The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Percussion Ensemble holds a benefit concert this Saturday afternoon for Ronald McDonald House Charities

March 22, 2017
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ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9, who recorded all of “Bach Around the Clock” this year, writes: “At 7:08 a.m. this Thursday morning, I’ll be airing Saturday’s “Bach Around the Clock” performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. This was a collaboration of Trevor Stephenson, Kangwon Kim. Nathan and Gillian Giglierano, Micah Behr, Marika Fischer Hoyt, Illana Schroeder, Martha Schroeder, Martha Vallon, Eric Miller and Mark Bridges.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to post something about a worthy cause and a worthy event:

Drum roll, please!

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Percussion Ensemble (below) will host its 16th annual PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA!! on this Saturday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the UW George L. Mosse Humanities Building. (A video sampler of profiles and music of WYSO’s 13th Annual Percussion Ensemble in 2014 can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under 18, and are available at the door 45 minutes before the concert begins.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble (below top) — 14 student musicians from 10 communities playing under Vicki Jenks (below bottom) — hosts this signature percussion benefit to help others.  Previous PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZAS! have benefitted Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the local American Red Cross.

This year—for the first time ever—Ronald McDonald House Charities will partner with WYSO in the collection of tangible items need for the Ronald McDonald House in Madison. The concert will also feature Ronald McDonald himself in person.

Nearly 60 performers—featuring Mannheim Steamroller drummer, Tom Sharpe (below) —will present eclectic, global music dedicated to PEACE. The theme of the event is “Lifting the World to Peace.”

Other EXTRAVAGANZA artists include Madison’s own Black Star Drum Line Percussion Group, led by Joey B. Banks; the UW-Madison Pan-Global Percussion Ensemble, Todd Hammes, instructor; and the WYSO Chamber Strings, led by its director Karl Lavine (below), principal cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

For more information and details about the performers and the complete program as well as a video and a list of related activities and needed items you can bring and donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/percussionextravaganza/

Parking is available at State Street Campus, Helen C. White, and Grainger Hall parking facilities.

For more information, please contact the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble and PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA! are supported by the Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund, the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: A second photograph of Chopin has been discovered. Here it is along with how it was found and what it tells us

March 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A conservative musician who admired and valued the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above that of  Ludwig van Beethoven and his own contemporaries, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one of the most popular and most played of all Romantic composers.

He remains a perennial favorite of audiences, students and concert artists. Witness the recent sold-out concerts featuring Chopin’s music by Trevor Stephenson at his home and by Adam Neiman at Farley’s House of Pianos. An amazingly high percentage of Chopin’s works remains in the active repertoire.

His was no belated posthumous fame, either. Chopin, the famous Polish pianist-composer who was exiled in Paris, was well-known and widely respected in his own lifetime by the public and by other famous composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.

Yet despite many drawings and paintings of Chopin – often at odds in their depictions — until recently only one known photograph of Chopin existed: The familiar one taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in Paris towards the end of Chopin’s life, just months before he died of tuberculosis at age 39 in 1849.

Now a second photograph — or daguerreotype, to be exact — has been discovered. It probably dates from 1847 or so.

Here is the new photographic portrait of Chopin:

Want to know some background?

Here is the story from Poland via The Washington Post and the Associated Press:

https://etsuri.com/articles/a-rare-unknown-photo-of-frederic-chopin-probably-found

Here are the two known photographs side by side for comparison:

http://www.businessinsider.com/only-2-known-photos-of-chopin

And here is a terrific blog analysis of the two photographs that also discusses his late music and what the photographs tell us about Chopin:

http://jackgibbons.blogspot.com/2010/03/chopins-photograph.html

The Ear wonders how long it will be before we start seeing the new photograph of Chopin on CD jackets and liner notes.

In any case, as an homage, here is Chopin’s last composition, the archetypically Polish form of the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4, played in a YouTube video by Vladimir Ashkenazy :


Classical music: The all-female Arbor Ensemble performs a concert of all-French chamber music this SATURDAY (NOT Friday) night

January 31, 2017
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CORRECTION: In a recent post, The Ear used a wrong date and time for the Chopin and Debussy house concert by pianist Trevor Stephenson. The correct time is SATURDAY, FEB. 25, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-is-offering-a-4-part-chopin-course-and-an-all-chopin-concert-on-feb-24-today-is-the-deadline-for-enrolling-in-the-course/

By Jacob Stockinger

The all-women chamber group Arbor Ensemble will perform a recital of all-French chamber music this weekend.

It will take place this SATURDAY (NOT Friday, as mistakenly reprinted form a faulty press release), Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

Admission is $10 general, and $5 for students and seniors.

The group will perform rarely heard chamber works by French composers, featuring Madison soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below).

rachel-edie-warrick-2017

The program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy; Prelude, Recitative and Variations by Maurice Duruflé; “Où voulez-vous aller?” (Where do you want to go?) by Charles Gounod; “Une Flûte Invisible” (An Invisible Flute) by Camille Saint-Saëns; and Trio No. 2 in A minor by Cécile Chaminade (below).

