist and fourth-generation newspaper editor, Joan Trimble (below) led a life full of creativity. Her Phantasy Trio for violin, cello and piano won a major compositional award from the Royal College of Music in 1940.

This piece highlights warm and expressive lines that she felt important to provide for musicians and ably reflects her personal view that “performers had to be considered and allowed to play with their individual qualities in mind. How else were they to communicate and have a response from listeners?”

Luise Adolpha Le Beau was a German composer, piano soloist and student of Clara Schumann. Performing in chamber music was of particular interest to her and she wrote many of her compositions for this musical genre.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform Allegro con Fuoco from her Piano Trio in d minor. The movement alternates rhythmic motifs with sweetly expressive melodic lines. (You can hear the lovely slow movement from the same piano trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Romantic Swiss-German composer Joachim Raff was influential in the European scene and considered an inspired musician by 19th-century luminaries such as Schumann, Mendelssohn and Liszt and interest in his work was revived by notable 20th-century conductor and composer Bernard Hermann, who was noted for his scores to flms by Alfred Hitchcock.

Raff (below) coined the term Sinfonietta for his piece that combines two woodwind quintets to convey a buoyant and transparent approach in contrast to a more prescribed symphonic approach to scoring. This delightful four movement work has abundant soaring melodic lines, a true understanding of the characteristics of the woodwind family of instruments and a dazzling conclusion.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will be joined by guests J. Elizabeth Marshall, flute; Jennifer Morgan, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo, bassoon; and Dafyyd Bevil and Kia Karlen, horns.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: Find out what eight famous composers were doing on Christmas Day. Plus, UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen on WORT FM early on Christmas morning.

December 23, 2014
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ALERT: Blog fan and WORT 89.9 FM radio host Rich Samuels, who also documents the local music scene, writes:

Jake:

My Christmas Day 5-8 a.m. show on WORT will include a complete performance of Olivier Messiaen‘s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus” by University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as an interview that I recorded with Taylor about the piece and its composer.

The performance was recorded December 11, 2012 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Taylor performs this two-hour work from memory.)

Here’s a link to the New York Times review of the performance:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/messiaens-vingt-regards-sur-lenfant-jesus-at-met-museum.html

All the best in 2015.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an unexpected Christmas gift I stumbled across.

It consists of Christmas Day excerpts from letters and diaries by and about eight Romantic and modern composers. They include Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev.

I like that the various writings demystify the lives of composers, and artists in general, and shows their ordinary human side through what they thought, felt and did on a special day, even on a holiday.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

http://www.classical-music.com/article/8-composers-at-christmas-through-letters


Classical music: Chamber music group Con Vivo lives up to its lively name as guest conductor John DeMain opens the season with an ambitious and gloriously performed program of Wagner and Mozart.

November 11, 2013
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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

Con Vivo!, the plucky band of chamber musicians (below) based at the First Congregational Church, launched its season with perhaps its most ambitious offerings yet.

Con Vivo core musicians

Augmenting its ranks appropriately, it set a program titled “Baker’s Dozen,” the point being that each of the two major works offered called for 13 musicians (if not always the same ones).

Each work is too large to fit into the usual “chamber” boundaries, and yet is too small to belong in the orchestral realm. Accordingly, they are rarities, and the Con Vivo! opportunity to hear them was particularly welcome.

It was the more welcome because, indeed, there were two performances of the program. After only two full rehearsals, as a kind of “dress rehearsal”, the ensembles presented the program on Thursday evening, November 8, at the auditorium of Capital Lakes Retirement Center, followed by the official performance the next evening at First Congregational (below).  (That the Capital Lakes performance was something of a dress rehearsal was testified to by one stop for a corrected replay.)  I took advantage of the circumstance to attend both performances, a fascinating experience.

Con Vivo Octet

The two major works are quite contrasted.

Richard Wagner’s so-called “Siegfried Idyll was a chamber piece written as a birthday present for his wife Cosima after the birth of their son, Siegfried.  Wagner (below) was at work on his opera Siegfried at the time, and quotations or references in the piece were filled with personal meanings for the composer and his family.  Often this score is played by orchestra, with the five string parts spread out for a full string section, but the intimacy of the original is much more appropriate.

Richard Wagner

The other major work was Mozart’s Gran Partita, K. 361. (You can hear it in its entirety at bottom in a popular YouTube video with the late conductor and acclaimed Mozart interpreter Sir Charles Mackerras.) Despite its length of about 45 minutes, it is never too much, but rather a feast of Mozart’s astounding facility and imagination in his varied combinations of the reed instruments against solid chordal foundations by the four horns.

No other composer has been able to match Mozart (below) in his wonderful writing for wind ensemble, and this is his crowning achievement by far in this medium.  This score is pure bliss.  For me, the chance to hear it two evenings in succession was as if I had been able to visit heaven not once but twice!

mozart big

That double exposure proved particularly fascinating to me, and I had my own reactions to the differences between the two performances.  I was able, too, to discuss with a number of the players, and compare notes on how they responded to both the performances and the two venues, and both pro and con.

First off, it must be mentioned that Con Vivo! made the wise decision to invite a conductor to preside, and in this case no less than John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), the lignite music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.  I had the feeling that the Wagner went a bit too slowly the first evening, but achieved more coherent ensemble and a more flowing, even caressing quality the second evening.  In the Mozart, I found one tempo choice questionable, but this was resolved handsomely the second time around.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Obviously, the difference between the drier acoustics of the Capital Lakes hall (below) and the richer ones at First Congregational had some effects on these judgments, as did also the fact that the players felt more confidence in the final performance.  And, without question, DeMain’s subtle and supple leadership contributed greatly to the sum total.

Capitol Lakes Hall

Here I confess to a secret hankering. The Mozart work has long been identified as a “Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments.”  That was taken to mean that the bass line should be played by a contrabassoon.

On the other hand, in recent years notice has been made of the fact that the part has directions to play pizzicato in three passages in the work: in the second Trio of the second Minuet, in the sixth variation in the penultimate movement, and in one episode in the rondo finale.

Now, it is rather difficult for reed instruments, of any size, to play pizzicati, so a string bass has been the working solution nowadays.  But the string bass has a light and somehow incompatible sound against the winds. The contrabassoon would provide greater strength, as well as better congruity with the other reeds.

Well, maybe the solution is to divide the part between contrabassoon and string bass as appropriate.

It should not be forgotten that the program had its bonus features.  Between the two major works, violinist Olga Pomolova (below left) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra joined with DeMain, now acting as pianist, in an arrangement for violin and piano of a highly romantic early (and quite un-Wagnerian) piano piece by Wagner, an “Albumblatt” (Album Page).  And, at the Friday performance, Pomolova also played a brief and beloved tidbit by Fritz Kreisler that represented deeply personal inspiration to her.

Con Vivo Olga Pomolova and Kathryn Taylor

The final results of all this constituted a magnificent treat of truly rare and absolutely glorious chamber music. And really done con vivo, “with life”!


Classical music Q&A: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. FUS music director Dan Broner discusses how the programs come together. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner on Tuesday night.

September 30, 2013
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REMINDER: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs a FREE concert tomorrow, on Tuesday night, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall. The program, under conductor James Smith, features Robert Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo and Finale,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and Richard Wagner‘s “Siegfried Idyll.” 

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has so much fine free music to offer listeners, especially at the University of Wisconsin School of Music through the Faculty Concert Series and various student groups.

But one of the most enjoyable events is also one of the most low-profile.

I am speaking about the weekly Friday Noon Musicales (below) that take place in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society’s historic Meeting House, near University Hospital, at 900 University Bay Drive off, just University Avenue on the city’s near west side. 

FUS1jake

It is not surprising that the Friday Musicales exist because the Unitarians in Madison — which has the highest concentration of Unitarians in the U.S. —  always place a major emphasis on music, as did its famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (An excerpt from an All-Mozart Sunday is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

You can bring lunch, drink coffee or tea, or, as I do, eat before and take along a small dessert.

But so often the midday music concert is itself the dessert, the real treat. Imagine the fun of hearing live music for a daytime break. It is like a parenthesis, a time-out or an oasis in the day. Often I have walked into the concert with less enthusiasm and energy than I left with. The music recharges me and provides a spark to get through the rest of the day.

The setting and presentation are informal. But I have found the audiences very appreciative and generally quiet and well-behaved, though sometimes the knitters and readers, especially if they are in the front rows, strike me as rude and disrespectful to the performers.

I have heard singers and solo pianists, string trios and string quartets, all kinds of soloists and ensembles and music.

The Musicale series starts again this week, this Friday Oct. 4. So The Ear asked the First Unitarian Society’s music director Dan Broner to provide some background.

The many-talented Broner (below) not only plans the concerts and performers, he also plays the pianist himself as an accompanist in many of the concerts.

Here is Dan Broner’s email Q&A with The Ear:

Dan Broner BIG mug

How long have the Free Friday Noon musicales been held? Are they expensive to put on and how are they funded?

They have been held since 1987. They are an outreach program to the community and funded by the First Unitarian Society’s operating budget. The costs are that portion of my salary for administering and performing in the series, plus piano tuning and minimal utility expenses.

The musicians donate their services, and the 45-minute concerts (they run 12:15 to 1 p.m.) are free and open to the public.

How successful have they been? What is the typical attendance and how it is trended in recent years? Do certain kinds of concerts (instrument, voice, program, performer) attract a bigger or smaller audience?

The Musicales attract listeners of all ages, but are particularly attractive to seniors, and workers who can attend during their lunch break.

