The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians celebrate 15 years with three performances this weekend of “Arias and Sonatas” by Bach and Handel

October 3, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two towering geniuses of the Baroque era – Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) and George Frideric Handel (below bottom) — were born in the same year, 1685, and just a little over 100 miles from each other.

Yet the two masters never met!

To mark their 15th anniversary, the Madison Bach Musicians will open their new season with three performances of a program “Arias and Sonatas” by the two great composers.

The program will include selections from Handel’s Violin Sonata in F major, Nine German Arias, Lascia chi’o ping (heard sung by Joyce DiDonato in the YouTube video at the bottom), Tornami a vagheggiar; and Bach’s Laudamus te (B minor Mass), Öffne dich (Cantata 61), Ich bin vergnügt in meinem Leiden (Cantata 58), and Prelude and Fugue in C major (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II).

Advance-sale discount tickets are $30  general admission and are available at Orange Tree Imports, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West).

Online advance tickets at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $33  for  general admission, $30 for seniors (65+)  with student rush  tickets costing $10 at the door.

Here are the performance times and places.

Each performance offers a FREE pre-concert lecture by MBM founder, music director and keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below), who will also appear at NOON TODAY (Wednesday, Oct. 3) with host Norman Gilliland on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday.”

This Friday, Oct. 5, with a 7:15 p.m. lecture and 8 p.m. performance at the Grace Episcopal Church (below top and bottom) at 116 W. Washington Ave., in Madison on the downtown Capitol Square.

This Saturday, Oct. 6, with a 7:15 p.m. lecture and 8 p.m. performance at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top and bottom) at 1021 Spaight Street in Madison.

This Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, with a 2:15 p.m. lecture and 3 p.m. performance followed by an outdoor wine reception at historic Park Hall at 307 Polk Street in Sauk City. The Park Hall venue has limited seating, so it is recommended to buy tickets in advance either online or at Willy St. Co-Op (East or West), or at Orange Tree Imports.

The major guest artist is soprano Chelsea Shephard (below). Praised by Opera News for her “beautiful, lyric instrument” and “flawless legato,” she won the 2014 Handel Aria Competition in Madison. She returns to perform with the Madison Bach Musicians after appearing in MBM’s  production last season of Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas.”

Other performers include the Madison Bach Musicians concertmaster Kangwon Kim (below) on baroque violin.

Also, James Waldo (below) will perform on baroque cello. Known for his “nuanced, richly ambered” interpretations of Bach (LucidCulture in New York City), Waldo has lived and breathed period performance his whole life, having been raised in the home of two musicians who specialized in recorder, traverso and Renaissance choral music.

After graduate studies at Mannes College of Music and nine years living and working in New York City, he returned to Madison last fall to begin his DMA studies at UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music with Professor Uri Vardi. He recently participated in an all-Bach program for Midsummer’s Music in Door County, and is the regular principal cellist of Cecilia Chorus, performing twice a year in Carnegie Hall.


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Classical music: For you, what were the best, most memorable or most enjoyable concerts of 2017? Here are the highlights for critics John W. Barker and The Ear

December 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the calendar year is only the mid-point of the new season and the concert calendar.

Still, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and the various performers and performances that we heard.

John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog as well as for Isthmus, recently published his top picks of concerts in 2017 in Isthmus. Here is a link to his year-end assessment:

https://isthmus.com/music/best-2017-classical-music/

To be fair, The Ear doesn’t always agree with Barker on the quality of some pieces and of certain performances. But by and large the two of us are in accord, and even when we aren’t, the Ear respects and learns from Barker’s expertise and experience.

The Ear would only add several things he found that Barker doesn’t mention:

The all-Mozart concert in the fall by the Pro Arte Quartet (below) — with UW faculty clarinetist Alicia Lee and San Francisco cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau filling in for Parry Karp, was a much-needed balm in these times of distress.

If you are a fan of amateur music-making and love the music of Bach, the revival of the Bach Around the Clock marathon in March proved enthralling. (Below are violist father Stan Weldy and mandolinist son Alex Weldy.)

You heard all kinds of musicians, from students and adult amateurs to professionals, in all genres of music, including arrangements and transcriptions that Johann Sebastian would no doubt have approved of.

Pianist Richard Goode (below), who played this fall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, showed the power of softness and quiet.

