ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features oboist Laura Medisky and pianist Vincent Fuh in sonatas by Paul Hindemith, Henri Dutilleux and Malcolm Arnold. The concert runs from 12:125 to 1 p.m. On Saturday night at 7 p.m., the same performers will repeat the same program in a FREE concert at Oakwood Village West auditorium, 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), which The Ear named as Musicians of the Year for 2016, write:
We wanted to let you know about the upcoming kickoff of the Willy Street Chamber Players’ “Community Connect” series. We are committed to our mission of making classical music accessible to all.
The Willy Street Chamber Players’ Northside Community Connect Concert is on this coming Sunday, Feb. 19, at noon at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center.
Enjoy hot coffee, exciting classical music and great conversation with the Willy Street Chamber Players.
This program is FREE, family-friendly and will last about 60 minutes. All are welcome.
The program is: String Quartet in C Major, K. 157, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; String Quartet No. 5, “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain; “Entr’acte” for String Quartet by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw (you can hear the piece, which The Ear loves for its pulsing and hypnotic rhythm plus unusual and interesting string textures, in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Four, for Tango” by Astor Piazzolla.
There was an announcement about this series in the January string quartet program at A Place to Be (below, in a photo by John W. Barker), and it included a couple more concerts. But we have decided to make Community Connect a self-produced series.
We are planning a second Community Connect concert in July during our regular summer series, and have listed our other free appearances on our regular calendar.
The concert is made possible in part by Willy Street Co-Op and the North/Eastside Senior Coalition (NESCO).
For more information go to: www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
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. 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 provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that several days ago, The Ear named the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
He also mentioned that although there were not yet any YouTube videos of the group, which will have its third season this summer, the alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 has broadcast recordings of live performances.
Here is a link to that posting:
If you haven’t yet heard the Willy Street Chamber Players live, you can hear them this Thursday morning on WORT FM 89.9.
Here is what Rich Samuels, radio host and friend of the Willys, writes:
“Thursday morning, Jan. 5, at 7:28 a.m. on my WORT “Anything Goes” broadcast, I’ll be airing the Willy Street Chamber Players performing the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which I recorded last July 29 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church.
(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the opening movement of Mozart’s beautiful Clarinet Quintet performed by the Emerson String Quartet with clarinetist David Shifrin of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Players in New York City.)
“Michael Maccaferri is the clarinet soloist (below). He’s a member of the eighth blackbird ensemble of Chicago. He’s participated in four eighth blackbird Grammy-winning releases on the Cedille label, the local nonprofit recording label that is also in Chicago and that recently turned 25.
“Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), who presently freelances in Chicago, recruited Maccaferri for this event. In addition to Eleanor, this performance features Willy Street violinist Beth Larson, violist Rachel Hauser and cellist Lindsay Crabb.
“It was my privilege to record most of the first two seasons of the Willy Street Chamber Players for broadcast on WORT.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that tradition in 2017.”
Here is a link about upcoming strong quartet concert on Jan. 21 and 22 and about the Willy Street Chamber Players in general:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Opera has some good news to share:
National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017.
Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Madison Opera to support the Midwest premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday night, Feb. 10, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, 2017.
The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.
“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Madison Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”
Madison Opera will be only the second company to present Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which premiered in spring 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below, with Lawrence Brownlee in the title role on the right and the real Charlie Parker on the left). You can see and hear the trailer for the Opera Philadelphia production in the YouTube video at the bottom.
Set on the night that saxophone great Charlie Parker died, the opera begins with Parker returning in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new work that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).
Madison Opera’s performances take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and are directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by John DeMain.
The cast features Joshua Stewart, Angela Brown, Will Liverman, Rachel Sterrenberg, Julie Miller, Angela Mortellaro, and Krysty Swann.
“It is an honor to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and be recognized for our artistic work on a national level,” says Madison Opera General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “The NEA’s funding will not only help us share this thrilling new opera with our region, but also support an array of Charlie Parker-related events, allowing true community engagement with the opera and its subject.”
In addition to the public performance on Feb. 10 and 12, 2017, Madison Opera’s “Extending the Stage” activities include “Jazz at the Opera Center,” a concert with Richie Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra on Jan. 8; Opera Novice on Jan. 20; Opera Up Close on Feb. 5; “A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion” with the Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder and UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble on Feb. 9; and a variety of previews and presentations on Charlie Parker, jazz, and the opera at various libraries and retirement communities.
For more information on any of these events, got to: madisonopera.org.
For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov/news.
Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.
A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.
By Jacob Stockinger
Summer is close to over.
You can feel it the cooler morning air.
You can see it in the earlier sunsets.
It’s not a particularly important musical story. But it has a lot of human interest and some lessons through the personal experience of Miles Salerni (in a photo at bottom, by Hillary Scott for the Boston Symphony Orchestra).
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
The weather predictions that The Ear has seen say today and tomorrow will be cool and rainy with possible storms.
So here is a touch from the composer who The Ear thinks is the most summery composer in history. His work has just the right touch of breezy lightness and bright sunshine.
He is the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc, so severely underestimated in his lifetime, and here– in the YouTube video at the bottom — is his Sonata for Oboe and Piano, which The Ear often finds Mozart-like its simplicity, clarity and beauty.
Hope you enjoy.
By Jacob Stockinger
The big classical music event this week is the opening of the 25th anniversary season of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
It was co-founded and is still co-directed by pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley; and by Stephanie Jutt, professor of flute at the UW-Madison School of Music who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Here is a link to the BDDS website with information about tickets, programs, venues and performers:
Recently, Jutt (below) spoke to The Ear about the upcoming season, which runs June 10-26:
“This silver anniversary season has something for everybody, and we’ve made it extra special in every way, with personnel, with repertoire and with audience favorites that we’re bringing back.
“In the first week, we have two short pieces by our featured composer, Kevin Puts “Air for Flute and Piano” and “Air for Violin and Piano,” and the world premiere of “In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry,” a piece we co-commissioned, with several other participating festivals, from the American composer Kevin Puts (below).
We commissioned him just before he won the Pulitzer Prize, luckily for us! We have performed several works by him in the past (“Einstein on Mercer Street,” “Traveler” and “Seven Seascapes”), and he will be here for the premiere performances at the Overture Playhouse and the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen compound in Spring Green.
(NOTE: Composer Kevin Puts will speak about “How Did You Write That?” at the FREE family concert on this coming Saturday, to be held 11-11:45 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.)
“In Week 2, we have three crazy, inspired works by Miguel del Aguila (below), a Uruguayan composer from Montevideo, who now lives in Los Angeles, that we commissioned and premiered. We’ll be performing “Salon Buenos Aires,” the piece that we commissioned, along with “Presto II” and “Charango Capriccioso.”
During Week Two, we are also bringing back the amazing pianist, arranger and raconteur Pablo Zinger (below), also originally from Uruguay and a longtime New Yorker, to perform his arrangements of movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and others, as well as some of Pablo’s brilliant arrangements of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.
“In Week 3, we are bringing back the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla and the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. People have begged us to repeat this program for years. It’s one of the most thrilling programs we’ve done, and this seems like the perfect time to return to this beloved repertoire. (You can hear the Summer section of Piazzolla’s Four Season of Buenos Aires in the youTube video at the bottom.)
“In the same Week Three, you will also hear some favorite works, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and, in Week 1, Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, “Schwanengesang” (Swan Songs”) with one of our favorite artists, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top). That third week also features the Ravel Piano Trio with the San Francisco Trio (below bottom), comprised of Axel Strauss on violin, Jean-Michel Fontaneau on cello, and JeffreySykes on piano.
“We wanted to repeat special things and also do new pieces. Some of the music has links to the number 25 for our 25th anniversary – like Opus 25 for the Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms or the Piano Concerto No. 25 by Mozart.
“We’re spending a lot more on artist fees this summer – it increases our budget by a lot, but it makes for a very special 25th season. We will have special mystery guests and special door prizes, as we love to do, and some special audience participation activities. (Below is a standing ovation from the audience at The Playhouse.)
“Did we think we would reach 25 years when we started? Of course not! We didn’t even think we’d reach two. It was started on such a lark.
“But the festival resonated with the summer audience and has every single year. I think we’ve been a success because listeners love to approach serious music with a light touch. You don’t have to behave very seriously to play serious music in a serious way. Artists from all over the United States come to play with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and it’s what draws them back year after year.
“We make a huge effort to make the music approachable, for ourselves as well as the audience. We talk about the music itself, about what it is like to learn it, and what it’s like to be together in such an intense way during the festival.
