The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: We should hear more encores, especially at outstanding chamber music concerts. Plus, a FREE Farmer’s Market organ recital is this Saturday at 11 a.m.

August 11, 2017
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer another FREE Farmers Market Organ Concert. The program, which runs 45 minutes, features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. The organist is the prize-winning Madison native Adrian Binkley.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two weeks ago, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave The Ear yet another reason to like them and be a fan.

After the season-ending program of Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Mozart was over, while the audience was cheering, standing and applauding loudly, two members of the young chamber music group played an encore.

The encore was “Julie-O” by Mark Summer. It was written for one cellist, as you can hear in a performance by the composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But this time it was performed by the two cellists of The Willys — Lindsey Crabb and Mark Bridges (below).

They agreed to play an encore only reluctantly – after some prodding by other members of The Willys, by guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (of the Grammy-winning group eighth blackbird) and, of course, by the audience.

But there shouldn’t have been any reluctance.

The Ear thinks we hear too few encores after so much memorable music-making.

Certain student recitals at the UW-Madison come immediately to mind. It sometimes seems that the protocol of student recitals prohibits encores, but The Ear has been told by faculty members that such is not the case.

What also comes to mind is the lack of encores at chamber music concerts by larger ensembles – piano trios, string quartets and piano or string quintets and sextets.

And rarely do you hear encores at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or Madison Opera except when they are played by concerto soloists.

But why not?

The Ear recalls that several years ago the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, performing the aria with notoriously difficult nine high C’s in the aria “Ah! Mes amis” from Donizetti’s opera “La Fille du Regiment,” then quickly repeated the same passage to frenzied approval.

What are encores but a way of saying: “You liked me, so now I like you.”

Encores are not immodest bragging. They are a reward, a gift, a way for the performer to say thank you to the audience for its attention and appreciation.

Maybe every individual or group should have some kind of encore in the back pocket and ready to go. It could be a short movement or even a section of a movement, perhaps a coda or finale.

It seems to The Ear that many instrumentalists, especially pianists who have such a rich repertory, would do well to have four encores ready: one fast and one slow, one loud and one soft.

That way, the encore can underscore —  by either complementarity or contrast — the piece or pieces that preceded it and called for it.

Have you ever wanted to hear an encore and been frustrated?

What do musicians themselves say about playing encores?

Are there unwritten guidelines or an unstated protocol about when to play encores?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players wrap up their third season this Friday night at 6 with music by Mozart, Schubert and Osvaldo Golijov

July 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below) wrap up their third summer series.

The 90-minute performance is at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., on Madison’s near east side.

A post-concert reception will be held with snacks from the Underground Food Collective and the Willy Street Coop.

Tickets are $15 at the door.

The program is typical for the relatively new group – a small ensemble making big waves — in that it features regular members with a guest performer, and also mixes old music and new music, sometimes with an unusual twist.

The program offers three works.

The dramatic “Quartettsatz” (1820), or “quartet movement,” by Franz Schubert (below) was intended be a part of another string quartet. It never found that home, and now exists as a popular work on its own. (You can hear it played by the Amadeus Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994), by the eclectic contemporary Argentinean-American composer Osvaldo Golijov (below, in a photo by Kayana Szymczak for the New York Times), has proven to be among contemporary music’s more popular works. (It has been performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

As you can gather from the title, it has Hebraic or Yiddish elements typical of Golijov, who is Jewish and has lived in Israel, and it possesses an appealing klezmer sound. The featured soloist is guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (below)

Ending the concert is the popular and supremely beautiful “Sinfonia Concertante” for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was composed originally for a string orchestra and is usually performed that way.

But The Willys, always inventive, will use an anonymous “house music” reduction for string sextet that was done in 1808, almost 30 years after the composer’s death.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has done many similar reductions of piano concertos by Mozart and symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn with great success.

So The Ear is very anxious to hear this transcription or arrangement, which could make yet another great masterpiece even more accessible with smaller forces at less expense.

To The Ear, it has all the makings of yet another MUST-HEAR concert by a MUST-HEAR group.

See you there.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open a new season with an impressive program impressively played

July 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willys never disappoint.

Last Friday night, the six Willy Street Chamber Players (below) opened their third summer season at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

And once again, even though The Willys are relative newcomers, it is hard for The Ear to imagine a more perfect or more enjoyable concert.

The large and enthusiastic audience (below), which has grown considerably over the past two years, seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovations, loud applause and overheard comments.

So what made The Willys’ concert so great and so enjoyable?

Start with the basics

It was summery and informal. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals felt entirely appropriate.

It wasn’t expensive. A $15 ticket seems very affordable compared to what so many other local groups charge.

