By Jacob Stockinger
Conductor Carl St. Clair (below) returns for a third visit as guest conductor with the MSO to lead a pair of early 19th-century works with 112 musicians performing the largest of Richard Strauss’s symphonic tone poems. (MSO music director and conductor John DeMain is conducting a production of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” in Virginia.)
The program begins with the Egmont Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven, followed by the MSO’s premiere performance of the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, featuring Helseth. The concert ends with a nod to the awesome splendor of the Bavarian Alps, “An Alpine Symphony,” by Richard Strauss.
The concerts are this weekend on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street. See below for ticket information.
Beethoven (below top) composed his Egmont Overture in 1810. Both Beethoven himself, and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (below bottom) upheld the ideals of human dignity and freedom in their works.
Their personal relationship stemmed from Beethoven’s incidental music for a new production of Goethe’s play Egmont in 1810. This play about a nobleman’s betrayal by the Spanish monarchy, is beautifully paired with Beethoven’s music. As Goethe called it, Egmont Overture is a “Symphony of Victory.” (You can hear the dramatic “Egmont” Overture, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Another friend of Beethoven’s, was Johann Nepomuk Hummel (below). Even though they were rivals, their respect for each other’s talent kept the relationship afloat.
Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto is a frisky fanfare with “playful dancelike” episodes laced throughout. This is the first time Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto will be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Strauss (below top) composed his Eine Alpensinfonie (“An Alpine Symphony”) from 1911-15. The final score used materials from some of his unfinished works, including an Artist’s Tragedy and The Alps.
Though there are many influences for this piece, the main is Strauss’s love for the Bavarian Alps. In his diary he wrote: “I shall call my alpine symphony: Der Antichrist, since it represents: moral purification through one’s own strength, liberation through work, worship of eternal, magnificent nature.” Antichrist is a reference to an essay by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below bottom), and though the title was dropped for its publication, the work still carries many of Nietzsche’s ideals.
One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), the author of MSO program notes and an MSO trombonist as well as a UW-Whitewater Professor of Music, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
For more background on the music, please visit the Program Notes at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/6.Mar17.html.
Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/helseth and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit madisonsymphony.org/groups.
Club 201, MSO’s organization for young professionals, has continued to fulfill its mission for the past 11 years as the premiere organization promoting classical music and networking opportunities to the young professionals’ community in Madison. Tickets are $35 each and include world-class seating in Overture Hall, an exclusive after-party to be held in the Promenade Lounge, one drink ticket and a cash bar.
The conductor as well as musicians from the symphony may also be in attendance to mingle with Madison’s young professionals during the after-party.
The deadline to purchase tickets is Thursday, March 9, pending availability. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other events throughout the 2016-17 season by visiting the Club 201 page on the MSO’s website at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Major funding for the March concerts is provided by: The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, An Anonymous Friend, and Madison Gas & Electric Foundation, Inc. Additional funding is provided by: Audrey Dybdahl, Family and Friends, in loving memory of Philip G. Dybdahl, John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Madison Veterinary Specialists, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
CORRECTION: In an early version of yesterday’s post, The Ear mistakenly said that performances by the Madison Opera of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” are on Saturday night at 8 as well as Sunday afternoon at 2:30. The first performance is FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. – NOT Saturday night. The Ear apologizes for the error.
Here are two links with more information about the opera and the production:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a busy week with a wide diversity of music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here is a run-down by day:
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW hornist Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill) will be joined by fellow UW-Madison professor pianist Christopher Taylor for a concert of brass music that is FREE and OPEN to the public.
The program features works by Franz Strauss (Empfindungen am Meere), Paul Hindemith (Alto Horn Sonata), Maurice Ravel (Horn Sonata, originally Violin Sonata) and Jean-Michel Damase (Sonata).
At 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7, as mistakenly first stated in yesterday’s post) in Morphy Recital Hall, saxophonist Daniel Schnyder will perform music by American jazz titan Charlie Parker with the Blue Note Ensemble and also participate in a Q&A session. The event is FREE and open to the public.
Schnyder is the composer of the opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” that the Madison Opera will perform in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. See the above correction for links to more information about the opera.
From 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero will offer a FREE and PUBLIC master class. The Ear has no details about what will be featured.
Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman), who specializes in spontaneous improvisations but also performs standard repertoire, will perform at 8 p.m. on this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear her live improvisations in Cologne, Germany on the aria theme of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s well-known “Goldberg” Variations.)
Here is a link with more information, including ticket prices, concert and recording reviews and audio-video clips, about her recital in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater:
And here is a link to more information about Montero, who also has won awards for her playing, improvisations and her Piano Concerto No. 1:
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall is the annual Symphony Showcase with the winners of the UW concerto competition and the world premiere of a student composition. The concert will be conducted by Professor James Smith and graduate student Kyle Knox.
Admission to the event costs $10 for adults; students and children get in for free. There is also a FREE post-concert reception at the nearby University Club.
For more information about the program (violin works by Ravel and Shostakovich, vocal works by Ravel and Gounod, a trumpet work by Oskar Boehme) and biographies of the five student performers (below) plus student composer (Nathan Froebe), go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.
Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:
As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.
The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.
This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.
The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.
For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.
So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.
This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.
Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Just as the first semester is coming to an end, The Ear has learned that four major retirements in the spring will put the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music staffing and teaching in a bind that poses some major challenges.
Three of the retirements are by major performers. The fourth is by a major scholar, a musicologist and music historian.
Here they are in alphabetical order:
For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/john-aley/
For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/lawrence-earp/
Jutt plans to move to her native New York City to live, but says she will continue her duties with the MSO and the BDDS.
For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/stephanie-jutt/
Smith, a one-time professional clarinetist, plans to move into a new house he has built in Cross Plains where he will work on his repertoire and pursue stints as a freelance guest conductor.
For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/james-smith/
All four have served the UW-Madison and area music-lovers well indeed and for a long time.
The bind for the music school is that, thanks to the boa constrictor-like choke hold on the UW-Madison’s budget and staffing by Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-intellectual, anti-education cronies in the Legislature and on the Board of Regents, tenured faculty do not usually get replaced by tenure-track positions. Instead the school has had to offer most new teachers non-renewable three-year stints as adjunct professors.
True, there is a long of talented people out there looking for jobs. So adjuncts are not necessarily inferior performers or teachers. But who wants to be moving around every few years and starting over?
As far as The Ear understands it, in the long-term the move to adjuncts is not good for the students, especially graduate students, for other faculty members and for the reputation of the School of Music, which has managed to secure major funding support for construction and physical plant projects but much less support for staff and scholarships.
Clearly, it introduces an element of instability and insecurity that hardly seems helpful in the competitive academic market place.
In any case, The Ear congratulates all the retirees on their distinguished careers and thanks them for so many years of public service and so many enjoyable hours of performing and understanding great music. They will be missed.
Feel free to leave your own comments and reactions in the COMMENT section.
No doubt the future retirees would like to hear from you.
And The Ear too wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.
The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:
The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:
But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.
There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).
Here are two relevant links:
WISCONSIN UNION THEATER
Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).
Here is a link to shows for the second semester:
And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.
Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.
Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.
Here are two links:
And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.
Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.
Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?
Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?
Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Attention all BRASS FANS!
A big and loud fanfare is in order.
The schedule includes master classes (on the trumpet, trombone, tuba and horn) and performances.
The major concerts require tickets – adult admission is $20 for the Friday night concert and $15 for the Saturday night concert with $5 admission for students and children for both concerts.
The star of the festival is the Stockholm Chamber Brass (below), which is on its first tour of the U.S.
Concerts are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. There will be a reception after the Saturday night concert.
Players from several area high schools will also be featured in the festival and performances.
For more information, including background on the Stockholm Chamber Brass and a link to the complete programs, which includes music by Gabrieli, Mahler, Shostakovich and Scandinavian composers, visit this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have long been known for programming new music as well as neglected old music or neglected composers that they perform with top-quality music-making – often with a unifying theme to the programs.
Just look at the details of the following announcement of the new season:
The Oakwood Chamber Players are excited to announce their 2016-2017 concert series, “Perspective.”
Full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships, the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help concertgoers see things from another’s point of view.
All concerts will be held in the auditorium (below) at Oakwood’s Center for Arts and Education, 6002 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.
Tickets can be purchased at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. More information can be found at www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com
LOOKING ACROSS THE TABLE: CAN WE FIND COMMON GROUND?
Saturday, September 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 11, at 2 p.m.
Paul Schoenfield (below) – Café Music for piano trio
Michael Colina – Stairway to Midnight Café for mixed instruments
Jean Françaix – Dixtuor for woodwind quintet and string quintet
Edward Elgar – Elegy for string quintet
LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD: CAN THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE CHANGE US?
Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Frank Bridge (below) – Sir Roger de Coverly Christmas Dance for strings
Jon Deak – “Passion of Scrooge” for large mixed ensemble with baritone voice
LOOKING WITHIN: CAN WE SEE WITHIN OURSELVES THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE?
Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Byron Adams (below) – Serenade (Homage de Husa) for large mixed ensemble
Arnold Schoenberg – Notturno (Nocturne) for strings and harp (in the YouTube video at the bottom)
Francis Poulenc – Sextet for woodwind quintet and piano
Maurice Ravel/David Bruce – Kaddish for large mixed ensemble
LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS: CAN WE SPEAK WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS?
Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Paul Bowles (below) – Music for a Farce (Movie – The Fireman) for clarinet, trumpet, piano and percussion
Dan Visconti – Low Country Haze with film for large mixed ensemble
Gaetano Donizetti – Trio for flute, bassoon and piano
LOOKING CLOSELY AT THE SCORE: CAN WE GET INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE COMPOSERS?
Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Joan Trimble (below) – Phantasy Trio for piano trio
Vincent d’Indy – Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for winds
Joachim Raff – Sinfonietta for double woodwind quintet
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will offer a free hymn sing with Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, in this Saturday, April 30, at 11 a.m. All ages are welcome to join in the singing with the Overture Concert Organ. No tickets or reservations are needed for the free Hymn Sing, which will last approximately 45 minutes.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will close out the current season this weekend with three performances of Carl Orff’s popular 1937 secular or profane oratorio “Carmina Burana” and Ottorino Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome.”
Also participating are Boychoir members from Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, Artistic Director; soprano Jeni Houser, who was acclaimed for her role in the Madison Opera’s recent production of “The Tales of Hoffmann”; tenor Thomas Leighton; and baritone Keith Phares.
The concerts are in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, visit:
Single tickets are $16 to $85 each, available on the MSO website; the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Here is a link to program notes by Michael Allsen:
Here is a link to translations of the Latin texts:
This season also marks the 20th anniversary of assistant MSO conductor Beverly Taylor, who also directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The ever-busy Taylor agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear about her duties and the program:
You are the very busy director of choral activities at the UW-Madison. But this is your 20th anniversary directing the Madison Symphony Chorus and serving as assistant conductor of the MSO. Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us what your MSO duties are?
They are three-fold.
First, I’m a “cover” conductor, meaning I’m supposed to be prepared to take over for John DeMain on short notice in case he’s suddenly sick or injured. This hasn’t happened in 20 years, but I HAVE covered some rehearsals by schedule when he’s been out of town or we fear a delayed plane arrival.
Normally the cover conductor conducts the concert if the delay or injury occurs at the beginning of the concert. If it happens in the second half, orchestras often just end the concert—like calling a baseball game after the five official innings.
My second job is preparing the chorus to sing for John De Main. Our rehearsals are like any other chorus rehearsal at first. We focus on notes, intonation, rhythmic accuracy, pronunciation and diction, beautiful phrasing and appropriate tone and balance.
Then closer to the performance, I check with Maestro De Main (below, in a photo by Prasad) on any special markings or tempos he may want. During my early years he often came to our last chorus rehearsal, but we’ve worked together for so many years now that he trusts me to put his choices into the chorus’ training.
In the long term, my duties also include programming and conducting our non-orchestral concerts, auditioning new singers and ensuring that returning singers keep their abilities high.
My third job is challenging, interesting and fun. It’s to give Maestro Demain information from the audience’s point of view. That means balances between guest soloist and orchestra, balances and rhythmic acuity between sections of the orchestra, and any other notes or opinions that he might find useful.
His own hearing is acute, but anyone who conducts can tell you that the instruments right in front of you make so much noise, that you can’t always judge the relative balances of the orchestra as they project outwards.
Depending on how much time is available in the rehearsal, I make fast notes as the orchestra plays, and give him the notes after the Maestro has done most of his rehearsing. If we’re out of time, I give him the notes backstage and occasionally am asked to pass these notes on to the players involved – for example, a little more triangle, less cello and bass on measures 45-48, etc.)
How has the chorus changed over the past two decades?
I think the biggest way in which the chorus has changed is that it sight-reads better and is more acute with a cappella intonation. The main point in having good sight-readers is that it is a HUGE time saver in rehearsal and allows us to get deeper into musical decisions and development. Having said that, we do still take some people with fast ears and good voices who can prove they can keep up.
What do you think explains the immense popularity of “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff (below)? How does it compare in popularity to other choral works, especially modern ones?
I think the work is easy to understand. The rhythms are clear, pulsing, repetitive and engaging, and the melodies are memorable and singable. In many ways, it has the appeal of musical comedies. The use of percussion instruments also is appealing and is familiar to people used to bands or popular music. (You can hear the mesmerizing opening in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
While perhaps not the most profound work, it is well crafted. And who hasn’t heard the opening tune in commercial after commercial?
The “modern” style today can’t be well defined because so many composers do so many things. I giggle a bit when audiences say they don’t like dissonance when five minutes in a movie theater with eyes closed will make the listener aware of FAR more dissonant music than in most modern concerts.
Many modern works can be understood at first hearing. Others yield more with a little study. It’s not really different from sports. You may have one person go to a baseball game for the weather, popcorn and home runs who will be disappointed if they miss those. Others will go noticing bad calls for strikes and balls, the stance of the batter, and will quote statistics from past games. They may have a richer experience because they know more, but it doesn’t mean people can’t go and get what they want out of it. Just go to concerts with open minds!
Are there special things you would like to point out to the public about “Carmina Burana” in general and about this performance in particular?
There are three basic sections to “Carmina,” with an introduction and ending. The opening is based mainly on the subject of Fortune (the introduction) and songs that come out of the monk’s life—some of them were obviously sent to the monastery without a vocation!
The second section is for tenors and basses only—“At the Tavern,” and it’s operatic in its depiction of the fun of mocking life at the monastery, concluding in the great drinking song sung by the men in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan — excuses to toast everyone of every shape and size, and listing who drinks, which is everyone!
The third section, known as the court of love, is beautiful and emotional as the women who know the off-duty monks think about love and if they should yield or not. We finish off with the monumental “O Fortuna” — if Frank Sinatra was singing it would be “sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.”
There are techniques commonly and cheekily attributed to late Romantic works, especially Tchaikovsky: fast is good, loud is better, fast and loud is best. Orff follows this: his pacing builds steadily so that you are swept up in the excitement.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
This isn’t the only thing on the program. Most people will adore the gorgeous “Pines of Rome” by Ottorino Respighi (below), full of color, majesty and the sound of trumpets all through the hall!
Plus, I give the pre-concert lecture this weekend. It’s free for all ticket-holders and is held in the hall an hour before the performance, lasting for half an hour. This means on Friday, it’s 6:30-7 p.m.; Saturday 7-7:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1:30-2 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra (both below) again pulled off a choral spectacular on Sunday afternoon.
The one-time concert was devoted to the great Classical era oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation, which is too big a work to be performed very frequently. But Haydn modeled it admiringly on the great Baroque oratorios of George Frideric Handel, which we almost NEVER get to hear — let’s not talk about the quite unrepresentative Messiah — by comparison. So we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have.
As always, the campus and community Choral Union sounded magnificent. It is supposed to, with a complement of 116 listed singers, as against an orchestra of a mere 34 players. So it could not avoid overshadowing and overawing all other factors. And particular power, volume and homogeneity resulted from the practice of mixing the singers completely, instead of having them stand as members of vocal sections.
This follows the pernicious gospel preached, going way back, to Robert Fountain, who founded the UW Choral Union many decades ago. One argument for it was that each singer should become more self-reliant, less dependent on the one next to him or her.
But if this practice makes for blockbuster, socko sound, it does so at the cost of part-writing clarity, especially in fugal segments. It misrepresents musical texture by exchanging its definition for a power-oriented blend, a hyped-up sludge.
It strikes me as strange that advocates for applying this doctrine to choruses do not also demand it for orchestras. Think of it: each violin individually next to a trombone, each viola mixed in with the trumpets. Now there would be a chance for socko homogeneity!
The UW Chamber Orchestra’s winds were strong enough, but the strings were woefully understaffed. At times, the ensemble sounded just a tad under-rehearsed, but on the whole it did well under its handicaps.
The soloists played a multiplying game. In Parts I and II, the three Angels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass), who narrated and celebrated the stages of the Creation, were taken by a fixed trio (below).
The familiar Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top) has a strong and beautiful soprano voice. Faculty tenor James Doing (below middle) is also a valued local standby. Baritone Benjamin Schultz (below bottom) has a pleasant voice, but it lacks a true bass range.
In Part III, when Adam and Eve come on the scene, Guarrine shifted to the latter role, and another baritone weak in the low-register, Benjamin Li (below top), took over as Adam. For the final ensemble, a choral alto slipped in to round out the solo quartet (below bottom).
I note the title of the work as The Creation, rather than giving its original title, Die Schöfung, because the performance was sung in a modernized English translation.
Once in a while, those English words came through, but much of them were simply lost in mixed diction values. It might have been better — if not easier for the singers — to have kept to the original German. But all praise for an unusually ample program booklet, containing the full English text as sung.
Beverly Taylor (below), the conductor of the choir and orchestra, led with consistent energy and enthusiasm. Certainly the audience responded with great enthusiasm. (You can hear the famous chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
This was, to be sure, not an ideal performance, even a lopsided one. But, after all, the point of these events is to give the choristers a chance to participate in this wonderful music, and to give the audience a relatively rare opportunity to encounter it. On those counts, this was a highly successful event.
Now, even if we are not likely to get a follow-up with Handel, we at least have Haydn’s own successor oratorio, Die Jahreszeithen, or The Seasons. That would be wonderful to hear in its turn.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
#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.