The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Prize-winning composer John Harbison has turned 80. In February, Madison will see many celebrations of his birthday, starting this Friday night with the Imani Winds

January 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 1, a month-long celebration in Madison of the 80th birthday of critically acclaimed and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below) gets underway.

The festivities start with a concert by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds (below), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. – with a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. — in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The program includes Harbison’s popular Wind Quintet.

Here is a link with more information about the group, the program and tickets: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

Among America’s most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur ”genius grant’ and a Pulitzer Prize. His work encompasses all genres, from chamber music to opera, sacred to secular. (You can hear Harbison discuss his approach to composing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He has composed for most of America’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Institute Professor at MIT, Harbison serves as composer, conductor, performer, teacher and scholar. He divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Token Creek, Wis., where he co-founded and co-directs a summer chamber music festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison.

Other local birthday events include a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra; several chamber music and choral concerts at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, including one by the Mosaic Chamber Players; an exhibition of books and manuscripts at the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison’s Memorial Library.

There are also several concerts, including the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola, and a composer residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music; and the world premiere of a new motet by the Madison Choral Project.

Harbison will also be featured in radio interviews and broadcast retrospectives by both Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT community radio.

National and international celebrations include other world premieres of commissions, many new recordings and the publication of Harbison’s autobiographical book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “What Do We Make of Bach?”

For more details about the many local celebrations, you can go to the following two links. Schedules, programs and updates – events are subject to change — will be posted at www.tokencreekfestival.org and www.johnharbison.com.

To receive “Harbison Occasions,” an intermittent e-newsletter, write to arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com


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Classical music: Here are the Grammy Award nominations for 2019 in classical music. They can serve as a great holiday gift guide and many have local ties

December 8, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is there a classical recording you wish to give or get?

Perhaps the list of classical Grammy nominations for 2019, which was just released yesterday, can help you.

It is worth mentioning that many of the musicians nominated have past, present or future ties to Madison.

Flutist Stephanie Jutt, singer Timothy Jones and pianist Jeffrey Sykes perform regularly with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and Jutt and Sykes also have ties to the University of Wisconsin-Madison; producer Judith Sherman recorded the centennial commissions for the Pro Arte Quartet at the UW-Madison; and Canadian violinist James Ehnes has performed several times with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and will do so again this season, while pianist Marc-André Hamelin will make his MSO debut this season.

And there are other local tie-ins including pianist Jonathan Biss and the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison, who also co-directs the  Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Plus, the group Apollo’s Fire makes its local debut playing Bach and Vivaldi in March at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Here are — without record labels, curiously  — the nominees for the 61st annual Grammy Awards. The winners will be announced during a live TV broadcast on CBS on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. For more information, go to: https://www.grammy.com


  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS
Mark Donahue & Dirk Sobotka, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1
Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES
Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Jerry Junkin & Dallas Winds)

LIQUID MELANCHOLY – CLARINET MUSIC OF JAMES M. STEPHENSON
Bill Maylone & Mary Mazurek, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (John Bruce Yeh)

SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11 (below)
Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

VISIONS AND VARIATIONS
Tom Caulfield, engineer; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (A Far Cry)

 

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

BLANTON ALSPAUGH

  • Arnesen: Infinity – Choral Works (Joel Rinsema & Kantorei
  • Aspects Of America (Carlos Kalmar & Oregon Symphony)
  • Chesnokov: Teach Me Thy Statutes (Vladimir Gorbik & PaTRAM Institute Male Choir)
  •  Gordon, R.: The House Without A Christmas Tree (Bradley Moore, Elisabeth Leone, Maximillian Macias, Megan Mikailovna Samarin, Patricia Schuman, Lauren Snouffer, Heidi Stober, Daniel Belcher, Houston Grand Opera Juvenile Chorus & Houston Grand Opera Orchestra)
  • Haydn: The Creation (Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Betsy Cook Weber, Houston Symphony & Houston Symphony Chorus)
  • Heggie: Great Scott (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Music Of Fauré, Buide & Zemlinsky (Trio Séléné)
  • Paterson: Three Way – A Trio Of One-Act Operas (Dean Williamson, Daniele Pastin, Courtney Ruckman, Eliza Bonet, Melisa Bonetti, Jordan Rutter, Samuel Levine, Wes Mason, Matthew Treviño & Nashville Opera Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade To Music; Flos Campi (Peter Oundjian & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

DAVID FROST

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Volume 7 (Jonathan Biss)
  • Mirror In Mirror (Anne Akiko Meyers, Kristjan Järvi & Philharmonia Orchestra)
  • Mozart: Idomeneo (James Levine, Alan Opie, Matthew Polenzani, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra, Elza van den Heever, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
  • Presentiment (Orion Weiss)
  • Strauss, R.: Der Rosenkavalier (Sebastian Weigle, Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Erin Morley, Günther Groissböck, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)

 ELIZABETH OSTROW

  • Bates: The (R)evolution Of Steve Jobs (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
  • The Road Home (Joshua Habermann & Santa Fe Desert Chorale)

JUDITH SHERMAN (below top)

  • Beethoven Unbound (Llŷr Williams)
  • Black Manhattan Volume 3 (Rick Benjamin & Paragon Ragtime Orchestra)
  • Bolcom: Piano Music (Various Artists)
  • Del Tredici: March To Tonality (Mark Peskanov & Various Artists)
  • Love Comes In At The Eye (Timothy Jones, below bottom, Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, Jeffrey Sykes, Anthony Ross, Carol Cook, Beth Rapier & Stephanie Jutt). An excerpt is in the YouTube video at the bottom.
  •  Meltzer: Variations On A Summer Day & Piano Quartet (Abigail Fischer, Jayce Ogren & Sequitur)
  • Mendelssohn: Complete Works For Cello And Piano (Marcy Rosen & Lydia Artymiw)
  • New Music For Violin And Piano (Julie Rosenfeld & Peter Miyamoto)
  • Reich: Pulse/Quartet (Colin Currie Group & International Contemporary Ensemble)

DIRK SOBOTKA

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • Lippencott: Frontier Symphony (Jeff Lippencott & Ligonier Festival Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Thierry Fischer, Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Utah Symphony)
  • Music Of The Americas (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony)


Best Orchestral Performance

 Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra

  • BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • NIELSEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3 & SYMPHONY NO. 4. Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony)

      •  RUGGLES, STUCKY & HARBISON: ORCHESTRAL WORKS. David Alan Miller, conductor (National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic)

  • SCHUMANN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1-4. Michael Tilson Thomas (below), conductor (San Francisco Symphony)

      • SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11. Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

Best Opera Recording – Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

  • ADAMS: DOCTOR ATOMIC. John Adams, conductor; Aubrey Allicock, Julia Bullock, Gerald Finley & Brindley Sherratt; Friedemann Engelbrecht, producer (BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Singers)

      •   BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edwards Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 

  • LULLY: ALCESTE. Christophe Rousset, conductor; Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro & Judith Van Wanroij; Maximilien Ciup, producer (Les Talens Lyriques; Choeur De Chambre De Namur) 
  • STRAUSS, R.: DER ROSENKAVALIER. Sebastian Weigle, conductor; Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Günther Groissböck & Erin Morley; David Frost, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • VERDI: RIGOLETTO. Constantine Orbelian, conductor; Francesco Demuro, the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky (below) & Nadine Sierra; Vilius Keras & Aleksandra Keriene, producers (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra; Men Of The Kaunas State Choir)

 

  1. Best Choral Performance

Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble. 

  • CHESNOKOV: TEACH ME THY STATUTES. Vladimir Gorbik, conductor (Mikhail Davydov & Vladimir Krasov; PaTRAM Institute Male Choir) 
  • KASTALSKY: MEMORY ETERNAL. Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir) 
  • MCLOSKEY: ZEALOT CANTICLES. Donald Nally, conductor (Doris Hall-Gulati, Rebecca Harris, Arlen Hlusko, Lorenzo Raval & Mandy Wolman; The Crossing)

      •  RACHMANINOV: THE BELLS. Mariss Jansons (below), conductor; Peter      Dijkstra, chorus master (Oleg Dolgov, Alexey Markov & Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) 

  • SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS. Matthew Guard, conductor (Skylark)
  • Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance 

For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (twenty-four or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

  • ANDERSON, LAURIE: LANDFALL. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet
  • BEETHOVEN, SHOSTAKOVICH & BACH. The Danish String Quartet
  • BLUEPRINTING. Azure Quartet 
  • STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin (below)
  • VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. A Far Cry

 

  1. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable. 

  • BARTÓK: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2. Yuja Wang (below); Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker)
  • BIBER: THE MYSTERY SONATAS. Christina Day Martinson; Martin Pearlman, conductor (Boston Baroque). 
  • BRUCH: SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 46; VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1 IN G MINOR, OP. 26. Joshua Bell (The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields) 
  • GLASS: THREE PIECES IN THE SHAPE OF A SQUARE. Craig Morris 
  • KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. James Ehnes; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)

  1. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album 

Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

  • ARC. Anthony Roth Costanzo; Jonathan Cohen, conductor (Les Violons Du Roy) 
  • THE HANDEL ALBUM. Philippe Jaroussky; Artaserse, ensemble
  • MIRAGES. Sabine Devieilhe; François-Xavier Roth, conductor (Alexandre Tharaud; Marianne Crebassa & Jodie Devos; Les Siècles)

      • SCHUBERT: WINTERREISE. Randall Scarlata; Gilbert Kalish,     accompanist

 SONGS OF ORPHEUS – MONTEVERDI, CACCINI, D’INDIA & LANDI.          Karim Sulayman; Jeannette Sorrell, conductor; Apollo’s Fire, ensembles 

  1. Best Classical Compendium 

Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist. 

  • FUCHS: PIANO CONCERTO ‘SPIRITUALIST’; POEMS OF LIFE; GLACIER; RUSH. JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Tim Handley, producer 
  • GOLD. The King’s Singers; Nigel Short, producer 
  • THE JOHN ADAMS (below) EDITION. Simon Rattle, conductor; Christoph Franke, producer
  • JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Jerry Junkin, conductor; Donald J. McKinney, producer 
  • VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: PIANO CONCERTO; OBOE CONCERTO; SERENADE TO MUSIC; FLOS CAMPI. Peter Oundjian, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

 

  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition 

A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

  • BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • DU YUN: AIR GLOW. Du Yun, composer (International Contemporary Ensemble) 
  • HEGGIE: GREAT SCOTT. Jake Heggie, composer; Terrence McNally, librettist (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra) 
  • KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. Aaron Jay Kernis, composer (James Ehnes (below), Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) 
  • MAZZOLI: VESPERS FOR VIOLIN. Missy Mazzoli, composer (Olivia De Prato)


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Classical music: The 29th Token Creek Festival closes with the world premiere of a song cycle by John Harbison and dramatic, affecting Schumann

September 6, 2018
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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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The third and final program of this summer’s 29th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in a refurbished barn (below) was given on last Saturday afternoon, when I caught it, and then was repeated the following day.

There were adjustments down to the wire, as co-director John Harbison noted in his opening comments. The originally planned opening piece, Mozart’s Sonata in G Major, K. 301, for Violin and Piano, was cancelled, and the program actually began with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E Major (H. XVI:22).

Harbison (below) played this himself, having observed that, if not noteworthy, it was representative of its kind. In fact, it is a worthy work, its third and final movement is a little set of delightful variations on a minuet tune. Harbison obviously loves this whole Haydn literature, and he played the piece with affection.

Then it was vocal music, sung by tenor Frank Kelley — who has worked with Harbison in the Emmanuel Music activities in Boston — with pianist Janice Weber.

Their first offering was the world premiere of a cycle-in-progress by Harbison, titled In Early Evening, to texts by poet Louise Glück (below): specifically, of its first three songs. The texts are dreamy and nostalgic, and the composer has attempted to capture their multi-layered implications.

The two performers (below) then completed the concert’s first half with a presentation of the complete 16 songs of the cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love) by Robert Schumann. This sets the reflections on failed love, written by the great German poet Heinrich Heine.

Kelley is not an ingratiating singer. His voice sounds raw and worn. Nevertheless, he has splendid diction, in both English and German. He sounded much more confident and secure in the magnificent Schumann cycle, which he sang without a score. In this music he conveyed the varying moods and emotions with genuine engagement and expression.

But pianist Janice Weber (below) proved a real discovery. In his program notes, Harbison rightly pointed out that Schumann’s piano writing was not so much accompaniment as individualized piano writing with its own character and even independence. Indeed, the final song of the Heine cycle ends, after the voice is finished, with a substantial little epilogue of reflection for the piano alone.

Weber projected that very strong piano dimension wonderfully, and she repeated the feat when, for the program’s second half, she was joined in Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, by violinist and Festival co-founder Rose Mary Harbison and cellist Karl Lavine.

This is a lively and quintessentially Schumanesque work that the audience loved. (You can hear the energetic first movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But I found the ensemble not well balanced. Lavine was surprisingly mild, deferential and understated in his playing. But Weber provided the sturdy backbone of the performance. We should hear more of this splendid artist.


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Classical music: The Token Creek Festival will “harvest” gardens of music from next Saturday through Sept. 2

August 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer season for classical music in Madison has gotten busier and busier. But the summer still ends on the same high note — the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that is co-directed by John Harbison and Rose Mary Harbison.

Here is the announcement about this year’s festival, the 29th, that begins this coming weekend:

“The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “Harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

“Both garden and festival share much in common:  risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece —whether a piece of ground or a piece of music — is capable of such nourishment, abundance and variety.

“In the musicians’ garden, with its unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables — but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drive us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below). “Each planting retains certain elements and adjusts others with the hope of increased productivity. But so many of the adjustments made in hope of improvement do not work, but create new problems, require new approaches.  What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Here are this year’s Concert Programs. Please note something new this year: All weekend concerts start at 4 p.m.

Program I: ROOTS – Music of Bach and Primosch. On Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 26, at 4 p.m.

“Continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) in cantatas and instrumental works, and its reflection in the music of James Primosch (below bottom), one of the few composers in our time able to grasp both the possibilities and responsibilities available in sacred music in a tradition inherited from Bach.”

Program II: NEW GROWTH – The Kepler Quartet (below, with composer Ben Johnston, and playing Johnston’s String Quartet No. 7 in the YouTube video at the bottom) on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“A recital of beautifully alluring micro-tonal music “in between the notes.” The attractive and intelligible musical surface, and our experience hearing it, belies the at-times complex compositional methods.

“We are impressed by the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The recital will be augmented with a demonstration and discussion by the Keplers.

Works are by Ben Johnston, Stefano Scodanibbio (below top), Henry Cowell (below middle) and Harry Partch (below bottom).”

Program III: CORNUCOPIA – Saturday, Sept. 1, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m.

“Schumann’s beloved and timeless song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Love) with tenor Frank Kelley (below) and his impassioned, enigmatic and exuberant Piano Trio in D minor anchor this program.

“The program also includes the Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Piano Sonata in E Major by Franz Joseph Haydn sonatas and the world premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, “In Early Evening,” to poems by Louise Gluck.”

The ARTISTS are Mark Bridges, cello; Laura Burns, violin; Ryne Cherry, baritone; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, portative organ and piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Frank Kelley, tenor; The Kepler Quartet; Karl Lavine, cello; Sharan Leventhal, violin; Jennifer Paulson, viola; James Primosch, piano; Brek Renzelman, viola; Eric Segnitz, violin;  Janice Weber, piano; and Sarah Yanovitch, soprano.

Performances take place in the Festival Barn (below top and bottom), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). 

The charming and rustic venue — indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts — is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended, and casual dress is suggested. Ample parking is available.

Tickets are $12-$32, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-festival-2018-harvest-tickets-47217166817

For more information about the performers and specific works on programs, call (608) 241-2525 or go to www.tokencreekfestival.org

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

The Token Creek Festival has been called “ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields.” (Photo below is by Jess Anderson.)

“Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming; a deep engagement with the audience; and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a  comfortable refurbished barn.”


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New Life for “The Great Gatsby”: John Harbison’s “Roaring ‘20s” opera has its European premiere this month in Dresden, Germany

December 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend, Sarah Schaffer, who works with composer John Harbison, writes:

Many Madisonians were among those who travelled to New York City in 1999 for the world premiere of John Harbison’s opera, “The Great Gatsby,” which is based on the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in celebration of renowned conductor James Levine’s 25th anniversary there. (Below, from the original production, are the late tenor Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby and soprano Dawn Upshaw as Daisy Buchanan.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Gatbsy (Hadley) and Daisy (Upshaw)

The work has since been presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, in Boston and at Tanglewood by Emmanuel Music, and, in a reduced orchestra chamber version, by Opera Parallele in San Francisco and at the Aspen Music Festival.