They regularly attract between 50 and 75, numbers, which have been consistent for the past 11 years of my tenure.

Attendance would most likely be higher if it we had more parking. But we share the lot with the Meeting House Nursery School, which limits availability.

Generally instrumental performances attract a larger audience, and more well-known artists will generate a larger crowd as well.

What do you hear from the public as a reaction to the concerts?

Almost every week I will receive favorable comments from attendees who enjoy the Musicales. Some have stated that they are their favorite musical events.

The Musicales are scheduled between October and May and many folks have said that they are eager for the season to begin.

How do you line up artists and programs? Do they come to you or you come to them?

Many artists contact me. They are attracted by the historic Frank Lloyd Wright landmark venue (below): the architecture, acoustics and the fully restored 1889 Steinway Model A grand piano.

Often they are students and teachers from the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other area universities who would like a trial run of recitals they are preparing.

Every summer I send out an email to every artist who has performed in the series and many elect to perform again.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

Are there special programs you would like to point out for the current season?

There are many intriguing musicales this season, but a few do stand out for me personally. I’m eager to hear the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (below top), who is playing on Dec. 6. I always enjoy hearing the fine violinist, Kangwon Kim (below middle), and I look forward to collaborating with her on the Johannes Brahms’ Sonata in G for Violin and PIano on Friday, Jan. 10.

The fine Chicago area virtuoso pianist Mark Valenti will be performing at the Musicales for the first time on Jan. 31. Madison native pianist Kathy Ananda-Owens, from the St. Olaf College music faculty, plays on Feb. 7 and the Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet (below bottom), which is always fun, performs on March 14.

Garrick Olsen 2

Kangwon Kim

Black Marigold

Is there anything else you would like or add or say?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this unique series. We welcome new listeners and musicians interested in performing.

Please join us for the first Musicale on this Friday, October 4, at 12:15 p.m. Violist Shannon Farley (below), with guitarist Christopher Allen and pianist Greg Punswick, will be performing music of J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Cesar Franck.

Shannon Farley viola FUS


Classical music: Music critics of The New York Times name their favorite recordings — historical and current — of Richard Wagner to celebrate this year’s bicentennial of the famous opera composer’s birth. What are your favorite Wagner works and recordings?

August 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This year is the bicentennial of the birth of composer Richard Wagner.

Just about everything about Richard Wagner (below) is epic and titanic, dramatic and revolutionary.

Little wonder, then, that he is known especially for “The Ring of the Nibelung,” that 16–hour, four-opera mythological cycle that challenges the most resourceful singers, actors, stage directors, orchestras, conductors and opera companies. It took many complications and until the 1960s for conductor Sir Georg Solti to make the first complete recording of “The Ring” for Decca — and it still holds up to the best complete recordings since then.

Richard Wagner

Stop and think and consider this: In the time it usually takes to hear “The Ring” you could listen to all the symphonies and concertos of Beethoven, or all his string quartets and most of his piano trios.

True, some of Wagner’s vocal music is quite stirring and enthralling.

But only some of it — at least to my ears.

I share some of the sentiments of his detractors, who included some pretty good artists and discriminating musicians.

Take the composer Gioachino Rossini, who quipped “Wagner’s music has great moments but dull quarter hours.”

The American writer and humorist Mark Twain observed that “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen remarked: “Every time I listen Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland.”

If you like those, here is a link to some more quips about Wagner, including some by French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire and French composer Claude Debussy:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Richard_Wagner

I am probably a dissenter, but I think Wagner generally wrote better for instruments than he did for the voice. At least I generally find his orchestral music tighter and more enjoyable to listen to.

Indeed, I would like to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra do one of the various versions of “The Ring Without Words,” perhaps the orchestral anthology of highlights from “The Ring” and other operas that famed conductor George Szell (below) arranged and conducted with the Cleveland Orchestra (in a YouTube video at the bottom).

George Szell wide BW

I love the overtures and preludes, and I don’t think they get programmed often enough these days. Same for the charming “Siegfried Idyll.”

I remember an old vinyl LP recording with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. How I loved, and found endlessly thrilling the Overture to “Tannhauser,” the “Prelude and Liebestod” to “Tristan und Isolde,” the Overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” preludes from “Lohengrin,” and the magically static and haunting Prelude to “Parsifal.” They are terrific curtain-raisers.

So I was happy to see orchestral recordings by Herbert von Karajan and Otto Klemperer included on the list in The New York Times.

I also love “best moment” anthologies so it is also good to see choices like the new recording by the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – a great choice since Kaufmann (below) seems a perfect Wagner singer who has a huge but subtle voice, stamina and the handsome good looks for the parts.

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Anyway, here is a link to the Wagner discography in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/arts/music/critics-name-their-favorite-wagner-recordings.html?pagewanted=all

What is your favorite Wagner recording? What piece and what performer?

And do you favor his vocal or instrumental music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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