The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its 94th season this weekend with the sonic sensuality of music by Wagner, Dvorak, Debussy and Barber

September 24, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been warmer than the usual fall weather, so why not go sultry?

That’s what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) will do when it opens its 94th season this coming weekend.

The program “Love, Lust and Redemption” will combine the power of the Klais organ (below top) with MSO principal organist and curator of the Overture Concert Organ Greg Zelek who opens the season with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva.

The all-orchestral program also features the Madison Symphony Orchestra exploring the sonic sensuality of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”Overture, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.

Performances will are in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 29, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $19 to $95. For more information, see below.

MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below) says of the program:

“Our opening concert is both festive and gorgeously romantic as we present our star organist Greg Zelek (below) in his MSO concerto debut.

“We open with one of the most beautiful overtures ever written, Wagner’s Overture to the opera Tannhäuser and then, after intermission, the great Symphony No. 7 in D Minor by Dvorak.

In between is the little jewel by Debussy, his quintessential impressionistic masterpiece, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. All are favorites of mine, and I look forward to making them favorites of yours, if they aren’t already.”

Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music” by Richard Wagner (below) is frequently performed as a separate work in orchestral concerts, the first such performance having been given by Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 1846.

Wagner began revisions to the opera immediately, which resulted in two more versions: the Paris version in 1861 and the Vienna version in 1875. Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus also perform in this piece.

TheToccata Festiva was written by the American composer Samuel Barber (below) as an occasional work for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. It pairs organ and orchestra, and celebrated the inauguration of a new organ for the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, a gift from longtime patron Mary Curtis Zimbalist who had also commissioned the new piece.

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faunby French composer Claude Debussy (below) is a musical evocation of Stephane Mallarmé’s poem “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” in which a faun — a half-man, half-goat creature of ancient Greek legend — awakes to revel in sensuous memories of forest nymphs. Debussy begins the piece with a sinuous and well-known flute melody evocative of a graceful female form.

Symphony No. 7 by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was greatly influenced by Johannes Brahms. Dvorak decided to compose this symphony after hearing Brahms’s new Symphony No. 3.

The piece is distinguished for its somber and dramatic atmosphere and its lack of Slavic-inspired melodies, a characteristic with which the composer’s style is usually associated. (You can hear the vivacious Scherzo in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

TICKETS AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msosept19programnotes.

 

  • Single Tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/love-lust-redemptionthrough the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 8-10 vouchers for 19-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex
  • Subscriptionsfor the 2019–2020 season are available now. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.


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Classical music: The Madison Opera stages its first-ever production of Dvorak’s fairy tale opera “Rusalka” next Friday night and Sunday afternoon. A preview roundtable is this Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage its production of Antonin Dvorak’s luxurious masterpiece Rusalka on Friday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Running time is 3 hours with two intermissions, and will feature projected supertitles with English translations of the original Czech that will be sung.

Tickets are $18-$131 with discounts available for students and groups. Go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/tickets/

Inspired by the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid, the story travels from a mythical forest to a palace and back again. Its lush score includes the famous “Song to the Moon.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing”Song to the Moon” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Set in a mythical realm, Rusalka is about a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince. She tells her father Vodnik that she wishes to become human and live with the Prince on land. Horrified, Vodnik tells her that humans are full of sin, but reluctantly suggests she enlist the help of Jezibaba, a witch. Jezibaba agrees to make her human, but cautions that Rusalka will lose her power of speech. Further, if the Prince betrays her, she will be cursed forever.

The Prince falls in love with Rusalka and plans to marry her, but her silence unnerves him, and a Foreign Princess interrupts the wedding festivities with evil intent. Rusalka returns to the lake as a spirit that lures men to their death – and the Prince follows her.

Rusalka is one of the most gorgeous operas in the repertoire,” says Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director (below, in a photo by James Gill). “I fell in love with it when I first saw it over 20 years ago, and listening to the score is a pure pleasure. I am so delighted to share this opera with Madison, so that everyone can learn how brilliant an operatic composer Dvorak was, and experience an opera that is justifiably popular around the world.”

