The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The New Milwaukee Consort performs Renaissance and early Baroque love songs this Monday night in Spring Green

August 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Rural Musicians Forum will present the New Milwaukee Consort in a program of Baroque love songs on this coming Monday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the Unity Chapel in Spring Green.

This group of professionals and experts in early music includes soprano Kristin Knutson (below top), who competed in the 2015 Handel Aria Competition  in Madison (in the YouTube video at the bottom);  cellist and viol player Charlie Rasmussen (below middle); and lutenist Tim Sterner Miller (below bottom). They will perform on period instruments, bringing audiences back in time to the courts and chambers of Italy, England and France.

The New Milwaukee Consort is dedicated to the music of the European Renaissance and Baroque eras, crafting intimate performances around stories in words and music that resonate across the centuries.

They particularly relish bringing lesser-known sounds of the 17th century to modern audiences, from the work of women composers such as Barbara Strozzi (below) to music from handwritten manuscripts documenting the early development of the cello and ongoing experiments on the lute.

This concert features music from the chamber cantatas of the Venetian singer and composer Strozzi to celebrate her 400th birthday as well as works by her compatriots Claudio Monteverdi and Taruinio Merula; Elizabethan songs by lutenist and composer John Dowland (below); and “airs de cour” (Court music) by French court composer Etienne Moulinie.

Interwoven with these vocal works are pieces for the lute by Dowland and his contemporary Nicholas Vallet; for the viola da gamba by Tobia Hume and Marin Marais (below); and for the cello by Giulio Ruvo, Francesco Supriani and Giuseppe Jacchini.

This is an opportunity to enjoy some of the most precious pieces of Renaissance and Baroque era in the beautiful Unity Chapel (below) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Chapel is located at 6597 County Highway T in Spring Green.

Admission is by free will offering, with a suggested donation of $15.


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Classical music: There was so much to like about the Grand Tour finale of the 2019 Madison Early Music Festival. But where were the high notes in Allegri’s legendary “Miserere”?

July 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fair is fair.

Before he talks about last Saturday night’s conclusion of the successful 2019 Madison Early Music Festival – which marked its 20th anniversary — The Ear has a confession to make: He generally prefers later Baroque music and he generally prefers instrumental music to vocal or choral music.

That said, he nonetheless had a memorable and very enjoyable time on the “Grand Tour” during the well-attended All-Festival concert. There was so much to like and to admire.

The concert used the conceit of a Grand Tour by a composite 17th-century traveler going to London, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris and Dresden to take in the local sights and local music, and included lesser-known composers such as William Lawes and William Child as well as such famous figures as Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli , Jean-Baptiste Lullyand Heinrich Schütz.

Like most journeys, this one – once again assembled in an ingenious scissors-and-paste job by early music specialist Grant Herreid (below) – had many entertaining and uplifting moments.

But it also had one big disappointment.

The Ear really looked forward to hearing a live performance  of the famous “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri (below) as a high point. But those haunting, ultra-high descant notes that give you goosebumps and that you never forget hearing just never materialized.

Maybe it had to do with the different ornamentation that the MEMF forces used. Maybe it was based on a different manuscript or score. Maybe there was no one capable of singing those spellbinding and unforgettable high notes.

Whatever the reason, The Ear’s hope for a live performance of the dramatic and iconic work were dashed and the famous, even classic, recorded versions – the 1980 recording by the Tallis Scholars is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — remain for him the unsurpassed standard.

The evening also had its ironies. That same night on the NBC TV news The Ear saw a story about “overtourism” in Europe and China. Venice, for example, has now shrunk to only about 50,000 unhappy residents who put up with some 20 million tourists a year.

But centuries ago, travel was a rare and exotic luxury of the wealthy and well-educated, not an affordable indulgence or curiosity by ever-expanding middle classes. And this metaphorical trip proved an ideal vehicle to sample 16th- and 17th-century music in England, France, Germany and Italy.

Combining high culture and low, Herreid chose witty and detailed travelogue texts that gave the audience the rich flavor of various cultures at the time.

Details mattered to the four sharp-eyed travelers on which this tour was based. So as “our hero” wandered, we got to hear about the “libidinous ladies” of Naples and the musical talented courtesans of Venice as well as the richly attired archbishop of Paris attending a feast day service in the newly finished Notre-Dame cathedral.

