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:
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:
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.
ALERT: Tonight’s concert of African-American spirituals and songs has been CANCELLED because guest scholar and singer Emery Stephens is ill. The UW-Madison School of Music hopes to reschedule the event later this spring.
By Jacob Stockinger
Guess who turns 332 on March 21?
This coming Saturday will bring a 12-hour, noon to midnight, marathon party for the Birthday Boy – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, seen below in a humorous poster for a similar event held several years ago).
The local event – now part of the nationwide “Early Music Month” — is being revived, thanks to Madison violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below), who performs with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Ancora String Quartet and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and to many sponsors.
The party will take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on Regent Street. (Several years ago, the event, when it was sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, was held at the Pres House.) There will be live audio-visual streaming and free wi-fi, and the event will be recorded.
Here is a link to the updated schedule of performances:
Here is a link to an earlier post about the upcoming event:
If you love the music of Bach (below) – and The Ear doesn’t know anyone who is into classical music who doesn’t revere Bach — there will be a lot to love and to listen to at this FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC celebration.
The event is modeled after a longtime similar event in New Orleans and those who attend it can come and go and come back again.
Local performers include groups and individuals who are professionals (Madison Bach Musicians and Wisconsin Chamber Choir), amateurs and students (Suzuki Strings of Madison).
The impressive program includes lots of variety.
There will be preludes and fugues.
Cantatas and concertos.
Sonatas and suites.
Obscure works will be performed.
But there will also be popular works such as two Brandenburg Concertos (Nos. 3 and 5), The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books I and II), the Magnificat, a Violin Concerto, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and some of The Art of Fugue. (You can hear Fugue No. 1 from “The Art of Fugue,” which will be performed at BATC, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
There will be music played on period instruments and on modern instruments, including the harpsichord and the piano; the baroque violin and the modern violin; older recorders and newer flutes, the viola da gamba and the cello. And of course there will be lots and lots of singing and organ music.
Given such a marathon undertaking, you should know that there will be refreshments (coffee, tea, bottled water and snacks), comfortable seating and special birthday cakes — served at midnight — provided by Clausen’s Eurpean Bakery in Middleton.
NOTE: You can find out more when several organizers and performers from Bach Around the Clock are Norman Gilliland’s guests on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” this coming Thursday from noon to 12:30 p.m.
For more information –including how to support the event with a donation and how to participate in it as a performer – go to the event’s homepage:
Here are some links to previous posts on this blog about attending earlier versions of Bach Around the Clock. Read them and look at the pictures, and you will see how enjoyable they are and how informative they are.
See you there!
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will perform a concert titled Looking Back and Forward on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The performances will both be held at the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison near West Towne Mall.
An innovative recipe for A Christmas Carol is a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Outstanding musical theater actor/singer baritone Bobby Goderich (below, seen on the right in Madison Opera‘s production of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd”) will give a tour-de-force characterization of the entire cast of personalities for a rendition of Dickens’s tale in The Passion of Scrooge. A dozen musicians will give Goderich’s flair an abundant platform to show off his singing, humor, and dramatic effects.
The Passion of Scrooge by New York composer Jon Deak (below) is performed annually for holiday concerts at the Smithsonian, and the Oakwood Chamber Players are delighted to present the Wisconsin premiere of this memorable work.
Deak is known for weaving a variety of tales into “concert dramas,” turning words into music and giving instrumentalists the power to evoke speech through their sounds.
The Passion of Scrooge is laid out in two acts as the character struggles to come to grips with the past, present and future, to transform a life of avarice to one of human warmth.
Additionally, the Oakwood Chamber Players will perform music mentioned in the text of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
When the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a celebration hosted by his employer, Mr. Fezziwig, the fiddler plays the tune Sir Roger de Coverley. (You can hear a chamber orchestra version of the work, played by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
This traditional English country dance, set for string quartet by British composer Frank Bridge (below) in 1922, will provide an energetic introduction to The Passion of Scrooge. The musical pairing illustrates how creative expression can transform historic works to give fresh perspectives.
The Oakwood Chamber Players welcome guests Wes Luke, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Brad Townsend, bass; Mike Koszewski, percussion; Mary Ann Harr, harp; Bobby Goderich, baritone; and Kyle Knox, conductor (below).
This is the second of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on Jan. 21 and 22, March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The program lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.
Also, conductor Kyle Knox will discuss the music on Norman Gilliland’s show, The Midday, on Wisconsin Public Radio, 88.7 FM WERN, on this Friday, Nov. 25, from noon to 1 p.m.
Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
ALERT: The Ear likes to see cooperation and collegiality, especially as the classical music scene in Madison gets busier and more competitive. And cooperation is exactly what he heard this week on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s noon-time show “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland.
Members of the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Handel Aria Competition, which both take place tonight, appeared back-to-back on the show and behaved as true colleagues.
The Willy Street Chamber Players said their program of Tchaikovsky s “Souvenir of Florence” and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw should run about an hour — from 6 to 7 p.m. — and that they would do everything possible (less talking perhaps?) to make sure audience members could also attend the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and is held in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival, which takes place this week.
Here is a link with more details about the Willy Street Chamber Players:
And here is a link to the Handel Aria Competition.
By Jacob Stockinger
Get out your datebooks.
Most of the major classical music organizations and presenters in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater to name a few — have already announced their new seasons for 2016-27.
And now the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted its calendar of concerts for the new season, most of which take place in Mills Hall (below) on its website.
To be clear, there are few specific programs listed with composers and works. Sometimes that happens because the programs just aren’t decided yet. And sometimes they aren’t decided because the makeup of some groups – like the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra – aren’t known until school begins in September.
Nonetheless, it is an impressive list that runs into the hundreds when you include student recitals.
Some of the higher profile concerts are ticketed, but most remain FREE to the public.
And you can find out a lot from the calendar, even if it is incomplete and subject to change.
You can see the operas that will be staged by the University Opera – namely Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.”
You can find out about the UW Choral Union (below), which will perform works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein as well as a rarely performed worked based on Walt Whitman by Paul Hindemith.
You can see the groups that will participate in the third annual Brass Fest, including the Stockholm Chamber Brass on its first tour of the U.S.
You can see when virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform as well as when his fellow faculty members will play recitals.
And same goes for the 38th annual Karp Family Labor Day concert on Sept. 5, which officially opens the news season.
There is just so much to choose from!
Here is a link: