The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 26th season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chamber music festival opens this weekend with two programs in three locations

June 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 26th annual summer chamber music festival — Alphabet Soup — starting this weekend.

It will run from this Friday, June 9, through Sunday, June 25. The festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, and each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

In the three-weekend festival, you can hear great classical masterpieces and fine contemporary works. A roster of musicians with national and international reputations will perform.

The venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Added attractions include stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes. As BDDS puts it, “It’s chamber music with a bang!”

BDDS is led by co-artistic directors and performers flutist Stephanie Jutt (below right), who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and who just retired from the UW-Madison faculty; and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below left), who graduated from the UW-Madison and teaches in Berkeley, California,  where he is a member of the San Francisco Trio. Nineteen guest artists will also perform in the festival.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s the 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

Musicians for Week One include three veteran string players: Naumberg Award-winning violinist Carmit Zori (below top); Madison’s very own violist Sally Chisholm (below middle) of the Pro Arte Quartet; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist Joseph Johnson (below bottom).

They will be joined by young artists who are participants in the newly formed Dynamite Factory, a BDDS program for nurturing and furthering the talents of three exceptional young musicians — violist Jeremy Kienbaum, violinist Misha Vayman and cellist Trace Johnson.

In one of two “sandwich” programs this weekend, PB&J, Carmit Zori will play the haunting Violin Sonata in F minor by Sergei Prokofiev and the program includes the heavenly Piano Quartet in A Major of Johannes Brahms.

The Dynamite Factory artists are featured in the emotional String Trio by Gideon Klein (below), a work he wrote at the Auschwitz concentration camp shortly before his death. (You can hear the trio by Gideon Klein in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

PB&J will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 11, at 2:30 p.m.

A second “sandwich” program, BLT, features the emotionally complex Cello Sonata (featuring Joseph Johnson) by Benjamin Britten (below top); all of the artists working together in the great “London” Symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn as arranged by Haydn’s contemporary and impresario Johann Peter Salomon (below bottom); and the beautiful string sextet “Souvenir de Florence” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

BLT will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m. and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. 

For the seventh year, BDDS will perform two FREE family concerts, interactive events intended for all ages.

One event takes place 11–11:45 AM, on Saturday, June 10, in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.  The other will be at the Central Library Bubbler on this Thursday afternoon, June 8, from 4 to 5 p.m.

This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come, first served. CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe and the Overture Center underwrite these performances.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes are on exhibit in The Playhouse Gallery through July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply). Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

For more information about the group, performers and programs, including audiovisual clips, go to: http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open their second promising season with another dazzling concert of music by Mascagni, Tchaikovsky and Caroline Shaw.

July 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

You had to be there to believe it.

That’s just how good the Willy Street Chamber Players are. (Actually, this season the music is being streamed live, so you don’t have to be there, and Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9 recorded this concert for later airing.)

The Willys, as critic John W. Barker of Isthmus likes to call them, set themselves a high bar to clear, given the spectacular debut they made last summer in a series of July concerts that propelled them to the top of the list of classical music news in the area for the entire season.

The Ear is happy to report that in last Friday night’s opening concert of their second season, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) met and surpassed that bar.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

There was really only one small disappointment: Despite promises to bring the concert in with enough time to allow people to get over the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition at the UW-Madison, they ran late.

But at least they tried. And an effort at cooperation seems in perfect keeping with the nature of this outstanding ensemble. So do the local post-concert treats of food and sweets they offer.

Willy Street snacks 2016

The concert started with a piece that reminds one how a beautiful melody sticks in the ear and is never out of date, no matter what some modernists say.

In this case, it was the Intermezzo from the Romantic opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1880) by Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, as arranged for string sextet by Beth Larson (below, front left), the group’s own violist and violinist. As a welcoming opener and mood-setter, it proved a sheer delight.

Willy Steet Mascagni 2016

Let’s jump to the end, which was a stupendous reading of the Big Work: the “Souvenir de Florence” (Memory of Florence) by Peter Tchaikovsky that featured guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below, front left).

Beia, you may recall, is a concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as member of the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. And this summer, she sizzled in her virtuosic reading of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi for the closing concerts of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. And boy, can she fiddle!

Willy Street Tchaikovsky 2016 with Suzanne Beia left

In the Tchaikovsky, there was plenty of lyricism. But the force and energy of the brisk, upbeat tempi kept the work from becoming the kind syrupy and repetitive sentimentalism that inferior Tchaikovsky playing can produce.

It was an exciting and dynamic, even thrilling, performance. The audience leapt to its feet with good reason.

But for The Ear, the standout piece was the centerpiece: the “Entr’acte” for string quartet (below) by the young American composer Caroline Shaw.

Willy Street Caroline Shaw 2016

This is The Ear’s kind of new music. Inspired by a minuet from an Op. 77 string quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn, Shaw’s work quietly pulsed and throbbed with a hypnotic rhythm. (You can hear a different performance of the work in a the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were some dissonances and some strange sounds made by rubbing strings as well as plucking and snapping strings. But overall this was new music that had melody, rhythm and harmony, and it proved accessible on the first hearing. Plus it was short and possessed both emotion and elegance. Eat your hearts out, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen!

The Ear hopes that the Willy Street Chamber Players continue their exploration of works by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Shaw (below) in future summer seasons and prove to be her ambassador to Madison audiences.

Caroline Shaw CR DASHON-BURTON

In any case, based on last season and now this concert the Ear has no reluctance in recommending the four concerts by the Willys that remain, three on Friday nights at 6 p.m. and one at noon.

NOTE: A word of warning is in order. Give yourself extra time to get there. Construction downtown plus major construction and street repairs on the streets around the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., pose obstacles.

Here is a link to the rest of the season:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

All The Ear can add is that last summer’s success was no fluke.

So let’s hear a Big Bravo for the fact that the Willys are Winners!


Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra brings its fifth season to an impressively brassy close

June 4, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted 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. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) finished its fifth season with a concert on Wednesday night that was a kind of brass sandwich—that is, a brass filling between two noisy slices of bread.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The opener was the popular “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak, the closest this composer ever came to producing a cheap crowd-pleaser.

(I wish that the enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below), had chosen instead one of the other two overtures in Dvorak’s trilogy of “Nature, Life and Love,” which are much more substantial.)

The orchestra gave the overture a lusty performance, revealing some interesting wind details that one does not often hear.

Steve Kurr.

There were two sandwich fillers.

The first was a concerto for tuba, dating from 2015. The composer, local musician and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus Pat Doty (below), was also the soloist.

Of its three movements, the first was clearly in the idiom of music for marching band, in which Doty has had long UW experience. The second movement was an attempt at a waltz, while the finale had Latin American odors and featured a prominent part for marimba. What to say? The program bio made the sensible point that Doty’s music “never takes itself too seriously.”

Pat Doty playing CR JWB

A more substantial score was the other filling, the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, Op. 91, by Russian late-Romantic Reinhold Glière, also in three movements. (Sadly, the program booklet failed to list the movements for each concerto.)

While this score may not be really great music, it is a splendid, if difficult, vehicle for the soloist.

Another UW-Madison grad, Paul Litterio (below), a player in many area orchestras including both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (and with a sideline in handbells), was the soloist. Playing with perfect technique, an elegant style and just a touch of teasing vibrato, Litterio gave a fascinating demonstration of his instrument in a solo capacity that we do not often hear.

Paul Litterio playing CR JWB

The closing bread for the sandwich was another example of near-vulgar bombast by one of its masters: Tchaikovsky (below). If that was the kind of music to be written, he was the one to do it, and still make you admire him.

Tchaikovsky 1

The Capriccio Italien, Op. 40, was the composer’s reaction to a visit to Rome. He evoked his neighborhood and, above all, the riotous sounds and songs of a Roman Carnival. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tchaikovsky’s capacity for making bombast sound like fun creates a really delightful score, and the Middleton players poured all their energies into it.

(An interesting footnote: Tchaikovsky’s other musical product of his visits to Italy is a very different work, the gorgeous string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Memory of Florence), which is less about Italy itself and more a picture of the composer’s homesickness. As it happens, that masterpiece will be played on July 8 by the Willy Street Chamber Players.)


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