His subtle playing was full of nuance in preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, by Johann Sebastian Bach; in a late sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven; in the only sonata by Anton Webern; in a generous group for Chopin works; and in an unexpected encore by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. All in all, Goode proved a wonderful reprieve from some of the heavier, louder and more dramatic keyboard playing we hear.

But if you wanted drama, you only had to attend the recital by UW-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below). He excelled in everything, especially the total-body playing of the solo piano arrangement by Franz Liszt of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which wowed the house. But he also showed great restraint, tone and subtlety in contemporary American composer John Corigliano “Ostinato” based on that symphony’s famous second movement.

Then Taylor finished up with contrasting sets of six Musical Moments by Franz Schubert and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

BUT NOW IT IS YOUR TURN: YOU BE THE CRITIC!

Recognizing that the best concert is not necessary the most memorable concert, and that the best or most memorable concert is not necessarily the most enjoyable concert, please tell us:

What did you think was the best concert and best single performance you heard in 2017?

What was the most memorable classical music experience you had in 2017?

And what was the most enjoyable classical music performance you heard in 2017?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A solo marimba concert this Friday night features Bach transcriptions and holiday favorites

December 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Marimbist Matthew Coley (below), who plays in the Madison-based percussion group Clocks in Motion, will give a solo recital this Friday night at 7 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program features transcriptions of Preludes and Fugue Nos. 1-6 of Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Coley plans on eventually performing all of Book II.

Holiday music on the concert will include “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Frosty the Snowman” and more.

Admission is free with a suggested donation of $15.

For more information about Matthew Coley, go to the website: www.hearMatthewColey.com

Coley regularly tours the nation and abroad, offering solo concerts and master classes. He has performed in more than 35 states in the U.S. and in 10 countries. (You can hear Coley performing his own composition “Circularity” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He is the founding executive director of Heartland Marimba with five affiliate initiatives under the organization: the Heartland Marimba Quartet, HMFestival, HMEnsemble, HMPublications, and SoundWAYS.

This year’s holiday tour will also take Matthew to Chicago; Cedar Falls, Iowa; Mount Pleasant, Iowa; Quincy, Ill.; St Paul, Minn.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


Classical music: Despite some flawed comparisons, the Madison Bach Musicians turn in brilliant performances in a concept program of “imitations” by Bach and Vivaldi

September 26, 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

An unusual program opened the 14th season of Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night, and was repeated on Sunday afternoon at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

Instead of a string of compositions with few or no connections, there was a cumulative assemblage illustrating an overriding theme, as summed up in the title of “Imitation.”

To be sure, only two composers were involved: Antonio Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach. The focus was on their uses of imitative textures, including canon and fugue. There were 11 pieces in all, mostly — although not entirely — grouped in pairs, Vivaldi leading each.

The organization was fugue-like, too, beginning with two-part textures and culminating in nine parts. Thus, the nine players (four violins, two violas, two cellos and a harpsichord) were gradually built into the full company by the end.

The pairings did not evoke any direct parallelisms between Vivaldi (below top) and Bach (below bottom), though the former’s experimental and extroverted Italian style stood in regular contrast with Bach’s Germanic seriousness, even as each explored similar contrapuntal possibilities.

The entire concept of the program was intriguing. I did, however, find that two specific selections, both by Bach, did not fit well. They were given in transcriptions rather than as the composer intended. Thus, a fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier was delivered not on the keyboard, but by five string players.

To be sure, that transformation allowed the three-voice counterpoint to be heard more distinctly, but the fact remains that it was written for keyboard and Bach’s part writing deserved to be heard as he intended.

A more serious instance was the tantalizing idea of hearing Bach’s own transcription of a work by Vivaldi. The original was the Concerto in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11, a true concerto grosso, matching a concertino of two violins and cello against a full four-part string ensemble.

Now, Bach made transcriptions of a number of Vivaldi concertos, but presenting any of them in this context posed practical concerns for these players. In this case, Bach’s adaptation was for solo organ. Instead, we heard it with Bach’s organ transcription transcribed, in turn, into a concerto for nine players by one of the group’s violists, Micah Behr.

(You can compare Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins to Bach’s reworking of the same concerto for four harpsichords in the YouTube video at bottom.)

Again, this third-hand edition allowed for contrapuntal clarity, but it totally distorted Bach’s intentions as a transcriber himself.

