The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


Classical music: It’s Christmas Eve — a good time to revisit how the Wisconsin Chamber Choir imaginatively and successfully used many versions of the “Magnificat” to combine the holiday seasonal and the musically substantial  

December 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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

On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificat audience

The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.

Marys magnificat

The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.

Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).

That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.

Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)

Then we had settings of the Latin text.

First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.

Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin,  who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.

Andy Olson oboe

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.

This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).

Arvo Part

English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.

The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).

Peter Bloesch

stephen paulus

Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).

Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.

The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.

Mark Brampton Smith

It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.

For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:

http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org

 


Classical music: The new Grammy nominations can serve as a holiday gift guide.

December 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year at holiday time, The Ear offers a series of roundups of the best recordings and classical music gifts of the past year. The idea is to use them as holiday gift guides.

Today is Grammy Day.

grammy award BIG

So far, The Ear has listed choices made by the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And another roundup of book and videos as well as CDs by critics for The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

Now he adds the 58th annual Grammy nominations of 2016 that were announced this past Monday. The winners will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 15, on CBS television network. The telecast will be live and feature live performances.

The Ear likes to see if he can predict the winners. Outguessing the industry can be a fun, if frustrating, game to play.

He also notices two items of local interest.

The late Twin Cities composer Stephen Paulus, whose works were often commissioned and premiered in Madison by the Festival Choir of Madison and groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has been nominated for several work.

stephen paulus

In addition, producer Judith Sherman, who has several Grammys to her credit, is nominated again. She is also the producer of the two recordings of the centennial commissions by the Pro Arte Quartet.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Here are the 58th annual Grammy nominees for Classical Music:

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

Ask Your Mama: Leslie Ann Jones, John Kilgore, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Justin Merrill, engineers; Patricia Sullivan, mastering engineer (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) Label: Avie Records

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Alexander Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Robert Friedrich, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Martin Pearlman, Jennifer Rivera, Fernando Guimarães & Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Beyong Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale) Label: Chandos

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3, ‘Organ’: Keith O. Johnson and Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony) Label: Reference Recording

Ask Your Mama CD Cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh: • Hill: Symphony No. 4; Concertino Nos. 1 & 2; Divertimento (Peter Bay, Anton Nel & Austin Symphony Orchestra) • Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale & Kansas City Chorale) • Sacred Songs Of Life & Love (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale) • Spirit Of The American Range (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony) • Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony)

Manfred Eicher: • Franz Schubert (András Schiff) • Galina Ustvolskaya (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Markus Hinterhäuser & Reto Bieri) • Moore: Dances & Canons (Saskia Lankhoorn) • Rihm: Et Lux (Paul Van Nevel, Minguet Quartet & Huelgas Ensemble) • Visions Fugitives (Anna Gourari)

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin: • Dances For Piano & Orchestra (Joel Fan, Christophe Chagnard & Northwest Sinfonietta) • Tempo Do Brasil (Marc Regnier) • Woman At The New Piano (Nadia Shpachenko)

Dan Merceruio: • Chapí: String Quartets 1 & 2 (Cuarteto Latinoamericano) • From Whence We Came (Ensemble Galilei) • Gregson: Touch (Peter Gregson) • In The Light Of Air – ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir (International Contemporary Ensemble) • Schumann (Ying Quartet) • Scrapyard Exotica (Del Sol String Quartet) • Stravinsky: Petrushka (Richard Scerbo & Inscape Chamber Orchestra) • What Artemisia Heard (El Mundo) • ZOFO Plays Terry Riley (ZOFO)

Judith Sherman: • Ask Your Mama (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) • Fields: Double Cluster; Space Sciences (Jan Kučera, Gloria Chuang & Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra) • Liaisons – Re-Imagining Sondheim From The Piano (Anthony de Mare) • Montage – Great Film Composers & The Piano (Gloria Cheng) • Multitude, Solitude (Momenta Quartet) • Of Color Braided All Desire – Music Of Eric Moe (Christine Brandes, Brentano String Quartet, Dominic Donato, Jessica Meyer, Karen Ouzounian, Manhattan String Quartet & Talujon) • Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Ursula Oppens) • Sirota: Parting The Veil – Works For Violin & Piano (David Friend, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Laurie Carney & Soyeon Kate Lee) • Turina: Chamber Music For Strings & Piano (Lincoln Trio

Manfred Eicher

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

Bruckner: Symphony No. 4: Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Label: Reference Recordings

Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphony No. 10: Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Spirit Of The American Range: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (The Oregon Symphony) Label: Pentatone

Zhou Long and Chen Yi: Symphony ‘Humen 1839’: Darrell Ang, conductor (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) Label: Naxos

nelsons-shostakovich

BEST OPERA RECORDING

Janáček: Jenůfa: Donald Runnicles, conductor; Will Hartmann, Michaela Kaune & Jennifer Larmore; Magdalena Herbst, producer (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin) Label: Arthaus

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Martin Pearlman, conductor; Fernando Guimarães & Jennifer Rivera; Thomas C. Moore, producer (Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records

Mozart: Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Diana Damrau, Paul Schweinester & Rolando Villazón; Sid McLauchlan, producer (Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade: Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus & SKF Matsumoto Children’s Chorus) Label: Decca

Steffani: Niobe, Regina Di Tebe: Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Karina Gauvin & Philippe Jaroussky; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra) Label: Erato

ozawa ravel

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis: Bernard Haitink, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Anton Barachovsky, Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Hanno Müller-Brachmann & Mark Padmore; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) Label: BR Klassik

Monteverdi: Vespers Of 1610: Harry Christophers, conductor (Jeremy Budd, Grace Davidson, Ben Davies, Mark Dobell, Eamonn Dougan & Charlotte Mobbs; The Sixteen) Label: Coro

Pablo Neruda – The Poet Sings: Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (James K. Bass, Laura Mercado-Wright, Eric Neuville & Lauren Snouffer; Faith DeBow & Stephen Redfield; Conspirare) Label: Harmonia Mundi

Paulus: Far In The Heavens: Eric Holtan, conductor (Sara Fraker, Matthew Goinz, Thea Lobo, Owen McIntosh, Kathryn Mueller & Christine Vivona; True Concord Orchestra; True Concord Voices) Label: Reference Recordings

Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Charles Bruffy, conductor (Paul Davidson, Frank Fleschner, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Julia Scozzafava, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner; Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Chorale) Label: Chandos

paulus far in the heavens

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

Brahms: The Piano Trios: Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt. Label: Ondine

Filament: Eighth Blackbird. Label: Cedille Records

Flaherty: Airdancing For Toy Piano, Piano & Electronics: Nadia Shpachenko & Genevieve Feiwen Lee. Track from: Woman At The New Piano. Label: Reference Recordings

Render: Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth. Label: New Amsterdam Records

Shostakovich: Piano Quintet & String Quartet No. 2: Takács Quartet & Marc-André Hamelin. Label: Hyperion

Hamelin Takacs Shostakovich quintet

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L’Arbre Des Songes: Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Track from: Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Grieg & Moszkowski: Piano Concertos: Joseph Moog; Nicholas Milton, conductor (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern). Label: Onyx Classics

Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vol. 7: Kristian Bezuidenhout. Label: Harmonia Mundi

 Rachmaninov Variations: Daniil Trifonov (The Philadelphia Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Ursula Oppens (Jerome Lowenthal). Label: Cedille Records

trifonov rachmaninov

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

Beethoven: An Die Ferne Geliebte; Haydn: English Songs; Mozart: Masonic Cantata: Mark Padmore; Kristian Bezuidenhout, accompanist. Label: Harmonia Mundi

Joyce & Tony – Live From Wigmore Hall: Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist. Label: Erato

Nessun Dorma – The Puccini Album. Jonas Kaufmann; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Kristīne Opolais, Antonio Pirozzi & Massimo Simeoli; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia) Label: Sony Classical

Rouse: Seeing; Kabir Padavali: Talise Trevigne; David Alan Miller, conductor (Orion Weiss; Albany Symphony) Label: Naxos

St. Petersburg: Cecilia Bartoli; Diego Fasolis, conductor (I Barocchisti). Label: Decca

jonas kauffmann puccini

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

As Dreams Fall Apart – The Golden Age Of Jewish Stage And Film Music (1925-1955): New Budapest Orpheum Society; Jim Ginsburg, producer. Label: Cedille Records

Ask Your Mama: George Manahan, conductor; Judith Sherman, producer. Label: Avie Records

Handel: L’Allegro, Il Penseroso Ed Il Moderato, 1740: Paul McCreesh, conductor; Nicholas Parker, producer. Label: Signum Classics

Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto: Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer. Label: Naxos

Woman At The New Piano: Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers. Label: Reference Recordings

Paulus Three place of Enlightenment

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

Barry: The Importance Of Being Earnest: Gerald Barry, composer (Thomas Adès, Barbara Hannigan, Katalin Károlyi, Hilary Summers, Peter Tantsits & Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) Label: NMC Recordings

Norman: Play: Andrew Norman, composer (Gil Rose & Boston Modern Orchestra Project) Track from: Norman: Play. Label: BMOP/Sound

Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances: Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices & Orchestra). Track from: Paulus: Far In The Heavens. Label: Reference Recordings

Tower: Stroke: Joan Tower, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance. Label: Naxos

Wolfe: Anthracite Fields: Julia Wolfe, composer (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street & Bang On A Can All-Stars) Label: Cantaloupe Music. (Note: You can hear a haunting part of the work that won a Pulitzer Prize in the YouTube video below.)

Julia Wolfe Anthracite Fields

 


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Classical music: American composer Stephen Paulus dies at 65. The Festival Choir of Madison performed many world premieres by him and will perform the All-Night Vigil by Tchaikovsky this coming Saturday night.

October 27, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last week brought sad news.

The prolific American composer Stephen Paulus, who lived and worked in St. Paul, Minnesota, died last week at 65. He died of complications from a stroke he suffered last year, according to his son.

Stephen Paulus 1

Paulus was probably best known to Madison-area residents for the many works and several compositions that the Festival Choir of Madison commissioned and performed.

And talk about timing.

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will open its new season by performing the All-Night Vigil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –- NOT the more famous work with the same name by Sergei Rachmaninoff –- on this coming Saturday night, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Day Drive, on Madison’s near west side.

Festival Choir of Madison 2013

One wonders if the group will dedicate the performance to the memory of Paulus, whose music proved both modern and accessible, and often seemed Midwestern in that Aaron Copland kind of way.

Written nearly 35 years before the more famous Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the All-Night Vigil by Tchaikovsky (below) was written in an attempt to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. (You can hear a sample of the Tchaikovsky work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

young tchaikovsky

The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins and First Hour), is a beautiful representation of the Russian liturgical repertoire.

A pre-concert lecture begins at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

Here is a link with information and reservations:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm

And here is more about Stephen Paulus (below), whom The Ear interviewed many years ago when he was working for The Capital Times. He was the model of a cordial and gracious artist who cared deeply about the public’s ability to appreciate his work.

Stephen Paulus 2

Here is an obituary that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/arts/music/stephen-paulus-classical-composer-rich-in-lyricism-dies-at-65.html?_r=0

And here is a story that appeared on Minneapolis Public Radio, which, like Wisconsin Public Radio, emphasizes classical music when many affiliates of NPR (National Public Radio) are increasingly turning to talk radio.

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/10/20/stephen-paulus-a-musical-life

 

 


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
1 Comment

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: The University of Wisconsin Choral Union says goodbye to Madison architect and longtime member Rick Levin with Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers.” A memorial for Levin will be held May 18.

May 3, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Gradually The Ear is catching up with reviews of local concerts.

April has been such a busy month for music, that I have given priority, as usual, to previews and advance features. They better serve not only the performers and presenters, but also the public.

But here is one review — really more of an appreciation than a review — that I wanted to include before it was too late.

A week today, last Saturday night, April 26, we said good-bye to Richard “Rick” Levin (below), a local architect, an avid baseball fan and a devoted chorister.

rick levin 2014

We said that good-bye through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, in which Rick Levin (pronounced le-VINN) sang bass for 20 years or so.

But last year Rick was diagnosed with a form of oral cancer. He fought valiantly, with good humor and with hope, and many of us thought he would definitely make it.

Sadly, he did not.

He died on March 3.

So the UW Choral Union dedicated its one-night only performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s a cappella Vespers of “All-Night Vigil,” Op. 37, based on the Russian Orthodox liturgy, to Levin, who had started rehearsing the work at the beginning of the semester.

Rick was Jewish, the work’s liturgy was Christian; but it was the music by the Russian neo-Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), not the religion, that mattered.

Rachmaninoffold

Here is a link to some background, provided in a Q&A by the two leaders of the performance, conductors Beverly Taylor and Adam Kluck:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/classical-music-qa-co-conductors-beverly-taylor-and-adam-kluck-explain-the-appeal-of-sergei-rachmaninoffs-vespers-and-why-they-are-hard-to-perform-and-exotic-to-hear-f/

The performance proved a moving experience.

It is not a concert I really want to review artistically. I leave that task to this blog’s sometime guest critic John W. Barker, who usually writes for Isthmus.

Barker (below) knows the liturgical and religious aspects, the musical score, the Church Slavonic language and the dynamics of choral singing much better than I do. So I defer to Barker’s judgment and his review, which you can find a link to lower down on this posting.

John Barker

But I do feel capable of making some general observations.

This is the second time – the first was about 10 years ago — that conductor Beverly Taylor, the director of the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the assistant conductor to music director John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, had conducted the relatively neglected work and brought it to the Madison public. She also shared her conducting duties with graduate student conductor Adam Kluck.

The two switched on and off with great continuity, and both seemed in command of the score and the style.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Adam Kluck conducting

The chorus sang the difficult a cappella work, without accompaniment, with heart.

The singers changed their usually standing position on risers, and sat in a horse shoe-like semi-circle, which added to the intimacy. It almost felt like a comforting religious set-up, suggesting a surrounding circle of friends, the kind you might find in some church, synagogue or congregation.

Vespers seating UW Choral Union

Adding to the atmosphere of the work were some paintings of angels, mural-like or mosaic-like such as you might find in a Eastern Orthodox church

Vespers 1

Vespers angel 2

There were some red candles in golden church brass holders, forming an altar next to the conductor’s podium, where even an icon of the Madonna and Child had been placed on the stage.

Vespers podium and altar

Vespers stage icon5

In addition, the Vespers opened with Father Michael, of Madison’s Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, holding aloft a candle as an invocation.

Vespers Father Michael

The Choral Union did everything to create an atmosphere that would make this concert seem unusual, special and less concert-like, more intimate, if you will.

And it worked.

I sat in the audience with Rick’s wife and several friends.

We were all moved, especially, I thought, by the many verses about redemption and salvation. Unbeliever that I am, I ask: How else does one move forward from such loss of love and the grief that accompanies it?

The texture of the vocal sound enveloped us. The chorus seemed to sing with precise attacks and releases, and with good balances that shifted emphasis from section to section. Rachmaninoff’s rich sense of harmony and of melodic line showed through.

But a higher purpose than turning in an outstanding artistic performance was served, at least for some of us.

We all sat moved –- by the testimony of a great composer, unafraid of emotion, and by the many musicians paying tribute to one of their own. Such is the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Art and, for The Ear, especially of music.

It was a fine evening of fine music that served a fine purpose. I think Rick Levin would have been very pleased.

Is there more to say? Not for me, not now.

Except perhaps that a celebration or memorial gathering for Rick Levin will be held in two weeks, on Sunday, May 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., in the shelter in Warner Park (below) on Madison’s far east side.

Warner Park shelter

If you feel close enough to Rick and his wife Judy to join in the words and music, the ballpark franks and food that Rick so loved from his childhood in Chicago, where he was a Chicago Cubs fan and regularly went to Wright Field (below), I am told you are welcome and even invited to attend. As for memorials, Rick Levin modestly asked only that contributions be made to Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wrigley Field

Here is a link to Rick Levin’s obituary:

http://host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/levin-richard-rick/article_9282977f-eb94-52f7-8e76-ded2b25864d2.html

And here is the link to the review of the UW Choral Union’s performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers,” done by retired UW-Madison history professor John W. Barker, that I referred to above:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42618&sid=1d5a87b16b85286f287599373df2f6be

Finally, here in its entirety is the beautiful and mysterious “Vespers” from a live performance in a popular YouTube video. Even just the opening will, I expect, move you:

 

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Classical music: This weekend brings concerts of wind music; old and new music for Baroque flute; and early songs about money and poverty.

April 25, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings us three big events: two performances by the Madison Opera of Jake Heggie’s opera “Dead Man Walking” (Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.); a one-time performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s rarely heard a cappella “Vespers” by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union on Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and pianist Ryan McCullough in Ludwig Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas at Farley’s House of Pianos on Saturday night at 8 p.m.

But there are smaller concerts for you to consider too, some of which do not conflict with the others.

WIND MUSIC

Tonight, Friday night, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito), under director and conductor Scott Teeple, will perform a FREE concert.

UW Wind Ensemble Katherine Esposito

The program include “Profanation” by Leonard Bernstein, arranged by Bencriscutto; 
”Concerto for Wind Percussion and Wind Ensemble” by Karel Husa; 
”Colonial Song” by Percy Grainger “Raise the Roof” by Michael Daugherty; and
”Symphony in Three Movements” by retiring UW tubist and composer John Stevens (below).

John Stevens

NEW MUSIC FOR BAROQUE FLUTES

On Saturday from noon to 1 p.m., the FREE concert series Grace Presents will present “New and Historic Music for Baroque Flute” with flutist Millie Chang (below) and others.

Millie Chang

The concert is designed to be a refreshing break, a parenthesis in time and task, from the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which has started up again. Audiences are invited to bring lunch or food.

dane county farmers' market

The venue is the lovely and acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church (below are exterior and interior views), at 116 West Washington Avenue, down on the Capitol Square.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

Some of Madison’s most talented classical instrumentalists will perform the short but unique recital for baroque flute featuring compositions spanning three centuries.

Performers include Millie (Mi-Li) Chang and Danielle Breisach (below top), Baroque flute; UW-Madison professor Stephanie Jutt, modern flute; UW-Madison professor John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord; and Eric Miller (below bottom), viola da gamba. 

Danielle Breisach

Eric Miller viol

Here is the specific program: David MacBride: “Shadow” for two baroque flutes (1993); Robert Strizich: “Tombeau” for baroque flute and harpsichord (1982); François Couperin, “Concert Royal” No. 2 in D major (1722), which can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom; University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music composer Stephen Dembski (below top), “Gits and Piths” for modern and baroque flutes (2014); UW-Madison bassoonist, conductor and composer Marc Vallon (below bottom), “Ami” (2014); and Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in B minor for baroque flute and harpsichord, BWV 1030 (1736-37).

For more information, visit www.gracepresents.org

Stephen Dembski

Vallon,M

WOODWIND QUINTET

The fourth concert of the Kat Trio Chamber Music Series features the Veldor Woodwind Quintet. The concert will take place in Memorial United Church of Christ, 5705 Lacy Road, Fitchburg on Saturday night, April 26, 2014 at 7 p.m.

There will be 30-minute Q&A session before the performance.

Suggested donation: $10 adults and $5 students.

Member of the Veldor Woodwind Quintet (below) are: Barbara Paziouros Roberts (flute), Andy Olson (oboe), Joe Kania (clarinet), Brad Sinner (horn), and Brian Ellingboe (bassoon). They combine educational backgrounds in music performance from the Eastman School of Music, DePaul University, Lawrence University, Luther College, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with many years of performing experience both locally and abroad.

Now in their fifth year, the Veldor continues to entertain audiences with its dynamic performances of standard and non-traditional repertoire alike.

For additional information, visit www.thekattrio.net/chamberseries

Veldor Woodwind Quintet

EARLY MONEY SONGS

Then on Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m., at the Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 110 North Whitney Way, the early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) is performing a program titled “Toss The Pot: Songs About Money, or the Lack Thereof.”

Eliza's Toyes 2012 2

Writes founder singer and conductor Jerry Hui (below): “Through songs from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque period, we sing about the age-old problem of money, people’s desire for it, as well as things that are even more precious. There’ll be a “sermon of money” from “Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”; selection from Palestrina’s “Canticum Canticorum”; a song by Orlandi di Lassus about hungry musicians stealing food; chansons by Josquin des Prez, Sermisy and Le Jeune; and many more.”

Tickets are $15.

Jerry Hui

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: Co-conductors Beverly Taylor and Adam Kluck explain the appeal of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” and why they are hard to perform and exotic to hear for Western ears. Hear them for yourself when the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union performs this a cappella masterpiece on this Saturday night, April 26.

April 21, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” or “All-Night Vigil.” (Below is St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is only one performance of this rarely heard work. One short and beautiful audio clip is at the bottom in a YouTube video, and will give you a sample of the gorgeous a cappella, or unaccompanied, sound.

Admission is $10 for adults and the general public. Senior citizens and students get in for free. Tickets may be purchased for concerts up to one month in advance. 
Remaining tickets will be sold at the door. 
You can call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket information and reservations.

The Ear asked co-conductors Beverly Taylor (below top) and Adam Kluck (below bottom) to answer a Q&A by email. Below are the answers provided by Beverly Taylor (BT) and Adam Kluck (AK).

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Adam Kluck conducting

Sergei Rachmaninoff is known primarily as a virtuosic piano and orchestral composer. How do his vocal compositions, in particular the “Vespers,” stand up in quality and characteristics of the melodies and harmonies, the rhythm and Russian feel, to his more popular works?

BT: I actually know little of his vocal output beyond the vespers, although I know there are some lovely works for women’s voices. Most of the Vespers are based on existing chant, and although the melodies are not always as expansive as Rachmaninoff’s symphonies, the flow and grace are part of his output, and his use of extreme dynamics from very soft ppp to very loud ff are those of a Romanticist.

AK: It is interesting to note that Rachmaninoff, lauded for his prowess as a “melodist” in his instrumental works, would choose to set the All-Night Vigil service of the Orthodox church (thus limiting himself to a composition that had to be completely a cappella or without accompaniment).

We know that Rachmaninoff grew up near the church in Novgorod (further down is an icon from a Russian Orthodox church in that city) and, although he was not a practicing Orthodox Christian, he certainly was familiar with the practices and — most importantly — the musical and liturgical aspects of the church. Interestingly, Rachmaninoff set another large-scale a cappella work based on another Orthodox church service, “The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.” Tchaikovsky and several other well-known Russian composers set this as well. Rachmaninoff did not like what he ended up with, and so he decided to set the All-Night Vigil.

Most movements are harmonizations and re-workings of chant melodies dating back to the Byzantines, although Rachmaninoff (below)  does create a few movements based on his own melodic content; and these latter movements are just as effective, if not more so.

The long melodic lines throughout much of the work are characteristic of Rachmaninoff, but even harmonically the compositional language is relatively conservative.

Rachmaninoff

How do the Vespers compare or rank when placed against some of the other great choral music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and other works and composers that the UW Choral Union performs?

BT: They’re simply–different! Most of what we sing in the UW Choral Union (seen below, with the UW Symphony Orchestra) is accompanied by orchestra, and most of the Classical and early Romantic works have more periodic phrasing, so that an overall form emerges. That is much less the case with these beautiful pieces; a few of them have verses and recognizable refrains.  Others are through-composed. They are more meditative, and show off particularly the low and mellow sounds.  The basses (and we have them!) are asked to sing low D’s, C’s and even a low B in the work.

AK: The pacing of the All-Night Vigil is atypical of those other composers. There are often several movements strung together with very similar tempi, and some of the movements are much longer than others.

The absence of any instrumentalists also means no break for the choir and a magnification of any intonation and tuning issues. Additionally, the first soprano and tenor parts sit quite high in the voice for sustained periods of time, compounding the difficulty.

It is certainly one of the most challenging pieces of any size and scope for these reasons, and for the audience it does require a somewhat different mindset as well. There won’t be the rollicking fugues we’ve come to love and expect from a Haydn or Mozart mass, or a Bach cantata. This piece is something else entirely.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Why do you think the Vespers aren’t better known or performed more frequently?

BT: They call for a fair amount of “divisi” — divided parts in all the ranges, but mostly it’s the lack of good low basses, which I think explains why they’re not done more often.

AK: Apart from the unique challenges it presents, I think that in the United States, Russian choral music is still intimidating to us. The language is still the primary barrier, but the choral sound in Eastern Europe and Russia is different to us as well. Rather than attempting to replicate these sonorities as accurately as possible, some directors often choose to program something that is more familiar to audiences and choristers alike. (Below is the interior of a Russian Orthodox Church.)

Russian Orthodox church interior

What specific things would you like to point out for the public to know about the Vespers and your performance of them?

BT: My assistant Adam Kluck loves this work, and so we’re splitting the conducting duties. We’re also doing some minor things involving projections and icons to convey somewhat the world of the senses in which these works would be performed — candles, beautiful art. (Below is an icon from a Russian Orthodox church in the city of Novgorod, where Rachmaninoff grew up.)

AK: In the Russian church tradition, there are many prescriptions for singing as part of a service. We will have one of our choir members, Father Michael, an Orthodox priest, sing the chant before the piece, so that it is permissible to sing the “amen” at the beginning of each of the first two movements.

Rachmaninoff’s setting of each movement illustrates the text very well, and so especially if you are able to follow along with the translations, the piece will really come alive.

Russian icon from Novgorod

Is there something else you would like to say or add?

BT: The concert will be lovely, but more meditative than some concerts.  It won’t always hit you in the face, but it will certainly be well worth listening deeply to.

AK: If your readers enjoy this piece of music, I would encourage them to seek out other choral music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Peter Tchaikovsky, Alexander Gretchaninoff, and any other Russian composers. The sacred and secular music of the Russian-Baltic region just after the turn of the century is wonderfully expressive and unique.

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Classical music: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart’s Requiem last weekend and fill in for maestro John DeMain? Was it sexism or something more innocent? You can hear Taylor tonight conduct the University of Wisconsin Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” and then on Saturday night, April 26, when she conducts the UW Choral Union in Rachmaninoff’s a cappella “Vespers.”

April 12, 2014
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There I was last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, deeply engaged in and enjoying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s glorious and poignant Requiem, incomplete as the original score is.

Now, I have my own personal reasons why the performance and music proved especially moving to me.

But suffice it to say that during the outstanding performance that was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), the Madison Symphony Chorus (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), guest soloists including UW graduate soprano Emily Birsan and guest conductor Julian Wachner, from the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, I kept wondering:

Why isn’t Beverly Taylor conducting this program?

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

You may recall that Beverly Taylor has headed the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for 19 years. Before that, she was at Harvard. Plus, she regularly tours and does guest stints.

And if you are like The Ear, Beverly Taylor (below) has probably brought you more memorable moments of great choral music than any other musician in town since Robert Fountain, especially through her almost two decades at the UW-Madison during which she has directed the main community and campus group, the UW Choral Union, as well as various other UW groups, including the Concert Choir.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

She has also conducted world premieres and Midwest premieres, and she has worked with some pretty big names, singers and instrumentalists (cellist Matt Haimovitz) as well as composers such as Robert Kyr (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom).

robert kyr

JohnHarbisonatpiano

So then I started thinking:

When have I heard Beverly Taylor conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra -– of which she is the assistant conductor, the same kind of post that launched the meteoric career of Leonard Bernstein (below) when he was the assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic? Assistants often get to fill in when the principal conductor is ill or out-of-town. Same thing happened to assistant conductor Seiji Ozawa when Bernstein was ill disposed.

bernstein-new-york-city-nightlife-rmc-image-1001-bw

Perhaps memory fails me, but I could not think of a single time when I heard Taylor conduct the MSO in a regular season subscription concert.

Can it be true that she is good enough to keep her post, but not good enough to perform its duties when the occasion arises. And if it is true, is it right? Would that happen to a man?

Now, it is true that Taylor’s many duties include preparing the MSO Chorus. And she performed that important duty in a fine manner for the Mozart Requiem, which was acknowledged both in critics’ reviews and in the loud applause when she came on stage to take a bow. One suspects she herself has conducted Mozart’s Requiem several times in her long career.

Not that guest conductor Julian Wachner (below top) was in any way a failure or proved unsatisfactory. He conducted just fine, even if the program was somewhat odd because it opened with a single Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvorak, which is usually an encore instead of a curtain-raiser; and because it featured Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” for Organ and Orchestra with guest organist, and a real real virtuoso, Nathan Laube (below).

The Jongen is a work that wasn’t performed here at all until the Overture Center opened with its custom-built, million-dollar Klais concert organ; and now we have heard it twice in 10 years. I think I can go another 10 or 20 years without hearing this second-tier work again. It has its moments, but they are not very many and they are not very long.

Julian Wachner conducting

Nathan Laube at console

Anyway, just to be sure, I checked the biographies of Julian Wacher and Beverly Taylor. I compared and decided that Taylor’s holds up just fine. See for yourself:

http://www.julianwachner.com/press/biography/

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/btaylor

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=54

You will notice that Taylor, who has a good training pedigree, is not only the chorus preparer for the MSO, but also the Assistant Conductor -– the one who helps the main maestro and music director John DeMain help balance the orchestra during rehearsals and who consults with him on other occasions for other reasons.

And Beverly Taylor has certainly conducted her share of major chorus and orchestra masterworks with the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra: Requiems by Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms as well as Mozart; Benjamin Britten’s “War” Requiem’; Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”; and many other works including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and B Minor Mass, Mozart’s great C Minor Mass, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” (below); Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” (at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the UW Choral Union under the baton of Taylor), Franz Joseph Haydn’s “ Lord Nelson” Mass, the “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky and other works by Gabriel Faure,  Anton Bruckner, Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

In fact, you can hear Beverly Taylor in action TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she conducts the UW Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” (tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students); and again on Saturday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she will conduct the UW Choral Union in the large-scale a cappella “Vespers” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) for one performance only.  Admission for the “Vespers” is $10 for the public, free for seniors and students. 

rachmaninoffyoung

So I am again left with the question: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to fill in on the podium for MSO conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera and who was off in Virginia guest conducting Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” It sure seemed like her kind of program.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

I want to give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and not jump to the conclusion that Taylor didn’t get the podium to herself because of sexism, especially since the MSO has booked guest women conductors, including the Finnish firecracker Anu Tali (below top), and hired a woman concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), whom it has often highlighted as a soloist.

Anu Tali

Naha Greenholtz profile

But then I also remembered that the MSO used Taylor’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, instrumental conductor James Smith, for this year’s “Final Forte” Bolz Young Artist Competition concert and broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

And I also read a New York Times story about how even the great and high-profile Metropolitan Opera has had only three -– yes, count them, three -– women conductors  (below top is Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra) in its entire history, even during the time when women conductors like Marin Alsop (below middle) and JoAnn Falletta (below bottom) are much in the news. Here is a link to that story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/22/arts/music/female-conductors-search-for-equality-at-highest-level.html?_r=0

women conductors NY Tmes Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber orchestra

Marin Alsop 2

conducting_joann_falletta

So what about our own hometown woman conductor? Maybe it really is a question of sexism, perhaps the unconscious or subconscious kind, or the kind that is camouflaged under other concerns like incompetence and low public appeal. Or maybe it is just a question of the orchestra’s history, habit and tradition in action.  Or perhaps it is something as simple and innocent as a schedule conflict or an overbooked schedule. But it looks suspiciously like the old vicious circle: She is inexperienced, so we can’t give her the experience.

I raise the question more than I claim to I have the answer. But I also want to know if I am alone in my curiosity and concern.

I want to hear what other readers and musicians in the area and elsewhere have to say, even though they may be reluctant to speak up using their real names to question or criticize such a major player as the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

But Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a major player in Madison too. And she deserves a chance to move from behind-the-scenes and once in a while have her talents place in the public spotlight for the same organization that she has served so well for so long.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Who knows, she might even have saved the MSO some money in booking fees and her local fans might even have helped filled some of the empty seats I saw last Sunday afternoon.

So The Ear says: Come on, MSO, give Beverly Taylor the chance she has earned to stand alone and conduct by herself after almost 20 years of being a team player. Please shine the spotlight on her when the chance next presents itself.

What do readers and audience members think?

Don’t be shy.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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Classical music Q&A: Gabriel Faure’s music is hard to perform and very underrated, says First Unitarian Society of Madison music director Dan Broner who will conduct two FREE performances of Faure’s sublime Requiem this coming Palm Sunday.

April 8, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday, April 13, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the First Unitarian Society of Madison will offer one of its All-Music Sundays.

This time, the event – open to the public and not just FUS members — features two FREE performances on the lovely and consoling Requiem by Gabriel Faure at the historic meeting-house, (below)  designed like a plow tilling the soil by Frank Lloyd Wright, at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

To The Ear, it seems a perfect choice for the upcoming Easter season – Sunday is, after all, Palm Sunday.

To be sure, a lot of sublime choral music has been or will be performed here in a short time, including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” and Mass in B Minor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s storied Requiem and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s a cappella Vespers.

I gave a rundown in this earlier post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/classical-music-april-will-bring-lots-of-choral-music-by-bach-mozart-beethoven-faure-and-rachmaninoff-among/

But there is something special in the quietude of the Faure Requiem that seems to marry the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions in away that also allows secularists to enter into the music.

I asked FUS music director Dan Broner (below), who programmed and will conduct the Requiem, to talk about it and he agreed to do an email Q&A:

Dan Broner

Why did you choose to do the Requiem by Gabriel Faure?

Two years ago we did the Requiem by John Rutter. A singer at the time asked if we could do the Faure Requiem next and since I hadn’t conducted the entire work for some time, I thought it would be fun to do it again.

John Rutter (below) worked on a new edition of the Faure Requiem in the early 1980s, which inspired him to compose his own requiem. So I thought it would be fun for the Society Choir to sing it while the Rutter was still relatively fresh in their ears.

John Rutter 10

What do you think of Faure’s music in general and what do you especially like about it and what makes it appropriate for the Unitarians?

I think Faure’s music is underrated. He was comparatively prolific, having written over 100 songs, many piano solo works, and lots of wonderful chamber music. Yet he is best known for his Requiem and a few instrumental numbers (“Sicilienne,” “Pavane” and “Elegie”).

I think it may be because he didn’t write many large-scale works, and his piano solo repertoire is quite difficult technically. (Liszt pronounced it too difficult.)

Faure (below) was a terrific melodist on par with Schubert and Chopin and his life (1845-1924) spanned a period that began with the music of Chopin and Schumann and into the jazz era and the second Viennese school. An important educator, he taught many well-known composers including Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger.

Faure worked for the Roman Catholic Church, and properly wrote his Requiem in Latin. But he eschewed the usual “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) movement with its emphasis on judgment and damnation for a gentler spirit that focused instead on eternal rest. I think this plays well with Unitarian humanist leanings.

faure

How does it differ from other well-known Requiems?

In addition to the “Dies Irae,” Faure also doesn’t include the “Benedictus” portion of the “Sanctus.” And his “Agnus Dei” (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video) is in F major and is more lyrical than the typical big, minor key “Agnus Dei” movements of other Requiems.

Interesting is the similarities with the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, written some 20 years earlier. Both are in seven movements and both use soprano and baritone soloists. I think it was Aaron Copland (below) who declared Faure “the Brahms of France.”

aaron copland

What else would you like to say or add about the work and the performances?

We will be using John Rutter’s chamber orchestration which lends itself for performing in a relatively small space: organ, harp, solo violin, divided violas and cellos, bass, two horns and timpani. The chorus will number a little over 60 singers. Soprano Heather Thorpe and baritone Bart Terrell are the soloists. And it will take place in the older Landmark Auditorium (below) because that’s where the organ is.

Dan Broner FUS

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