The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, with solo violinist Paran Amirinazari, closes its seventh season with rousing and intense performances of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

June 9, 2017
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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

On Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) closed its seventh season with a rousing program offering three contrasting Russian works.

The opener was the Overture to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, as realized by Alexander Glazunov. It served to show off the orchestra’s ever-developing string band, solid in tone, if still lacking a little in warmth.

A real gem was the second work, the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev. By contrast with the composer’s first venture in that form — a taut, aggressive affair — this one is more relaxed and jovial, if no less demanding technically.

The soloist was Paran Amirinazari (below), stepping out of her usual concertmaster’s slot into the full spotlight. She handled admirably the great technical demands of her solo role, full of quirky and tricky writing.

But, amid all the spikiness she pointed up handsomely the real and almost neo-Romantic lyrical sweetness that Prokofiev infused into the showiness. (Just listen to the gorgeous second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is one of the truly great violin concertos, and Amirinazari — the brilliant artistic director of the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players — demonstrated that adroitly.

The final work was a grand effort: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. This is, of course, one of those “warhorses” about which The Ear has been debating lately. It is thereby the more challenging for an orchestra to present to an audience likely to be familiar with it.

Its calculated lavishness has made it a masterpiece beloved by the public, but it is still fascinating to encounter with close listening. The composer pulled out all his tricks of dazzling orchestration and melodic invention, but in the service of a grand-scaled structure that skillfully manipulates cyclical and cross-referential transformation of themes through the score’s totality.

Maestro Steve Kurr (below) by now has nurtured remarkably solid resources for an orchestra of this kind. The potent brass choir is really well consolidated, backing fine-sounding woodwinds. Kurr made the most of these resources, in a well-rehearsed performance in which the stress on intensity of playing resulted in highly dramatic results, culminating in a truly noble ending.

This was a richly satisfying program, showcasing an ensemble of which Middleton should be button-burstingly proud.


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: Your warhorses are my masterpieces — and I want to hear them

June 3, 2017
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature Madison keyboard artist Trevor Stephenson performing on a restored 1855 Boesendorfer grand piano. The program includes music by Chopin, Granados, Brahms, Wagner, Bartok, Debussy, Schoenberg and Satie.

You can attend it live for FREE in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the UW-Madison’s art museum. But you can also stream it live using the link on this web page:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-6-4-17/

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again when music groups announce their new seasons.

And it seems to The Ear that the word “warhorse” is again being tossed around a lot, especially by experienced listeners who use the term pejoratively or disapprovingly, in a snobby or condescending way, to describe great music that is performed frequently.

But more than a little irony or inaccuracy is involved.

For example, a some people have referred to the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms – scheduled next season by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — as a warhorse.

Yet The Ear has heard that symphony performed live only once – perhaps because programmers wanted to avoid the warhorse label.

The same goes for the iconic Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, which will be performed next year by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below). It was a revolutionary work that changed the course of music history, and it is a great piece of engaging music. (You can hear the opening movement, with an arresting graphic representation, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here’s the irony: I have heard the Piano Quintet by Brahms, the Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert and the String Octet by Felix Mendelssohn – all great masterpieces — far more often than I have heard those “warhorse” symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. Can it be that connoisseurs usually seem more reluctant to describe chamber music masterpieces as warhorses? (Below in the Pro Arte Quartet in a photo by Rick Langer.)

The Ear is reminded of a comment made by the great Russian-American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky (below): “Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is not great because it is popular; it is popular because it is great.”

So yes, I don’t care what more sophisticated or experienced listeners say. I still find the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Tchaikovsky to be a beautiful and thrilling work that rewards me each time I hear it. It never fails.

Add to the list the popular symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, several piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Jupiter” Symphony and Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And one could go on and on.

They are all great masterpieces more than they are warhorses.

Plus, just because a piece of music is new or neglected doesn’t mean that it is good or that it merits a performance.

Otherwise, you could easily spend the rest of a life listening to second-rate and third-rate works out of curiosity and never feel the powerful emotional connection and deep intellectual insight that you get with a genuine masterpiece that rewards repeated hearings.

Of course, some warhorses do leave The Ear less than enthusiastic The “1812 Overture” comes immediately to mind. Boy, do the crowds like that potboiler — on the Fourth of July, of course, when it has a traditional place.

But often enough your warhorse is my masterpiece, and I want to hear it without being thought of as a philistine.

It might even be that playing more warhorses — not fewer — will attract some new audience members at a time when music groups face challenges in attendance and finances?

It may not be cool to say that, but it might be true, even allowing room for new and neglected works that deserve to be programmed for their merit — not their newness or their neglect.

So-called “warhorses” have usually survived a long time and received many performances because they are great music by great composers that speak meaningfully to a lot of listeners. They deserve praise, not insults or denigration, as well as a secure and unapologetic place in balanced programming.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste.

So …

What do you think?

Are there favorite warhorses you like?

Are there warhorses you detest?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
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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. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music: Con Vivo closes its 15th season this Thursday night with a guest appearance by Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain in chamber music by Dvorak, Spohr and Martinu

May 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester), or “Music With Life,” concludes its 15th season with a chamber music concert entitled “Czech Mix” on this Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall.

Convenient parking is only two blocks west at the University Foundation, 1848 University Ave.

Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, will conduct the 14 musicians.

The program features large ensemble pieces by Czech composers Antonin Dvorak and Bohuslav Martinu, and by German composer Louis Spoor.

Specifically, the program includes two Nonets for winds and strings by Martinu (below top) and Spohr (below middle) and the Serenade for Winds and Strings, Op. 44, by Dvorak (below bottom).

NOTE: You can hear the opening movement of the Nonet by Spohr in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets available in advance at Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe St. or at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and students.

This concert marks Maestro DeMain’s third engagement with Con Vivo. Music critic John W. Barker observed during Maestro DeMain’s previous appearance “…this evening was my concert of the year…”(Isthmus 12/27/13)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the concert.

In remarking about the concert, Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor said: “We are delighted and thrilled to have Maestro John DeMain return to conduct this seldom heard, but glorious music. This is a rare opportunity to hear and see Maestro DeMain work with a small ensemble. We are sure this will once again be a concert to remember.”

Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

For more information, go to: www.convivomusicwithlife.org or the group’s page on Facebook.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs Bach’s “Magnificat” and other music by Handel and Schütz this Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Madison and Whitewater

April 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat with full orchestra and additional works by Bach, George Frideric Handel and Heinrich Schütz on this coming Friday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, in Madison.

There will be an additional concert on Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. at the Young Auditorium, UW-Whitewater, 930 West Main Street, in Whitewater.

 

The Baroque splendor of Bach’s Magnificat will be performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir with its professional orchestra, Sinfonia Sacra.

Featured soloists include trumpet virtuoso John Aley, oboist Marc Fink, violinist Leanne League, New York-based tenor (and former Madisonian) Alex Gmeinder (below top) and mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Cooper.)

Sharing billing with the Bach is Handel’s impressive Utrecht Te Deum, which, like the Magnificat, exalts in the colors of voices, trumpets, timpani, oboes, flutes and strings.

Rounding out the program are Bach’s double-choir motet, Fürchte dich nicht (Be Not Afraid), and a work by Bach’s great predecessor Heinrich Schütz: Nun danket alle Gott (Now Thank We All Our God).

Inspired by Mary’s song of praise from the Gospel of Luke (depicted below), the Magnificat is one of Bach’s most glorious and varied pieces. Its music offers a sampling of every style of music in Bach’s repertoire as a composer.

Imposing, concerto-like movements crowned by brilliant trumpet fanfares highlight the full chorus, whereas solo arias, duets and trios deepen the mood of the text in counterpoint with constantly changing instrumental colors—from lush strings to playful flutes to the dolorous oboe d’amore. (You can hear the “Magnificat” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In the solo movements the professional singers share the stage with highly accomplished members of the choir including Christopher Eggers and Nicole McCarty; Madison Savoyards regulars Bill Rosholt and Natalie Falconer; and many others.

The members of Sinfonia Sacra are drawn from the rosters of the Madison Symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the music faculties of UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh.