Rusalka’s story was inspired by multiple sources, including Slavic mythology and the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben, Hans Christian Andersen, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

The opera premiered on March 31, 1901 in Prague and quickly became a massive success, hailed as Dvorak’s masterpiece.

But it was not initially widely performed outside of Czech territories; the first U.S. performance was in 1975. But in recent decades, the opera by Dvorak (below) has become a regular part of the opera repertoire, due to its beautiful music and lovely story.

This production is not only a Madison Opera premiere, but also the company’s first-ever opera in Czech.

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below) returns to Madison Opera in the title role, following successes here as Gounod’s Juliet and Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème. Last month, she sang Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has praised her singing for her “amazing clarity of diction, accuracy of intonation and fineness of expression.”

Tenor John Lindsey (below) returns to Madison Opera as The Prince, after singing in last summer’s Opera in the Park.

Making their debuts with Madison Opera are soprano Karin Wolverton as the Foreign Princess, contralto Lindsay Amman as the witch Jezibaba and bass William Meinert as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. Emily SecorSaira Frank and Kirsten Larson play the three wood sprites; Benjamin Liupaogo sings the Hunter.

The Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra round out the musical forces, all under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), Madison Opera’s artistic director.

Keturah Stickann (below) directs her first opera for Madison Opera; she has directed both traditional and contemporary repertoire across all of the U.S., most recently for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera.

This production originated at Minnesota Opera and features projections (below) by Wendall K. Harrington, who has been described as “the godmother of modern projection design.”

In reviewing the Minnesota production, theTwin Cities Arts Reader praised “the stunning visuals on display, which only serve to enhance and elaborate on the action and the music.”

Madison Opera’s production of “Rusalka” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Kay & Martin Barrett, Millie & Marshall Osborn, Sally & Mike Miley, Kato Perlman, Charles & Martha Casey, John Lemke & Pam Oliver, and The Ann Stanke Fund.

RELATED EVENTS

You can learn more about “Rusalka” at the events leading up to the performances.

Opera Up Close will take place this Sunday, April 21, 1-3 p.m. at the Margaret C. Winston Opera Center (below) 335 West Mifflin Street, $20 general admission; free for full-season subscribers; $10 for two-show subscribers.

This event features a multimedia behind-the-scenes preview of Rusalka. General director Kathryn Smith will discuss Antonin Dvorak and the history of his fairy-tale opera. Principal artists, stage director Keturah Stickann and conductor John DeMain will participate in a roundtable discussion about Madison’s production and their own takes on this masterpiece.

Pre-Show Talks by Kathryn Smith take place on Friday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. at Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

Post-Opera Q&A’s are on Friday, April 26, and Sunday, April 28, immediately following the opera in the Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center, and are free to ticket holders.

More information — including cast biographies and a blog with Q&A interviews with some cast members — is available at https://www.madisonopera.org and https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/rusalka/.


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Classical music: Tonight’s Concert on the Square features an 11-year-old cello prodigy and the Middleton High School Choir in an all-Russian program. It will be repeated on Wisconsin Public Television this Saturday night at 6 p.m.

July 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight’s Concert on the Square promises to be a special event on several scores.

The “Slavic Dances” concert starts at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell, will perform an appealing all-Russian program.

It features a Concert Waltz by Alexander Glazunov; the beautifully melodic and very accessible “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for cello and orchestra by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (heard with Yo-Yo Ma in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the Intermezzo and Women’s Dance by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Adding to the appeal is the appearance of Miriam K. Smith (below) in the Tchaikovsky. Smith, who played and was interviewed on Tuesday’s edition of “The Midday” on Wisconsin Public Radio, is an 11-year-old prodigy on the cello who already has an impressive history of concert appearances.

As a kind of preface or program note to read if you are at the concert, here is a link to Smith’s interview and appearance on “The Midday”: https://www.wpr.org/programs/midday

For more biographical information about Smith and about the concert, in general including rules (blankets can go down starting at 3 p.m.), etiquette and food vendors, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square-3-3/

Also joining the WCO is the Middleton High School Choir (below).

NOTE: If you can’t make the concert tonight in person, you can take consolation in the fact that the concert will be videotaped and then broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television on this coming Saturday night at from 6 to 7 p.m. on Channel 21 (Cable Channel 600).


