The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts this Friday and marks 30 years with jazz plus music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, Schoenberg and John Harbison

August 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this coming Friday, Aug. 16, and running through Sept. 1, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will mark its 30th anniversary with the theme of “Sanctuary.” (The festival takes place in a refurbished barn, below, at 4037 Highway 19 in DeForest.)


Add the festival directors: “The term ‘sanctuary’ attempts to capture in a single word something essential about what the festival has meant to players and listeners over all these years. From the start it aspired to offer something of retreat, an oasis, a place of refreshment and nourishment in art, both for musician participants who find a welcoming environment to “re-charge” their work, and for audience attendees who engage in and become a part of it.”

“In our small country barn,” writes prize-winning composer John Harbison (below top, in a photo by Tom Artin) who co-directs the festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom, in a photo by Tom Artin), “we have always remained devoted to the scale and address of much chamber music, which speaks as often in a whisper as in a shout.

“Where larger musical institutions have been habitually frustrated by trying to live in the business model of growth, we have remained devoted to the intensity of the experience, which explains why the music never goes away, rather than to claims of numbers, which begs the music itself to change its very nature.

“Our conviction is that today’s composers, just like Schubert and Mozart, are still striving to embody daily experience, to connect to the natural world, and to ask philosophically and spiritually unanswerable questions, surrounded and interrupting silence, asking only for our most precious commodity — time. We continue to look for valuable ways to offer this transaction to our listeners, and are grateful for their interest over so many years.”

The first two concerts, at 5 p.m., on Friday and Saturday nights, feature the return of a jazz cabaret featuring standard works in the Great American Songbook. For more information about the program and performers, as well as tickets, go to: www.tokencreekfestival.org or call (608) 241-2525.

Tickets for the two jazz concerts are $40 for the balcony and $45 for cafe seating. Tickets for the other concerts are $32 with a limited number of student tickets available for $12.

HERE IS THE LINEUP FOR THE REST OF THE FESTIVAL

Program 2: Music of Brahms at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, and Sunday, Aug. 25

Johannes Brahms is the only composer whose complete catalogue of chamber music is still in constant use.  This is due to his fastidious high standards, and to his ideal temperament for music played by smaller groups of players. His music is universally admired for the astounding combination of sheer craft and deep emotional impact.

The program includes the Regenlied (Rain Song), Op. 57 no. 3; Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 78; the Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38; and the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60. (The “Rain Song” is used as the theme of the last movement of the violin sonata. You can hear it performed by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom, which also features the score so that you can follow along.)

Performers are Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below top); violinist Rose Mary Harbison; violist Lila Brown (below second); cellist Rhonda Rider (below third, in a photo by Liz Linder); and pianist Janice Weber (below bottom).

Program 3: Then and Now, Words and Music – An 80th Birthday Tribute to John Harbison. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 p.m.

Last February, when Madison launched a citywide celebration of co-artistic director John Harbison’s 80th birthday, bitter cold and deep snow made it impossible for the festival to open up The Barn and join in the festivities.

The Wednesday program – an intimate concert of words and music curated by the Harbisons — is the festival’s belated birthday tribute. Harbison will read from his new book about Johann Sebastian Bach, and Boston poet Lloyd Schwartz (below top) will offer a reading of his poems that are the basis of a song cycle to presented by baritone Simon Barrad (below bottom). The evening will include a discussion on setting text, “Poem to Song,” and the world premiere of new Harbison songs, still in progress, on poems of Gary Snyder.

The program includes: Selections from the Violin Sonata in B minor, with violinist Rose Mary Harbison, and “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Four Songs of Solitude” and “Nocturne” by John Harbison; the Violin Sonata in G Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the “Phantasy” for violin and piano by Arnold Schoenberg; the “SchwartzSongs” and “Four Poems for Robin” by John Harbison.

Program 4: The Piano , at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1.

The closing program welcomes back husband-and-wife pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, playing together and as soloists.

Chuang (below top) is acclaimed by critics in the U.S. and abroad for performances of stunning virtuosity, refinement and communicative power. Levin (below bottom, in a photo by Clive Barda), who teaches at Harvard University, is revered for his Mozart completions and classical period improvisations.

Their program explores the question of the composer-performer — that is, composers who were also formidable pianists: Mozart, Ravel and Liszt.

Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, arranged by the composer for chamber ensemble, and excerpts of Harbison’s Piano Sonata No. 2, written for Levin, will be performed. Also on the program are Mozart’s Allegro in G Major, K. 357 (completion by Robert Levin); Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”; and Franz Liszt’s “Reminiscences of Don Juan.”