A suite from the opera, commissioned by conductor David Zinman, was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under Maestro John DeMain here in 2010.

And of course, John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, are best known in Madison as the artistic directors of the fiercely imaginative annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in their refurbished barn near Sun Prairie just before Labor Day each summer.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

Now, the first European performance of “The Great Gatsby” will take place at Semperoper (below) in Dresden, Germany from this Sunday, Dec. 6, through Dec. 21. It will be presented in English, with German surtitles.

semperoper dresden exter

Semperoper interior

Preceding the first performance, Semperoper is offering a preview event where two film versions of “The Great Gatsby” will be shown: the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; and the 2013 Baz Luhrman version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

According to Semperoper, “The opera blends modern classical music with jazz and swing to paint a thrilling portrait of a debauched and decadent society, where double standards clash with idealism. European audiences can now enjoy this work for the first time.”

John Harbison directing Gatsby

Wayne Marshall is music director, Keith Warner stage director, with dramaturgy by Stefan Ulrich, and set design by the late John Engels, whose stunning and evocative work was seen last spring in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of The Passenger, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s powerful opera about how the horrors of Auschwitz impact people’s lives in the present.

Wayne Marshall, renowned interpreter of the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and other 20th-century American composers, serves as music director.

In making a new production of The Great Gatsby, Director Keith Warner does not adopt an “update” strategy, often seen in recent European productions.  Instead he goes directly to the period, the American mid-1920s, making its excesses, its excitements, and its cloak of impending doom the essential color of the opera. (below is the party scene.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Party Scene

In the upcoming Dresden production, tenor Peter Lodahl makes his Semperoper debut in the role of Jay Gatsby. For more information, visit: www.peterlodahl.co

Daisy Buchanan will be performed by soprano Maria Bengtsson. For more information, visit: www.mariabengtsson.com

A complete cast list and production personnel can be found at https://www.semperoper.de/en/whats-on/schedule/stid/Gatsby/60545.html

A brief video regarding the launching of Gatsby at Semperopera can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7x_dVimgYg

While not without its detractors, over the years and through its many productions Gatsby has garnered significant praise from some of the most respected critics and publications.

With such an iconic and thoroughly American novel, story and music as its origin and soundscape, it will be fascinating to see what kind of reception Gatsby’s eagerly anticipated European premiere will garner across the pond.

Harbison Great Gatsby 2

Europeans, very conversant with the Fitzgerald novel, tend to emphasize the role of class more than American readers.  Warner uses a number of theatrical devices to starkly outline the attitudes and surroundings of the Wilsons, the working-class couple so crucial to conflicts within the story.

The racist and elitist rants of Tom Buchanan, perhaps more comfortably folded into his familiar character by American fans of the book, emerge in stark outline in Warner’s conception.

 


Classical music: Here’s why the opening concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra proved a stunning success.

October 1, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon the UW Chamber Orchestra, playing under conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes the Serenade for Strings by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky and the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as arranged by Gustav Mahler.

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics and audiences all agreed: The season-opening concerts last weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) proved a stunning success.

MSO playing

As The Ear heard it, here’s why.

Of course there are the usual reasons: One was the balanced program that MSO music director John DeMain chose to highlight his ensemble players without a guest soloist. It featured beautiful and dramatic music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron Copland.

Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 was crisp and dark, dramatic but not melodramatic, befitting the opera “Fidelio” that it was originally intended for.

If you missed the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto — written for jazz great Benny Goodman — The Ear is sorry to report that you have already missed a high point of the new season.

It was that gorgeous and that elegiac, that moving and that unforgettable. It was nothing short of sublime. (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Then there was the soloist — MSO principal clarinet Joe Morris (below), who showed in the Copland what an incredible talent he possesses, a talent that allowed him at 22 to beat out 45 other clarinetists in blind auditions for his post. His pitch and tone, his technique and expressiveness all make his playing the clarinet – not an easy instrument to master – seem as effortless as breathing.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

But The Ear found another reason for the concert’s success, one that he credits to longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, who is starting his 22nd season in Madison.

It has to do with the clarity and precision of the playing, the careful dynamic balances, tempi and the delineation of the structure of each work.

DeMain (below) made sure that each section of the orchestra and each part of every work could be heard distinctly, and that helped you to hear how one part or section, of the score or of the orchestra, related to others.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

No music event in Madison leaves The Ear with more food for thought than each summer’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

And at the most recent one, co-founder and co-artistic director John Harbison who teaches at MIT and who, as a composer, has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant, commented on the unsurpassed ability of Beethoven to allow listeners to understand the structure of the sound they were hearing in his compositions.

That, said Harbison (below), is a major reason why the music by Beethoven has survived and that of many of his contemporaries has not.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Harbison’s analysis came to mind during the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert.

Since he took over, DeMain has brought each section up to an impressive level of performance The strings have been excellent for a long time; the winds and the percussion have also caught up.

But the brass really showed it stuff this time, especially in the Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4, which is a very brassy piece.

And DeMain (below) did something important. He illuminated structure by imparting order. He gave each section the kind of shading and space it needed by offering it time to breathe.

He allowed the audience to hear how parts related to the whole. He allowed you to get inside the score and the notes, to step inside the sound and hear the sense  it made and the logic it possessed.

John DeMain conducting 2

In short, John DeMain offered us music that was both deeply emotional and convincingly intelligent.

You felt that he was conducting you as well as the players.

The effect was to create clarity and color, distance and immediacy, all at the same time.

It’s not only the players who have grown during John DeMain’s 22-year tenure.

So has Maestro DeMain.

And, thanks to him and his players, so have we.

 


Classical music education: For 75 years, here is how the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival, where composer John Harbison teaches, emphasizes new music and teaches young composers and student performers.

August 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the closing weekend of this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

The closing “Buoyant Baroque” program, featuring the Lydian Quartet and others performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli and Georg Frideric Handel among others, will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. (The Ear sees that Sunday’s performance is sold out, but you should check for yourself. Sometimes spots open up form cancellations.)

Here is a link to find out more:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

American composer John Harbison (below top) is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the festival along with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom).

JohnHarbisonatpiano

RosemaryHarbison

Harbison is a very accomplished man and musician. He has played the piano this summer for the festival, and he is also a preeminent contemporary composer who teaches at MIT. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant among his many honors. And at the Token Creek Festival, he is the most enlightening commentator on composers and specific works that The Ear has ever heard.

So it seemed a good time to bring to your attention a story done by NPR or National Public Radio about the Tanglewood Festival of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since it features John Harbison as a major source and interview. This summer the festival turned 75.

Harbison is, after all, the co-director – with fellow composer Michael Gandolfi — of the composing program at Tanglewood Music Center, which is where he often premieres his own new works and where he was busy working just before he came to Madison for the Token Creek Festival.

The Ear finds it interesting to hear how, ever since the festival’s beginning, the creativity of young composers and young performers has always been cultivated and encouraged, with an emphasis on creating new music and keeping the classical music world vibrant and current.

Below is a photo of this summer’s world premiere of a new work by Michael Gandolfi, with famed soprano Dawn Upshaw (on the far right in purple) working with student performers.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/15/432242280/at-75-tanglewoods-student-program-holds-focus-on-new-music-and-people-making-it

Tanglewood at 75 dawn upshaw


Classical music: The Lydian String Quartet of Boston returns this Thursday night to the Token Creek Festival to perform two contemporary works and a quartet by Felix Mendelssohn. On Sunday, they will perform Baroque works.

August 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Token Creek Festival write:

The Token Creek Festival is pleased to announce the return to Madison of the Lydian String Quartet from Boston on this Thursday night, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m. The Lydians last appeared at Token Creek in 1999, for a pair of outstanding concerts with the soprano Benita Valente.

The Lydian’s recital features two string quartets by two contemporary composers whose work they have championed for many years — Lee Hyla and John Harbison — along with the Mendelssohn Quartet in E flat, Op. 12 (1829).

The Lydian Quartet (below) has performed a large number of new pieces. Their Token Creek program includes two that were composed within a four-year span, but which speak two very different American musical languages.

Lydian Quartet USE

Both Hyla’s Quartet No. 3 (1989), commissioned by Chamber Music America, and Harbison’s Quartet No. 3 (1993), commissioned by Brandeis University, are single-movement works.

The work by Lee Hyla (below, in a photo by Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe) begins consonantly and reflectively, with a ravishingly beautiful homophonic passage that haunts much of the subsequent music. (You can hear the haunting Hyla work played by the Lydian Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The work traverses a wide terrain and gradually branches out into a discourse that is hardly inferable from its opening strains, and that ultimately leads to a major climax and a quiet, inevitable conclusion.

Lee Hyla CR Mark Wilson Boston Globe

The quartet by John Harbison (below) is hymnodic, rarely contrapuntal, and sustains its central musical declaration throughout, with the exception of two  “out of the blue,” unexplained interludes.

The BBC Music Magazine called the piece “a fascinating, alluring, and moving musical argument,” and the Boston Globe considers it one of Harbison’s finest works, an important addition to the repertory for the string quartet. . . The moods are volatile and wide‑ranging ‑ intimate, public, ferocious, suave, passionate, masked, fleeting and sustained.”

John Harbison MIT

The string quartets by Felix Mendelssohn (below) are among his finest and most striking compositions. They reconcile classical models with romantic passion.

Mendelssohn’s admiration of Ludwig van Beethoven shines brightly in this work. It is lovely music throughout, ebullient and euphonious, and its third movement, the Canzonetta, is probably the single best-known chamber music movement in Mendelssohn’s output.

mendelssohn_300

In addition to their own recital, the Lydians will also appear on the closing concerts of the Token Creek Festival (Saturday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 30, at 4 p.m.). They will anchor a program of Baroque concerti (with some related smaller chamber pieces), including the irrepressible Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as works by George Frideric Handel and Arcangelo Corelli.

Tickets are $30 ($10 for students) for all performances.

Tickets can be bought by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org, by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, http://www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: The Token Creek Festival celebrates Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker this Tuesday afternoon and evening with a forum, a picnic and a recital.

August 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Token Creek Festival write:

On this Tuesday, August 25, the Token Creek Festival shines a lens on one of Wisconsin’s most important artists: the American poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), whose recognition and appreciation have been delayed until recently.

Many poets of the 20th century have worked in what is broadly known as the Imagist mode: short lines, brief phrases, elusively stated thoughts. At its most eloquent it can give us the great range and imagination of William Carlos Williams, as well as decades of other very convincingly compressed writers from Emily Dickinson through Gary Snyder.

lorine niedecker

In Lorine Niedecker we feel the pressure of what has been left out, the hard journey to final shape. We infer a “story” behind it, and we marvel at the courage and art that set it down so briefly.

We can also admire the persistence that drove her to continue to write all through her life, when she received little support or recognition. Niedecker cleaned hospital rooms, and hung barely above the poverty level throughout her life, which she led mainly in a cottage on Blackhawk Island (below) near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. (You can hear a reading of her poem “My Life by Water” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Niedecker cottage Blackhawk Island

According to Ann Engelman, president of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, she “has been called the poet of place because her imagery is so grounded in the area where she lived. Basil Bunting called her “the Emily Dickinson of this century.”

As an objectivist poet, the simplicity of her images helps us sense our own experiences with the elements around us.” Niedecker (below, in a photo from her later years, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation) had a strange life that included a truncated college education and long stretches of isolation as well as an extended epistolary (and, briefly, physical) friendship with fellow poet Louis Zukofsky; her existence resonates in her verse.

lorine niedecker poetry foundation

Three years ago the Token Creek Festival began a concerted look at the land where the festival takes place (below, in a photo by Jess Anderson), exploring intersections between art and nature. The theme continues in the multi-part Niedecker-inspired event, “Paean to Place,” on this Tuesday.

Token Creek land:barn Jess Anderson

Here is a schedule:

  • 4 p.m. Forum. “Finding Lorine Niedecker” will introduce the poet through audio and video footage. A wide-ranging conversation between biographer Margot Peters and composer John Harbison will explore Niedecker’s work, and the event will conclude with performances of music inspired by, or settings of, her evocative texts.
  • 6 p.m. Picnic. Festival attendees are invited to a first -ever Token Creek picnic at the farm—an elegant feast of savory summer fare.
  • 7:30 p.m. Recital: “Longing for Place.” Pianist Ryan McCollough and soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon are two outstanding performers who represent their own youthful generation, searching for what is best and most characteristic in the work of their time. In 2015 our relationship to the natural world is even more fragile and elusive than it was to Lorine Niedecker. Still artists seek to frame that relationship, and render it with their new developing languages.

