The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear listens with eyes open and finds interesting photos at concerts

August 14, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It was the famous 20th-century composer and pioneering modernist Igor Stravinsky (below) who advised us to listen to music with our eyes open.

For one, it fosters our appreciation of the sheer physicality of making music. Musicians are, as the pianist Vladimir Horowitz once observed, athletes of the small muscles.

If you listen with your eyes open you can see a lot of things.

You can see how musicians give each other cues.

You can see the expression on their faces, the joy and pleasure that making music gives them.

You can observe how different members of the audience react differently to different music.

You can appreciate the many kinds of instruments with the eye-catching shapes, sizes and colors.

And you can see patterns that make for good photographs – if taking photos is allowed.

Of course even if it is, there are rules to follow so that the musicians and other audience members are not disturbed: no flash and no shutter sound are the main ones besides the rule of intellectual property and the forbidding of taking photographs – kind of a difficult one to enforce these days, what with all the smart phones out there.

But some musicians and groups are very friendly and open to photographing, especially if the photos are strictly personal and not for commercial use to earn a profit.

At the last regular concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber players a little over two weeks ago, The Ear found two that showed patterns for good composition.

It’s just fun. But productive fun that can capture the fascination with music and musicians, especially if you sit close to the performers.

Here they are.

First is “Three Clarinets,” a portrait of guest artist Michael Maccaferri, from the Grammy-winning chamber music group eighth blackbird, with the three clarinets he used in the Argentinian-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” The black verticality of the clarinets is heightened by the same quality of the music stands.

The second is “Two Cellos and One Violin,” taken during the bows after the string sextet version of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” The shapes and shades of brown wood draw the eye.

Tell The Ear of you like this kind of photo essay and want to see more of them on the blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us now praise — and program — Lou Harrison, the prophetic American composer who pioneered both personal and professional diversity in music

May 20, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the name of Lou Harrison.

But he doesn’t recall ever actually hearing any music by Lou Harrison (below).

Maybe that will change, now that the centennial of Harrison’s birth is being marked.

Perhaps the UW-Madison or a smaller local group will do something, since neither the Madison Symphony Orchestra nor the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has programmed anything by Harrison in their next seasons.

The Ear certainly hopes to hear some of Harrison’s intriguing and prophetic music, which seems to be a harbinger of contemporary globalism and world music, performed live. Harrison’s work seems to presage Yo-Yo Ma‘s crossover and cross-cultural Silk Road Ensemble, but was way ahead of its time and without the commercial success.

In any case, it seems very few composers pioneered and championed both personal and professional diversity through Asian sounds and an openly gay identity. Completely genuine, Harrison seemed creative and imaginative in just about everything he touched and did.

If you, like The Ear, know little about the maverick Lou Harrison, an excellent background piece, recently done by Tom Huizinga of National Public Radio (NPR), is a fine introduction.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/13/525919082/lou-harrison-the-maverick-composer-with-asia-in-his-ears

Harrison composed a lot of music, including concertos for piano and violin, that shows Asian influences and combines them with traditional Western classical music. Below is a YouTube recording of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan from 1981-82.

Have you heard or performed Harrison’s music?

What do you think of it?

Would you like to hear it programmed for live performance more often?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.


Classical music: This is a very busy weekend for FREE choral music, band music, chamber music, a brass master class and a Berlioz colloquium at the UW-Madison.

December 1, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the time of the academic year, the end of a semester, when performers and venues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music really get a workout.

Take this weekend and especially this coming Sunday, which features seven events.

There will be two popular Winter Choral Concerts at Luther Memorial Church, 1026 University Avenue (below, in  2014) plus performances by the Concert Band and University Bands and a couple of recitals by students. Mills Hall, Morphy Hall and Music Hall will all be in use.

Here is a link to the full Sunday schedule with information about the many concerts, but which, unfortunately, does NOT include programs for the choral concerts and a band concert:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/2016-12-04/

UW Winter Concert 2014

This Friday and Saturday are also busy, though less so.