Other performers are: violinists Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsodie String Quartet; violists Jen Paulson and Kaleigh Acord; cellist Karl Lavine, who is principal cello of both the  Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as the Chamber Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO); and double bassist Ross Gilliland.


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Classical music: Cliburn-winning pianist Kenneth Broberg makes his Madison debut with a FREE master class this evening and a recital Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos

November 3, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

A 25-year-old Minneapolis native, pianist Kenneth Broberg (below in a photo by Jeremy Enlow for The Cliburn) won the silver medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

His 2017-2018 debut season as a Cliburn medalist included recital engagements in cities across the United States and Europe. His debut solo album was released by Decca Gold in August 2017.

This weekend, Broberg — whose playing The Ear finds impressively beautiful — makes his Madison debut at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the far west side near West Towne Mall, as part of the Salon Piano Series.

Broberg will be featured in a master class with local young pianists and a solo recital.

For more about Broberg, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Broberg

And to the pianist’s home web site: https://kennybroberg.com

For more about the Salon Piano Series and the other three concerts this season, along with videos and reviews, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

You can also hear Broberg play a lyrical and well-known Impromptu by Franz Schubert in the YouTube video at the bottom. He also has many other performances on YouTube, including some from the Cliburn competition.

Here are details about his appearances:

MASTER CLASS

Broberg will give a master class with local piano students THIS EVENING from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The literature being played is: Sonata in B-Flat Major, K. 333, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Des Abends” (Evening) and “Grillen” (Whims) from “Fantasiestuecke (Fantasy Pieces) Op. 12, by Robert Schumann; and “Evocation” and “El Puerto” for the “Iberia” Suite by Isaac Albéniz

The master class is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.  Children must be age 6 and over to attend.

SOLO RECITAL

On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. Broberg will perform a solo recital at Farley’s House of Pianos in the main showroom.

The program includes: Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18, by Cesar Franck and Harold Bauer; Sonata in E minor  “Night Wind,” Op. 25, No. 2, by Nikolai Medtner; Toccata on “L’Homme armé” by Marc-André Hamelin; “Children’s Corner” Suite by Claude Debussy (movements are “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum; Jimbo’s Lullaby;  Serenade for the Doll; The Snow Is Dancing; The Little Shepherd; and Golliwog’s Cakewalk); and Three Preludes by George Gershwin.

Advance and online tickets are $45 for adults and $10 for students, and are available at brownpapertickets.com or at Farley’s House of Pianos (608) 271-2626. Tickets at the door are $50. More details are at SalonPianoSeries.org


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Classical music: Sonata à Quattro celebrates early music and the importance of the viola in concerts this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

November 1, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

As far as The Ear can tell, Marika Fischer Hoyt has two big professional passions: early music, especially the music of Johann Sebastian Bach; and the viola, which she plays, teaches and champions in the Madison Bach Musicians, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Bach Around the Clock (which she revitalized and directs) and now Sonata à Quattro (which she founded last summer, when it made its impressive debut as an adjunct event to the Madison Early Music Festival).

Those two passions will come together in Madison this Friday night, Nov. 2, and in Milwaukee this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 4,  in concerts by the new Baroque chamber music ensemble Sonata à Quattro (below) with the theme “Underdog No More – The Viola Uprising.”

Here are the two dates and venues:

Friday, Nov. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, in Madison; tickets are $15 and available at the door, and also online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3660161

Sunday, Nov. 4, at 4 p.m. at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 North Terrace Avenue, in Milwaukee; tickets are $20 for general admission, $10 for students at the door, and online at www.violauprising.brownpapertickets.com

Fisher Hoyt (below) has this to say this about the theme of “The Viola as Underdog”:

“A caterpillar turning into a butterfly – that was the violin in the 17th century. In the early 1600’s the violin evolved almost overnight from dance band serf into the rock star of the musical family.

But the viola’s larger size, heavier weight, more slowly responding strings and darker timbre kept it in the shadows, consigned to rounding out harmonies under the violin’s pyrotechnics. (Indeed, vestiges of this status remain to the present day, in the form of the omnipresent viola joke).

Composers like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven played the viola (below is Marika Fischer Hoyt’s baroque viola made in Germany in the 1770’s) themselves, and gave it challenging melodic and soloistic opportunities in their works. But these were the exception rather than the rule; the viola’s main role in the 17th century was that of filler in an ensemble.

But if agile violins and cellos serve as the arms and legs of a musical texture, the viola’s rich dark voice gives expression to the heart and soul. This added dimension is enhanced when, as happened frequently in France, Germany and Italy, two or more viola lines are included.

Our program presents works from 1602-1727 that explore those darker, richer musical palettes, culminating in Bach’s ultimate exaltation of the underdog, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6.” (You can hear the Bach work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Performers in the group for these performances are Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Christine Hauptly-Annin and Anna Rasmussen, violins; Micah Behr and Marika Fischer Hoyt, violas; Ravenna Helson and Eric Miller, violas da gamba; Charlie Rasmussen, cello; and Daniel Sullivan, harpsichord.

The program includes:

Fuga Prima, from Neue Artige und Liebliche Tänze (New-styled and Lovely Dances(1602) by Valentin Haussmann (1565-1614)

Sonata à 5 in G Minor, Op. 2 No. 11 (1700) by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)

Mensa Sonora, Pars III (1680) by Heinrich Biber (1644-1704)

Sonata à 5 in E Minor, TWV 44:5 by Georg Friedrich Telemann (1681-1767)

Sinfonia from Cantata 18 Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee (Just as the Rain and Snow) (1714) by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

INTERMISSION

Sonata à Quattro II in C Major  “Il Battista” (The Baptist) (1727) by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736)

Lament:  Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte (O, that I had enough waters) by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703)

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major, BWV 1051 (1718) by J.S. Bach

Here is a link to the Facebook page of Sonata à Quattro with videos and photos as well information about the players and upcoming concerts: https://www.facebook.com/sonataaquattro/

The Madison concert will be followed by a reception of dark chocolate, mocha and cappuccino.


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Classical music: A FREE concert of songs and piano music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg will be given this Saturday afternoon at the UW-Madison

September 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has always liked Claude Debussy’s quote that the “both strange and delightful taste” of the music by Edvard Grieg is like “a bonbon filled with snow.”

And there is certainly much more to Grieg (1843-1907, below), Norway’s first internationally renowned composer, than the popular Piano Concerto in A minor and “Peer Gynt” Suite.

Here is a link to his biographical entry in Wikipedia

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

To help spread the word about this original but accessible composer who mastered melody and harmony as he incorporated Norwegian folk songs and folk dances into his work, the Edvard Grieg Society of the Great Lakes was formed last year.

This semester’s meeting will be on Saturday afternoon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

It will start with a master class at 1 p.m. that is FREE and open to the public.

Then at 4 p.m., in Morphy Recital Hall is a FREE recital of piano works, especially many of the Lyric Pieces, and songs by Grieg, whose wife was a singer. (The lyric piece “Evening in the Mountains” will be performed and you can hear Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes play it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The host is UW faculty member soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below), a champion of Scandinavian music who sits on the board of directors of the Grieg Society. She talked about Grieg and the event in an interview this past week with Norman Gilliland on Wisconsin Public Radio’s program “The Midday.” You can hear that interview, with music, here: https://www.wpr.org/shows/mimmi-fulmer-1

Here is a link to more information about the performances and the complete program, which unfortunately doesn’t translate many of the song titles from Norwegian into English.

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/concert-with-the-edvard-grieg-society-of-the-great-lakes/

And if you wish to know more about or get involved in or support the Grieg Society, here is a link to its home web page:

http://greatlakesgrieg.weebly.com


Classical music: The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet delivers a perfect program of superb music by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert

February 5, 2018
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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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

While snow may have restricted the audience attending the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) on Saturday night, those who came were amply rewarded with a virtually perfect program of superb music.

The program brought together three Austrian works, two by those Classical-era titans, Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the third by the Austrian early Romantic Franz Schubert.

The combination of the first two was particularly stimulating, an opportunity to reckon how different from each other were these composers who are so often bracketed together.

The E-flat Quartet is No. 3 in the Op. 50 set that some commentators have viewed as the response by Haydn (below) to the set of six quartets that Mozart had recently published in Haydn’s honor.

Deliberately, Haydn chose to avoid matching Mozart’s lyricism and rich imagination, turning instead to statements of strength in austere textures.

Composed in 1790, a year before his death and only three years after the Haydn work, the Quartet in B-flat, K. 589, by Mozart (below) was his penultimate quartet, part of a series to be written for the King of Prussia who played the cello, which is featured prominently in the quartet.

Here we have a Mozartian style that is expansive and exploratory. Amid music of great lyric beauty and even vivacity, we have a Menuetto third movement whose Trio, or midsection, is remarkably dark and ambiguous. (You can hear a period-instrument performance of the third movement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

The Pro Arte players brought out the individuality of the two different styles quite beautifully. To my ears, the viola lines were delivered with notable strength and color by Sally Chisholm.

The final work, and the longest, was one of Schubert’s amazing late quartets. The No. 13 in A minor, D. 804), from 1824 is known as the “Rosamunde” Quartet because the second movement is the elaboration by Schubert (below) of the lovely melody in the well-known interlude in his incidental music for the play of that title.

Despite a somewhat moody first movement, the work as a whole is suffused with Schubert’s very special, very personal lyricism. Analyses of it can be instructive, but ultimately this remains music for the soul, not just the brain, I think.

The Pro Arte understands that well, and gave a generous demonstration of its beauties.

It proved such a wonderful concert, for which we can only give warm thanks to the UW-Madison’s Mead-Witter School of Music where the Pro Arte Quartet has been an artist-in-residence since World War II.


Classical music: More cold and snow are on the way today. Has any composer captured arctic austerity better than Debussy?

January 14, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Looks like more severe cold is on the way later tonight and tomorrow, this time accompanied by one to three inches of snow.

The Ear is sure a lot of readers know of and can suggest music that expresses such a wintry mood.

So far, the best and most haunting interpretation he has heard is “Footprints in the Snow” (Des pas dans la neige) by the French musical Impressionist Claude Debussy (below). It is the sixth of 12 in Debussy’s Preludes, Book 1.

A lot of versions by very famous pianists exist and can be found on YouTube.

But the moodiest ones that really attract the Ear are the slowest ones that imitate the motionlessness of severe cold and the austerity of snow – amounting to a kind of stasis or suspended animation. It can almost seem like Minimalism ahead of its time.

The best reading is done by the great Italian master Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below), who follows the composer’s tempo instructions of “slow and sad” very literally. It reminds him of the title of the first novel by the American writer Ann Beattie: “Chilly Scenes of Winter.” You can feel the sense of absence and frozen mystery.

Take a listen and tell us what you think or if you have other suggestions.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What music best expresses the “bomb-cyclone” and Arctic blasts?

January 6, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Weather-wise, the past couple of weeks have been unforgettable and, in many ways, unbearable.

First, around Christmas, we had one bitterly cold Arctic blast.

Then after New Year’s Day came the massive “bomb-cyclone” that brought snow and ice, high winds and flooding, to the East Coast all the way from Florida to Maine.

Next came another Arctic blast – that put most of the country into the deep freeze with sub-zero temperatures that broke records over a century old.

(How, The Ear wonders, does the Arctic blast differ from the Polar Vortex of a few years ago? And who invents such colorful names that certainly seem new.)

Such extreme wintry weather has brought misery, hardship and even death to wherever it struck.

With luck, the coming week will see a return to more normal temperatures and more normal winter weather.

Still, the past few weeks got The Ear to wondering: What music best expresses such extreme kind of winter weather?

The highly virtuosic and aptly named “Winter Wind” Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, by Frederic Chopin came to mind. Its swirling notes suggest the howling wind and bitter cold while the minor-key melody has a certain dirge-like or funereal quality to it.

You can hear it played by Evgeny Kissin in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear is sure that many readers could suggest other musical depictions of extreme winter weather.

So please leave the name of the composer, the title of the work and, if possible, a link to a YouTube video performance at the bottom.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players announce their new season with the theme of “Journey”

August 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over many years, the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have built a solid reputation for programming unusual composers and neglected works, all performed with first-rate playing.

(You can sample their recording for Naxos Records of a work by UW-Madison graduate Daron Hagen in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

The new 2017-018 season, based on aspects of a JOURNEY is no exception.

Except where noted, performances are on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Oakwood University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side, not far from West Towne Mall.

The group writes:

“Join the Oakwood Chamber Players on our 2017-2018 season journey with composers whose music encompasses the animation and anticipation at departure and beyond. We’ll have something for adventure seekers as they consider the view over the ever-expanding horizon.

“We’ll stop over to stay a while with friends and see the future with those who forever influence the musical landscape. We will welcome both familiar and new faces as guest artists this season. Come along with us on the JOURNEY!”

JOURNEY

DEPARTURE

September 9/10, 2017

Strauss-Schoenberg   Kaiser-Walzer for mixed ensemble

Reger         Serenade for flute, violin and viola

Arutiunian        Concert Waltz for winds and piano

QUEST

November 26, 2017 (1 and 3:30 p.m.)