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison will perform Slavic music – including several U.S. and world premieres — under a guest Spanish conductor this Saturday night

May 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will perform the program “The Slavic Soul” this coming Saturday night, May 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The Festival Choir will have guest conductor Nikoleta Popova for the event, who is coming from Spain to conduct a program comprised of songs either by Slavic composers or inspired by Slavic music. More about the conductor is below.

Several U.S. premieres are marked with an asterisk and there is one world premiere.

Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors 65 and over; and $10 for students. For information and tickets, go to: https://festivalchoirmadison.squarespace.com/concerts/2018/5/theslavicsoul

Here is the complete program:

THE SLAVIC SOUL

Bela Bartok (1881-1945) – Four Slovak Folk Songs (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Dmitri Shostakovich (1908-1975) – Two Russian Folk Songs. With Anya Gubenkova, alto

Alexander Davidenko (1899–1934) – “At Ten Versts From the Capital”* with Ted Reinke, piano, and Dan Broner, organ

Vera Nasha (Our Faith)* Serbian Folk Song, arr. Yónatan Sánchez Santianes with James McKenzie, percussion

Szymon Godziemba-Trytek (1988) Agnus Dei (World Premiere) with Ted Reinke, organ

Georgy Sviridov (1915–1998) – “A Wondrous Birth”; “Balalaika”; and “Reveille.” With Anya Gubenkova, alto

Dobri Hristov (1875–1941) – “Rachenitsa”

Todor Popov (1921–2000) – “Stara Sa Maika” (The Old Mother)*

“Kalinka,” a Russian Folk Song arranged by Vadim Prokhorov

The guest conductor is Nikoleta Popova (below) of Bulgaria and Spain. She is a renowned specialist in Eastern European and Bulgarian music and has offered seminars and master classes all over the world.

Currently, Popova is Professor in Conducting at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Canarias in Las Palmas, Spain, where she is also music director of the conservatory orchestra and choirs. She has appeared as guest conductor in Austria, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the U.S., as well as her native Bulgaria.

Born in Dobrich, Bulgaria, Nikoleta Popova received her education as a conductor from the National Academy of Music in Sofia, Bulgaria, and from Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz. Among her teachers are Eric Whitacre, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Alex Schillings, Klaas Stok, Marco Antonio Da Silva Ramos, and others.

In 2011 Nikoleta Popova received her Ph.D. from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with a dissertation on the performance of the black spiritual. Since 2012, she has published three books in Spanish with in-depth analysis of the problems that singers and conductors face in the interpretation of African-American spirituals.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra finishes its season with first-time performances of a piano concerto by Mozart and a Slavic Mass by Janacek

May 3, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) concludes its current season with “Mass Appeal,” a program that includes two first-ever performances.

One work is the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat Major, K. 382, with Christopher O’Riley as the soloist. The other work is the massive “Glagolitic Mass” by the Czech composer Leos Janacek.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 6, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $18-$90. Ticket information is lower down.

MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) had the following comments about the program:

“The concert opens with the exhilarating Overture to the opera Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,

“Janacek’s monumental Glagolitic Mass is a very dramatic work. The soloists who are joining us will fill Overture Hall with voluptuous sound, and the Madison Symphony Chorus will bring its high level of professionalism, adding to the thrilling auditory experience that is so characteristic of Janacek. (NOTE: You can hear the dramatic and brassy opening of the Glagolitic Mass in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“This work also features the organ in a movement all its own, and will give our audiences a chance to once again experience the beauty and power of the Overture Concert Organ as played by MSO’s Principal Organist Greg Zelek (below).”

“Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni was completed in 1787. Mozart’s musical genius is evident in the subtle shadings of darkness he injects into even the most outwardly cheerful moments of the overture — which was most recently performed by the MSO in 2003.

“Composed in December of 1785, Piano Concerto No. 22 was the first concerto by Mozart (below) to include clarinets, his favorite woodwind, in its scoring. The concerto is considered to be a particularly elegant work, filled with ornate, often complicated, writing for the soloist that carries a natural sense of aristocratic poise.

“The Glagolitic Mass, considered to be one of the century’s masterworks and Janacek’s finest choral work, has often been viewed as a celebration of Slavic culture. With text in Old Church Slavonic, the five movements correspond to the Roman Catholic Ordinary of the Mass, omitting “Dona nobis pacem” in the Agnus Dei.

“The piece begins and closes with triumphant fanfares dominated by the brass and prominently features the organ throughout.

“Janacek (below) wanted it to be a Mass “without the gloom of the medieval monastic cells in the themes, without the same lines of imitation, without the tangled fugues of Bach, without the pathos of Beethoven, without the playfulness of Haydn,” rather he talks of the inspiration of nature and language.

“Acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below, in a photo by Dan Williams) is known to millions as the host of NPR’s From the Top, which spotlights gifted young classical musicians.

“O’Riley’s repertoire spans a kaleidoscopic array of music from pre-baroque to present-day. He performs around the world and has garnered widespread praise for his untiring efforts to reach new audiences.

Christopher O’Riley has performed as a soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, National Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. He last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 1995, making for a highly anticipated return with his performance this season.

Soprano Rebecca Wilson (below, in a photo by Jeremy Lawson) has been praised as a “staggeringly talented singer” by St. Louis Magazine. She has appeared with Union Avenue Opera, in the role of Gutrune in Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) and has performed throughout the Chicago area in many roles.

Hailed as possessing a voice of “spell-binding power and intensity” (The Register-Guard), mezzo-soprano Julie Miller (below, in a photo by Devon Cass) has appeared as a soloist with many orchestras and in many major concert halls across the country.

Tenor Rodrick Dixon (below, in a photo by Dan Demetriad) is a classical crossover artist who possesses a voice of extraordinary range and versatility. His body of work covers 25 years of television, recordings, live theater and concerts, including PBS Specials with tenors Victor Cook, and Thomas Young; “Hallelujah Broadway,” starring his wife, Alfreda Burke; the Miss World Pageant broadcast from China and Washington, D.C., on the “E” channel in 126 countries.

Dixon recently appeared in the annual Freedom Awards. His eclectic discography includes recordings for Sony BMG, EMI Records and Naxos.

Bass Benjamin Sieverding (below, in a photo by Lu Zang) has been recognized by critics nationwide for his “surprising depth” (Boulder Daily Camera), as well as his “natural gift for comedy” and “full, rich sound” (Ann Arbor Observer).

As an active soloist and recitalist, Sieverding performs both regionally and internationally. Sieverding is a three-time district winner and regional finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on February 23, 1928, and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since. The chorus (below) is directed by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor and is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent.

One hour before each performance, Beverly Taylor (below), Director of Choral Activities and Professor at the UW-Madison,will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please view the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and retiring UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/8.May18.html

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets for the 2017–2018 season finale May concerts are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the May concerts is provided by Mirror 34 Productions, Fiore Companies, Inc., the Steinhauer Charitable Trust, Diane Ballweg, and WPS Health Solutions. Additional funding provided by Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Forte Research Systems and Nimblify, William Wilcox and Julie Porto, and Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: The Ear gives a hearty Shout Out! to the All-Festival Concert of early Slavic music by the Madison Early Music Festival.

July 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, in Mills Hall, The Ear saw and heard the All-Festival Concert by the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF).

MEMF 2015 All Festival group

Historically, that concert – which brings together students, faculty and guest artists – is the closing wrap-up of the festival, and The Ear has been to quite a few of them over the past years.

But this year’s event proved one of the best ever, right at the top of the list.

The topic this year was “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

To be honest, the music itself was not one of my all-time favorites of MEMF, although it had many beautiful moments.

What proved most impressive to my ears and eyes was the incredible variety that the various performers managed to instill into a concert that otherwise could have been pretty monotonous.

But this concert was anything but monotonous. The performances were well-rehearsed and quite polished.

The program presented a wide variety of works by Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian composers from the 16th through the 18th centuries.

MEMF 2015 John Barker

There was, as usual, a lot of vocal music by some of the biggest orchestral and choral forces I recall seeing.