That said, the performances were all brilliant. Visiting Baroque cellist Steuart Pincombe (below) was something of a star, but all musicians played wonderfully, sitting in a circle for closest interaction and without an intermission.

Still, reservations about this program aside, this concept or idea concert is worth trying again.


Classical music: After this year’s success, “Bach Around the Clock” will return next year on March 10, 2018

March 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The revival of “Bach Around the Clock” (below) this past Saturday proved so successful to listeners, performers and organizers that it will return again next year in March 2018. (Below are violist Stan Weldy and his mandolinist son Alex.)

“It went so well, we will do it again,” said the chief organizer, violist Marika Fisher Hoyt (below), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Ancora String Quartet. She not only was the main host for BATC, she also played in more than half-dozen performances.

As you may recall, the marathon event to mark the 332nd birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) took place from noon to midnight, wisely revised to 9:30 p.m. after too few performers signed up, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 Regent Street.

Plans for next year are already being made and meetings have already been held. And next year will bring major some changes, Fischer Hoyt told The Ear.

For one, the date will be March 10, 2018 – not March 17 or March 24 – which means it will come well before the usual timing of the Saturday nearest to Bach’s birthday of March 21. But, unlike what happened this year, this earlier date avoids the UW-Madison spring break plus the Easter break for public schools. That could reap big benefits in terms of audience and performers.

Because of the immense amount of work involved, Fischer Hoyt said, a non-profit organization will also be formed and more volunteers will be recruited to help spread out the workload of lining up performers and donors, and of organizing and hosting the event.

As for lining up performers, Fischer Hoyt is extremely optimistic.

“There’s a lot of talent in this town I’ve never heard of,” she told The Ear. (Below is impressive pianist Tim Adrianson performing three Preludes and Fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book II.)

The Ear, who spent an enjoyable six hours or so attending the event, has to agree. He took a lot of photos and will be posting more about the event in the coming days.

Right now, he wants to give a big shout-out to Fischer Hoyt for some of the innovations she brought to this year’s revival of a traditional event that was held for three years, and then abandoned, by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here are a few of the changes she made, which The Ear thinks proved all for the better, for BATC 4.

1) There were multiple hosts, which breaks up the event and helps avoid monotony.

2) Prior to playing, performers, some of whom traveled from as far away as Dubuque, Milwaukee, Chicago and Waupun, were briefly interviewed and asked what they liked about Bach’s music and why they chose a particular piece to perform. (Below, flutist Casey Oelkers, left, talks with Hoyt.) That adds personal interest.

3) Free quality snacks of fresh fruit and cheese, not just delicious sweet things like cookies and kringle, were available, as were bottled water, tea and coffee. Good food translates into longer and more comfortable attendance.

4) The church’s venue, especially its woody interior (below), seemed much more suited to Bach’s music and friendly to the audience than the Pres House. And thanks to donations, in addition to a fine church organ there were fine instruments to play, including a Kawai grand piano and a hand-built clavichord from Farley’s House of Pianos. There were also birthday cakes donated by Clasen’s European Bakery of Middleton.

5) The entire event was recorded by Rich Samuels (below) — Madison’s chronicler of live music. He is from WORT-FM 89.9 and he will air BATC in increments on his “Anything Goes” program on Thursday mornings. In fact the broadcasts started this past week with a performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on Thursday morning.

6) The event was streamed live via four different places or portals: the St. Andrew’s website, the Bach Around the Clock website, the Audio for the Arts website and WORT website.

7) There was an impressive variety of performers on all levels and of repertoire. It ranged from student to amateur to professional; from solo and small chamber groups to larger choral and orchestral ensembles, plus faculty members from the UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh as well as the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. The Ear expects the lineup will get even better as word of next year gets out and spreads. (Below are students from the Suzuki Strings of Madison.) Time to get out the music and start practicing!

8) There might a 9-CD boxed set from Audio for the Arts, depending on getting authorization from all the performers.

In short, Bach Around the Clock 4 was a remarkable community event to honor both a remarkable composer and a town with a remarkable commitment to and a remarkable amount of classical music.

To keep current with BATC news, check the event’s website: https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

Cheers to Bach Around the Clock.

And special cheers to Marika Fischer Hoyt.

Bravissimo tutti!

Did you go?

What did you think?

Do you have something to say that you can leave in the COMMENT section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The second half of the concert season starts with a conflicting wealth of great music and promising performances this weekend and especially on Sunday

January 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.

Take this weekend.

At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.

But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.

Here is a roundup:

SATURDAY

From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.

All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/11/10/wisconsin-day-of-percussion/

World Percussion Ensemble

World Percussion Ensemble

At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the  program and the group’s history. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.

Willy Street Chamber Players string quartet cr JWB

At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous  concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel,  Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.

Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/classical-music-oakwood-chamber-players-perform-looking-within-can-we-see-within-ourselves-those-who-have-gone-before-this-coming-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

SUNDAY

At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.

Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/violinist-soh-hyun-altino-and-pianist-christopher-taylor/

Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/theater-tickets/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Christopher Taylor new profile

Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.

Admission is $45.

catherine-kautsky

Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.

Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.

You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html


Classical music: Piano teacher and former radio host Bill Lutes to perform three FREE recitals of music by Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Schumann to say thank you to Madison

November 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

To mark his 40th year in Madison, piano teacher Bill Lutes will give three FREE recital programs in the coming weeks. They are:

• This Sunday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m., in the Capitol Lakes Grand Hall (below)

Capitol Lakes Hall

• Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Oakwood Village West Auditorium (below)

Oakwood Village1

• Friday, Dec. 16, at 12:15-1 p.m. p.m. at First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House (below) — Schumann and Schubert only.

FUS1jake

The program will for the first two recitals will be:

• Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major from “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2,” by Johann Sebastian Bach. (You can hear it played by Sviatoslav Richter in the YouTube video at the bottom)

• Sonata No. 49 in E-flat major by Franz Joseph Haydn

• “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann

• Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert

Lutes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is an independent piano teacher in Madison. His name may also be familiar because he was a host, producer and music director for Wisconsin Public Radio for over a decade as well as a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he did his master’s degree with the late pianist Howard Karp.

bill-lutes-2016-cr-katrin-talbot

In addition to teaching piano, Lutes performs with his pianist-singer wife Martha Fischer, who teaches at the UW-Madison, and he gives music talks at various venues around the city. The couple is known for performing Gilbert and Sullivan and for hosting and participating in the annual Schubertiades at the UW-Madison.

“The motivation for this program is first and foremost to express my gratitude to my friends and family, colleagues, students and the community for my rich life in Madison,” Lutes says. “I cannot begin to name all the people I’ve come to know and love in this beautiful city, which has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities.”

Adds Lutes: “I thought it would be a good idea to play a solo program of music I love to say “Thank you.’”


Classical music: Here are the Top 10 things to know about Handel’s “Messiah.” The Madison Bach Musicians will perform it with period instruments this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

April 4, 2016
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ALERT:  Tomorrow on Tuesday, April 5, there will be two on-air events about the Madison Bach Musicians’ performances of Handel’s “Messiah”: On Wisconsin Public Radio’s Midday program on WERN (88.7 FM) noon-12:30 p.m., MBM director Trevor Stephenson will be Norman Gilliland’s guest. They’ll play and discuss selections from “Messiah.” Then MBM will perform two arias from “Messiah” live on the CBS affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 “Live at 4” program 4-5 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform the well-known oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below). The performances feature period instruments and historically authentic performances practices.

handel big 3

Here are the details:

FRIDAY: 6:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 7:30 p.m. concert

SUNDAY: 2:45 p.m. lecture followed by a 3:30 p.m. concert

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Avenue, Madison, near Camp Randall Stadium.

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

The forces and period instruments MBM has assembled for this event are similar in many respects to those used by Handel in the world premiere of “Messiah” in Dublin in April of 1742.

For more information, including a complete list of performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/april-8-10-2016/

The concerts feature an all-baroque orchestra ─ with gut strings, baroque oboes, natural trumpets and calf-skin timpani ─ plus eight internationally-acclaimed soloists, and the Madison Boychoir (part of Madison Youth Choirs), which will collaborate in the “Hallelujah” Chorus and Amen, under the direction of early-music specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), professor of bassoon at the University of Wisocnsin-Maidson School of Music.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Pre-concert lectures at both events will be given by MBM founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who is as entertaining as he is enlightening.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Advance-sale discount tickets are: $33 general, $28 students and seniors (65+). They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West)

You can also buy advance sale tickets online at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Tickets at the door are $35 general, $30 students and seniors (65+), Student Rush: $10 on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID required) Visit or call www.madisonbachmusicians.org at 608 238-6092.