Blake               Snowman Suite for string quartet

Mozetich         Angels in Flight for mixed ensemble

Rutter               Brother Heinrich’s Christmas for vocal quartet,  narrator and     mixed ensemble

HORIZON

January 13/14, 2018

Casella            Serenade for mixed ensemble

Mikulka            Sunset 1892 for clarinet, viola and piano

Huber             Quintet for winds and piano

SOJOURN

March 10/11, 2018

Hofmann         Octet for mixed ensemble

Schoenberg       Presto for string quartet

Scott                  Cornish Boat Song for piano trio

Mendelssohn     Concert Piece for clarinet, bassoon and piano

LEGACY

May 19/20, 2018

Kaminski         String Quartet

Smit                Sextet for wind quintet and piano

Sekles             Capriccio – Yankee Doodle con variazioni for piano trio

2017-2018 Season Ticket Prices

Senior (62+) Single: $20 per concert

Senior (62+) Series: $85 for the season*

Adult Single: $25 per concert

Adult Series: $105 for the season*

Student Single: $5 per concert

*Season concert series offers five concerts at a 15% discount.  Tickets available at the door.

The Oakwood Chamber Players now accept payment via credit card as well as cash and check.

For more information, go to: https://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com


Classical music: Spring arrives today. What is your favorite music celebrating spring?

March 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Has March’s proverbial lion finally yielded to the lamb?

Here is Madison there is still some snow on the ground. But it should all be gone by the end of today, which, like yesterday, will reach into the 50s.

Just in time.

Today is the Vernal Equinox, bringing the first day of spring. It arrives at 5:29 a.m. this morning.

Spring has been an inspiration to many composers. So there is a lot of music to choose from when you want to celebrate season musically.

The Ear is fickle and his choice changes from year to year.

But lately, his favorite has been the “Spring” Sonata in F Major for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the opening of the famously tuneful and upbeat sonata, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of course there are violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn; chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; orchestral music by Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky; piano pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Edvard Grieg; songs by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. And there is more, so much more.

Yesterday, Wisconsin Public Radio programmed a lot of spring music, and The Ear expects the same for today’s programming.

But you can be your own DJ if you want. Here is a list of almost two hours of spring-related music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfe3MUMdWKQ

And here is a springtime puzzler, or quiz, about flowers in opera from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/06/404499920/flower-songs-a-springtime-opera-puzzler

Plus, there are plenty of other guides and anthologies to music for spring that you can find online.

So here is what The Ear wants to know: What is your favorite piece of music to greet spring with?

Leave words in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

And a Happy Spring to you!


Classical music: Today is the Winter Solstice and winter officially starts. The Ear greets it once again by listening to Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise.”

December 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Despite all the snow and cold of the past few weeks, winter officially begins today.

The winter solstice, bringing with it the longest night of the year, arrives today at 4:44 a.m., Central Standard Time, this morning, Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Winter Trees

To mark the occasion, people often listen to appropriate music such as the “Winter” section of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi or the “Winter Dreams” Symphony by Peter Tchaikovsky.

Over the past several years, something else has become a tradition for The Ear.

Every year on the arrival of the Winter Solstice, he listens to a recording of the song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey”) by Franz Schubert.

It takes about 70 minutes.

One unforgettable hour plus.

Too bad it isn’t performed live every year or featured every year on Wisconsin Public Radio.

There are so many excellent recordings of the work.

Over the years, The Ear has listened to the songs performed in recordings by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Haken Hagegard, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufmann and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, who one year did perform it live with pianist Martha Fischer on the Winter Solstice at the First Unitarian Society of Madison *(below) — and it was magical.

Winterreise applause

Yet his favorite remains the version by the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for EMI Records. (Bostridge also made one for Hyperion Records with pianist Julius Drake.)

The Ear likes the way Bostridge uses a kind of Sprachstimme or speech singing to bring expressiveness to the music. He also like the touch of lightness that the tenor range brings to the music, which is plenty dark by itself.

Also, every year, The Ear sees if he has a new favorite song in the cycle. But so far he still has two favorites, which you can find on YouTube along with the rest of the cycle.

One is the opening song, “Gute Nacht” or “Good Night.” It is hard to imagine a better way to kick off the mysterious cycle than with such an obviously metaphorical song in which “night” plays so many roles and has so many meanings.

Here it is:

And of course, he also loves the last song, “Der Leiermann” or “The Organ Grinder.” Listen to its alternation with between voice and piano, to that drone broken by silence showing despair, solitude and loneliness, and you understand why it was also a favorite of the great modernist playwright Samuel Beckett.

Here it is:

The Ear wishes you a hopeful winter – despite all the signs that it will instead be a winter of deep discontent – and hopes you will find time to take in “Winterreise.”

It is Franz Schubert’s winter journey.

But it is also my own and yours.

Here is Bostridge talking about what the cycle means to him:

Enjoy.

And tell us if you have a favorite performance of “Winterreise” and why?

The Ear wants to hear.


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