“We try to share the whole experience with the audience, and it’s something you just don’t find anywhere else. The concert doesn’t just go on in front of you, presented on a fancy plate. It surrounds you and you are a part of it.”
By Jacob Stockinger
But as Decoration Day turned into Memorial Day to honor all military personnel, including the living, the holiday has also become the occasion for marches and parades, for picnics and start-of-summer celebrations.
What music would you play to best honor the occasion and those who served, were wounded or fell?
The Ear has looked for new compilations.
It comes with names and audio clips.
What pieces of classical music would you choose?
But here is a more controversial question: Should we also include and honor civilians on Memorial Day?
Modern wars — World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan — have turned countless civilians into fatalities and casualties. In fact, in many cases, civilian casualties of war far outnumber military ones.
It is inarguable: Modern wars have drafted or conscripted or forced civilians into action, and not just into the military.
The Ear does not think that honoring civilians who were injured or fell in the wars detracts from honoring veterans and the members of the military who did so.
Maybe civilians should even have their own day to mark and honor their sacrifices?
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Get out your datebooks.
Madison now has great classical music year-round, including in the summer, which long ago ceased being an artistic desert.
This summer’s offerings include:
The 25th anniversary season, filled with new music but also tried-and-true treasured masterpieces, of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that runs June 10-26:
The annual Madison Savoyards’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan will stage “The Gondoliers” for six performances July 29-Aug. 7:
The second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below):
The 27th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which runs Aug. 27-Sept 4 and this year features music celebrating water and the natural world. Programs include music by Johann Sebastian Bach, English Renaissance music of John Dowland, William Byrd and Henry Purcell and a Wisconsin premiere by composer and co-director John Harbison plus Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” and his equally famous masterpiece, the “Trout” Piano Quintet:
Plus there are a lot of smaller groups including the Madison Summer Choir and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, both of which have received critical acclaim. And there is the Green Lake Festival. Some I might also include the six Concerts on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which this year features a hefty dose of classical fare.
But if you don’t stay around town and hit the road instead, there is a lot that might interest you in the way of summer music festivals around the country. There are festivals of chamber music, orchestral music and opera.
And The Ear has always wanted to attend the Bard Music Festival (below), which emphasizes the cultural context of the music, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. One of these years! (You can hear from co-artistic director and Bard College president Leon Botstein how the unique Bard Music Festival is run in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is a roundup by The New York Times, which put all kinds of genres together. Just scroll down until you hit the Classical Festivals section that was compiled and annotated by the Times’ trustworthy critic Vivien Schweitzer:
Here is a fairly comprehensive national guide from Wikipedia:
Here is a guide from two years ago, done by NPR or National Public Radio, that includes the Madison Early Music Festival and divides up the selection by regions of the country:
And for good measure, for those taking international vacations here is a guide to international music festivals:
Happy hunting and choosing. Then happy and safe traveling. And finally Happy Listening.
The Ear hopes you have a classic “classical” summer.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from the outstanding Oakwood Chamber Players, known for giving fine performances of programs that feature both unusual repertoire and classic works:
The Oakwood Chamber Players will round out its 2015-2016 season with a concert entitled Summer Splash on this Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door – $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
The concert will honor the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death through Six Pieces After Shakespeare by American composer Craig Bohmler (below). This piece – which was commissioned by the Oakwood Chamber Players and which is receiving its world premiere — explores some of the Bard’s most emblematic comedic and dramatic characters: flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and string bass depict the quicksilver movements of Puck, pathos of Ophelia, eeriness of Macbeth’s witches and rollicking nature of Falstaff.
The program will also include Romanesque by Argentine/French composer Reynaldo Hahn (below), a work that radiates charm with its simplicity and heart as well as its sweetly flowing melody. The expressive musical lines are even more emphasized by the melded flute and viola timbres as they join together in unison.
The complexity and artistry of Summer Music by Samuel Barber (below) make it an enduring and fascinating piece of music. Its slow and bluesy beginning shifts to flashes of dissonance with contrasting lofty and flowing lines. As the work draws to its conclusion the listener is returned to the lazily unfolding material of the start, echoing the idle quality of summertime.
Finally, the concert will close with the delightful and uplifting theme and variations movement from the beloved “Trout” Piano Quintet in A Major, D. 667, for violin, viola, cello, bass and piano, by Franz Schubert (below). The work gets its nickname from the theme and variations movement based on the song “The Trout” by Schubert. (You can hear that movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.