To prepare you to appreciate the oratorio, here is Trevor Stephenson’s Top 10 list of things – a la David Letterman — that you should know about it:

TOP 10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HANDEL’S ‘MESSIAH

#10. Its title is “Messiah” not “The Messiah”

#9. Handel, at 56 years of age, wrote Messiah in just 24 days in the late summer of 1741.

#8.  Some of the pieces ─ like “For unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” ─ Handel borrowed or adapted from pieces he had composed earlier, usually by laying the new text over the existing musical material. This technique, known as “parody,” was employed by most composers as a way of recycling good musical material.

#7. The original words to the tune we know as “For unto us a child is born” were  (Italian) “No, di voi non vo’ fidarmi, cieco Amor, crudel Beltà” — meaning roughly “No, I won’t trust you, blind Love, cruel Beauty” (Hear the YouTube video at bottom.)

#6. Messiah premiered in 1742 in Dublin, Ireland two weeks after Easter (March 25 that year) on April 13. By uncanny dumb luck, this 2016 period-performance of Messiah by MBM will also take place two weeks after Easter (March 27) on April 8 and 10.

#5. Handel divided this oratorio into three parts. Part I: a world in need of salvation; the promise that salvation is on the way; arrival of the savior in the world; Part II: Christ’s passion and crucifixion, descent to hell and resurrection, beginnings of the church, triumph of truth over death (Hallelujah); Part III: Faith and the world to come; the awakening of all souls (The Trumpet Shall Sound), paean to the Lamb of God; closing, majestic meditation on Amen.

MBM Messiah poster

#4.  In a baroque orchestra the string instruments use gut strings—made from dried and carefully processed sheep intestine. Gut strings assist in the performance of baroque music in two important ways: 1) because gut as a material is very supple, the tone it produces is naturally “warm” in an acoustic/aesthetic sense; therefore, vibrato is not necessary in order to produce a pleasing sound and the player’s attention can focus more on pitch. 2) Gut strings, because they are very textured, produce a natural friction with the hair of the baroque bow which ensures that the instant the player’s bow hand moves the pitch is in the air. This optimizes the sense of directness in performance.

#3. The harpsichord and organ were used as continuo instruments in baroque music. MBM will be using both instruments in the upcoming Messiah performances. 18th-century keyboard tunings were generally of the un-equal/circulating variety known as Well Temperaments, as in “The Well-Tempered Clavier” of Johann Sebastian Bach. In these tunings, every tonality has a unique acoustic color, ranging from the transparently clear and harmonious keys (C major, A minor and other keys near the top of the circle of fifth, unencumbered by accidentals), then shading all the way down to the lugubriously opaque and gnarled keys in the basement of the circle of fifths, like G-flat major and E-flat minor. Notice in Messiah the contrast between the acoustical openness of the initial Sinfonia in E minor (one sharp) and the rigid density of the passion-of-Christ choruses near the beginning of Part II, “Surely, He hath borne our griefs” and “And with His stripes we are healed” both in F minor (four flats). 18th-century temperament will bring such differences into keen relief.

#2. Messiah was very successful and greatly admired in Dublin at its premiere. When Handel led performances of it in London several months later, the reception was much cooler. Nevertheless, from there on the popularity of Messiah grew steadily and it was performed often in Handel’s lifetime under his direction. Though much of Handel’s music was widely published in his lifetime, Messiah was not published until a few years after Handel’s death in 1759.

#1.  In Messiah, the balance between the sense of play and sense of purpose is unrivalled (though a different animal in many ways, a blood brother of Messiah in the movie domain might be The Wizard of Oz). Indeed, it is almost as if in Handel’s world, these two elements — play and purpose — do not oppose, but rather fuel each other. Handel’s descendent in this regard is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose also could consistently fuse melodic joy with harmonic and theatrical pacing, pushing scene after scene ever-higher until it seems the roof opens to the realms of limitless joy.


Classical music: CAN YOU NAME THAT TUNE? The Ear did at the movies — and passes it along

December 29, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s officially winter.

Christmas and other holidays except New Year’s are over or close to over.

Winter break is taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools.

All that makes it a good time to see movies.

So there The Ear was, sitting in one of the cinemas at Sundance 608 on the near west wide in Hilldale Mall.

Before the movie and the previews began, lovely piano music was playing.

What is that? someone asked quietly.

The Ear wishes that maybe Sundance could find a way to show the composer, work and performer on some section of the screen that also shows advertisements.

That’s because The Ear has also heard other works there by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as a mazurka and a nocturne by Frederic Chopin. And he wants other movie-goers to know what they are hearing.

Anyway, this time it was  a beautiful but rarely heard piece that The Ear recognized right away.

It is the transcription or reworking in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of the prelude in E minor from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. 

It is a gorgeously poignant Romantic piece by an accomplished Russian musician and pianist.

Alexander Siloti 

It is so hauntingly beautiful.

And it is useful as well.

It is really the same piece of music repeated twice. That makes it serve as a small and slow etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.

The piece also makes the player coordinate and strengthen the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and execute wide arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.

And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those endless sixteenth notes — the stream that the word “Bach” means in German. What a fitting name for the composer whose flow of music was endless!

All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be learned and performed more frequently. It has even been used by some major piano competition winners as a calming change-of-pace piece, a way to get into or out of the zone.

Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (who is seen below on the right with Siloti on the left).

Alexander Siloti and Sergei Rachmaninov

First, here is the Bach original played by Glenn Gould:

And here is the live performance of Siloti’s reworking and transcription by Gilels:

What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?

Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?

Other classical music you hear in movie theaters?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: An outstanding concert by two harpsichordists explores the rich Baroque repertoire of arrangements and transcriptions. Let’s hear more!

November 25, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: The will be NO free Friday Noon Musicale this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The musicales will resume on Dec. 4.

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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. 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 (below left), the versatile founder, director and keyboard player of the Madison Bach Musicians, ventured another early music novelty last Saturday evening at the Madison Christian Community Hall on Old Sauk Road. (All performance photos are by John W. Barker.)

He and a colleague, Stephen Alltop (below right) from Northwestern University, braved our football traffic and our first snowstorm to bring their respective harpsichords for a joint program.

It was called “Music for Two Harpsichords,” but a better title would have been “Music for Two Harpsichordists.”

Stephenson and Alltop two harpsichords

The fact is, only one item on the program was actually written for two harpsichords playing together. This was the Concerto for Two Harpsichords  in C Major (BWV 1061), for which the string-ensemble parts are purely optional — and which were dispensed with in this case. (For the harpsichord-only version, see the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The two artists did play otherwise together, but in transcriptions.

They took several selections from Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which Rameau (below) himself adapted from purely harpsichord pieces into trios for harpsichord and two other instruments. But these were played in adaptations that turned the other instrument parts into a second harpsichord.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

And there was a transcription for two harpsichords of the Fandango finale from the Quintet No. 4 in D Major by Luigi Boccherini (below) for guitar and string quartet.

Boccherini with cello 1

In between these works there were solo keyboard segments.   Alltop played three of the Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and Stephenson played three of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 harpsichord sonatas.

For some extra spice, Tania Tandias (below), of local Flamenco dance activities, contributed some tambourine rhythms to a pair of the Rameau pieces, and she worked up a lot of castanet excitement in the Boccherini.

Tania Tandias

The two keyboard artists are each wonderful musicians, and obviously are compatible partners as well as gifted individual soloists. Alltop (below) matches Stephenson’s witty commentaries with wonderfully articulate and informed discussion.

Stephen Alltop speaks

Their two harpsichords are, inevitably, quite distinct in tone, so that it is possible to discern each player’s role. Fortunately, too, the Christian Community’s hall is moderate in size and intimate, a perfect acoustical setting for such keyboard playing.

The Stephenson-Alltop partnership deserves to continue. There is a lot of actual two-harpsichord literature out there. Francois Couperin wrote a good deal of music for the combination, as did a number of Elizabethan composers. It would be wonderful if such material could be explored in further ventures like this one, and by these two splendid artists.

Do remember the Madison Bach Musicians’ annual Baroque Holiday Concert, which features cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and music by Georg Philipp Telemann and Arcangelo Corelli. It will take place at 8 p.n. on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall. For more information, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/


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