McCullough and Fitz Gibbon’s recital on themes of nature and place and longing includes works by Henry Purcell, Kaija Saariaho, Nicholas Vines and Robert Schumann, as well as new song cycles by John Harbison — a co-founder and co-director of the Token Creek Festival — and Niccolo Athens.

Harbison’s settings of Niedecker poems, commissioned by the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Festival and premiered there this summer, “let the words speak clearly, syllable by syllable, but he adds expressive space into the texts’ phrases and expands its melodic contours, heightening the sense of the poems being mediums of internal, very personal, monolog” (from the Tanglewood program booklet, July 2015).

Ryan McCullough with piano

Lucy Fitz Gibbon

“Paean to Place” is presented in collaboration with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Tickets are $15-$30 (students $10). Packages are available.

Tickets can be purchased by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org, by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

TokenCreekentrance

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The concert venue (below), indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, http://www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music: Works by Haydn and Mozart open the 2015 Token Creek Festival this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

August 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Token Creek Festival will open its 26th season this coming weekend with a recital of works by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Festival co-founders and co-artistic directors John and Rose Mary Harbison (below top) – who will play the piano and the violin, respectively — explore sonatas and, with local cellist Karl Lavine (below bottom), who is principal cello of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — piano trios of these celebrated composers.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

RosemaryHarbison

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

Performances are this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.

The program includes Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, K 526 (1787); Hadyn’s Piano Trio in A major (1785); Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in E minor, K. 304 (1778, heard in a YouTube video at the bottom); Haydn’s Piano Trio in E-flat (1795), and others works to be announced.

Tickets are $30, $10 for students. Tickets can be obtained by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org; by phone at (608) 241-2525; by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org,; and by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekbarn interior

According to a press release from the Token Creek Festival:

There are not many instances in the history of concert music of the best composers becoming close friends. Haydn (below left) and Mozart (below right) formed what is still the most significant and nourishing bond between colleagues that we can find in the annals of symphonic music.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

They had some advantages: they were of different generations and Haydn, the older of the pair, managed to treat the younger with generosity, never pulling rank or promoting his seniority.

They had very different gifts: Mozart was an actor, a free spender, a swaggerer; Haydn was a croupier, a dealer of the cards, a fortune-teller. They learned and borrowed from each other, both aware of the other’s fields of domination: Mozart in opera and the concerto; Haydn in the string quartet, the piano trio and the symphony.

At the level at which both men composed, it is futile to label one of them as better at what they did.

But their modern reputations are another story.

Mozart is here; Haydn is not.

Haydn (below) officially has been consigned to the historical performance movement, where he has not received the celebrated status he deserves. Some string quartets, aware when they play his pieces of a quality and variety hardly found in any later music, keep him as an opener for their concerts.

Haydn

But the real issue is this: Mozart (below) brings a sense of theater to virtually every piece he writes. The pose, the gesture, the entrance and exit, the initial announcing speech, these rhyme with our times in a very present way.

Haydn’s philosophical and often droll wisdom and his brilliant commentary on music’s syntax, on the markers of musical form, require acute and engrossed listeners for whom these are dramatic.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

This is why the lovers of Haydn’s music cherish him, and miss him so much, and why the Token Creek Festival returns to him often — on this occasion pairing him with his old quartet-playing partner whose appreciation for his every sly twist in the game was uniquely sharp.

The Token Creek Festival has been called a gem, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields, a late-summer fixture just outside of Madison. (Below is a photo by Jess Anderson.)

Token Creek Land 1 Jess Anderson

The Festival has become known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a rustic but comfortably refurbished barn. Now in its 26th season, the 2015 Festival offers eight events in the week August 22-30.

TokenCreekentrance

More information about the Token Creek Festival, which runs through Aug. 30, and about all events plus directions for driving can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling (608) 241-2525.

 


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