The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The FREE one-hour, monthly midday concert series “Just Bach” debuts with excellent playing and outstanding singing as well as practical problems such as downtown parking and timing

October 1, 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 FM. 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

Marika Fischer Hoyt is becoming ever more ubiquitous, not only as a performing violist in orchestral, string quartet and period-instrument ensembles, but also as organizer of musical activities, especially as devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below).

Hoyt (below) has already revived the annual “Bach around the Clock” spectacular each spring to mark Bach’s birthday, but now she has established a monthly series of FREE midday concerts at Luther Memorial Church called “Just Bach.”

The first of this series was held last Thursday afternoon, Sept. 27, at 1 p.m. in the church sanctuary at 1021 University Avenue. Ten musicians participated.

The singers were UW-Madison alumna Sarah Brailey, soprano (below); mezzo-soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe; tenor Wesley Dunnagan; UW-Madison bass-baritone Paul Rowe.

The players were Kangwon Lee Kim and Leanne League, violins; Fischer Hoyt, viola; James Waldo, cello; and Luke Conklin, oboe. All played on period instruments, with Mark Brampton Smith playing the organ.

The hour-long program offered Bach’s “Little” Organ Fugue in G minor, and two full cantatas: BWV 165, “O heiliges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O Bath of Holy Spirit and Water) for Trinity, and BWV 32, “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” (Dearest Jesus, My Desire), a dialogue cantata. (You can hear the opening aria of Cantata BWV 32 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Both set the type of Pietistic Lutheran German texts standard for such church compositions of the day, and each built around pairs of arias and recitatives for different solo singers.

BWV 32, which adds an oboist (below, second from right) to the string players in some of the movements, is particularly interesting in representing a series of exchanges between the Soul (Seele) and Jesus Himself, culminating in direct duos between them.

Each cantata ends with a harmonization of a traditional Lutheran chorale. In the spirit of the program’s venue, the audience was asked to sing them, in German, from prepared sheets. In these, and in an English hymn from this church’s hymnal, the audience was prepped by Brailey, who served as general hostess.

In purely musical terms, the performances were really excellent, with both vocalists and instrumental players of established talents. And certainly the very atmosphere of a church setting evoked the composer’s original purposes. (The church’s ample acoustics enriched the musical performances, though they badly undermined spoken material on the microphone.)

Previously, the Madison Bach Musicians has been a rare group giving us specimens of the generally neglected cantatas, but now this “Just Bach” series will augment the works’ availability.

Subsequent concerts in this series will be switched to 1 p.m. on WEDNESDAY afternoons on Oct. 31, Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

For more background, including the addresses of Facebook and Instagram sites of “Just Bach,” go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/classical-music-just-bach-a-monthly-mid-day-free-concert-series-starts-this-thursday-at-1-p-m-in-luther-memorial-church/

But prospective attendees should be warned of practical problems. The early afternoon time is difficult for most people, there is no parking facility, and access to the venue will likely be limited to those already in the vicinity.

For all that, I reckoned some 40 or so people in the audience – with no one eating lunch, even thought that is permitted. So artistic merits might still surmount obstacles.


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Classical music: Choral Arts Society Chorale sings about immigration and longing for a home this Friday night. On Saturday night, the Mosaic Chamber Players offer piano trios by Beethoven and Brahms

April 26, 2018
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ALERT: The acclaimed Mosaic Chamber Players close out their current season on this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program offers two of the most famous piano trios ever composed: the “Archduke” Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, by Ludwig van Beethoven; and the Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. Tickets are at the door, cash or check only, and cost $15, $10 for seniors and $5 for students.

For more information, go to: http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The theme of immigration only seems to grow as a timely and politically charged topic not only here in the U.S. but also around the world, especially in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In another indication that the performing arts are returning to a socially activist role in the current political climate, immigration is the unifying theme of a concert by The Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison (below), a local community chorus.

The group performs this Friday night, April 27, at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago Street, on Madison’s near east side, under the direction of the group’s artistic director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also founded and directs the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO).

The program, titled “Would You Harbor Me?,” features music about and by immigrants, and about longing for a home.

The centerpiece is the 1998 cantata “The Golden Door” for chorus and chamber ensemble by Ronald Perera (below). You can hear the “Names” section of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The work is based on texts from the archives of Ellis Island (below).

Also on the program – drawn from different time periods and different cultures — are pieces by various composers. They include Leonard Bernstein; Palestrina; Heinrich Isaac; Sydney Guillaume; Sweet Honey in the Rock‘s Ysaye Barnwell on themes of leaving home and welcoming the stranger; and Irving Berlin‘s setting of the poem from the Statue of Liberty (below).

Tickets are $15; $10 for students $10, and re available at the door, or online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/choral-arts-society-chorale-spring-concert-tickets-44453227801.

The complete program is: Ysaye Barnwell: “Would You Harbor Me”; Palestrina: “Super flumina Babylonis” (By the Waters of Babylon); Traditional Irish, arr. Peter Knight: “O Danny Boy”; Carlos Guastavino: “Pueblito, mi pueblo” (Little village, my village); Heinrich Isaac: “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (Innsbruck, I must leave you); Sydney Guillaume: Onè – Respè; Leonard Bernstein: “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”; Intermission; Ronald Perera: “The Golden Door”; Irving Berlin: “Give me your tired, your poor”

For more information about the group, go to: http://choralartsmadison.org


Classical music: Award-winning British composer Cecilia McDowall to headline a three-day residency this week, with public workshops and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

February 17, 2015
5 Comments

ALERT:  On this Wednesday, Feb. 18, at noon, British composer Cecilia McDowall will be featured live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM). On this Thursday morning on WORT Radio (89.9 FM), host Rich Samuels plans a half-hour special on McDowall that he pre-recorded with organizer UW-Madison professor of trumpet John Aley. It will be broadcast at 7:15 a.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

A major event involving new music and contemporary music is taking place this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Here is a round-up provided by the UW-Madison School of Music and concert manager Kathy Esposito: 

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), who in December was awarded the 2014 British Composer Award  (BCA) for Choral Composition, will visit UW-Madison’s School of Music this week for a three-day series of concerts and discussions.

Cecilia McDowall

The visit, to take place Thursday through Saturday, marks McDowall’s first United States residency and will include one colloquium and two concerts, all open to the public.

McDowall won the BCA prize for “Night Flight,” a work for a cappella choir and solo cello that honors Harriet Quimby (below), an aviatrix who was the first woman to fly over the English Channel. Download a BCA news release here. 

Harriet Quimby

“Night Flight” was premiered by the Phoenix Chorale, an Arizona ensemble that included a McDowall work on its 2008 Grammy-award winning CD, “Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary.”

Cecilia McDowall’s music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs and instrumental groups, including the BBC Singers, the Westminster Abbey Choir, the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She came to composition later in life, after raising two children, teaching and singing in choirs for many years. She holds a master’s degree in composition from Trinity College in London and is now a composer-in-residence at the Dulwich College, a pre-college school in London.

Listen to selected McDowall works on SoundCloud.  

You can also listen to a sample in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Writes Guy Rickards of Gramophone magazine: “Cecilia McDowall is another of the new generation of highly communicative musicians who, though often inspired by extra-musical influences, favors writing which, without being in any way facile, is brightly cogent, freshly witty and expressive in its own right.

“She often uses minimalist ostinatos – the spirit of Steve Reich hovers – but constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colors, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling. Each of the individual movements within her works is titled, sometimes descriptively, sometimes perhaps with tongue in cheek.”

On Friday, Feb. 20, in Mills Hall at UW-Madison, a student and faculty chamber orchestra (conducted by James Smith, below top), coupled with the university’s Madrigal Singers, conducted by Bruce Gladstone (below bottom), will perform the U.S. premiere of her work “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” (Read a review here.)

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

BruceGladstoneTalbot

“Seventy Degrees” is a cantata for solo voice (to be sung by faculty tenor James Doing, below), which McDowall composed in 2012 to commemorate the voyage of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic. Scott and crew members died while on that expedition; one hundred years later, the City of London Sinfonia and the Scott Polar Research Institute commissioned the music to honor Scott and his men.

James Doing color

As a twist, the concert will extend the polar theme with a slideshow and lobby presentation linking Antarctic research of yesterday with today’s, presented by Michael Duvernois (below) of UW-Madison’s IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Michael Duvernois

McDowall’s residency will also feature the piano playing of UW-Madison’s Christopher Taylor (below) performing McDowall’s “Tapsalteerie,” described by Gramophone as “ingenious play with a cradle song by the turn-­of-the-­century Aberdeenshire fiddler James Scott Skinner.”

Many other UW-Madison faculty musicians will also perform. Here is a link with details about other performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/

Taylor_Chris_piano01

Events include:

THURSDAY

At noon in Mills Hall.

Meet the composer at a free public colloquium.

The topic will be “The Effects of Extra-Musical Influences”: McDowall will discuss how she interweaves composition with events, past or present; with real, imagined or visual images; or as a response to the physical environment or written text.

FRIDAY

At 8 p,m. in Mills Hall.

Concert and Presentation: UW Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir, with a faculty/student chamber orchestra, featuring the U.S. premiere of “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” With Michael Duvernois of the UW IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Meet the composer and performers at a reception to follow in Mills Hall lobby.

Tickets: $20 adults, free for students. Tickets available via the Wisconsin Union Theater prior to show (online and in person) and on the day of show at Mills Hall.

Box office: http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Concert: Cool It — The Chamber Music of Cecilia McDowall.

Free concert.

For a link to this festival on our website, please see: http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/ 

For an interview:

http://www.boardroommum.com/interviews-archive/cecilia-mcdowall/


Classical music news: Did opera composer Puccini find inspiration – or even steal melodies – for his famous Asian stories from a Swiss music box?

June 24, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Composers have long been known for finding inspiration in all sorts of places. Sometimes they rework the material; sometimes they just appropriate it outright.

The sources range from folk songs and folk dances to borrowings from their own works, which Bach and Handel did often.

Now research suggests that perhaps the popular Puccini (below), who along with Verdi and Wagner makes up the Holy Trinity of opera – found inspiration for “Madama Butterfly” and even the unfinished ‘Turandot” in a Swiss music box.

The 1877 music box has Chinese tunes that Puccini might have listened to. It is located in the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. Here is a view of one of the tune sheets:

Take a look and read the story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/arts/music/puccini-opera-echoes-a-music-box-at-the-morris-museum.html?pagewanted=all


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