But there was also some impressive instrumental music that featured some pretty eye-catching instruments, including the oversized lute-like theorbo (below top) and the Celtic harp (below bottom).

MEMF 2015 All Festival Theorbo

MEMF 2015 All Festival Celtic harp

And the forces used the entire hall, even putting brass at the top of the back balcony at one point.

Plus, early music expert and retired UW-Madison professor Medieval history John W. Barker served as the narrator in an engaging piece about the slain Polish trumpeter whose battle call is still played today in Krakow in his honor.

MEMF 2015 All Festival John W. Barker

The singers sang in large groups and small groups — solo, duets (below) and quartets — and all permutations performed superbly. The voices were strong and clear, and the diction always seemed excellent.

MEMF 2015 All Festival duet

Conducting duties – split between guest main conductor Kristina Boerger (below top) and assistant conductor Jerry Hui (below bottom) – were exemplary.

It can be easy to lose a sense of balance and control with such large forces. But the range of dynamics from soft to loud, from slow to fast, never felt awkward or wrong. Not here. The blending and flow were superb.

MEMF 2015 All Festival Kristina Boerger

MEMF 2015 All Festival Jerry Hui

So The Ear offers a hearty Thank You! to all the participants of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival who made this final concert so satisfying.

And to listeners, I say: If you can only make one concert during the Madison Early Music Festival each summer, the All-Festival Concert is a good bet — and a great place to start if early music is new to you. 

Judging from this latest installment, you won’t be disappointed.

And you just might catch The Bug!

 


Classical music: The opening of this week’s Madison Early Music Festival blossomed with a stunning performance of early Slavic choral music by The Rose Ensemble of St. Paul, Minnesota.

July 13, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opened on Saturday night.

The coming week of daily workshops, lectures and concerts could hardly have enjoyed a more promising opening than the stunning a cappella singing turned in by the justly acclaimed Rose Ensemble (below) of St. Paul, Minnesota. (You can hear the Rose Ensemble in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

MEMF Rose Ensemble 12

The group consists of 12 singers and one string player – she plays a Medieval violin-like instrument called “la vielle” — with some singers doing double duty and playing a drum or recorder.

MEMF 2015 solo and instruments

Somewhere around two-thirds of a house (below) turned out in Mills Hall to hear a thoroughly masterful display of early Eastern European music from the 11th century through the 16th century, which is the topic of this year’s festival.

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

MEMF 2015 Rose audience

Start with the basics.

As far as The Ear could tell, there was not a single weak link in the chain. Each singer sang strongly and with conviction.

Each excelled at pitch and diction, even in multiple Slavic languages from Poland, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and Russia.

And the balance that allowed different lines to emerge was nothing short of miraculous.

They sang as a large group of 12.

They sang smaller motets with groups of six women or six men (below).

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 women

MEMF 2015 Rose 6 men

They sang duets and they sang solos.

And all of the permutations proved successful.

They were terrific in all the liturgical music that makes up the bulk of the early Slavic repertory.

But The Ear’s favorite pieces were some of the folksongs from Ukraine and elsewhere. The performers moved around the stage and used their voices in what American poet Walt Whitman aptly described as a “barbaric yawp” that came close to artful shouting.

The singing was nothing short of thrilling as the performers cut loose with chopping arms, moving feet and howling mouths. Yet it all remained controlled and convincing. It reminded The Ear of plain chant and shape-note singing.

The Rose Ensemble organized a masterful display of varied programming and performances that, to be honest, helped offset a lot of the similarities of so much of the music.

MEMF Rose folk

One other thing: If you wonder about attending the lectures, just go. They start one hour before the concerts, at 6:30 p.m. in 2650 Mosse Humanities Building.

For this concert, John W. Barker, a veteran music critic and retired professor of Medieval history at the UW-Madison, provided a terrific historical context that help the audience appreciate the achievement of early Slavonic music. His lecture was filled with wit and facts as he pointed to the map to show how Slavic culture was born and how extensive it became.

What we learned in one hour!

MEMF 2015 John Barker

For more detail about events, venues and prices, go to the comprehensive website:

http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/MEMF2015.htm

 


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