Such descriptions were well delivered by unnamed narrators (below) from the chorus and proved a refreshingly earthy and entertaining counterpoint to the more serious spiritual and religious music of the era.

Another big satisfaction was the exceptional quality of the ensemble playing – exhibited even in large amounts of less interesting music — by the many singers and instrumentalists on the stage of Mills Hall, and, at one point, in the hall’s balcony.

Whether the players and singers were conducted by Herreid or by assistant conductor Jerry Hui — a UW-Madison graduate who is now a tenured professor at UW-Stout — the music sounded tight, authentic and expressive.

As for more superficial pleasures, it is great visual fun watching such early versions of modern string, wind and percussion instruments being played — trombone-like sackbuts, oboe-like shawms, flute-like recorders and lute-like theorbos. (Below are cello-like viols.)

The players, both faculty and students, were particularly convincing on their own in the sound painting done to depict battle scenes and political upheaval. And who will ever forget the surprise of loud foot-stomping by all the performers and conductor?

Herreid was absolutely spot-on to keep the program to about 80 minutes with no intermission. It helped the audience stay in the spirit of the Grand Tour and added cohesion to the program.

The Grand Tour, in short, proved outstanding in concept and excellent in execution.

But was The Ear alone in missing to those high notes?


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Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival’s 20th anniversary Grand Tour includes a silent movie and rare books as well as lots of varied music to mark its success after 20 years. Part 2 of 2

July 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

A big anniversary deserves a big celebration – and that is exactly what the organizers of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival, which is marking its 20th year, have come up with.

All concerts include a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.

Here’s the link for all the information about MEMF: https://memf.wisc.edu/

Tickets are $90 for an all-event pass. Individual concerts are $22, $12 for students. Tickets are available for purchase online and by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) with a $4 service fee; or in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office @ Memorial Union.

Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe recently wrote about the festival in a Q&A for this blog. Yesterday she spoke about the overall concept and the first weekend’s concerts. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/07/05/classical-music-the-madison-early-music-festival-will-present-a-grand-tour-of-musical-styles-a-movie-and-rare-books-to-mark-its-success-after-20-years-the-tour-starts-this-saturda/

Here is Part 2 of 2:

What events take place next week?

The concert on Tuesday, July 9, is going to be a unique experience for MEMF audiences. HESPERUS creates the soundtrack for the 1923 silent film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with music (below) from 14th- and 15th-century France. (The cathedral was started in 1163 and finished in 1345.)

Compositions include French and Burgundian music from 1300 to 1500, featuring Guillaume de Machaut, Jehan l’Escurel, Guillaume Dufay, as well as lesser-known composers such as Vaillant, Morton and Borlet.

On Friday, July 12, the vocal ensemble Calmus (below) performs “Faith and Madness,” a program of a dialogue between sacred music masterpieces followed by madrigals that portray madness, love, war and loneliness.

Composers include Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Heinrich Schütz, Claudio Monteverdi, Carlo Gesualdo, Clement Janequin and others.

All of the singers are graduates of Leipzig’s renowned St. Thomas Church Choir School. Calmus was founded in 1999. This a cappella quintet embodies the rich choral tradition of its hometown, the city associated with Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn.

To hear a preview of their arrangement of Bach’s “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 659, visit: https://youtu.be/WNzzUU0GcF4

Can you tell us about the program and performers for the All-Festival concert on Saturday, July 13?

The All-Festival Concert includes all of our workshop participants and faculty. We work together to prepare the concert all week and it is truly a MEMF community project. Grant Herreid (below) has created the All-Festival program this year. Grant is a genius at designing a program that tells a musical story featuring MEMF’s faculty and participants.

“Musical Postcards from The Grand Tour” features a narrator, loosely based on Thomas Coryat (below, at sea and in the Alps), the English 17th-century century travel writer, who, as a young man, travels throughout Europe in search of music. Beginning in London, 1641, the musical itinerary continues to Venice, Rome, Naples, Dresden, Paris, and back to London.

The program features so many wonderful composers, and the large ensemble pieces are: the Gloria from Monteverdi’s Selva morale et spirituale; the beautiful Miserere of Gregorio Allegri; Nun danket alle Gott by Heinrich Schütz; Domine salvum fac regem setting by Jean-Baptiste Lully; and, as an ending, This point in time ends all your grief from Ye tuneful muses by Henry Purcell.

Are there other sessions — guest lectures, certain performers, particular works — that you especially recommend for the general public?

All the planning that goes into each festival leads me to encourage the general public to attend everything! The concert series, lectures and workshops have so much to offer.

The special moments that I’m looking forward to are singing in the All-Festival concert and performing Allegri’s  Miserere,a stunning piece that I have never heard performed in Madison. (You can hear it in there YouTube video at the bottom.)

I also look forward to hearing the fantastic musical soundtrack created by HESPERUS for the silent movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and the Calmus singing connection back to Bach through their musical education in Leipzig, plus experiencing all the different travelogues of the past as they come to life through narrations and music.

Special events include a dance with a live band drawn from the MEMF Faculty with dance instruction by Peggy Murray, Grand Tour Dance Excursions, at the Memorial Union in the Great Hall on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 pm. https://memf.wisc.edu/event/07-11-2019-2/

The lecture series features some well-known Madisonians like J. Michael Allsen (below top), who writes program notes and lectures for the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Maria Saffiotti Dale (below bottom), curator at the Chazen Museum of Art.

There will be a special exhibit created for MEMF in the lobby of Memorial Library by Jeanette Casey, the head of the Mills Music Library and Lisa Wettleson of Special Collections at Memorial Library. This curated display includes materials about the Grand Tour, including one of the oldest travelogues from 1611 written by Thomas Coryat.

The exhibit will be in the lobby of Memorial Library (below) and open to the public from Saturday, July 6, through Thursday, July 18, with a special talk about the exhibit during the festival on Monday, July 8, at 11:30 a.m.

This partnership allows the library to display rarely seen original and facsimile publications, some dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries within the context of the MEMF theme.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In 1611 Thomas Coryat, the author of the travelogue Crudities foretold what you will hear at MEMF in 2019:

“…I heard the best musicke that ever I did in all my life…so good that I would willingly goe an hundred miles a foote at any time to heare the like…the Musicke which was both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like”.

Get your tickets for the concert series. Attend the lectures. Take some classes. See a movie. Come and dance with us. Join us to experience the ultimate musical gap year at our 20th anniversary celebration!


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Classical music: Recorder virtuoso Piers Adams solos in baroque and contemporary concertos this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

April 18, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

During his long and successful tenure with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), music director and conductor Andrew Sewell has established a reputation for championing unusual repertoire and booking young or relatively unknown soloists as well as for offering insightful interpretations of classic masterworks.

But Sewell (below) seems to be surpassing himself with the concert he will lead this Friday night, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

For one, the concert features the British recorder virtuoso Piers Adams (below), who established his own reputation as a part of the unusual baroque quartet Red Priest, the nickname for Antonio Vivaldi, who was indeed a priest in Venice with flaming red hair. (In the YouTube at the bottom, you can sample Adams’ virtuosity as he makes bird calls on the recorder while playing a section of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”)

You can also go to the following websites for more information about Piers Adams:

https://piersadams.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Adams

The Ear can’t think of another time any major group in the area offered a soloist on the recorder – a baroque wooden flute-like instrument — except for the Madison Early Music Festival.

True to form, Adams will perform baroque music with the WCO – specifically, the Concerto for Recorder in C Major by Georg Philipp Telemann.

But to add to the more unusual aspects of the concert, Adams will also perform a contemporary work with the WCO – specifically, a 1994 recorder concerto by the English composer David Bedford (1937-2011, below) that was commissioned by Adams and has proven popular both on a recording and in concert.

For more information about Bedford, go to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bedford

To round out the program, Sewell has programmed two other rarely heard works: the “Brook Green” Suite by Gustav Holst, best known for “The Planets”; and the Serenade in E-Flat Major, Op. 6, by the Czech composer Josef Suk (below), a very accomplished violinist and composer who studied with Antonin Dvorak and then became his son-in-law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Suk_(composer)

For more information about the concert, including tickets ($12-$80) and notes on the performers and the program, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iv-4/


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Classical music: With actors and multimedia, the Madison Symphony Orchestra explores Felix Mendelssohn in Italy this coming Sunday afternoon

January 14, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon, Jan. 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and its music director John DeMain will present the story behind Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian” with Beyond the Score®: Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4: Why Italy? (Ticket information is further down.)

The concert is a multimedia examination of German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s travels through Italy.

Starring American Players Theatre actors Sarah Day (below top), Jonathan Smoots (below middle) and Nate Burger (below bottom), the concert experience features visual projections, photos, musical excerpts and a full performance of the Symphony No. 4 by the MSO, with John DeMain conducting, in the second half.

In 1830, a young 21-year-old Mendelssohn (below) visited the Italian countryside and the historic cities of Venice, Naples and Rome.

Three years later, he set his journey to music and composed his fourth Symphony — later to be known as his “Italian” Symphony. Though it eventually became one of the composer’s most popular works, the piece was performed only twice during his lifetime and published four years after his death in 1851. (You can hear the rousing final movement of the “Italian Symphony” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Designed for classical music lovers and newcomers looking for a deeper look into the world of classic music and the motivations of significant compositions, “Beyond the Score®: Why Italy?” joins Mendelssohn on his travels in Italy and discovers his inspiration for this symphonic work.

Incorporating the composer’s own letters and writings, the program presents the historical context behind the classical piece turned masterpiece.

Program notes by J. Michael Allsen are available at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1819/4AJan19.html

Single Tickets are $16 to $70 each, available at https://madisonsymphony.org/event/beyond-the-score-mendelssohn/, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the box office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/buy-tickets/group-discounts/.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/buy-tickets/offers-discounts/. 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.

Exclusive funding for this concert is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney is the Creative Director for Beyond the Score®


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Classical music: The Madison Savoyards’ production — with paid singers — of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” opens this coming Friday night and runs through Aug. 7

July 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release to share:

The Madison Savoyards presents The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) by Gilbert and Sullivan (below), starting this Friday night, July 29, at 7:30 p.m. and running through Sunday, Aug. 7, at Music Hall, at the base of Bascom Hill on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

There will be six performances: Friday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 31, at 3 p.m.; Friday, August 5, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 6, at 7:30 pm; Sunday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. UW-Madison conducting student Kyle Knox will make his Madison Savoyards debut as Music Director for The Gondoliers. 

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

Gilbert and Sullivan fans will not want to miss this tale of romantic complication, silliness and wonderful music, set in beautiful 18th-century Italy.

The story opens with a conundrum. Casilda, the young daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, has arrived in Venice to meet her future husband, the prince of Barataria.

Upon arrival, however, she finds that his identity is in question. As an infant, the young prince was entrusted to a drunken gondolier, who promptly mixed up the baby with his own son.

Thus, in the wake of the king’s recent death, both gondolier brothers must jointly rule the kingdom until the prince’s nurse can be brought in to correctly identify him.

To further complicate the matter, both gondoliers have recently married their loves, and Casilda is, in fact, in love with another man. The story plays out and eventually resolves in typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, with hilarious circumstances intertwined with poignant, relatable moments.

Stage Director Audrey Lauren Wax has her artistic eye on the set design to help bring this story to life. “I am truly excited to work with a functional Gondola in this production,” says Wax, who most recently directed Princess Ida with the Savoyards in 2014.

“Our design and stage management team have gone above and beyond discussing and collaborating on the logistics of it.” Wax says. “I do think the audience will be quite pleased and excited the moment it hits the stage. And in the fashion of my directing approach, it has been designed with the idea of a puzzle in mind. You’ll just have to see the show in order to see this fabulous creation.”

Puzzle-like stage pieces aside, no Gilbert and Sullivan show would be complete without the trademark hummable tunes and patter songs, and The Gondoliers does not disappoint in either realm. You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

In a historic move for the Savoyards, all roles and some chorus positions will be paid. This has drawn a larger mix of current students and recent grads from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College, as well as local youth and adult performers.

One such local favorite is Bill Rosholt, playing the Duke of Plaza-Toro in his 11th principal role with the Savoyards. Anmol Gupta appears with Rosholt as Luiz, the Duke’s assistant, and UW-Madison graduate student Becky Buechel (below) portrays the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, along with Deanna Martinez as her daughter, Casilda.

Savoyards Gondoliers Becky Buechel

Christopher Smith (below) and Brian Schneider play the handsome gondoliers Marco and Giuseppe, flanked by Gavin Waid (Antonio), Nicholas Kaplewski (Francesco), Coltan Bratland (Giorgio), and Sara Wojtak (Annibale) as the brothers’ Venetian gondolier friends.

Savoyards Gondoliers Christopher Smith

Contadine (peasant farmers) Gianetta and Tessa are portrayed by Lauren Welch (below) and Alaina Carlson, and Julia Ludwiczack plays all three contadine Fiametta, Giulia and Vittoria.

Savoyards Gondoliers Lauren Welch

Natalie Falconer portrays Inez, the King’s Foster-mother, and the cast is rounded out by a chorus of Gondoliers, Men-at-Arms, Heralds, Pages, and Contadine from the greater Madison area.

Tickets for The Gondoliers are $30 and $40, and can be purchased through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office, by phone at (608) 265-ARTS, or online at www.arts.wisc.edu

The Children’s Pre-Show is Sunday, August 7 from 1 to 2 p.m., and is free for any ticket holder age six to 12. Limited spots are available, so please contact Krystal Lonsdale at krys.lonsdale@gmail.com to reserve a space for your child.

For more information about the opera and the production, visit: www.madisonsavoyards.org

The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas for 53 years and strives to make each presentation come alive by knowing and respecting the special gifts of the authors and gathering a gifted and enthusiastic cast and crew.

The Savoyards first presented “The Gondoliers” in 1974, and most recently in 2003.


Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.

Bach1

But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-easter

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/04/ten-classical-music-pieces-for-easter.html

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Red Priest aims to revive the excitement of Baroque classics. It performs music by Handel, Bach and Telemann this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

February 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The group is called Red Priest – the nickname given to the red-haired violinist and popular Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, who taught music at a girls’ school in Venice.

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.

0288-Joan Solo Tour Press Image FINAL

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:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/red-priest.html

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:

Piers Adams

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.

red priest on stage

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.

red priest jumping

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 big 3

How would you compare Handel to Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann, whose music you will also be performing?

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!


Classical music: The Madison Savoyards did a disservice to itself and to Gilbert and Sullivan by using an “anime” or animation aesthetic for its production of “The Mikado.”

July 27, 2015
44 Comments

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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For its 53rd annual summer production, Madison Savoyards Ltd. offered its eighth presentation of the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. It was certainly the most problematical of those eight.

Badgered by threats of protest against the “stereotyping” of Japanese culture in this work, the Savoyards decided to slither away from “traditional” presentations, abandoning the creators’ very respectful use of Japanese setting and imagery as a mask for satirizing English life.

The group has this time engaged as stage director Melanie Cain, whose ventures with Fresco Opera Theatre here have shown her commitment to presenting works of the lyric stage in anything but their original character.

Melanie Cain full face

But changes should be made to add something; hers detracted and distracted. The result, visible in a two-week run at Old Music Hall on the UW campus, was pretty anarchic in visual terms.

Working on a set that was a simplified Japanese stereotype in itself, the cast was decked out in a wild disarray of ditsy costumes and crazy wigs to create a new stereotype of pop absurdity — all in the name of supposedly following current Japanese “anime” or animation graphics.

MIkado anime 2 school girls CR Mark Frohda

Only the elaborate costumes for the Mikado himself and for Katisha, his “daughter-in-law-elect,” in their wildness, catch something of their characters, while that for Pooh-Bah, the pompous power-grabber and egomaniac, conversely suggests British spoofing.

The staging had wide ups and downs. The individual movements and the ensemble action displayed good ideas, even if they were not always executed smartly, while the chorus was given sloppy direction with inadequate drilling.

Mikado anime 4 Nanki-Poo and gentlemen CR Mark Frohda

The cast, likewise, was uneven, with only one or two soloists sub-par. Michael Ward’s Pish-Tush proved inept in both singing and movement, while Dennis Gotkowski as the romantic hero, Nanki-Poo (below left), was vocally weak and visually ridiculous — looking like a pirate.

As his beloved Yum-Yum, Angela Sheppard (below right) was visually disappointing but vocally strong. To her sidekick Pitti-Sing, Angela Z. Sheppard brought some good comic potential but her diction was uneven. Matt Marsland was too straightforward to be a successfully comic Ko-Ko.

Mikado anime 3 Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum CR Mark Frohda

Best were Anthony Ashley, who was excellent in both singing and acting as Pooh-Bah; Bill Rosholt as a majestic Mikado; and, despite some moments of blurred diction, Meghan Hilker as the dragon-lady Katisha (below center).

Mikado anime 1 Meghan Hilker as Katisha CR Mark Frohd 1

The chorus of eight or 10 women and only six men was pretty scrawny. The pit orchestra, on the other hand, was excellent under music director Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) of Edgewood College.

