The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players complete their cycle of Beethoven sonatas for strings with impressive beauty and sensitivity

October 10, 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 photos.

By John W. Barker

In another distressingly overcrowded weekend, hard choices had to be made about which event to attend. I picked the performance by the Mosaic Chamber Players last Saturday night at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

For the past four years, this group has pursued a “complete” survey of Beethoven’s sonatas for strings and piano. Since he composed 10 for violin and piano plus five for cello and piano, it was easy to organize them into five concerts, each with two violin sonatas and one for cello. In addition, it was possible in many programs to draw on all three periods of Beethoven’s output.

This year’s concert was thus the fifth and the last in the series, climaxing a really impressive achievement for artistic director and guiding spirit Jess Salek and his colleagues.

As pianist in all three of the works presented, Salek (below) provided more than accompaniment, since the role of the piano was generally put on terms of equal partnership, sometimes even of relative superiority. He played bravely, justly showing palpable pride in the total achievement.

Laura Burns (below), who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the MSO’s Rhapsodie String Quartet, was the violinist in the early Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 12, No. 2.

This happens to be the first of these Beethoven sonatas that I came to know and love in my youth, via an old Jascha Heifetz recording, so it had particular reverberations for me. To its wit and sprightliness Burns brought an added warmth of sound and spirit.

The Cello Sonata No. 5 in D, Op. 102, No. 2, was the last one Beethoven composed for this medium, and one of two that dates from the composer’s late period. A great deal of very serious thinking went into it, with a slow movement particularly notable for its spiritual depth. Cellist Kyle Price (below) delivered it with genuine feeling and with great strength of tone.

Also Beethoven’s last work for its medium, the Violin Sonata No. 10 in G, Op. 96, comes from late in the composer’s so-called middle period. It is a work of almost kaleidoscopic variety, with frequent changes of mood and character.

Its core is another slow movement of amazingly personal eloquence and breath-taking beauty. And the theme-and-variations movement finale seems to have everything (almost) in it but the kitchen sink. (You can hear Wes Luke and Jess Salek performing another theme-and-variations movement from a different Beethoven violin sonata in the cycle, Op. 30, No. 1, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It was clear that violinist Wes Luke (below), who is also the first violinist of the Ancora String Quartet, was having a whale of a good time playing it, relishing almost every note.

Luke’s printed program notes were particularly excellent, and included notice that the group’s spring concert will juxtapose piano trios of Beethoven and Brahms.

The Mosaic Chamber Players do not receive a great deal of publicity, but their concerts offer some of the most lovely and thought-provoking chamber music repertoire to be found, even in a town so full of wonderful music-making as ours.


Classical music news: Wisconsin Public Radio has cancelled the “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” FREE chamber music series after 36 years of success. Other classical music from around Wisconsin is slated to replace it starting this fall.

May 8, 2014
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PLEASE NOTE: Some corrections have been made from the original posting. I have noted them below in an updated version. I apologize for any inaccuracies, although the basic points remain the same.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday’s edition of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will mark not just the end of the current season; it will also mark the end, after 36 years, of the FREE chamber music series that has been broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio throughout the state.

(Below is the Pro Arte Quartet, frequent guest performers who always attract a full-house at SAL.)

The concert series, which now reaches some 200,000 listeners across Wisconsin, will simply no longer exist. (NOTE: Potter says the actual figure is closer to 10,000, but that serving statewide listeners and not accumulating higher ratings is the motivation behind the change.)

SALProArteMay2010

Pianist Eugene Alcalay (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, will close out the series with a solo recital of Schubert, Beethoven and Wagner, broadcast live as usual, on this Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, where it has attracted a full house almost every week.

(You can hear Eugene Alcalay play the first movement of the Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, “Funeral March,” Op. 35, by Frederic Chopin in a 2011 performance at the Chazen in a YouTube video at the bottom.) In the Madison area, you can hear it at WHA FM 88.7.

Eugene Alcalay

“This will be the last concert in that series for this season and forever,” said Wisconsin Public Radio’s Director of Marketing Jeffrey Potter.

The news comes just after WPR finished its successful spring pledge drive.

“The making of the decision and the timing of announcing it was not easy for us,” Potter told The Ear in a telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon.

Potter also said that the decision to cancel the series was the decision solely of WPR, and not of the Chazen Museum of Art officials, although he said they understood the reasons and appreciated being kept in the loop.

Potter said the decision should not be interpreted as a sign of failure of the SAL series that started in 1978.

“The most important message to get out is that it has been a great run,” Potters said, praising the audiences, the musicians, the venue and WPR’s longtime host Lori Skelton (below).

Lori Skelton

“It hasn’t been that there is something wrong with the program,” Potter said. “It is just that Wisconsin Public Radio is also looking out for the best way to serve the public because we are the single biggest presenter of classical music in the state. We want to highlight music in Green Bay, Superior, Milwaukee, Lawrence University in Appleton, even Mills Hall at the UW-Madison.” He added that doing that would serve the Wisconsin Idea — that the borders of the university are the borders of the state — as well or even better than the current “Sunday Afternoon Live.”

“The resources we put into a live broadcast are not insignificant,” Potter said. “Live music may be exciting, but being live music doesn’t determine whether it is great music or not.”

Potter said that other forms of classical music besides chamber music, in a format yet to be determined, will replace SAL in the fall. That programming will be done by SAL host Lori Skelton working with Peter Bryant, WPR’s new director of News and Classical Music Service Peter Bryant.

The emphasis, Potter said, will be on recorded music from around the state rather than on live performances in Madison by musicians from around the state.

WPR new logo

In the meantime, WPR will follow the usual summer format. Performances by the Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s “Tosca” (May 17) and Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” (May 24) will occupy the next two Saturday  (NOT Sunday, as Potter originally stated) afternoon time slots, starting the weekend after the live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera end.

Potter also said the WPR would be contacting musicians (NOTE: a letter was sent to them and to the Chazen officials on Wednesday, according to Potter) and the public about the program change in the near future, starting this week and weekend. More information will soon be posted on the website www.wpr.org

NOTE: Adds Potter on Thursday: “I wanted to share the link with additional details about the decision. It can be found on the home page, right side middle of the page under the “Announcements” section. Here’s the link: http://www.wpr.org/news-about-wprs-sunday-afternoon-live-chazen

SALmicrophone sign

The decision to cancel “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” was met with disappointment and disapproval by Russell Panczenko, the longtime director of the Chazen Museum of Art.

“I was caught completely by surprise,” said Panczenko (below). “Frankly, I knew nothing about it,” he added saying he was disappointed because killing off the series would lower the profile of the free public museum statewide.

Russell Panczenko of Chazen

“A year ago said they thought might be doing something, but then at a meeting this spring where I thought they would just be discussing the next season, they came out of the blue and said they were canceling it,” Panczenko explained. “They just cancelled, no discussion.”

“I always thought it was wonderful program, not just for us but also for the people who went into the galleries after the concerts,” Panczenko added. “People also heard about the museum around the state because there was always a 7-minute promotion piece about the touring or permanent exhibitions. I thought it was a good deal all around. It was wonderful. It was the also the only live performances they regularly had.”

ChazenMusArt_open11_7430

Both Potter and Panczenko said they anticipated negative reactions and backlash from the public. But, Potter said, that is unlikely to change the decision, as happened when WPR tried to cancel live broadcasts on Saturdays from the Metropolitan Opera and tried to change Classics by Request from Saturday to Friday, then rescinded each decision.

“Anytime you have a program change and lose something, it is hard on people,” said Potter, who added that WPR gets about 36,000 emails and phone calls about programming each year.

“I don’t think we will reverse this decision despite opposition” said Potter. “We are really trying to look at the bigger picture. We want to hear opposition. But we didn’t enter in this lightly and we wouldn’t exit it lightly.”

But Potter said he wanted the public to know that the change will not lessen the amount of classical music that will be heard on WPR,

Said Potter: “We at WPR remain committed to serving our customers throughout the state. We feel that people will continue to enjoy classical music on WPR.”

If you want to leave a public opinion or statement, please use the COMMENTS section of this blog.

And don’t forget that you can copy and paste from comments to private emails and vice-versa.

Here are some contact email addresses to send WPR a message:

http://www.wpr.org/staff

Director of Radio: mike.crane@wpr.org

Director of News and Classical Music Service: peter.bryant@wpr.org

Director of Marketing: jeffrey.potter@wpr.org

Listeners or musician or even performer, what do you think about Wisconsin Public Radio killing off “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen”?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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