FRIDAY

At 4 p.m. in Room 2441 of the Mosse Humanities Building is a FREE public colloquium about the pioneering Romantic French composer Hector Berlioz (below).

berlioz

Here is a description by the presenter, Professor Francesca Brittan of Case Western Reserve University:

“Against Melody: Neology, Revolution, and Berliozian Fantasy.”

“Complaints levied against Hector Berlioz’s music during his lifetime (and after) were many: deafening, terrifying, “too literary,” “too imitative.” But by far the most pervasive anxiety voiced by critics revolved around Berlioz’s illegibility. In particular, his music was ungrammatical, failing to adhere to the rules of syntax, the tenets of “proper” melody, and the laws of rhythm.

“These were not just idle or irritated complaints but urgent ones, linked by 19th-century critics to fears of social unraveling and even revolutionary violence. Berlioz’s musico-linguistic perversion, as one reviewer put it, was tantamount to Jacobinism. This strand of the criticism began in earnest with the “Symphonie fantastique,” a work that usually claims our attention for its orchestrational innovations and autobiographical resonances.

“In this talk, I redirect attention to the symphony’s syntax, arguing that melodic-linguistic deformation was at the heart of the work’s radicalism. I link Berlioz’s notions of “natural” grammar (borrowed in part from Victor Hugo) to notions of “natural” sound, and the “natural” rights of man. More broadly, I examine relationships among grammar, revolution, and 19th-century fantasy, between musical neology and the Berliozian imaginary.”

The event is funded by the University Lectures Anonymous Fund.

For more about Francesca Brittan (below) go to:

http://music.case.edu/faculty/francesca-brittan/

francesca-brittan

At 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, a student brass quintet will perform a FREE concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Malcolm Arnold, Kevin McKee and Victor Ewald. Performers are Nicole Gray, Brandi Pease, Kirsten Haukness, Hayden Victor and Michael Madden.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is a FREE public master class with David Wakefield (below), a former member of the American Brass Quintet who now teaches at The Hartt School. Sorry, no program of works to be played.

david-wakefield

At 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall is a FREE graduate student concert of chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Rayna Slavova is a second-year Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) student in collaborative piano, studying with professor Martha Fischer.

The all-Mozart program includes the Violin Sonata in F, K. 376, with Biffa Kwok, violin (an excerpt, played by Hilary Hahn, can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); the Piano Duo Sonata in C, K 521, with Alberto Pena, piano; and the Piano Quintet in E flat, K 452, with Juliana Mesa, bassoon, Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet, and Dafydd Bevil, horn.

Mozart old 1782

SATURDAY
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Strings – made up of talented non-music majors — will play a FREE concert. Sorry, no news about the program.

At 4 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall is a FREE Fall concert by the Flute Studio at the UW-Madison. Sorry, no word about the program or players.

At 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital in a FREE recital by Seth Bixler who is a senior violinist studying with Professor Soh-Hyun Altino. He will perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Tchaikovsky and Eugene Ysaye.


Classical music: The Festival Choir opens its season Saturday night with a light and music project devoted to peace

October 27, 2016
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison (below, in a photo by Stephanie Williams), singing under its director Sergei Pavlov, will open its new season with a mixed arts event devoted to peace.

Festival Choir of Madison Tchaikovsky Fall 2014 CR Stephanie Wiliams

The concert is this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Da Pacem Domine” is a project of music and light dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

It will feature light design by Andrew Schmitz.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

For more information about this concert, tickets and the entire season with three more concerts, go to: http://festivalchoirmadison.org

festival-choir-of-madison-new-logo-2016

Says Pavlov (below), who teaches at Edgewood College:

“Tonight the Festival Choir of Madison presents a project that goes beyond the concept of a traditional concert. With the help of compositions from all around the world, we recreate a day in the life of a nation. Yes, this day is September 11, 2015. But in fact, it could be any day in history, when humanity has faced profound grief caused by hatred and destruction.

“The concert comprises six parts: “Morning,” “Cries and Whispers,” “A Prayer for Peace,” “Interlude,” “The Memory of our Heroes” and “On Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

“From the dream-like visions of Daniel Elder, through the biting dissonances of Hikaru Hayashi and the otherworldly sounds of Ēriks Ešenvalds, the Festival Choir of Madison and the light designer Andrew Schmitz will take you on a journey of compassion and hope.

“Experience the healing power of LIGHT AND MUSIC in a project inspired by choral works of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Ēriks Ešenvalds (heard below in a YouTube video), Hikaru Hayashi, Daniel Elder, Rene Clausen and James MacMillan.”

There will also be cello music by Johann Sebastian Bach and bagpipe music performed by Rhys O’Higgins.

Sergei Pavlov


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – the sensual sound and sexy music of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1

June 1, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The other night The Ear heard a recording of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 89.

He had forgotten quite how quietly and intimately sensual, even sexy, it is.

The Ear has never heard the work in a live performance because, unfortunately, it isn’t programmed often – a fate it shares with most of Fauré’s music save his Requiem. But Fauré also wrote beautiful chamber music, songs and solo piano music.

Just listen to the opening watery sounds of the piano and the luscious string sounds. Just listen to the melodies and harmonies. It is such seductive music, filled with yearning and softly stated passion.

See if you don’t agree when you listen to the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom. (You can also find a complete performance of the work in YouTube.)

It offers more proof that Faure (1845-1924, below), who taught Maurice Ravel, is severely underestimated and underperformed in the non-French music world.

faure-1

In The COMMENT section, tell The Ear if you agree and what other sexy pieces of chamber music you want others to listen to.


Classical music: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin opens its return season this Sunday night with an event that combines music, food and poetry.

September 8, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW) write:

After Sound Ensemble Wisconsin’s 2014-2015 hiatus, which allowed director Mary Theodore to care for her new baby, SEW is pleased to announce its return for the 2015-16 season. Please stay tuned for news on the rest of the season.

What does food sound like? What does music taste like? This coning Sunday night, participants can enjoy a lovely evening out as they explore their senses as the pathway to their souls through the performing arts of food and music, accompanied by poetry.

The 2015 realization of 2014’s highly successful “SEWing Taste and Sound, Bite by Byte” is a collaboration between Sound Ensemble Wisconsin’s Mary Theodore (below left in a photo by Katrin Talbot); Chef Dan Bonanno (below right) of Madison’s celebrated restaurant Pig in a Fur Coat; and poet-violist Katrin Talbot (center).

SEW dinner poetry photon2

The event centers around the aesthetic similarities of food and music, both of which Mary Theodore, SEW’s director and violinist, considers performing arts.

This year, SEW has based the evening on a set of six Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok. (You can hear many of them performed by Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Each duo, or byte of music, will inspire Chef Bonnano and be paired with one course, or bite, of food — and performed/served as such to create a six-course meal, including a beverage pairing for each course. Talbot will also read her original poems, composed for each variation.

At the end of the meal, SEW musicians will perform the music from beginning to end with the aim of offering participants a new experience of the music, a new journey of taste and sound.

Please see the Wisconsin State Journal interview and the Madison Magazine review based on the highly successful 2014 “SEWing Taste and Sound, Bite by Byte” at SEW’s website: http://soundensemblewisconsin.org/press/

This performance will take place on Sunday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m. at Pig in a Fur Coat, 940 Williamson Street. Tickets are currently on sale at www.soundensemblewisconsin.org and are $105 per person or $100 per person by check (with guests’ names) to: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin, 716 Edgewood Avenue, Madison, WI 53711.

Performing musicians are Mary Theodore and Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music.

Eleanor Bartsch

“SEW will certainly bring a new dimension to Madison’s cultural scene,” veteran music critic John W. Barker has written.

 


Classical music: Madison-area piano students explain why, despite nerves and hard work, they like to play music for others and perform in public

June 15, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A little over a month ago,  I attended a student recital that my piano teacher in Madison, Bill Lutes (below), holds every spring for his non-adult students, usually in the auditorium at Oakwood Village West retirement community.

It is always an enjoyable and illuminating event. But this time proved especially so. Lutes had asked his students to provide personal commentaries about playing the piano in general and playing in public in specific.

So in addition to hearing wonderful music by Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Grieg, Debussy, Bartok and Rachmaninoff and others, I also got to ponder the thoughts of young people and the meaning that classical music and performing that music hold for them.

I thought others might like to see and hear their comments. So I asked Lutes if the students (below) and their parents would agree to a public posting, with pictures I took. They did.

