The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Music by four Wisconsin composers will be sung by the Festival Choir of Madison this coming Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society.

March 3, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the Festival Choir of Madison (below) will perform a program of music called “Wisconsin Sings!”

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The concert features new and recent works by four composers with strong Wisconsin ties.

The program includes:

“Four Mystical Poems” by Eric William Barnum (below).

Eric William Barnum

“The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Make Me a Dream” (a world premiere finished just a few weeks ago) by Jerry Hui (below), a UW-Madison School of Music graduate who now teaches choral music at UW-Stout and who also performs early music with the Madison-based group Eliza’s Toyes.

Jerry Hui

“Under Your Feet” and “And Dream Awhile” by Blake Henson (below).

blake henson

Adoramus Te, Sanctus Parvulus” by Zach Moore (below)

Zach Moore horizonital

There will be a pre-concert Lecture at 6:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are $9 for students, $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors.

Tickets are available at the door or at: http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm

Here is the origin of the program, as the choir director Bryson Mortensen (below), who also teaches at the UW-Rock County, explains it:

Bryson Mortensen (1)

“A few years ago, I attended a conference in the Twin Cities where there was a concert composed entirely of pieces by living Minnesota composers.

“After leaving the concert, I thought, “surely Wisconsin could do the same!”

“Since then I have been digging up pieces and meeting composers in Wisconsin who could contribute works to the program.

“After all these years, we have put together a concert that presents the music of four composers who live in, have studied in or come from Wisconsin.

“From the nationally and internationally recognized music of composers like Blake Henson, Jerry Hui and Eric William Barnum to the young and blossoming composer Zach Moore, the concert presents a variety of styles and moods that make for a great evening together.”

For more information about the Festival Choir of Madison, here is a link to the choir’s homepage:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org

In the YouTube video below, you can hear the Festival Choir of Madison singing the Low Mass by French composer Gabriel Fauré:

 


Classical music: The new early music, a cappella vocal group Voces Aestatis (Voices of Summer) makes an impressive debut with many Renaissance composers and works. Plus, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens to acclaim.

August 26, 2014
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ALERT: Perhaps you didn’t make it to the opening of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival last Saturday night or Sunday afternoon (below is a photo of the renovated barn concert hall). The festival runs through this coming Sunday afternoon and is celebrating both its 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. Here is a link to a review written for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine by Greg Hettmansberger, along with two preview stories from this blog:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/The-25th-Token-Creek-Chamber-Music-Festival-Happy-Anniversary-From-Start-To-Finish/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/classical-music-the-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-starts-saturday-it-celebrates-25-years-with-observing-the-300th-anniversary-of-c-p-e-bach-and-by-offering-a-wide-rage-of-works-and-composers-t/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/classical-music-violinist-rose-mary-harbison-talks-about-the-25th-anniversary-of-the-upcoming-token-creek-chamber-music-festival-while-composer-john-harbison-discusses-c-p-e-bach-whose-300th-anniv/

TokenCreekbarn interior

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday was one of those nights, one of those increasingly frequent “train wrecks,” as The Wise Critic likes to call them, when two or more worthy classical musical events conflict and compete.

The Ear could not be in two places at once.

The two concerts were given by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which was reviewed yesterday by John W. Barker.

At another venue, at exactly the same time, the new early music vocal group Voces Aestatis made its Madison debut.

To give you an idea of that performance, The Ear welcomes another new reviewer -– Ann Boyer, a retired medical research librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a longtime member of the UW-Madison Choral Union.

Here is her review debut for The Well-Tempered Ear:

Ann Boyer

By Ann Boyer

The new Renaissance Choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Summer Voices) — all 13 of them, including director Ben Luedcke — delighted the 200 or so listeners who filled St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, on Regent Street, last Friday night. (Below is a photo of the choral group, minus Jerry Hui, the composer, singer and teacher who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.)

Voces aestratis 1

They had rehearsed four times, we learned, but had been instructed to come prepared. They were professionals, and it showed.

Songs were arranged in thematic pairs or threes, the sacred songs reflecting such themes as the imperfection of humankind, the birth of Jesus (emphasizing Mary’s role), and the death of Jesus.

Composers included Michael Praetorius, De Victoria and Giovanni di Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Heinrich Schütz. A particularly beautiful song was one by Antonio Lotti (below)

Antonio Lotti

The second half of the program consisted of secular songs: the famous “Mille Regretz” (A Thousand Regrets) by Josquin des Prez (below and at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the famed Jordi Savall), sung sweetly and gently; the strange, expressionistic harmonies of Gesualdo and a work by Claudio Monteverdi with surprisingly erotic lyrics. A final pair of somber songs by Weelkes and Wilbye ended the program on a dark note, relieved by the encore: the chipper ”El Grillo” (The Grasshopper).

Josquin Des Prez

The group demonstrated fluidity of line, diction which varied from very clear to less so, good phrasing in particular songs, and good vocal blending. Towards the beginning the women’s voices seemed to dominate, but this corrected itself as the program continued.

The energy of director Ben Luedcke (below) – another UW-Madison graduate who was the music director of Lake Edge Lutheran Church and the founder-director of the Madison Summer Choir and who is completing a master’s degree at the University of Iowa — carried us all along.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

We hope that the group will reassemble next summer.


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison will celebrate Wisconsin composers, unknown Tchaikovsky and the 25th anniversary of Aaron Copland’s death during its 2014-2015 season.

August 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison has announced its concerts for 2014-15 — its 40th anniversary season of three one-performance programs —  that include a variety of music, from rarely heard Tchaikovsky vespers to choral music by Aaron Copland, and an entire concert that highlights living Wisconsin composers.

Festival Choir of Madison 2013

Here is a press release:

Concerts will be held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

“Pre-concert lectures by the group’s Artistic Director Bryson Mortensen (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County, will be on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m., with concerts beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Bryson Mortensen BW

“Season tickets can be purchased at http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm or by calling (608) 274-7089.

“Season ticket prices are: General, $40; Senior, $32; Student, $25. No word yet on single tickets or when they will be available.

“1. All-Night Vigil: Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky on Saturday, November 1, 2014

Written nearly 35 years before the more popular Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky (below) set the text of the All-Night Vigil to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins, and First Hour), is a sublime representation of Russian church music that inspired other Russian composers in the previously untouched genre of religious music. With the uniquely shifting harmonies and meditative melodies, this a capella work will be particularly suited to the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s chapel. (You can hear some of Tchaikovsky’s a cappella choral music in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tchaikovsky 1

“2. Wisconsin Sings! on Saturday, March 7, 2015

The traditional of vocal and choral music is strong throughout Wisconsin, from the Appleton Boy Choir, to the Milwaukee Choral Artists, to the Festival Choir of Madison. Wisconsin is also home to many internationally recognized choral composers, and this concert celebrates the best of them. We will be singing works by composers such as Blake Henson (below 1) who teaches at the St. Norbert College; Eric William Barnum (below 2), Zach Moore (below 3), Jerry Hui (below 4), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Stout; and Andrew Steffen.

blake henson

Eric William Barnum

zach moore

Jerry Hui

“3. Aaron Copland: 25 Years on Saturday, May 2, 2015

2015 marks the 25th year since Aaron Copland’s death, and is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his significant contribution to choral music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style, the compositions of Aaron Copland (below) are perfect to celebrate the beginning of summer. This concert will include performances of “In the Beginning” and his “Four Motets” as well as selections from Irving Fine’s choral arrangement of the Old American Songs.

aaron copland

“For more information, call (608) 274-7089 or contact bryson.mortensen@uwc.edu.”

 

 


Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
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NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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