Alas, the needless use of projections during the overture (heard at bottom in a YouTube video) quite distracted the audience from listening to their fine playing of it.

blake walter john maniaci

Given the wackiness and color, the audience seemed generally entertained. But that is hardly the only proof of the pudding, when responsible fidelity to the character of the work is sacrificed for cheap effects.

As someone with my own long years of devoted involvement with Madison Savoyards, I find it painful to have to write so negatively. But let’s be frank: This was not one of the productions that, as so often otherwise, adds renewed honor to this proud company.

Will its production of The Gondoliers next summer be perverted by protests from Italian-Americans about stereotyping Venetians?

 


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform rarely heard vocal and instrumental holiday music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras this Saturday night.

December 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you follow this blog, you know the high respect that The Ear has for the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and its founder-director Trevor Stephenson, who is also a first-rate keyboard player and a supremely talented explainer whose talks are unfailingly instructive and entertaining.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Stephenson writes to The Ear about this weekend’s upcoming holiday concert, which will feature a lot of vocal music and compositions that are rarely heard in the usual holiday concert programs. Each year, he says, attendance keeps growing steadily for the early holiday music performed on period instruments with historically informed performance practices.

Here is what Trevor Stephenson (below) says:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This Saturday evening, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. the Madison Bach Musicians will present its fourth annual Holiday Concert (below is a photo from the 2012 holiday concert) in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near historic Camp Randall stadium.

Madison Bach Musicians in Bach Cantata Dec. 2012

The preconcert lecture is at 7:15 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the public, $20 for students and seniors over 65, and they are available at Orange Tree Imports, Willy Street Co-op (east & west), Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own and Ward Brodt. For tickets bought at the door, add $5. Student rush tickets will be available for $10 with a valid student ID. For more information about tickets and about MBM, visit www.madsionbachmusicians.org

This year, MBM has set the “Way-Back” machine for the 16th and 17th centuries.

We’ll open with a set of five masterworks for a capella or unaccompanied vocal quartet by Orlando di Lassus.

In addition to soprano Chelsea Morris (below, who now lives in Madison and who won the second Handel Aria Competition last summer at the Madison Early Music Festival), and alto Sarah Leuwerke (who also lives here in Madison), two outstanding young singers from New York City will be featured. Bass Davone Tines and tenor Kyle Bielfield are both recent graduates in voice from the Juilliard School and both are concertizing extensively throughout the world. Here are their websites. http://www.davonetines.com/ and
http://www.bielfield.com/

Chelsea Morris soprano

Then an instrumental band featuring recorder, dulcian or Renaissance bassoon, two viola da gambas, two baroque violins, and positive organ will present sonatas by Antonio Bertali and Johann Schenk.

Instruments and voices will join in works by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schelle, Johann Froberger, and two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s amazing uncles Heinrich Bach and Johann Michael Bach.

The 16th and 17th centuries were full of religious upheaval, scientific advancement, global exploration and great advances in the dissemination of knowledge through the publishing revolution. The music printing presses as well really start rolling during these centuries.

The astoundingly beautiful music of Orlando di Lassus (below), which will open our upcoming concert, might have been largely unknown and –- after his death — even completely lost had it not been for the publishing houses (many of them in the Netherlands) that saw a strong market for this work.

Orlando di Lasso

It’s staggering really to think of the dozens, probably hundreds, of musicians pre-dating the advent of broad publication whose works existed only in a few handwritten copies that have not survived. Of course, even after publishing gets going in the latter part of what we now call the Renaissance in the 16th century, only a few composers enjoyed consistent press

What strikes me over and over again me about Lassus’ music is how the incredible complexity of its counterpoint is consistently directed toward a clear spiritual point. Remarkably, this miracle of style is still present 200 years after Lassus in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, where the density of the countrapuntal fabric actually helps keep the emotion centered. Claude Debussy remarked how in Bach’s music “the issue is never lost.”

Also, Lassus treats the human voice so well; all four singers have beautiful, independent lines that weave together into a mesmerizing curtain of sound. Legend has it that Lassus’ voice itself was so compelling that as a young singer he was “absconded with” more than once.

For the second work on the program I’ll play a fugue on the positive organ. This type of organ weighs only about 200 pounds and is relatively portable; MBM borrowed this beautiful instrument, made by the Dutch builder Klop, from Stephen Alltop in Evanston, Illinois.

The fugue I’ll play is by Giovanni Gabrieli, music director at the magisterial St. Mark’s church in Venice, which still stands today. Pieces like this fugue were typically composed in “open score,” simply four independent lines with no instrumental designation — the counterpoint is so great, the music works in any medium. I always imagine what it might have sounded like on four sackbuts (Renaissance trombones) positioned in opposing galleries in a resonant space like St. Marks.

Giovanni Gabrieli

The program also features two viola da gambas, bowed though fretted instrument in roughly the same register as a cello (there are also tenor and treble gambas).

Gambists Martha Vallon and Anna Steinhoff will perform a sonata by Heinrich Schenck based upon the famous Rhinemaidens legend, though this work comes two centuries before Richard Wagner went ballistic on the idea in hid “Ring” cycle.

Johann Schenck

The first half of the program will end with instrumental sonatas by the Italian virtuoso violinist Antonio Bertali (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), who worked most of his career in Vienna, and was known for importing early Italian opera into the Austrian region. We’ll mix baroque violins, gambas, recorder, dulcian and organ in the Bertali set.

antonio bertali

The second part of the program opens with two pieces by German composer Heinrich Schütz (below).

Heinrich Schutz

The first is a celebratory Christmas piece (Christ the Lord is Born Today) for voices and instruments. That will be followed by a very secular piece, Golden Hair–for soprano, alto, two violins, and continuo—about how “you torture me with your beauty. Why won’t Venus send me some comfort! I languish and die.”

Seventeenth-century or whenever — how some things never change! Schütz worked at the Dresden court during the incredibly turbulent times of the Thirty Years War; some of his music is even designed for reduced ensembles, due to the ravages of the war. As a young man he traveled to Italy and studied with Monteverdi. Some of Schutz’s music is even directly borrowed, or adapted from Monteverdi, as is the case with Golden Hair as Schutz converts it from Italian to German.

Next are two works by Heinrich Bach (below),  Johann Sebastian Bach’s great uncle. First is an instrumental transcription of “Have Mercy Upon Us, O Lord God” for two violins and two gambas. Second is the mezzo-soprano solo, with instrumental accompaniment, “Oh, had I tears enough in my head to wash away my sins.” This unusual work sounds almost like 20th-century expressionism in many places. The harmony is very gnarled, twisted and gothic. To me, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is just around the corner.

Heinrich Bach

Following this is a rare vocal work by the great 17th-century keyboard composer Johann Froberger (below). The inventive texture mixes three voices and instruments and the text celebrates the vanquishing of death and the ecstatic speaking in tongues by the Apostles when visited by the Holy Spirit. The vocal lines are very nimble and suggest the animation of “speaking in all languages.”

johann froberger

Johann Schelle’s wrote a good deal of seasonal music and this Christmas piece is a prayer to the infant Jesus imploring him to rest in our hearts so that we will never again forget him.

The sentiment is very close to that found in the final aria in J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, “Mache dich mein herze rein,” in which the soul expresses its longing to have the Savior entombed and enshrined within our hearts, so that we may live in grace. Schelle was the Kapellmeister at Leipzig during much of the latter part of the 17th century — two generations before J. S. Bach took the job in the early 1720s.

The final composer featured on this Holiday program, Johann Michael Bach, was the son of Heinrich Bach and was also the father of Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. Put another way, Johann Michael Bach was J. S. Bach’s father-in-law. The text is from the Christmas gospel, where the angels implore the shepherds not to be afraid, but to rejoice, for the Savior has come to earth. J. M. Bach set the text for antiphonal choirs, and MBM will do this by having voices in dialogue with the instrumental band.

Johann Michael Bach

Here is the complete program:

Orlando de Lassus (c. 1532–1594): Ave Regina Coelorum; Adoramus te; Carmina Chromatico; Missa pro defunctis; Introit Jubilate Deo

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557–1612): Fuga del nono tono

Johann Schenck (1660–1716?): Sonata III for two viols from “Le Nymphe di Rheno”

Antonio Bertali (1605–1669): Sonata in A minor for two violins and continuo; Sonata in G major for recorder, violin and dulcian

INTERMISSION

Heinrich Schütz (1585–1682): Heute ist Christus der Herr geboren; Güldne Haare

Heinrich Bach (1615–1692): Erbarm dich ein, O Herre Gott (instrumental version).

Johann Froberger (1616-1667): Ach, dass ich Wassers genug hätte; Alleluia Absorta est mors.

Johann Schelle (1648–1701): Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein

Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694): Fürchtet euch nicht


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