By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.
On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.
(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)
At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”
This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:
Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org
Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:
Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.
As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.
From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)
I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.
The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.
Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.
For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion ― on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).
The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:
These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.
Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.
The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.
MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.
Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.
ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Sarah Gillespie, French horn, and Susan Gaeddert, piano, in music by women composers: Fanny Hansel, Clara Schumann, Kay Gardner and Andrea Clearfield. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
ALERT 2: The Hunt Quartet, made up of UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert at the Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound Street, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.
The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev, the String Quartet in G Major Op. 77, No. 1, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement) by Anton Webern.
The string quartet is a joint community outreach project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is funded by Kato Perlman. It plays at many local schools. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/hunt-quartet/
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has been asked to post the following information:
It’s the 20th anniversary of Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) and we’re celebrating!
Our Bells of Christmas concerts will feature some best-loved pieces from the past along with exciting new ones that will showcase our ringers’ and soloists’ talents. MACH’s founder and Director Emerita, Susan Udell (below, front center with baton), will be conducting the December concerts to bring an air of fun-filled nostalgia and continuing excellence to our programs.
Performances are on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (bel0w), 2100 Bristol Street, Middleton. The center adjoins Middleton High School.
There is another performance on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona.
Tickets in advance are $12 for adults and $9 for students 16 and under; and $9 for seniors; at the door, tickets are $15 and $12 respectively.
Advance tickets are available at Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports.
Advance tickets can also be ordered. Go to http://www.madisonhandbells.org
To pay with check or money order, you can order by mail — please print an order form and mail with payment to MACH. Advance ticket prices apply.
Group tickets (10 or more) can be ordered in advance for $10 per person, whether adult, student or senior. These are not available at the door; to order, please print an order form and mail with payment (check or money order)
Here are program notes written by Susan Udell:
“The Bells of Christmas” opens with the timely reminder that Christmas is Coming before an array of pieces that unfold the events of Christ’s birth. “Wake, Awake,” a stirring arrangement of Philipp Nicolai’s “Wachet Auf,” is replete with giant chords, flowing passages, and the resonance of bass chimes as the city of Jerusalem is made aware of the Savior’s importance.
Next, an arrangement of the 17th century French tune “Picardy,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” features mysterious random ringing of bells and hand chimes while the melody is intoned. This evolves into a burst of fiery 16th-note passages and a maestoso statement of the tune before subsiding into the sound of silence punctuated by random chimes once more.
A lively Caribbean tune, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy,” arranged by one of the handbell world’s top composers and arrangers, Hart Morris, gives a change of pace with its syncopation and moments of percussive instruments.
The noted English composer John Rutter’s “Angels’ Carol” follows, sung by our favorite guest vocalist from the past, Carrie Ingebritsen, and our own Rachel Bain; their voices blend beautifully with a liquid handbell accompaniment to give the angels’ message from that long-ago night.
Another favorite soloist, Barbara Roberts, takes the leading part in an excerpt from Benedetto Marcello’s sonata for flute that has been combined in a Gigue with “Forest Green”, an alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A bell tree duet of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” follows, played by MACH members Caitlin Ristow and Karen Paschke.
Then it’s time for an audience sing-along in Christmas Carol Fest III. “How Great Our Joy” closes the first half of the concert with variations on the carol “While By My Sheep” and then another opportunity for the audience to sing as “Joy to the World” affirms the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago.
After a brief intermission, renowned handbell composer Cynthia Dobrinski‘s arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” brings sobering and dramatic music that climaxes in a joyful affirmation that, despite all, God will prevail. Carrie Ingebritsen will help illuminate what the music portrays as she sings the verses accompanied by the bells. (You can hear a sample of Cynthia Dobrinski’s music for handbells in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
An energetic “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows, based on tunes by Louis Bourgeois and George Frideric Handel, also arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. Next, her arrangement of “On Christmas Night All Children Sing” (Sussex Carol) brings us to a light-hearted celebration of the holiday as seen through the eyes of children.
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s famed “Nutcracker Suite” is then represented as our MACH ringers present a challenging, full-bodied arrangement of its March as transcribed by noted handbell composer William Griffin.
Former MACH member, Janet Rutkowski, returns as handbell soloist for “The Tin Soldier,” an amusing rendition of that well-known tune. Then the ever-popular “Up on the Housetop” details the gifts children anticipate at Christmas and depicts Santa’s arrival, descent of the chimney, and filling of stockings before he departs in a flash of sound.
Our concert concludes with a joyful, foot-stomping “Caroler’s Hoedown,” created and arranged by Valerie Stephenson, who received her graduate degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison many years ago.
We hope you will join our 20th year’s celebration by attending one of our concerts. We will recognize past ringers and Board of Directors members in our programs as a special tribute of thanks for their support over the years.
NEWS ALERT: David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) — who has been an interim director for two years — is the new director of University Opera. He was chosen from a nationwide search, and has posted the following news on his Facebook page:
“For some reason, I’ve been resisting posting my big news, now a couple of months old. But perhaps it’s time. I’ve been appointed the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at University of Wisconsin-Madison! It’s truly humbling to be going into an endowed chair established in memory of such a dear, wonderful, talented, and dedicated soul. This endowment will enable us to continue to develop the exemplary opera program at UW-Madison in all kinds of directions. Stay tuned!”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note to pass along:
Con Vivo!…music with life (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “Five by Seven” on this Saturday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.
Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
Con Vivo!’s spring concert “Five by Seven” features septets and quintets for winds, strings and organ.
The program includes the Septet, Op. 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven, and the folk-like Bagatelles, Op. 47, for strings and organ by Antonin Dvorak. (You can sample Dvorak’s tuneful Bagatelles in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Additional pieces include the story of a lover’s unrequited love in the quintet “Serenata in vano” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen below top) and the miniature “Lyrical Andante” by the German composer Max Reger (below bottom), whose centennial was just marked.
Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the music.
Artistic Director Robert Taylor said: “With Con Vivo!’s spring concert, we conclude our 14th season with exceptional music that combines the wonderful sounds of winds, strings and organ. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”
Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.
By Jacob Stockinger
But during its Madison debut appearance, the group will not be playing music by Vivaldi. The focus will shift to Handel, with some Bach and Telemann thrown in.
Red Priest (below) performs this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.
Compared to various rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Cirque de Soleil for its flamboyant presentation of centuries-old classics, the group’s program is called “Handel in the Wind” – recalling the famous song “Candle in the Wind” by chart-topping rocker Elton John.
But that seemingly unorthodox approach, according to Red Priest, fits right in with the true underlying aesthetic of Baroque music, which is too often treated as rigid and codified, predictable and boring.
For more information and background, including the full program, critics’ reviews and how to get tickets, visit:
Red Priest member and recorder player Piers Adams (below) — whom you can also hear talking about “Handel in the Wind” in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently took time from his very busy schedule to give a Q&A to The Ear:
What makes your approach to Baroque music unique and different from standard playing or from the early music approach that features the period instruments and historically informed performance practices?
Actually we do use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, albeit mixed in with some more modern aesthetics. The instruments are a mixture of originals (the cello dates from 1725, in original baroque set-up), close copies (violin and harpsichord) and modern instruments (most of my recorders, which are heavily “souped up” versions of baroque originals).
We differ from the mainstream baroque groups by doing everything we can to bring the music to life — not just in a “Here’s how they used to do it” sense, but rather by “This is how we’re going to do it!”
As musicians who like to live (or at least, to play) on the edge, that means we’re naturally drawn to some of the more extreme and colorful characters and performance practices from the Baroque era, mixed in with our own ideas drawn from interest in other musical genres, such as folk, world and rock music.
How and why did you come up with that approach? Why do you focus on Baroque music? Is there something special to say about Baroque music?
After years of bowing down to the authority of the early music movement — which has a habit of policing anyone who disagrees with its creed or who wants to show a bit of individuality — it was a wonderful realization that in fact it’s OK to do one’s own thing!
As soon as we made that break, we found ourselves on the edges of that rather safe (but dull) world of historically accurate re-creation and in a genre of our own, where anything goes as long as it’s musically satisfying to us and to the audience.
In fact, much of the most satisfying playing does come from “following the rules,” where the rules tell us to perform with wild abandon and heartfelt expression in every note!
Baroque music is a wonderful place for experimentation and co-creation -– perhaps more so than any other area of classical music, because so much is already left to the performer to decide, and because arrangement and transcription were such important aspects too.
Baroque music also has a harmonic and rhythmic structure that many people can relate to, perhaps closer to modern-day pop and rock than the more harmonically complex music of the later Classical and Romantic periods.
Why are you emphasizing George Frideric Handel in your Madison program? In your view, is his music underrated or underperformed? How important or great is Handel?
We have toured the US close to 40 times, and try to bring something new with us where possible. The latest creation is a transcription of music from Handel’s “Messiah,” which we’ve converted into a colorful instrumental journey, bringing out the drama in a very different way from the normal choral performance.
Handel is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, but this is the first time we have created a project around his music. I don’t know why we waited so long, as he wrote some amazing tunes!
Handel’s music is in some ways simpler than Bach’s, which tends to be very dense and complex, but both can produce moments of high drama and great beauty.
Telemann was above all a great craftsman, and in his day was considered the greatest composer of all, but now is held in rather lower esteem than Bach and Handel – maybe partly because of his frequent reliance upon gypsy folk melodies in his works.
The pieces we have chosen bring out the characters of these three great Baroque masters.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
We’re greatly looking forward to this, our first visit to Madison!
By Jacob Stockinger
The third time is the charm.
By then you know a tradition has been born.
For the third year in a row, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is holding a Schubertiade at the end of January, near the birthday of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828, below). Can there be a better way to kick off the second semester of concerts and music-making?
The event, which was founded by and now is organized by and performed by the wife-and-husband team of UW-Madison collaborative piano professor Martha Fischer and piano teacher and former music director for Wisconsin Public Radio Bill Lutes, takes place this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Admission is $15 for adults, free for students of all ages. A post-concert reception is included.
ALSO, BE ADVISED THAT THERE IS A UW HOCKEY GAME THAT NIGHT, SO FINDNG PARKING WILL BE MORE CHALLENGING THAN USUAL. ALLOW FOR EXTRA TIME TO GET TO THE CONCERT. THE HALL WILL OPEN AT 7:30 P.M., IF YOU WANT TO COME EARLY AND GET TO YOUR FAVORITE SEATS.
What is it about Schubert that makes him special to the many performers and listeners who will take part?
One answer can be found in a press release from the UW-Madison:
More can be found in a story written by Sandy Tabachnick for Isthmus:
But Bill Lutes also agreed to talk about Schubert (below) and the Schubertiade in an email Q&A with The Ear:
This is the third consecutive year of the UW-Madison Schubertiades that you have presented in honor of his birthday on Jan. 31, this year being the 219th. What is it about Schubert that draws audiences and performers to his music?
Probably the most obvious thing we love about Schubert is the endless stream of glorious, memorable melody – melodies that we can only call “Schubertian.” Who can forget a tune like “The Trout” or “Ave Maria” or the famous “Serenade”? These are part of our cultural DNA.
Then there is Schubert’s rich harmonic vocabulary, and his expansiveness and generosity of form. Although he fashioned innumerable miniatures of exquisite perfection – short songs and piano pieces – he also wrote some of the biggest works of the time, including some of the songs we are performing.
They are big in every way, the “heavenly length” that Robert Schumann wrote about and loved, the sense of adventure and the unexpected and the sheer spaciousness of his musical paragraphs — and the long passages of rhythmic obsession that seem to anticipate today’s Minimalist composers.
Above all, his music is unique in the ways it explores the most joyful and the most tragic aspects of our experience, often interwoven, and ambiguously overlapping.
Those of us who are attracted to Schubert feel that he is our friend, our consoler, our guru and our guide to something that shines beyond the travails of our earthly life. He left us such a rich and varied body of music. The amount he composed in his 31 years is absolutely incredible. But also the level of inspiration is so high throughout so much of it.
Your program has a lot of variety. Is there some overarching “theme” that ties the program together?
This year, the pieces we are doing are all inspired by Schubert’s exploration of the sounds and imagery of nature. We’re calling it Schubertian “Naturescapes: Water, Winds and Woodlands.” Schubert came along at a time when the Romantic poets, painters and musicians began to think of nature in a new way.
Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Schubert and his poets spelled Nature with a capital N. The poetry he set to music often evokes the grandeur and sublimity of Nature, and the ways that we humans experience transcendence by observing mountains, forests, lakes and seas, and rushing winds or gentle breezes. All of the lieder that we have selected for this program reflect this almost religious attitude toward Nature (depicted below in the painting “Summer,” with a couple embracing amorously under a tree, by the Romantic German artist Casper David Friedrich.)
What are some of the challenges that Schubert’s music poses to pianists in particular?
Schubert’s piano style is unique, and calls for an ability to sing on the instrument, and to play with an array of orchestral colors.
Playing his songs of course means that you understand something about what it takes to sing them, and you have to completely get into the poetry and the ideas being explored.
He was a very social and sociable composer, and so a lot of playing Schubert involves playing nicely with others. That includes of course playing duets by two pianists at one keyboard.
Schubert was probably the greatest composer for this medium and wrote some of this greatest works for piano duet.
The two pianists must play the same instrument, and sound as one. It is harder than you might think! The issue of playing in such close proximity to your partner invites a level of physical intimacy that can be quite pleasant or quite awkward, depending on the music in question.
The great pianist Artur Schnabel (below) spoke of “music that is better than it can be played.” He included most of Schubert in this category.
The idea for the Schubertiades originated in Schubert’s lifetime — social gatherings devoted to hearing Schubert’s music, but also to having a good time with friends. How do modern performers recreate this informal atmosphere?
Part of it is the variety of the music, and the large number of performers who will be joining us, most of whom will be seated around the piano on stage during the concert (below top). We will also have seating on stage for audience members who want to have a bit of the intimate feeling of those first legendary Schubertiades (below bottom) held in salons in Vienna.
We aim for an atmosphere of spontaneity and informality, as we have in the past two Schubertiades. We are thrilled this year that our concert is underwritten by a generous donor, Ann Boyer, whose gift has allowed us to include opera singer Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko) as our featured guest artist and alumna.
We both worked a lot with Jamie-Rose when she was a student here and she’s a wonderful singer who will be travelling to us from New England where she is a new voice faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
And of course we are delighted to be making music with so many of our UW-Madison School of Music faculty, other alumni and friends.
Anything else you want to add?
We will be performing all the songs in their original German. However, you’ll find full German texts and translations at the door. We encourage people to come early and read the poetry before the concert begins. It’s a nice way to familiarize yourself with the gist of the poems without having to be glued to your program while the songs are being sung.
Here is the impressive and appealing complete list of works and performers:
Schubertian Naturescapes – Water, Winds and Woodlands
Jamie-Rose Guarrine (JRG), Mimmi Fulmer (MF), Sara Guttenberg (SG), Marie McManama (MM), Daniel O’Dea (DO), David Ronis (DR), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz, (BS), singers
Soh-hyun Park Altino (SP), violin
Sally Chisholm (SC), viola
Parry Karp (PK), cello
Ben Ferris, (BF), double bass
Daniel Grabois (DG), horn
Wesley Warnhoff (WW), clarinet
Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), piano
Wanderers Nachtlied (II), D. 768 Wayfarer’s Night Song (MF, BL) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Der Fluss D. 693 The River (JRG, BL) Friedrich von Schlegel
Widerspruch, D. 865, Contrariness (DO, DR, BS, PR, MF) Johann Gabriel Seidl
Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, D. 774, To Be Sung on the Water (SG, MF) Friedrich Leopold, Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg
Fischerweise D. 881, Fisherman’s Ditty, (BS, MF) Franz Xaver von Schlechta
Die Forelle, D. 550, The Trout (MM, BL) Christian Friedrich Schubart
Piano Quintet in A major “Trout,” D. 667 (SP, SC, PK, BF, MF) Movement IV: Theme and Variations (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom)
Suleika I, D. 720 (JRG, BL); Suleika II, D. 717 (JRG,MF) Marianne von Willemer, rev. Goethe
Auf dem Strom, D. 943, On the River (DO, DG, MF) Ludwig Rellstab
Frühlingsglaube, D. 686, Faith in Spring (DR, BL) Ludwig Uhland
Im Walde “Waldesnacht,” D. 707, In the Forest “Forest Night” (PR, BL) Friedrich Schlegel
Dass sie hier gewesen, D. 775, That She has Been Here (MF, BL) Friedrich Rückert
Allegro in a minor ”Lebensstürme,” D. 947, Life’s Storms (MF, BL)
Der 23 Psalm, D. 706, (MM, SG, MF, MF, BL) The Bible, trans. Moses Mendelssohn
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D. 965, The Shepherd on the Rock (JRG, WW, MF) Wilhelm Müller/Karl August Varnhagen von Ense
An die Musik, D. 547 To Music. Franz von Schober. Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.
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.
By John W. Barker
Happily avoiding all the holiday falderal this month, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave Ludwig Beethoven a slightly delayed birthday tribute in the form of an unusual concert program on last Friday night that drew a full house.
Led by the bold and enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below center), the orchestra plunged straightway into no less than Beethoven’s epochal Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.”
NOTE: For more background, here is a link to The Ear’s interview with Steve Kurr about this program:
The 50-minute long “Eroica” is a work that transformed the symphonic genre, and it continues to challenge performers. Provocative sounds, passages of complex counterpoint and assertions of tonal power—all these call for a disciplined and confident performance.
Kurr brought that off handsomely, to his and his players’ great credit. I had the feeling that he asked of these players more than they had first thought they could give, and he drew it out of them, to their obvious pride and satisfaction.
To be sure, there were some occasional smudges here and there, but the ensemble standards were otherwise consistently high. I am always interested to hear, in an orchestra that does not have overwhelming strings, the more balanced audibility of the winds, especially the woodwinds.
Here it was the brass (complete with four horns) that offered particular heroics. At times Kurr perhaps allowed them too much freedom when only filling out chords; but where they deserved prominence they sounded magnificent—notably in the scherzo’s trio section. In all, the overall mix really brought out the daring use by Beethoven (below) of pungent dissonances and harmonic shocks.
Kurr took the opening movement at a particularly brisk speed, while the second movement, the profound funeral march, was paced much more slowly than most conductors would take it — but to truly eloquent effect. (You can hear the astonishing Funeral March movement performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
I found the symphony’s finale sometimes was given a rather foursquare quality, but the enthusiasm maintained momentum.
It was a difficult act to follow. But the choice of the other item on the program was a brilliant one, bringing us a remarkable Beethoven work that is rarely ever heard in concerts.
How often can an orchestra afford to assemble a brilliant pianist, six vocal soloists and a chorus — all for one 25-minute work? But those are the demands of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy,” a product of a time when concerts often brought together a whole circus of performers.
In a special way, this novelty made a perfect pairing with the “Eroica.” In the two works, we catch Beethoven in his two great instances of self-borrowing to the end of evolving perfection.
The finale of the “Eroica” was the fourth and final destination for a set of variations on a contradance tune. In its turn, the Fantasy, after opening with an improvisatory exercise for the pianist, turns into a concerto-like set of variations on a tune, which is finally taken up by solo vocalists and then the chorus.
The brilliant and versatile Thomas Kasdorf (below), a familiar soloist around these parts who was raised in Middleton and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — was the energetic pianist.
Six young singers were the solo battery, and a corporal’s guard from the Madison Symphony Chorus (below top and bottom) provided the brief but telling final justification for calling this a “Choral Fantasy.”
(The singers, below but not in order, were sopranos Allison Vollinger and Kirsten Larson; alto Jessica Lee Kasinski; tenor Richard Statz; baritone Gavon Waid; and bass Robert Dindorff.)
The orchestra played its role with gusto, and it’s wonderful how, by the end, it almost sounds as if we are moving into the Ninth Symphony.
This was an exhilarating concert, and a wonderful achievement for all involved.
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musicians of the Year two years ago – will begin its new summer season this coming weekend.
The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.
Here is the first part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 2 will run tomorrow:
BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY (BDDS) PRESENTS ITS 24TH ANNUAL SUMMER CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL — GUILTY AS CHARGED — JUNE 12–28, 2015.
This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends. Each weekend offers two different programs. Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at Overture Center in Madison, the Stoughton Opera House, and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.
Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences. Led by artistic directors and performers (below) Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, 20 guest artists will perform in the festival.
So, what is the meaning of this year’s theme?
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is clearly a criminal enterprise. After all, we are named after the only major composer to ever spend a significant amount of time in jail, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Our crime at BDDS?
We’ve destroyed the stuffy, starched-collar atmosphere of traditional chamber music concerts and replaced it with a seriously fun vibe. We’ve broken down the barriers that separate audience and performer, making our concerts into riotously interactive events. Rather than leading audiences through a museum, we invite audiences to trespass into the creative and re-creative process right in the concert hall.
We own up to our crimes, and we proudly proclaim that we are GUILTY AS CHARGED.
GUILTY AS CHARGED features six programs, each performed multiple times and in multiple venues, and each named after some “crime.”
In “Stolen Moments” we feature music that has been stolen in some fashion: stolen from another composer, stolen from oneself, stolen from a completely different land and culture.
Felix Mendelssohn stole a chorale tune from Johann Sebastian Bach as the basis of the slow movement of his second cello sonata (heard at bottom in a YouTube video with cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist James Levine).
Franz Joseph Haydn stole from himself to create his flute divertimentos; Ludwig van Beethoven stole Irish and Scottish folksong texts and tunes as the basis for his songs with piano trio accompaniment.
“Stolen Moments” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., and in the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14, at 2:30 p.m.
“Rob the Cradle” features the music or poetry of artists who died tragically young, robbing the world of their creative talents.
The Flute Sonata by Dick Kattenburg, a light-hearted and joyous work, was written at the age of 18 shortly before he died in a Nazi concentration camp.
The powerful “Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok” by Dmitri Shostakovich feature the luminous poetry of the man many considered Russia’s finest poet, a man whose life was cut short by the conditions of early Soviet years.
Both programs feature the talents of two great singers—bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top) and soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom) — familiar to BDDS audiences as the voices of Robert and Clara Schumann from our 2013 season.
“Rob the Cradle” will be performed in The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 13, at 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14, at 6:30 p.m.
For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.
This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.
CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.
BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 E. Main Street, below top); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (below bottom, County Highway 23 in Spring Green).
Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.
Various ticket packages are also available, starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half off.
For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.
Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com additional fees apply).
Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.
TOMORROW: PART 2 WITH WEEKS 2 AND 3
By Jacob Stockinger
The next game for the U.S. is against Belgium on Tuesday.
Loyal fans of The Ear may recall that a week or so ago he decided the global soccer event being held in Brazil was a good opportunity to explore the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (below), whose music is beautiful and much too under-programmed and under-played here and elsewhere.
Here is a link to the original post that also featured the gorgeous Cantilena movement for soprano from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 that has been recorded by folk singer Joan Baez as well as opera divas Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Hendricks, Victoria de los Angeles and Kathleen Battle.
Here is another great moment in Villa-Lobos that I heard at the Cello Choir concert by the National Summer Cello Institute that was held this month at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
This moment comes from the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1 in a YouTube video below. It is the third movement, the finale, that happens in fugal form and again shows how Heitor Villa-Lobos tried to adapt the compositional techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach to the folk music and native dance rhythms of Brazil. That was an ambitious project, to be sure, and one in which The Ear thinks the composer was surprisingly successful.
Enjoy as you prepare to root for Team U.S.A.