The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.

brahms3

The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music: Belgian composer Benoit Mernier talks about his String Quartet No. 3, which will receive its world premiere from the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet on this Saturday, March 1, in a FREE concert at 8 p.m.

February 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post is more of a reminder and an embellishment than something that is brand new.

It is a reminder that on this coming Saturday, March 1, at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert that features the WORLD PREMIERE of the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The concert to celebrate the  historic centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet — which is now the long lived active quartet in history — had been postponed from the original date last Fall.

Benoit Mernier 1

The guest artist of the night is the former Juilliard String Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Schaaf). The program includes an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn (Op. 20, No. 4, in D Major) and the String Quintet in F Major by Anton Bruckner, which has a soulful and elegy-like slow movement that you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) commissioned the Mernier Quartet as part of its centennial celebration two years ago, and the group will take in on a tour to Belgium, the original home of the Pro Arte Quartet this May. It will even play again in the same royal court where the Pro Arte was once the official court quartet. (Its current members, below from left, are first violinist David Perry, second violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The outstanding blog “Fanfare” that is done by concert manager Kathy Esposito at the UW School of Music recently posted an interview, with historic background, that critic Mike Muckian, who often writes for Brava magazine, did with Benoit Mernier (below in a photo by Lise Mernier) and appeared on the terrific blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/mernier-pro-arte-quartet-march2014/

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

Also, I want to remind everyone that the concert will be preceded at 7:15 p.m. by a public  conversation-interview with the composer, also to be held in Mills Hall, in a home or living room environment with a light, carpet and cozy chairs – as was done to years ago with other composers (below, is music critic John W. Barker talking with composer Walter Mays on the left and cultural historian Joseph Horowitz on the right.) 

Barker, Mays, Horowitz

For more information about the various events and background, including an open quartet rehearsal with the composer on Thursday from 9 a,m. to noon in Mills Hall, and a “Sunday Afternon Live From the Chazen” Museum broadcast  12:30 to 2 p.m. of the quartet’s second performance on Wisconsin Public Radio, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (below): 

www.proartequartet.org

I hope to be there and I hope to see you there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geybyYGej1o

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Classical music: Don’t miss the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet in Mendelssohn’s wondrous Octet this Sunday afternoon or in a world premiere on Nov. 22 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

November 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

I am no expert about the music of Felix Mendelssohn (below), but for my money I don’t think he ever wrote a better piece than the early Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, for double string quartets, composed when he was just 16.

Mendelssohn

This weekend you will have a chance you should not miss. It is a MUST-HEAR concert that features the Pro Arte Quartet  (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) – now 102 years old and still counting as the oldest surviving string quartet in the world ever – with the Hunt Quartet, which is made up of gifted graduate students from the UW School of Music.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The performance will take place on “Sunday Afternoon Life From the Chazen” this Sunday 12:30 to 2 p.m. and air live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio. By the time you read this, it will probably be too late to reserve free tickets, and the Brittingham Gallery 3 (below) is sure to be full of loyal fans.

But just tune in the radio or stream it live on WPR (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) or through www.wpr.org

SAL3

The important thing is to hear the performance – and hear it live, if you can.

I have heard the Pro Arte play this Octet (at bottom in a YouTube video performed by the Borodin Quartet and the Fine Arts Quartet of the UW-Milwaukee) – which for me rivals or even surpasses Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and “Reformation” Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Piano Trio in D Minor and the String Quartet in A minor, and the Overture to “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” — once with other UW faculty members and once with the acclaimed original Emerson String Quartet (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And the Pro Arte made the Mendelssohn sizzle. Both times brought a firecracker of a performance that made you bolt upright in your seat. Such energy and such lyricism, such beauty! (Also on the program is the soulfully Romanic String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No.1, by Johannes Brahms, which the Pro Arte played exquisitely at their season-opening concert.)

Emerson

Now, speaking of the Pro Arte, you should also know that it will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission, the String Quartet No. 3 (2013) by the Belgian composer Benoit Mernier. (Belgium was the home of the Pro Arte Quartet before it was exiled in World War II in June of 1940 and accepted a stint as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison.)

Benoit Mernier 1

That concert will be FREE at  8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 as previously stated here and in some other materials — in Mills Hall on Friday, Nov. 22.

As you no doubt already know, that Friday night is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy or, simply, JFK.

WH/HO Portrait

The Pro Arte Quartet concert is not designed or intended to be a memorial to JFK, even though one of his favorite works was the soulful Adagio for Strings by the American composer Samuel Barber (below), which ironically was given its world premiere in Rome in 1936 by the Pro Arte Quartet.

barber 1

But even without the Barber work, there is much to recommend attending the concert. If you will be looking for a great place to bonded with other people in memory of a tragic event – The Ear remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news and bets that many of you do too — you can’t do better.

The concert includes guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below), now retired from the famed Juilliard String Quartet. Besides the Mernier, the program includes the String Quintet (1879) by Anton Bruckner and the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Preceding the concert at 6:45 p.m. in Mills Hall will be an conversation-interview with composer Benoit Mernier.

And preceding that will be a savory and companionable cocktails and dinner event held from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in the lobby of the new building of the Chazen Museum of Art. Dinner is $35 per head and reservations must be made by SUNDAY, Nov 17. For more information, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (www.proartequartet.org) or call (608) 217-6786.

SEE YOU THERE!


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