The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival starts this Friday and marks 30 years with jazz plus music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, Schoenberg and John Harbison

August 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this coming Friday, Aug. 16, and running through Sept. 1, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will mark its 30th anniversary with the theme of “Sanctuary.” (The festival takes place in a refurbished barn, below, at 4037 Highway 19 in DeForest.)


Add the festival directors: “The term ‘sanctuary’ attempts to capture in a single word something essential about what the festival has meant to players and listeners over all these years. From the start it aspired to offer something of retreat, an oasis, a place of refreshment and nourishment in art, both for musician participants who find a welcoming environment to “re-charge” their work, and for audience attendees who engage in and become a part of it.”

“In our small country barn,” writes prize-winning composer John Harbison (below top, in a photo by Tom Artin) who co-directs the festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom, in a photo by Tom Artin), “we have always remained devoted to the scale and address of much chamber music, which speaks as often in a whisper as in a shout.

“Where larger musical institutions have been habitually frustrated by trying to live in the business model of growth, we have remained devoted to the intensity of the experience, which explains why the music never goes away, rather than to claims of numbers, which begs the music itself to change its very nature.

“Our conviction is that today’s composers, just like Schubert and Mozart, are still striving to embody daily experience, to connect to the natural world, and to ask philosophically and spiritually unanswerable questions, surrounded and interrupting silence, asking only for our most precious commodity — time. We continue to look for valuable ways to offer this transaction to our listeners, and are grateful for their interest over so many years.”

The first two concerts, at 5 p.m., on Friday and Saturday nights, feature the return of a jazz cabaret featuring standard works in the Great American Songbook. For more information about the program and performers, as well as tickets, go to: www.tokencreekfestival.org or call (608) 241-2525.

Tickets for the two jazz concerts are $40 for the balcony and $45 for cafe seating. Tickets for the other concerts are $32 with a limited number of student tickets available for $12.

HERE IS THE LINEUP FOR THE REST OF THE FESTIVAL

Program 2: Music of Brahms at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, and Sunday, Aug. 25

Johannes Brahms is the only composer whose complete catalogue of chamber music is still in constant use.  This is due to his fastidious high standards, and to his ideal temperament for music played by smaller groups of players. His music is universally admired for the astounding combination of sheer craft and deep emotional impact.

The program includes the Regenlied (Rain Song), Op. 57 no. 3; Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 78; the Sonata for Cello and Piano in E minor, Op. 38; and the Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60. (The “Rain Song” is used as the theme of the last movement of the violin sonata. You can hear it performed by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom, which also features the score so that you can follow along.)

Performers are Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below top); violinist Rose Mary Harbison; violist Lila Brown (below second); cellist Rhonda Rider (below third, in a photo by Liz Linder); and pianist Janice Weber (below bottom).

Program 3: Then and Now, Words and Music – An 80th Birthday Tribute to John Harbison. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 p.m.

Last February, when Madison launched a citywide celebration of co-artistic director John Harbison’s 80th birthday, bitter cold and deep snow made it impossible for the festival to open up The Barn and join in the festivities.

The Wednesday program – an intimate concert of words and music curated by the Harbisons — is the festival’s belated birthday tribute. Harbison will read from his new book about Johann Sebastian Bach, and Boston poet Lloyd Schwartz (below top) will offer a reading of his poems that are the basis of a song cycle to presented by baritone Simon Barrad (below bottom). The evening will include a discussion on setting text, “Poem to Song,” and the world premiere of new Harbison songs, still in progress, on poems of Gary Snyder.

The program includes: Selections from the Violin Sonata in B minor, with violinist Rose Mary Harbison, and “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Four Songs of Solitude” and “Nocturne” by John Harbison; the Violin Sonata in G Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the “Phantasy” for violin and piano by Arnold Schoenberg; the “SchwartzSongs” and “Four Poems for Robin” by John Harbison.

Program 4: The Piano , at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1.

The closing program welcomes back husband-and-wife pianists Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, playing together and as soloists.

Chuang (below top) is acclaimed by critics in the U.S. and abroad for performances of stunning virtuosity, refinement and communicative power. Levin (below bottom, in a photo by Clive Barda), who teaches at Harvard University, is revered for his Mozart completions and classical period improvisations.

Their program explores the question of the composer-performer — that is, composers who were also formidable pianists: Mozart, Ravel and Liszt.

Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, arranged by the composer for chamber ensemble, and excerpts of Harbison’s Piano Sonata No. 2, written for Levin, will be performed. Also on the program are Mozart’s Allegro in G Major, K. 357 (completion by Robert Levin); Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”; and Franz Liszt’s “Reminiscences of Don Juan.”

Other performers are: violinists Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsodie String Quartet; violists Jen Paulson and Kaleigh Acord; cellist Karl Lavine, who is principal cello of both the  Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as the Chamber Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO); and double bassist Ross Gilliland.


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Classical music: You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this Thursday, Feb. 14, with live concerts of new music or old music in a large hall or a small cafe

February 10, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

If you are looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day on this coming Thursday, Feb. 14, with live classical music, there are at least two excellent choices facing you.

The larger event is a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall by the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top) under the award-winning conductor and professor Chad Hutchinson (below bottom) and two graduate student conductors, Michael Dolan and Ji Hyun Yim.

The program features the “Valse Triste” (Sad Waltz) by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But the main focus will be on two works by the living American composer Augusta Read Thomas (below), who lives in Chicago and whose music is widely performed because of its accessible style.

The two works by Thomas are “Of Paradise and Light” and “Prayer and Celebration.”

Thomas, who this week will be doing a residency at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will also hold a free and open master class in Music Hall, at the base of Bascom Hill, from 2 to 5 p.m. that same day. (You can listen to her discuss how she composes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert, the program and especially about Thomas – including an audio sample — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra/

A BAROQUE VALENTINE’S DAY

On Valentine’s Day, baroque chamber music enthusiasts can hear the music of the Kim-Kielson Duo as they perform a program on period instruments, titled Canons, Chaconnes and Chocolate!

Longtime friends and performers, baroque violinist Kangwon Lee Kim and recorder player Lisette Kielson (below top, right and left respectively) will be joined by viola da gambist James Waldo (below bottom).

The concert is on this Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. at Chocolaterian Cafe, 6637 University Ave., in Middleton.

You can name your own ticket price — $20-$35 per person is suggested, payable in either cash or check.

There also will be Special Valentine’s Day Chocolate available for purchase.

The program celebrates the popular baroque forms of the canon and chaconne as composed by Italian, German and French masters.

The duo will perform three chaconnes by Tarquinio Merula, Antonio Bertali and Marin Marais plus canonic duos by Georg Philipp Telemann as well as an arrangement of canons from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, by Johann Sebastian Bach.


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Classical music: Early music is now mainstream here, thanks in large part to the Madison Bach Musicians, which opened its 10th anniversary season with a first-rate Baroque string program that drew a big and enthusiastic audience, and demonstrated the importance of live performance.

October 7, 2013
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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 every other Sunday morning on WORT  FM 89.9. 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

Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) opened their 2013-14 season — which marks the 10th anniversary of the local early music group — with a splendid concert of Baroque string music at the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium Auditorium on Saturday night and then repeated it again on Sunday afternoon at the Madison Christian Community Church on Old Sauk Road.

MBM 10th

I went to the Saturday night performance. As always, the proceedings were prefaced by a talk from founder, director and keyboardist Stephenson (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) in his usual witty and informative style.

MBM 10th pre-concert talk

The rich program proved to be a study in string sounds.  Joining harpsichordist Stephenson, along with cellist Anton TenWolde, were five guest players.

Marilyn McDonald (below) is something of the matriarch of Baroque violin playing and teaching, and two of the other players here have been her students: violinist Kangwon Kim and violist Nathan Giglierano. Two others were Brandi Berry and Mary Perkinson, both skilled players known here.

Marilyn McDonald baroque violin

The program was, to a considerable extent a constant switching of these talented violinists.  A Concerto for Four Violins without Bass was one of those endlessly fascinating experiments by Georg Philipp Telemann, complete with a finale of fanfares.

Two chamber works by George Frideric Handel (below top) graced separate parts of the program.  A Sonata for Violin and Continuo featured the amazingly deft McDonald, with the continuo pair.  And a Trio Sonata, Op. 2, No. 9, joined her with the spirited Kim.  A Sonata for Two Violins by Jean-Marie Leclair (below, bottom) brought together Berry and Kim.

Handel etching

Jean-Marie Leclair

The first half concluded with a revitalized warhorse: the notorious Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, reclaimed from all its stupid arrangements, and restored as a contrapuntal delight for three violins with continuo, as well as reunited with its brief concluding Gigue.  Perkinson joined McDonald and Berry for this.

johann pachelbel

Here, I must say, I found another example of how attending a live performance makes all the difference.  Watching the players in person, I could follow how leading lines were transferred in turn, canonically, from one violin to another, with a clarity that no recorded performance could allow.

MBM 10th 3 before Handel

In the second half, after Handel’s Trio Sonata, Stephenson himself played on the harpsichord the final Contrapunctus or fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.”  Along the way in this, Bach (below) introduced the motto of his own name, made up of the German musical notes of B, A, C, B-flat (“H” in German notation).  And then the piece trails off abruptly where, story has it, Bach dropped his pen forever.

Bach1

The grand finale was a truly exhilarating performance of the Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo, No. 8 by Antonio Vivaldi (below and in a popular YouTube video with over 3 million hits at the bottom) and included in his Op. 3 publication.  (Bach himself so admired this work that he made a keyboard concerto transcription of it.)

vivaldi

Here again, too, I had one of those moments of insight that live performances alone can give.

The players were arrayed, one to a part, with the cello by its harpsichord continuo partner on the far left, the strings then spread out towards the right. The violist Giglierano, in his only appearance, was furthest on the edge.

That isolation from the cello–which really belongs to the continuo, not to the string band–was telling, for it enabled me to appreciate how Vivaldi used the viola as the lowest voice in what is really three-part string writing.  This was notably obvious in the middle movement, which was written almost entirely senza basso (without bass).  Again, such awareness can come only from a live performance, rather than a recorded one.

It goes without saying that all the performers played with the highest level of skill and stylistic sense, joined with infectious enthusiasm.

MBM concerts used to be held in the lovely intimacy of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below top) on Regent Street.  Now, they can virtually fill the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium (below bottom), in a photo by Zane Williams) with an audience close to 200 –and a very enthusiastic bunch, at that.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Thirty years ago a concert like this would have been inconceivable.  The Madison public was just not as aware and as prepared and as receptive as it has come to be by now.  Stephenson and his colleagues in the Madison Bach Musicians are one of the major forces that have brought about that process.  How much we owe them!


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