You can hear the Chaminade Trio No. 2 in the YouTube video at the bottom.

cecile-chaminade

Founding members of the Arbor Ensemble are flutist Berlinda Lopez (below top), violist Marie Pauls (below middle) and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr (below bottom).

berlinda-lopez

marie-pauls-2017

stacy-fehr-regehr

The ensemble often performs programs by female composers.

For more information, go to Arbor Ensemble’s website at www.arborensemble.com.


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson is offering a 4-part Chopin course and an all-Chopin concert on Feb. 25 (NOT Feb. 24 as first announced an mistakenly printed here). TODAY is the deadline for enrolling in the course

January 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Trevor Stephenson (below), who founded and co-directs the Madison Bach Musicians, may be best known in the Madison area for his work with early music and Baroque music.

But Stephenson, who is known for his outstanding pre-concert lectures as well as for his performances, is also deeply involved in period instruments and historically informed performance practices concerning Romantic music.

trevor-stephenson-with-1855-bosendorfer-grand

He writes to The Ear: “In February, I’m offering a four-part course on  piano music by Frederic Chopin (below). This will meet on Thursday evenings 6-7:30 p.m. at my home studio. Information is below. Email me to enroll.

“Also, I’ll play an all-Chopin house concert on SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AT 7 P.M. — NOT Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. as first and mistakenly printed here — which will be here at the home studio as well. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required (trevor@trevorstephenson.com). Admission is $40.”

Chopinphoto

CHOPIN COURSE

DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23

TIME: Thursdays 67:30 p.m.

PLACE: 5729 Forstyhia Place, Madison WI 53705

COST: Enrollment is $120

Reading knowledge of music is suggested.

Class size is limited to 15, and enrollment closes TODAY, Friday, Jan. 27.

Contact trevor@trevorstephenson.com

TOPICS:

Feb. 2: Waltzes, Preludes

Feb. 9: Nocturnes, Mazurkas

Feb. 16: Etudes, Polonaises

Feb. 23: Ballades, Scherzos

Instruments to be used are: an 18th-century Fortepiano (Sheppard after Stein)
 c. 1840; a Cottage Upright Piano (attr. C. Smart ) c. 1850; and English Parlor Piano (Collard & Collard) 
c. 1855; and a Viennese Concert Grand Piano (Bösendorfer) 

Subject matter will include: Origins of Chopin’s compositional style; tonal qualities of his pianos, early 19th-century temperaments; fingering; pedaling; articulation; touch; tempo; and tempo rubato.


Classical music education: Retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras maestro James Smith gets the monthly ‘Making a Difference’ award from NBC TV Channel 15

December 29, 2016
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ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-will-use-a-variety-of-period-keyboard-instruments-to-perform-a-house-concert-of-music-by-baroque-classical-romantic-and-impressionistic-composers-on-jan-7/

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.

Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

james smith Jack Burns

Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Maestro-making-a-difference–408450735.html

Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/classical-music-uw-and-wyso-conductor-james-smith-is-“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

WYSO 50th James Smith conducting

More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/classical-music-four-major-retirements-this-spring-will-put-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-in-a-staffing-bind-and-could-further-hurt-the-standing-of-the-uw-madison/

The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:

“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.

The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.

Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.

Bravissimo!!


Classical music: Fourth annual Handel Aria Competition announces the 2016 finalists who will sing for prizes next FRIDAY (NOT Thursday) night

July 1, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

The Handel Aria Competition is pleased to announce the finalists for this year’s fourth annual event.

The final round of the region, national and international competition is presented as a public concert in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival in Madison, Wisconsin.

Handel etching

It will take place on next FRIDAY night July 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music, 455 North Park Street. (An earlier version mistakenly said Thursday night. The correct date is FRIDAY night, July 8. The Ear apologizes for the error.)

Tickets are $10, general admission, and are available in advance, through Orange Tree Imports, in person at 1721 Monroe St., Madison, WI, and by phone: (608) 255-8211; or at the door They are now available online through UW Arts on Campus (use the link below) and at the Memorial Union Box Office.

https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UWIM/index.php?&event_ids=3974

Seven finalists and two alternates were chosen from a field of almost 100 singers from around the world.

The finalists are:

Each singer will present two arias from an opera or cantata by George Frideric Handel, accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians (below, at the 2015 competition) under the direction of Trevor Stephenson.

Handel Aria 2015 Madison Bach Musicians

Three professional judges will select a first, second and third prize winner, and all those in attendance will be invited to vote for the recipient of the “audience favorite” prize.

For more information about the competition, visit:

https://handelariacompetition.com

Below are the 2016 Handel Aria Competition Finalists – from upper left, clockwise: Fiona Gillespie Jackson; Christina Kay; Nola Richardson; Elena Snow; Pascale Brigitte Boilard; Adele Grabowski; and Eric Jurenas.

Processed with MOLDIV


Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians offers an “Auditor’s Option” for its summer Chamber Music Workshop.

June 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following update from the Madison Bach Musicians and its founder and artistic director, early music keyboardist Trevor Stephenson:

“We just wanted to follow up about the Madison Bach Musicians Chamber Music Workshop.

“The chamber ensembles have been assigned and are now closed.

“We have 24 participants forming 7 different ensemble groups and ages ranging from age 14 to a few in their 70s. And the total number of accumulated years studying music for the participants is over 334 years!

“We are offering an “auditor option” for people who would like to attend the afternoon master classes and concerts.  I thought you might want to put some of this information on The Ear.

Our deadline for registering as an auditor is July 24.  Below is a link to a flyer on the master class offerings and the concerts.

Information about the enrolling as an auditor is on our website and “auditor passes” can be purchased on the website as well.

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/education-and-outreach/summer-workshop/

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15MHgnVjRFits_P7MZ3oC2Xs_vs7yDCV7fULTRmYv5PM/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000&slide=id.p


Classical music: Will the “death” of classical music be good for the future of classical music? Plus, today’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen features a fortepiano recital

June 5, 2016
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ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, keyboardist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, will perform a solo recital on the fortepiano TODAY starting at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art at the UW-Madison.

The program includes works — sonatas and mazurkas, a fantasy and an impromptu — by Domenico Scarlatti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Admission is FREE and the recital will be streamed live at the following website:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/press-releases/a-concert-by-trevor-stephenson-june-5

By Jacob Stockinger

This past week, two readers posted comments about the so-called Death of Classical Music.

One reader clearly lamented it and didn’t believe in it.

The other reader didn’t desire it, but seemed to accept it as a fact and remarked that the demise was classical music’s own fault due to conservative programming and other shortcomings in falling behind the times.

Along comes pianist Charlie Albright (below), a former prodigy from Seattle who was trained at the famed Juilliard School. (You can learn more about him in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

charlie albright

Albright’s point of view is that the “death” of classical music might even be beneficial to classical music in the long run – at least if you are talking the “death” of classical music such as it is right now and has been in recent times.

Charlie Albright playing piano

Albright’s essay appeared on the CNN website and makes for interesting reading and food for thought.

At least The Ear thinks so.

Read it and see what you think.

Then share your thoughts and ideas about the death of classical music and Charlie Albright’s essay with The Ear and other readers.

Here is a link:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/29/opinions/classical-music-dying-and-being-reborn-opinion-albright/


Classical music: On June 13, the Rural Musicians Forum will kick off its summer season series of FREE concerts at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.

May 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is passing along the following announcement in time for you to mark your datebook and make plans:

For the 2016 summer season, the Rural Musicians Forum welcomes audiences to Taliesin, the historic estate of Frank Lloyd Wright, near Spring Green, and to the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center.

In commenting on the venues for the series, RMF’s artistic director Kent Mayfield (below) said: “RMF is honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at the Taliesin’s Hillside School Theater.

Kent Mayfield Rural Musicians Forum

The Hillside Theater (below) provides a dramatic but intimate setting for performances totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful. And, for its part, the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center underscores the sustained vitality of that vision.”

taliesin_hillside2

Madison’s acclaimed harpsichordist, fortepianist, pianist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, Trevor Stephenson (below top) opens the 2016 season on June 13 with mezzo-soprano Margaret Fox (below bottom).

Trevor Stephenson full face at keyboard USE

Margaret Fox

Violinist Alexander Ayers (below) follows on June 27. Ayers, earlier a player in the Madison Symphony and now a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has been widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision. (You can hear him perform the virtuosic Caprice No. 11 for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Alexander Ayers violin

July 11 brings on the memorable trio of Dan Barker (piano), Rob Shepherd (saxophone) and Cleo Ware (vocals) for an evening of glorious, nostalgic music by George Gershwin (below).

gershwin with pipe

Clocks in Motion (below) brings its adventurous and absolutely contemporary percussion repertoire to Taliesin on July 25.

Clocks in Motion group collage

That will be followed on Aug. 8, by a showcase of captivating new music by the Madison-based wind quintet, Black Marigold (below).

Black Marigold new 2016

The season closes with RMF’s annual “Music in the Fields,” on Sunday, Aug. 21. The Stellanovas’ evening of café jazz promises equal parts Hawaiian luau, Parisian wedding and mellow summer pleasure on the lawn at the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center. The center is located at 6306 State Highway 23. (This event is ticketed.)

Now in its 35th season, RMF continues to provide all members of the community an opportunity to enjoy live music featuring a wide range of styles and combinations of music with performers of extraordinary ability.

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no ticket charge for concerts at Hillside Theater, but a freewill offering to support the series is taken. Given the unique appeal of the Taliesin location, early arrival for the concerts is recommended.

NOTE: Sorry, but The Ear has received no word about specific programs an works to be performed. He also doesn’t see them listed on the website for the Rural Musicians Forum.

Full information on specific concerts is available at www.ruralmusiciansforum.org or at ruralmusiciansforuum@yahoo.com.


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
2 Comments

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.


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