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres. Artistic Director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks.

Advance tickets for the April 28 performance at Luther Memorial Church in Madison are available for $20 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Orange Tree Imports and Willy Street Coop (all three locations).

Advance tickets for the April 30 performance at Young Auditorium in Whitewater are available from www.uww.edu/youngauditorium/tickets


Classical music: Two weeks of choral music and world premieres start this week at the UW-Madison

April 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The last two weeks of April look to be a busy time, with several world premieres of new music taking place – one in chamber music this week, then next week one in choral music and one by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in orchestral and piano music.

It is also a busy time for choral music, especially with back-to-back performances next week by the Concert Choir and the community-campus UW Choral Union.

All UW-Madison concerts scheduled for this week are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here — with an unfortunate lack of details about programs — is the UW-Madison lineup for this week:

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the University Opera presents its spring program of “Opera Scenes” done by the UW-Madison Opera Workshop. Sorry, no word about specific operas, scenes or singers. Staging is minimal and accompaniment is done by a piano.

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below top) will give the world premiere of “The Cross of Snow,” written by John Harbison (below middle) and commissioned by local businessman William Wartmann in memory of his late wife.

The new work, scored for string quartet and voice, features guest mezzo-soprano Jazmina Macneil (below bottom).

Also on the program are: String Quartet in E Major, Op. 54, No. 3 (1788), by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet in A Minor Op. 16 (1874) by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the new work, including the text of the poem “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-7/

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Chorale and the Madrigal Singers (below) team up for a joint concert under director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word about composers or works.

SATURDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings – an amateur group of non-music majors — will perform its annual spring concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Women’s Chorus (below), Masters Singers and University Chorus will give a joint concert. Sorry, no word on the program.

SUNDAY

From 2 to 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform under directors Darin Olson, Nathan Froebe and Justin Lingre will perform. Sorry, no word on specific programs.

This week, The Ear also counts 10 different student degree recitals on tap, from piano and violin to percussion and voice. Some listings mention programs, but others do not. For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


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
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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: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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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

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Percussion Ensemble holds a benefit concert this Saturday afternoon for Ronald McDonald House Charities

March 22, 2017
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ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9, who recorded all of “Bach Around the Clock” this year, writes: “At 7:08 a.m. this Thursday morning, I’ll be airing Saturday’s “Bach Around the Clock” performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. This was a collaboration of Trevor Stephenson, Kangwon Kim. Nathan and Gillian Giglierano, Micah Behr, Marika Fischer Hoyt, Illana Schroeder, Martha Schroeder, Martha Vallon, Eric Miller and Mark Bridges.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to post something about a worthy cause and a worthy event:

Drum roll, please!

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Percussion Ensemble (below) will host its 16th annual PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA!! on this Saturday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the UW George L. Mosse Humanities Building. (A video sampler of profiles and music of WYSO’s 13th Annual Percussion Ensemble in 2014 can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under 18, and are available at the door 45 minutes before the concert begins.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble (below top) — 14 student musicians from 10 communities playing under Vicki Jenks (below bottom) — hosts this signature percussion benefit to help others.  Previous PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZAS! have benefitted Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the local American Red Cross.

This year—for the first time ever—Ronald McDonald House Charities will partner with WYSO in the collection of tangible items need for the Ronald McDonald House in Madison. The concert will also feature Ronald McDonald himself in person.

Nearly 60 performers—featuring Mannheim Steamroller drummer, Tom Sharpe (below) —will present eclectic, global music dedicated to PEACE. The theme of the event is “Lifting the World to Peace.”

Other EXTRAVAGANZA artists include Madison’s own Black Star Drum Line Percussion Group, led by Joey B. Banks; the UW-Madison Pan-Global Percussion Ensemble, Todd Hammes, instructor; and the WYSO Chamber Strings, led by its director Karl Lavine (below), principal cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

For more information and details about the performers and the complete program as well as a video and a list of related activities and needed items you can bring and donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/percussionextravaganza/

Parking is available at State Street Campus, Helen C. White, and Grainger Hall parking facilities.

For more information, please contact the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble and PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA! are supported by the Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund, the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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