It wasn’t too long. They played just three pieces – two short and one long — that lasted under 80 minutes. That way you can enter the zone; concentrate hard and focus while you stay in the zone; and then leave the zone for good with time to do other things, including attend the post-performance reception with cookies, ice cream and coffee.

Spoken informal introductions to the pieces – each given by a different player – served as program notes, and they were kept short and to the point. (Below is cellist Mark Bridges humorously explaining the complicated love life of Brahms and how it affected his composing the string sextet.)

The playing itself was exemplary. (It featured the six core members plus guest violinist Suzanne Beia, below front left, of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)

The Ear detected no sour notes, no false starts or stops, no uncertain passages or interpretation. The well-rehearsed Willys played with precision as well as heart.

The program was typical Willy fare. It mixed short and long, old and new.

The old classics were two: Hugo Wolf’s charming “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (below) and with the String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms, a long piece that received an energetic and thoroughly compelling reading.

But the star of the evening for The Ear came first: Jennifer Higdon‘s string quartet setting and contemporary take on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The riffs on the familiar tune by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (below) was new to The Ear and proved completely engaging, unmistakably modern-sounding yet accessible. (You can hear the Higdon work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Higdon string quartet (below) recalled an American tradition of using religious music for non-religious purposes. Think of how Charles Ives and Aaron Copland used old hymns and camp meeting songs, the most famous being Copland’s use of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

To be honest, a lot of new music just doesn’t speak to The Ear or reach him emotionally. It often makes him feel superfluous.

But The Willys have a knack for picking the right kind of new music that captures and holds The Ear’s attention, including the String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass, the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain and “Entr’acte” for string quartet by Caroline Shaw.

It is a gift The Ear hopes they keep as they choose other contemporary composers and new music to perform with tried-and-true classics.

And if you want to hear more, you can go to The Willys’ website for details about the two remaining concerts this summer plus a FREE family-friendly Community Connect appearance at the east side Goodman Center from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday. There they will play the works by Caroline Shaw and Daniel Bernard Roumain as well as “Tango for Four” by Astor Piazzolla and the Viola Quintet No. 1 in G major, Op. 111, by Brahms. (NOTE: An earlier mistake here and on the Willys’ website listed the String Sextet by Brahms rather than the Viola Quintet.)

The Willys complete the regular subscription season with performances at Immanuel Lutheran on two Fridays, July 21 (with music by Elvis Costello, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dmitri Shostakovich) and July 28 (with music by Franz Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Both performances are at at 6 p.m.

For more details about the performers and the programs, here is a link:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

You shouldn’t miss The Willys in concert.

But if you do, you should know that Madison’s classical music documentarian and chronicler, Rich Samuels (below), is recording all the concerts to play this fall on his Thursday morning radio program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9. Stay tuned for more information about air times.


Classical music: This Friday night at 6 the Willy Street Chamber Players open their new summer season with music by Brahms, Wolf and Higdon

July 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past two years, the Willy Street Chamber Players have sure caught on.

That’s little wonder because they consistently turn in must-hear, top-quality performances with accessible but innovative programs that mix old and new works in a shorter-than-usual format. For all those reasons, The Ear named them Musicians of the Year for 2016.

This season The Willys have already performed a preview winter concert and a spring community concert at Warner Park. Then earlier this spring and summer, they warmed up, so to speak, by opening the Rural Musicians Forum season in Spring Green and then also played at the Marquette Waterfront Festival.

This Friday at 6 p.m. the Willys will open the three-concert regular summer season of 2017.

Here is an announcement:

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will begin their third annual Summer Series this Friday night, July 7, at 6 p.m. Join these energetic young chamber musicians for an exciting concert that has something for everyone.

“The concert will begin with two short works: “Amazing Grace” by contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jennifer Higdon (below) and the delightful “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf.

The special guest will be violinist Suzanne Beia – who performs with the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and is also concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Beia (below) will join the group in a performance of the gorgeous String Sextet No. 2 in G major by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Shanghai Quartet, performing live in Tokyo, play the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All this will take place in the beautiful sanctuary (below) of Immanuel Lutheran Church, on Lake Monona at 1021 Spaight Street.

“The concert will run about 80 minutes.

“It will be followed by a reception where guests can meet the musicians and share snacks provided by Festival Foods Madison and Let It Ride Cold Brew Coffee.

“Tickets are $15 and additional information about the group and its upcoming performances — including reviews and a schedule of the Community Connect series as well as a concert at Allen Centennial Gardens — can be found at www.willystreetchamberplayers.org.”

And here is a post with more details about this summer’s concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/classical-music-the-willy-street-chamber-players-announces-its-expanded-summer-season-and-its-another-appetizing-winner/


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!


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