By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following news alert:
Madison Opera partners with Wisconsin Public Radio to present recorded broadcasts of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” on Saturday, May 14, and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” on Saturday, May 21.
Both broadcasts begin at 1 p.m. and listeners can tune into WPR on 88.7 FM or stream online at www.wpr.org/listen-live.
Each spring, two operas from Madison Opera’s season are presented by Wisconsin Public Radio to let listeners re-live the season. These broadcasts cap off the end of the season of live radio broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera that run from December through May on WPR’s News and Classical Music Network.
Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” (below top, in a photo by James Gill), the greatest love story in opera, opens the broadcast series on Saturday, May 14, at 1 p.m. Set to a ravishing score, Puccini’s classic opera tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a Bohemian quarter of Paris.
Critic William Wineke called Madison Opera’s November 2015 production “the best I’ve seen anywhere, including the high-definition broadcasts from the Met.”
Madison Opera’s cast features Eleni Calenos as Mimi, Mackenzie Whitney as Rodolfo, Emily Birsan as Musetta, Dan Kempson as Marcello, Alan Dunbar as Schaunard, Liam Moran as Colline and Evan Ross as Benoit/Alcindoro. John DeMain conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The broadcast includes intermission features with cast members and DeMain, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton (below bottom).
On Saturday, May 21, at 1 p.m., the broadcasts conclude with Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” (below in a photo by James Gill).
As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann recounts the stories of his three loves: a doll, a singer and a courtesan.
Offenbach’s masterpiece moves in a fantasy world, with showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous barcarolle, and a truly moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. Critic John W. Barker called Madison Opera’s April 2016 production “an absolute triumph.”
Madison Opera’s cast features Harold Meers as Hoffmann, Siân Davies as Antonia, Giulietta and Stella; Jeni Houser as Olympia; Morgan Smith as The Villains; Adriana Zabala as The Muse and Nicklausse; Jared Rogers as The Servants; Thomas Forde as Luther and Crespel; and Robert Goderich as Spalanzani. John DeMain conducts the production that features the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The broadcast includes intermission features with Meers, Davies, Smith and DeMain, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.
Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.
A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the FREE summer concert Opera in the Park – in Garner Park on the city’s far west side this year on July 23 at 8 p.m.– and a host of educational programming.
For more about Opera in the Park, visit:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Madison Flute Club Chamber Ensemble. It will perform music by Phyllis Louke, George Gershwin, Daniel Harrison, Julius Fucik and Ken Kreuser.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Summer Choir (below) has announced this summer’s auditions, rehearsals, program and concert.
The Madison Summer Choir, which was founded by and is directed by UW-Madison alumnus Ben Luedcke and which usually has about 80 voices, meets for six weeks in May and June to prepare major choral and choral-orchestral works.
This year, the featured works on the “This Is My Song: Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice” program, will be “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night) and “Verleih uns Frieden” (Grant Us Peace, a beautiful work you can hear in the YouTube video at bottom) by Felix Mendelssohn; “Finlandia,” by Jean Sibelius, and other works by Johannes Brahms ad Sven Lekberg.
Complete information about dates, music, and concert tickets can be found on the website: www.madisonsummerchoir.org
Auditions will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, May 16 and 17. Auditions will take place in UW-Madison Humanities Building, Room 1351, 455 N Park St, Madison WI 53706.
Rehearsals will be held weekly on the same days and times.
Contact email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
The concert will be in Mills Hall on Saturday, June 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
A REMINDER: Subscribers to the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s current season that just ended have until May 5 — this Thursday — to renew and save their current seats. New subscribers can receive up to 50 percent off and other discounts are available. For more about the programs of the 2016-17 season and about subscribing, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice from the Madison Youth Choirs about three concerts this coming weekend:
On this Saturday, May 7, and Sunday, May 8, 2016, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts, the young singers of Madison Youth Choirs (below, at the winter concert in 2014) will bring to life the musical creations of several groups who have left their homelands throughout history, under a variety of circumstances.
How do we keep our traditions in a place where they may not be tolerated? How do we maintain our identities in the face of great change? How do we preserve our stories and our history for future generations?
We invite you to ponder these questions with us as we explore the rich choral work of the African-American, Indian, Cuban, Arabic, Irish, Jewish and additional musical traditions as well as several works based on the biblical diaspora as told in Psalm 137.
At the Saturday evening performance, MYC will also present the Carrel Pray Music Educator of the Year Award to Dan Krunnfusz (below), former artistic director and conductor of the Madison Boychoir and a longtime choral and general music teacher in Madison and Baraboo public schools.
Saturday, May 7, 2016, 7 p.m.: Boychoirs
Sunday, May 8, 2016, 3:30 p.m. Girl choirs; 7:30 p.m. High School Ensembles
Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students ages 8-18. Children 7 and under receive free admission but a physical ticket is required for entry. AUDIENCE MEMBERS WILL NEED A SEPARATE TICKET FOR EACH CONCERT.
Tickets are available through Overture Center Box Office, and may be acquired in person at 201 State Street, Madison; via phone at (608) 258 – 4141; or online at http://www.overturecenter.org/events/sounds-like-home-music-in-diaspora
This project is generously supported by American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank, the Green Bay Packers Foundation, the Kenneth A. Lattman Foundation, the Madison Community Foundation, the Madison Gas and Electric Foundation, the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, and Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC, see below in a photo by Jon Harlow on its tour to an international festival in Scotland in 2014): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.
Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.
Here is the repertoire of the MYC 2016 Spring Concert Series “Sounds Like Home: Music in Diaspora”
Saturday, May 7, 2016, Capitol Theater, Overture Center for the Arts
7 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child…Traditional spiritual, arr. Burleigh
Hashivenu…Traditional Hebrew, arr. Rao
Rolling Down to Rio…Edward German
The Minstrel Boy…Traditional Irish, arr. Benjamin Britten
Super Flumina Babylonis…Giacomo Carissimi
Duke’s Place…Duke Ellington, arr. Swiggum/Ross
As by the Streams of Babylon…Thomas Campion
A Miner’s Life…Traditional Irish, arr. Houston
Combined Boychoirs (below, in a photo by Joanie Crump)
The Riflemen of Bennington…Traditional, arr. Swiggum
Sunday, May 8, 2016, Capitol Theater, Overture Center for the Arts
3:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs, below in a photo by Karen Brown)
Beidh Aonach Amarach…Traditional Irish, arr. Dwyer
Ani Ma’amin…Traditional Hebrew, arr. Caldwell/Ivory
Gospel Train…Traditional spiritual, arr. Shirley McRae
Alhamdoulillah…Traditional Arabic, arr. Laura Hawley
Folksong arrangements (2, 3, 4)…Gideon Klein
Hope is the Thing with Feathers…Marye Helms
Wild Mountain Thyme…Traditional Irish, arr. Jay Broeker
Stadt und Land in stille Ruh…Traditional German canon
Mi’kmaq Honor Song….arr. Lydia Adams
Thou Shalt Bring Them In…..G.F. Handel
Iraqi Peace Song…..Lori Tennenhouse
Bring Me Little Water, Silvy…..credited to Leadbelly, arr. Moira Smiley
Capriccio, Cantilena, and Cantabile
Across the Water (world premiere)… UW-Madison alumnus Scott Gendel (below)
7:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)
We Are…Ysaye Barnwell
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child…Traditional spiritual
Jai Bhavani…arr. Ethan Sperry
Hej, Igazitsad…Lajos Bardos
An Wasserflüssen Babylon…Michael Praetorius
Uz mne kone vyvadeji (from folksong arrangements)…Gideon Klein
Son de Camaguey…Traditional Cuban, arr. Stephen Hatfield
Loch Lomond…Traditional Scottish air, arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams
In a Neighborhood in Los Angeles (from Alarcón Madrigals)…Roger Bourland
Barchuri Le’an Tisa…Gideon Klein
Kafal Sviri…Traditional Bulgarian, arr. Liondev
Cantabile and Ragazzi
O, What a Beautiful City…Traditional spiritual, arr. Shawn Kirchner
By Jacob Stockinger
Artemisia, a new opera based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), is a recipient of an OPERA GRANT FOR FEMALE COMPOSERS from OPERA America, the nation’s leading champion for American opera.
The awards were announced last week and are supported by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Seven composers and seven opera companies were awarded a total of $200,000.
Artemisia, Schwendinger’s new opera is based on the life of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 –1656), and an important follower of Caravaggio with her father Orazio.
Artemisia was the first women member of the Accademia del Arte, Florence. When 16, Artemisia was raped by Agostino Tassi, while studying with the elder painter. Tassi was sentenced to prison, after Artemisia’s father Orazio pushed for Tassi’s prosecution, but Tassi never served time in prison.
The case overshadowed Artemisia’s achievements for years. However, today she is regarded as one of the greatest painters of her time. Below top is her “Woman Playing a Lute” (1609-1612) and her self-portrait (ca. 1630).
The opera is a co-commission by Trinity Wall Street Novus, N.Y., and by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco, California.
Librettist Ginger Strand (below), is a writer and author of four books including her acclaimed new book “The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic” from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Composer Schwendinger has just returned from her successful residency with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, where her “Waking Dream” was played on their 2016 Altria Masterworks Series, with principal flutist Mary Boodell as flute soloist and Steven Smith conducting at the Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Arts Center.
Her residency was made possible through Music Alive: New Partnerships, a residency program of New Music USA and the League of American Orchestras. During her week-long residency, Schwendinger gave presentations of her music to hundreds of high school students at seven schools in the Richmond area.
She also heard a rehearsal of her Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra commission “Animal Rhapsody,” as well as being interviewed on WCVE Public Radio Richmond and discussing “Waking Dream” in a pre-Richmond Symphony concert interview with Maestro Smith. (You can hear her discuss the work with Smith in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is a link to the interview:
“Waking Dream” received a glowing review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Clarke Bustard wrote:
“Laura Elise Schwendinger’s “Waking Dream” for flute and orchestra, being performed this weekend by the Richmond Symphony and its principal flutist, Mary Boodell, audibly echoes the Debussy — might even be heard as an “answer song” to the prelude — and not just because the flute is the lead voice of both pieces. Some of Debussy’s trademark orchestration techniques, such as single high notes dotting a soundscape of very low tones, shimmering string figures that evoke rippling water and pregnant or resonant silences, are what make “Waking Dream” sound so dreamy. The elaborated fanfares that are among solo flute’s chief contributions to the piece also harken back to Debussy and the Impressionists.”
Here is a link to the full review:
ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in “Carmina Burana” in the MSO’s spectacular season-closing program. Read three rave reviews by local critics:
Here is what John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
Here is what Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine and his blog WhatGregSays:
And here is what Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Who says you can’t mix art and current events?
Especially if the current events also count as history, which has often been an inspiration for fiction and art.
But not all of the news has to do with politics, suicide bombings, increased troop commitments and fierce fighting in a civil war.
It also has to do with art.
Specifically, opera — that potent combination of theater and music.
The Long Beach Opera commissioned and recently premiered a new chamber opera based on the Iraq War and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), and us based on the life and work of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis . It is called “Fallujah” and it is the first such opera to be written. (A photo below is by Keith Ian Polakoff for the Long Beach Opera.)
It makes The Ear wonder if it might find its way into an upcoming season of the Madison Opera, which tends to use its smaller winter productions to stage works that are newer, smaller, more adventurous and more exploratory.
Or maybe the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music might find it a good choice for a student production?
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about world-class honors.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of only five venues worldwide — and the only one in the United States — selected to host, perform and participate in “Playing the Jewish Archive: Rediscovering Jewish Music, Literature and Theater.”
The ambitious project, launched by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, is designed to rediscover and revive Jewish and Yiddish music, and culture in general, that were threatened with extinction by World War II and the rise of Hitler and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust.
A preview of the project happened last fall. Here is a link to a previous two-part posting about that event:
But this time the ticketed events (usually $10, $5 for students) – which start this Sunday, May 1, and run through Thursday, May 5 — are longer and more ambitious.
Here is a link to the preview and complete day-by-day programs of composers, works and performers that is on the website of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. It also has information about obtaining tickets and a lot of background and context:
And here are two links to other stories in Isthmus and the Wisconsin State Journal, which also highlight the pivotal role that Teryl Dobbs, a professor of music education and the department chair of music education at the UW, played in securing this prestigious as well as historically and artistically important event for Madison and the UW-Madison:
Finally, here is a link to a list of the many programs and performers with times and venues:
By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers know that The Ear is a big supporter of music education and amateur music-making.
All the more reason to honor Janet Jensen (below), then, who is retiring as the string pedagogue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Jensen has spent almost 50 years teaching strings not only to specialists but also to music educators and amateur student musicians.
Her final concert with the All-University Strings (below) is this Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will also feature the Sonora Strings from the Suzuki Strings of Madison plus soloists John Povolny and Lili Kim as well as guest conductors Mikko Rankin Utevsky and Brandi Pease.
The FREE concert will feature string music by Johann Sebastian Bach (the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom); Antonio Vivaldi; John Rutter; Ernest Bloch; Edvard Grieg; Leonard Bernstein; and others.
In a prepared statement, Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) said:
“This concert marks the 25th anniversary of my leadership. It also marks my retirement from the School of Music, where I’ve been a student, staff member and faculty member – an association spanning nearly 50 years.
“In my dual faculty roles of Professor of String Pedagogy and Associate Director I have had the opportunity to serve many populations – colleagues, music majors and non-majors – but I’ve found particular authenticity in the All-University String Orchestras and in bringing majors and non-majors together.
“That sense of authenticity derives from several sources. A former, and maybe future, public school music teacher, I realized that musical groups for non-music majors in fact serve the teachers, mentors and programs that produced them.
“I’m a product of public education and the beneficiary of tenets of the Wisconsin Idea and University Extension programs, so it also became clear to me that such musical groups extend UW’s impact beyond the campus to the state borders and beyond.
“Deeply influenced by the values inherent in community music programs and life-long learning in music, I realized that providing a musical setting that could be balanced with multiple degrees and academic loads would better ensure that non-majors would opt to keep music in their lives — and, as they themselves become voters, parents and advocates, in the lives of others.”
Here is a link to a website posting with the compete program plus a very informative and even moving set of remarks by Jensen who discusses the program, her personal background and her commitment to a broad music education:
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.
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.
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.