So here they are.

I realize there are many, many Madison-area recitals and student concerts that merit a similar recognition. The problem is that I just don’t know of them. But if you or a music student you know, adult or non-adult, would like to leave a short and similar commentary, please do so in the Comments section of this blog.

I also think asking music students who participate in a recital to give a brief “artist’s statement” is a wonderful idea. It gets students thinking about the role of music in their lives. It helps parents to appreciate their child’s achievement and to understand what paying for their children’s music lessons really means. And it fosters learning by listeners from performers.

I want to thank the students for both the music and their thoughts about the music. Their individual recital pictures follow their statement.

Maya Nitschke Alonso/Cherokee Middle School

I love playing piano because I really enjoy all of the different sounds it can make and the variety of dynamics that it can produce. I also really like all of the action and the movements that can be added to the sounds while you are playing.

                                                                                     

Maylynn Hu/Elm Lawn Elementary School

I love playing piano. It is really fun. I especially like Beethoven and Mozart‘s music. I find playing their fast pieces very enjoyable.

Hallie Turnbull/Graduated, Memorial High School

My piano is my most dependable and necessary creative outlet. This staple of my daily diet uses Bach for stability, Mendelssohn for tranquility, and composing for passion. I am definitely one to believe all problems are alleviated with a little piano time.

Allen Chang/ Kromrey Middle School

Playing the piano takes the mind off of real things in life. On the piano you are the controller of the mood, by making these things happy, sad, angry, or anything you want it to sound. There are many different sounds you can express.

R. J. Leiferman /Graduating, Middleton High School

Although I have never been a fan of practicing, playing the piano, especially for other people, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done.  I’m not quite sure why I like it so much, but I do.  There is something about playing music for other people, giving them the gift of music, that I really enjoy.

   

Andrew Brettin/West High School

I enjoy playing the piano because I like making music. Sometimes I try playing songs that I hear on the radio because I like playing songs that everybody knows.

                                                    

Adrian Binkley/Waunakee Middle School

I love playing the piano for many reasons. One is the freedom it can give the performer, which is not found often in other things. Another reason is that it can create and/or share ideas much more “colorfully” than words. Also, this art form is more of a language than most people think, which creates a connection between pianists.

Sam Averill/Graduating, Waunakee High School

I love playing piano because it is such a versatile instrument that allows for so much musical expression. It will also help me in my future endeavors in college and beyond.

Leslie Huang/West High School

Playing the piano offers an escape from the outside world. It’s a constant challenge, but when you get it just right, the music expresses what can’t be put into words and creates an entirely new world unique to the player, as well as everyone who experiences it.

 Hannah Lou/ West High School

Playing the piano is like you are transformed into your own magical world, full of sorrow, happiness and unimaginable stories. It is a special way to enjoy music and a great way for relaxation. I have always loved the sound of the piano ever since I was a little child.

Loren McMahon/ Jefferson Middle School

I love playing the piano because you can express your feelings in what you play, and especially how you play. When you play a song on piano you make it your own, even if you’ve never even heard it before. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment when you finish performing something with as close to perfection as to your ability!

Ethan Seidenberg/Hamilton Middle School

I like to play the piano because it gives me a sense of an accomplishment to learn a piece.  I like that the two hands can have different melodies.

Vivian Wilhelms/Waunakee Middle School

I love playing the piano because it allows me to express my deepest thoughts and feelings.  It is so relaxing because it allows me to think inwardly about myself, yet at the same time, I am reaching for things beyond myself.  Whenever I play, it is as if I become part of a different world — a world in which everything I imagine becomes real.  It is such a magical feeling that I can only find in my music. 

Garrick Olsen/Waukesha Virtual High School

I love to play the piano for others as well as for my own enjoyment. Music is definitely a huge part of who I am, and I can’t really imagine life without it.

Max Butler/Graduating,  Memorial High School

I like to play piano because the more I put into it, the more I get out of it. When I have puzzled over each technical and musical detail of a piece, I play the piano in a deeper and almost completely different way. And that is one of the most rewarding I have ever had.

 


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,093 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,722,928 hits
%d bloggers like this: