By Jacob Stockinger
Should piano students play exercises?
Should they learn and play scales and arpeggios?
Should they learn them separately? Or within the context of a musical composition?
These remain controversial questions.
But the British classical pianist Stephen Hough (below top) recently blogged about how he and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom) – often considered the greatest pianist of the 20th-century as well as a major post-Romantic composer –- defend the practice.
The Ear wants to know what you think, especially if you are a pianist, a piano student or a piano teacher?
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the Madison-based chamber music group Con Vivo! (Music With Life) write:
SAVE THE DATE!
The latest concert by Con Vivo’s (below) is this Thursday night, May 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium.
con vivo!…music with life invites you to join us for our chamber music concert, “Bon Voyage: Dane to Kassel!”
Come help send us off as we represent you on our cultural exchange tour June 5-12 to Kassel, Germany, Dane County’s Sister County. Don’t miss the Madison presentation of some favorite pieces from our concerts that we will perform in Germany this June.
Our program includes diverse chamber music by Lukas Foss, Louis Spohr, Reinhold Gliere, Alan Hovhaness and others. So come join us for truly exciting chamber music!
Convenient FREE parking is only 2 blocks west at the University Foundation at 1848 University Ave.
Tickets at the door are $20 for adults; $15 for seniors and students.
Like con vivo! on Facebook to follow us on our tour to Dane County’s Sister County of Kassel, Germany, June 5-12.
For information, call (6708) 277-8087 or visit our website:
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.
This concert is sponsored in part by First Congregational Church and is supported by Dane Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Memorial Day 2015.
Try as I might, The Ear cannot think of better music to remember and memorialize the wounded and fallen than the “Nimrod” Variation from “Enigma” Variations by Sir Edward Elgar (below).
The holiday is much more complex and psychological than the usual funeral march permits.
It was, after all, the same music that the American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used in “The War” — about World War II — played in a hauntingly wonderful solo piano arrangement that I simply cannot find on YouTube.
But the music’s meaning, and the way it affects you, can change in the instruments performing it.
So today I offer three ways or versions, arrangements or transcriptions.
First is the very popular YouTube video of the original orchestral version featuring Daniel Barenboim conducting in Carnegie Hall the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – with its great strings and brass — in memory of his predecessor, music director and conductor Georg Solti.
And the third version is an a cappella choral version using the Latin lyric “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light) from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead that was put together in England.
All versions are moving and attest to the emotional power of Elgar’s music.
But which version do you like best and why?
And is there other music you would play to commemorate Memorial Day?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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
Eliza’s Toyes (below top), the consort of voices and instruments devoted to early music, is led by the formidably talented Jerry Hui. The group gave another of its imaginative programs, this time on Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom).
The theme and title of this program was “Music: The Miracle Medicine.” Offered were 15 selections, conveying various ideas or beliefs about health (both physical and spiritual), illness, medicine, miracle cures and good living.
Each selection was preceded by the reading of passages from moral and medical texts of various periods. (I wonder if today’s medical and health-advice writings will sound as comical generations from now as do those of the past to us!)
Fifteen composers were represented in the course of the program, from Medieval through Baroque: Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179), Alfonso El Sabio (1221-1284), Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Cipriano da Rore (1516-1565),Hubert Waelrant (1515-1595), Orlando di Lassus (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Lelio Bertani (1553-1612), John Wilbye (1574-1638), Gabriel Bataille (1575-1630), Melchior Franck (1579-1639), John Maynard (15??-16??), Anonymous 17th-Century (2 items), Marin Marais (1656-1728) and John Eccles (1668-1735).
The selections were mostly vocal, either solo or ensemble. One instrumental selection stood out as probably the one most likely to be familiar: Marin Marais’ excruciatingly detailed “Representation of the Operation for Gallstone” (below top is Marais, below bottom is the introduction to his work) — complete with narrative headings for each section. (You can hear the narration and the music to the unusual piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The performances were earnest and often accomplished. But it must be said in honesty that, in motets and madrigals, the vocal ensemble was not balanced or smooth — the singers clearly need to live with this kind of musical writing somewhat longer. Still, the overall effect was certainly entertaining and thematically fascinating.
There were no printed programs, but the titles and text translations were projected on a background screen. These projections were fully visible and readable, so they worked well.
This is a program that will be offered again, I understand, at the Chazen Museum of Art on July 15, so that it can be caught and savored once more.
Above all, it is one more tribute to the thoughtful, deeply researched and intriguing program skills of Jerry Hui (below).
By Jacob Stockinger
Last week, it was a critically acclaimed performance of music by Gian Carlo Menotti by the Madison Chamber Choir.
At the end of this month, it is two performances of a concert by the Madison Choral Project with guest conductor Dale Warland.
Now both appear to be farewell concerts to Albert Pinsonneault (below), a professor at Edgewood College who is the choral director of Madison Chamber Choir and the Madison Choral Project as well as assistant choral director for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s chorus.
Here is his how Pinsonneault posted the move on Facebook:
“I am so excited to announce that I will be joining the faculty of the Bienen School of Music as Associate Director of Choral Organizations at Northwestern University next fall!
And here is the official press release from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University:
“The Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University announces the appointment of Dr. Albert Pinsonneault (PEN-son-oh) as Associate Director of Choral Organizations.
“Dr. Pinsonneault will join the faculty Fall 2015, conducting Northwestern’s University Singers and teaching choral literature at the graduate level, part-time. He will also assist in various musical activities of the expanding choral program at the Bienen School of Music, working closely with Director of Choral Organizations Dr. Donald Nally.
“Dr. Pinsonneault is founder and artistic director of the professional chamber choir Madison Choral Project, as well as assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Chorus. From 2009 to 2015 he served as Associate Professor of Music at Edgewood College. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, he attended St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota before completing his doctoral study at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) of the University of Cincinnati.
“Dr. Pinsonneault’s scholarship focuses on choral blend and intonation, the physical/kinesthetic act of conducting and the music of F. Melius Christiansen. His book, “Choral Intonation Exercises,” is published by Graphite Publishing.”
The Ear offers hearty Congratulations to Albert Pinsonneault, who has proven a tireless and gifted advocate for choral music. Madison’s loss is his gain and Northwestern University’s gain.
I am sure he will appreciate it if you leave word for Pinsonneault about his work in the COMMENTS column of this blog
By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.
Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO — www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its fifth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).
You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.
Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance by Clocks in Motion.
I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Here is the review by Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also took the performance photos:
By Mikko Rankin Utevsky
On Sunday, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion performed as part of artist Jeannine Shinoda’s MFA Exhibition “The Collector’s Set” in what can only be described as a smashing success.
Shinoda’s exhibition consisted of a room filled with ceramic plates, cups and dishes suspended from the ceiling by strings (below), which the attendees were invited to cut, sending the dishes crashing to the concrete floor.
The performance took place in an adjacent room, where it was counterpointed by the occasional crunching noise from the exhibition.
The four core members of Clocks (below) played an assortment of bowls, plates, cups, spoons and ceramic-shard wind chimes in a four-movement composition – his Opus 1 — by music director Sean Kleve. Composed as a set of rhythmic patterns and relative pitches before the instruments were chosen, the creatively scored work was orchestrated cooperatively by the ensemble for this eclectic assortment of pottery, played mostly with chopsticks.
It was structured in four movements. I quite enjoyed the lively second one in particular. A slightly eerie third movement made use of threaded metal rods that were scraped along the edges of the instruments to produce a sustained tone, and wind chimes made of broken plates and ceramic spoons (below).
One of the curiosities of the piece was discovering the range of sounds that can be produced from kitchenware — in particular, the gradual acclimation of the ear to the variety of pitches produced. The music seemed to coalesce out of the clatter of dishes and smashing china from the other room, emerging in minimalist rhythmic patterns and creative imitative passages.
All four parts were of equal importance, and each player could be seen taking the lead at various points — a sense of equality that is a hallmark of Clocks performances.
The fourth movement introduced a couple of small gongs, as though signaling that the grand finale was at hand. As the rest of the ensemble played, Dave Alcorn solemnly crossed in front and began the ritualistically choreographed conclusion — slowly and deliberately smashing the instruments.
The other three joined in with equal gravitas, sending plates and cups and bowls alike crashing to the ground. (The performers and audience, seen below, were equipped with protective eyewear for this portion of the work.)
As the last of the instruments were reduced to shattered fragments, the four musicians — straight-faced among stifled laughter from the audience — produced brooms and proceeded to sweep the remains into a single pile in the center of the stage, leaving the rooms silently when finished. They returned moments later to a standing ovation.
Here in his first work, Kleve demonstrates a sophisticated ear for texture and a shrewd understanding of pacing, both key to crafting a musically satisfying work that does not leave the listener feeling that the whole thing was just a setup to the final gambit of breaking dishes — an admitted risk with such a performance piece.
One of the wonderful gifts of Clocks in Motion is its ability to focus the ear on the sounds of “found objects” — whether they are plates or brake drums or cow jawbones — and provide a framework for listening to them as musical.
And, as is so often the case with Clocks in Motion, their strength of commitment and musical integrity is such that the enthusiastic audience is drawn into the fabric of even the most outwardly implausible works — their striking “Percussion is Revolution” program in September 2013 was a powerful example.
It is a testament to Madison’s musical community and to the School of Music percussion program that we continue to host such a remarkable performing ensemble, and this innovative performance is just the latest feather in their collective cap.
A PERSONAL NOTE:
Clocks in Motion will be joining my own ensemble, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) on June 20 to open our fifth season, “Concerto Grosso!” It features the world premiere of UW-Madison graduate composer Jonathan Posthuma’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor for Percussion, Piano and Strings.
The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and tickets are $7 at the door with students admitted by donation).
The program will also feature UW-Madison Professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor; the American premiere of contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall‘s “Rain, Steam and Speed”; and the Symphony No. 6 in D major (“Le Matin” or Morning) by Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the sound painting that gives the symphony its nickname in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
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 provided performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
The curtain-raiser was a group of Four Pastorales by American composer Cecil Effinger (below), to texts by Thomas Hornsby Ferril. The poems are varied and sensitive, and are set with a good feeling for choral texture.
The catch is that Effinger composed an obbligato part for a single instrument (oboe or, as here, clarinet) that is generally irrelevant musically and even a hindrance at times to choral projection and diction. It may have been partly the composer’s fault, but the diction could have been more clearly delivered, too. (Hit those consonants, folks!)
Diction issues were somewhat lessened, thanks to the composer’s care, in the major work of the concert.
Gian Carlo Menotti (below) was at a creative peak in 1956, when he created his work for 10 dancers, nine instrumentalists, and chorus, entitled The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, or the Three Sundays of a Poet. He called this a “madrigal fable,” using the Renaissance form of the “madrigal comedy,” in which action is conveyed without soloists but by the choir.
This Italian idiom of the late 16th-century was something Menotti apparently discovered as he mastered Renaissance polyphonic style for the choruses in his supreme opera, The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954)—following his triumphs of The Consul (1950) and Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951).
As always, Menotti wrote his own text, which reflects on the phases of the creative life (as represented by the three animals), but also satirizes the shallow understanding and reflexive faddism of ordinary folk. In the process, he showed how wonderfully he had mastered the elements of colloquial American speech patterns.
And, above all, he put this in music that combines hilarious comedy with extraordinarily moving poetry.
I know of only one prior performance of this gem of a work in Madison, by the UW-Madison Madrigal Singers, in April of 2001, and it included the dance dimension.
Dancers were not involved in this latest production, but the music still carried the work brilliantly. The nine instrumentalists (below, on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, cello, double bass and harp) were excellent.
The chorus of 33 voices (below) sang with superb sonority and ensemble. You could see them relishing the humor as well as the pathos.
And credit is due for the church’s fine acoustics especially in furthering the richness of choral sound.
Conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and heads up the Madison Choral Project, led with confidence and obvious delight.
It really pains me that so wonderful a work as this is so little known and — partly for practical reasons — so rarely performed. Nothing but gratitude is due these performers for bringing it to life for us this time. And the quite sizable audience expressed that gratitude in a prolonged ovation.
By Jacob Stockinger
This weekend is Graduation or Commencement Weekend.
That seems a good time to check out the year-end issue of “A Tempo,” the new blog done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The issue features stories about graduates and where they are headed.
Here is a link:
REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts at Mills Hall and Overture Hall, where the music students will perform a Side-by-Side concert with the professional players of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
Here is a link to more information and details:
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, you have to hand it to music director and conductor John DeMain as well as the orchestra players, the chorus members and the guest soloists: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) sure knows how to finish up a season with a bang.
A very Big Bang.
Last weekend in Overture Hall, they closed the current season with a stratospheric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.
Sure, all parties — especially concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — also did a terrific job in performing Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto-like “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which preceded the iconic Beethoven symphony.
But it was the Beethoven symphony that grabbed everyone’s ears and didn’t let go, earning a well-deserved and instant standing ovation.
This was Beethoven at his exciting best.
All the musicians played tightly and DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) managed to make the old radical piece sound radically new, with a driving rawness and roughness (lots of loud and highly accented percussion) coupled with flawless precision and great balancing of the winds and strings as well as the brass.
This interpretation was both dramatic and transparent in a way that both thrilled you and helped you to understand the music and its structure.
A couple of years ago I remarked that DeMain – who came here from the Houston Grand Opera as primarily an opera conductor – had developed into a great Brahms interpreter.
Now I can say the same thing about his having become an outstanding Beethovenian.
But I did have one question:
Am I the only one who hears the slow movement of Beethoven’s early “Pathétique” piano sonata in the opening of the slow movement of his Ninth Symphony?
Listen for yourself and decide by using these YouTube videos:
And now here is the slow movement, also with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian students, of the Ninth Symphony:
Maybe I am hearing things that aren’t there.
Or maybe musicologists have long established the similarity between the early and the late work as fact -– though I cannot recall having seen it mentioned.
What do you think of the comparison?
Can you think of other pieces that sound as if they were twins separated at birth? Leave names – and maybe a YouTube link – in the COMMENTS section.
And what did you think of the final concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?
The Ear wants to hear.
A REMINDER: Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m, in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, the Empire Brass (below left) will perform a mostly Baroque program with guest organist Douglas Major (below right). Composers on the program include Johann Sebastian Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Henry Purcell and Michael Praetorius. Here is link to the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s website with the complete program and background information:
By Jacob Stockinger
Larger groups and presenters such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra , the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the University Opera have finished their concert seasons.
But not before smaller groups, who are still winding up their season, have finished.
The Ear has received the follow announcement:
I’d like to make you aware of an upcoming concert by the Madison Chamber Choir (below).
The concert is this Friday night, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.
Admission is a $10 suggested donation.
The program features “The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore” by the Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti (below), most famous perhaps for establishing the Spoleto Festival and for his Christmas TV opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” You can hear excerpts from the “Unicorn” in a YouTube video at the bottom.
The work is described as a “madrigal fable about an odd poet his strange pets and the shallow whims of his faddish neighbors.” Assorted guest chamber instrumentalists will join the choir for the cantata.
The artistic director of the Madison Chamber Choir is Albert Pinsonneault (below), who also teaches at Edgewood College and directs the Madison Choral Project.
Here is a link to the choir’s website about the concert:
And here is a link to a sample of the choir’s singing: