By Jacob Stockinger
A friend writes:
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have spent the 2014-2015 season – entitled “Reprise” — encoring performances of unique and much-loved musical works of art over their 30 years, as well as continuing their tradition of presenting memorable, neglected and newer chamber works to their audiences.
Their final concerts of the anniversary season – to be held this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon — highlight music from significant moments in the history of the ensemble.
The concerts are this Saturday, May 23, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 24, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Village Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Tickets are available at the door and cost $20 for adult general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
Guests for the final concert are Laura Burns (below top), Geri Nolden, Wendy Buehl, violins; Katrin Talbot, viola; Mark Bridges, cello; Bradley Townsend, string bass; and Scott Teeple (below bottom), conductor.
The original version of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944), scored for 13 players, was first performed in concert by the Oakwood Chamber Players 25 years ago on stage at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
This enduring and popular chamber work will be conducted by director of University of Wisconsin-Madison Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple. This chamber version of Appalachian Spring features 10 strings, flute, clarinet and bassoon. Originally commissioned by pioneering American modern dance choreographer Martha Graham (below top), this stunning compositional achievement earned Copland (below bottom) the Pulitzer Prize.
Included in that concert by the group was Serenata Invano (1914), for clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello and string bass. The work was described by its composer Carl Nielsen (below top) as a “humorous trifle.” The Oakwood Chamber Players will be joined by guest bassist Bradley Townsend (below bottom) for this upbeat work.
Two additional contemporary works of new music, performed for the first time by the Oakwood Chamber Players this season, will provide listeners with contrasting concepts on dance forms.
Italian composer and horn player Corrado Maria Saglietti (below) wrote his Suite for horn and string quartet (1992) in three movements. It features a sensual tango, a plaintive canzone and a jazz-influenced final movement with driving rhythms subtitled “Speedy,” which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Not Just a Place, by contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) – who did a residency this winter at the UW-Madison School of Music — is written for the sultry tones of viola, double bass and piano. Subtitled “dark memories from an old tango hall,” the piece is based on late night impressions of an Argentinian dance hall and creates a mesmerizing atmosphere.
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
The critically acclaimed Madison-based Ancora String Quartet (below) will present two concerts this weekend to close its 14th season.
The two events are:
A FREE performance this Friday night, May 22 at 7:30 p.m., at the Janesville Woman’s Club Association. Donations will be gratefully accepted.
A ticketed performance on Saturday night, May 23 at 7:30 p.m., in the Landmark Auditorium in the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.
Tickets are general seating and available at the door. They cost $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors and students, $6 for children under 12.
The program includes:
The Quartet No. 1 in C major, Op. 49, by Dmitri Shostakovich, which presents the composer’s trademark quirkiness in fresh, innocent and fantastical form.
The String Quartet No. 3 in B-Flat Major, Op. 67, by Johannes Brahms, where the beautiful lyricism of the composer’s final string quartet closes with a delightful Theme and Variations movement. (You can hear the theme-and-variations movement, as performed by the Jerusalem String Quartet, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
A reception will follow the concert.
Current members of the Ancora (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the UW-Whitewater; violinist Robin Ryan, left) and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt, who also plays with the Madison Bach Musicians and Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio.
With first violinist Leanne League on leave until next fall, we are excited to work this spring with guest violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate and a musician of superb musicality with an impressive resume and a devoted local following.
The members’ credentials include degrees from the Indiana University School of Music and the University of Texas-Austin, as well as study at the New England Conservatory and Eastman School of Music. Individually, they have attended numerous chamber music festivals and performed across the United States and Europe.
The four players have well-established individual musical careers as soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players. They perform constantly in Madison and beyond, appearing regularly in such ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
By Jacob Stockinger
This weekend is Graduation or Commencement Weekend.
That seems a good time to check out the year-end issue of “A Tempo,” the new blog done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The issue features stories about graduates and where they are headed.
Here is a link:
REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts at Mills Hall and Overture Hall, where the music students will perform a Side-by-Side concert with the professional players of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
Here is a link to more information and details:
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, you have to hand it to music director and conductor John DeMain as well as the orchestra players, the chorus members and the guest soloists: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) sure knows how to finish up a season with a bang.
A very Big Bang.
Last weekend in Overture Hall, they closed the current season with a stratospheric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.
Sure, all parties — especially concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — also did a terrific job in performing Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto-like “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which preceded the iconic Beethoven symphony.
But it was the Beethoven symphony that grabbed everyone’s ears and didn’t let go, earning a well-deserved and instant standing ovation.
This was Beethoven at his exciting best.
All the musicians played tightly and DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) managed to make the old radical piece sound radically new, with a driving rawness and roughness (lots of loud and highly accented percussion) coupled with flawless precision and great balancing of the winds and strings as well as the brass.
This interpretation was both dramatic and transparent in a way that both thrilled you and helped you to understand the music and its structure.
A couple of years ago I remarked that DeMain – who came here from the Houston Grand Opera as primarily an opera conductor – had developed into a great Brahms interpreter.
Now I can say the same thing about his having become an outstanding Beethovenian.
But I did have one question:
Am I the only one who hears the slow movement of Beethoven’s early “Pathétique” piano sonata in the opening of the slow movement of his Ninth Symphony?
Listen for yourself and decide by using these YouTube videos:
And now here is the slow movement, also with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian students, of the Ninth Symphony:
Maybe I am hearing things that aren’t there.
Or maybe musicologists have long established the similarity between the early and the late work as fact -– though I cannot recall having seen it mentioned.
What do you think of the comparison?
Can you think of other pieces that sound as if they were twins separated at birth? Leave names – and maybe a YouTube link – in the COMMENTS section.
And what did you think of the final concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement about the summer classical music festival in Door County:
The Pro Arte Quartet, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is often praised for its energy, precision and intensity. Comprised of four world-class musicians, the group consistently delivers delightfully balanced and elegantly executed performances.
For this concert, the group will perform works by Beethoven, Mozart and Kirchner. And to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Pro Arte Quartet, every guest in attendance will receive an elegant coffee table book about the group’s rich history.
This concert takes place on Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ephraim Moravian Church (below).
Tickets to the Pro Arte Quartet performance are $30 for adults and $10 for students. Ephraim Moravian Church is located at 9970 Moravia St, in Ephraim. (Below top is a photo on the exterior, below bottom of the interior.)
First on the program is the String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below). It is one of six early quartets in the Opus 18 group dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz. It is the only one of the six to be written in a minor key that is often considered Beethoven’s most typical and expressive key.)
Its composition dates from 1800 and is contemporaneous with his First Symphony and his Third Piano Concerto, both also in the key of C, plus the Septet for Winds and Strings in E-flat Major, which endured as one of his most beloved compositions during his lifetime.
This quartet also comes from a time in Beethoven’s life when the 30-year-old composer fell deeply in love with a younger woman, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi — only to be rejected, perhaps because she had higher social status than he did. (You can hear the dramatic opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Following the Beethoven will be the String Quartet No. 4 by Leon Kirchner (below). Kirchner is one of America’s finest composers. He died in 2009 at the age of 90, only three years after completing his String Quartet No. 4, which was composed for the Orion Quartet.
His musical style has been described as linear, chromatic and rhapsodic, but also rhythmically irregular with contrasting textures and tempos. Kirchner waited nearly 40 years to write this last of his string quartets after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his Third Quartet in 1966.
Concluding the program will be the Quartet in A Major, K. 464, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is one of the six string quartets by Mozart known as “The Haydn Quartets.” Mozart had recently met the older and revered composer Joseph Haydn, who had already made a significant name for himself as a composer of string quartet music.
In 1784, Mozart was invited to join Haydn, and two other well-established composers, Dittersdorf and Vanhal, in a private evening of chamber music playing. Another such meeting took place the next year, which Mozart’s father, Leopold, was invited to attend.
This is where Haydn is reported to have told Leopold, “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the greatest knowledge of composition.”
The younger Mozart returned the esteem by dedicating this group of six quartets to Haydn, “From his friend, W. A. Mozart.” Written in 1785, it comes from one of Mozart’s most prolific periods that saw several masterpieces come to fruition including not only this quartet but three of Mozart’s most beloved piano concertos.
The original Pro Arte Quartet (below) was founded in 1911 by students at the Brussels Conservatory. The group was known for performing new works by composers such as Bela Bartók, Darius Milhaud, Arnold Schoenberg and Vitorrio Rieti. They made their American debut in 1926 at the Library of Congress and went on to tour the country 30 times.
While on tour in 1940, the group became stranded in Madison when Hitler invaded Belgium. The University of Wisconsin came to their aid by offering them permanent residency. In the 1950s, Pro Arte became the University of Wisconsin’s faculty string quartet. Over the years, there have been a total of 26 musicians who were official members of the Pro Arte Quartet. The current four members have performed together since 1995.
Members (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) David Perry, violin; Suzanne Beia, violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, violoncello have performed together for over 20 years. They perform every year as part of Midsummer’s Music Festival.
Midsummer’s Music is known for hosting superb chamber concerts at unique venues throughout Door County’s many charming communities. Midsummer’s Music Festival features top-tier musicians from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Philharmonic and the Aspen Music Festival.
Performances take place in a variety of unusual spaces ranging from a quaint community church, to a 120-year old lakeside warehouse to an elegant private home of an area resident.
The main festival is comprised of 23 concerts and runs June 12 through July 14. There is also a Labor Day series that made up of 10 concerts that take place Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.
For more information, visit the newly designed Midsummer’s Music website at www.midsummersmusic.com or call 920-854-7088.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are still some smaller-scale concerts left to the season – some chamber music and vocal music by the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Madison Choral Project, for example.
But the next big series of classical music events on tap are the concerts over three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green during June by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below).
As usual, the group – co-founded and co-directed by UW-Madison professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal flute Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a UW-Madison grad who teaches in Berkeley — is known for showcasing well-known and neglected works as well as imported and local musicians.
For full information, including tickets information and samples from the 2014 season, here is a link to the BDDS website:
In the meantime, here is a round-up of this summer’s programs and a schedule of performances.
WEEK ONE | JUNE 12, 13, 14
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Katarzyna Bryla, violin
Parry Karp (below top), cello Sponsored by Sue Cleary Koch
Timothy Jones, bass-baritone
Emily Birsan (below middle), soprano
Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), piano Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz
Johann Sebastian Bach: Arias and Duets — Sponsored by Carla & Dick Love
Felix Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata in D Major, op. 58
Franz Joseph Haydn: Divertimento in G Major, Hob. IV: 7 — Sponsored by Barbara Johnson
Ludwig van Beethoven: Scottish and Irish Folk Songs and Duets
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Friday, June 12, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green Sunday on June 14, 2:30 PM
ROB THE CRADLE
Dick Kattenburg: Sonata for flute and piano
Dmitri Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, op. 127
Modest Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death
Louise Farrenc: Trio in E minor, op. 45
The Playhouse (below), Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 13, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 14, 6:30 PM
WEEK TWO | JUNE 19, 20, 21
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Axel Strauss, violin Sponsored by James Dahlberg & Elsebet Lund
Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello Sponsored by Dan & Karen Baumann
Alan Kay, clarinet Sponsored by Vicki & Jerry Stewart and Katherine Naherny & Roger Ganser
Thomas Kasdorf, piano Sponsored by Anne & Peter Wadsack
HONOR AMONG THIEVES
Johann Sebastian Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038
John Harbison: Songs America Loves to Sing
Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, op. 38, arranged from the Septet, op. 20
Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 19, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 21, 2:30 PM
BREAKING AND ENTERING
Florent Schmitt: Sonatina in trio, op. 85 — Sponsored by Jane & David Villa
Paul Schoenfield: Country Fiddle Pieces — Sponsored by Martha & Charles Casey
Paul Desenne: Haydn Tuyero, Chicharras, Galeones — Sponsored by Jane Blumenfeld & Willow Harth
Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8 — Sponsored by Jacob Stockinger, in memory of Judy Schwaemle
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 20, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 21, 6:30 PM
WEEK THREE | JUNE 26, 27, 28
Stephanie Jutt, flute
Jeffrey Sykes, piano Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory of Barbara Ekholm
Romie de Guise-Langloise, clarinet
Orlando Pimentel, clarinet
Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon
Richard Todd, horn
Carmit Zori (below), violin Sponsored by Daphne Webb
Hyejin Lee, violin
Ara Gregorian, viola Sponsored by the family of John Stoelting, in loving memory
Katja Linfield, cello
Zachary Cohen, bass
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030 — Sponsored by Linda & Keith Clifford
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 — Sponsored by Norma & Elliott Sober
Johannes Brahms: Serenade in D Major, op. 11, arr. Alan Boustead — Sponsored by Michael Bridgeman, in honor of Jack Holzhueter
Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 28, 2:30 PM
Claude Debussy: Première Rhapsodie — Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz
Kevin Puts: Seven Seascapes — Sponsored by Miriam Simmons & Jim Cain
Franz Peter Schubert: Octet in F Major, D. 803 — Sponsored by Larry Bechler & Patty Struck
The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 27, 7:30 PM
Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on Sunday, June 28, 6:30 PM
ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.
Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:
And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Mother’s Day 2015.
And nothing says love like music.
So what music would you like to play for your mother?
And what music would she like to hear?
They aren’t necessarily the same.
So here are The Ear’s choices.
The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:
And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.
And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.
What are your choices in each category?
Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.
By Jacob Stockinger
Starting this Saturday, May 9, and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, May 16-17, the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison.
Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.
On Saturday, May 9 at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will kick off the concerts with performances by its Percussion Ensemble (below top), Brass Choir, and Harp Ensemble (below bottom).
The following week, on Saturday, May 16, the Philharmonia Orchestra will start the day at 11 a.m. They will play four different works that morning beginning with Symphony No. 9, op. 95, E minor “From the New World,” movement 4, by Antonin Dvorak.
They will transition to Zoltan Kodaly’s Háry János: Intermezzo followed by two pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Overture to “The Magic Flute” and the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F Major, K. 459. The piano concerto will feature concerto competition winner, Moqiu Cheng. Moqiu (below) is a seventh-grader at Hamilton Middle School and is also a violinist with WYSO.
At the 1:30 p.m. concert, the Concert Orchestra will take the stage with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Simpson Dance of the Tumblers from ‘The Snow Maiden’. Hatikvah, a traditional tune arranged by Del Borgo is next followed by Richard Meyer’s, Tales of Vandosar. They will end their set with Robert Sheldon’s Triumph of the Argonauts.
Following the Concert Orchestra, WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta will end the day’s performances with several pieces including The Abduction from the Seraglio: Overture by Mozart, Richard Meyer’s, Carpe Diem!, and the Allegro from Sinfonia No. 6 in G minor by Johann Christian Bach.
On Sunday, May 17, at 4 p.m., the Youth Orchestra (below top) will take stage at OVERTURE HALL — NOT Mills — along with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom) in a side-by-side concert. The program will feature five different works showcasing the abilities of both orchestras.
They will start with the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich’s. Following that Soloist Adam Yeazel (below top), a senior at Middleton High School, will perform the Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone by Jacques Ibert.
That will be followed by the cadenza and fourth movement of Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich featuring sophomore Maynie Bradley (below bottom) as the soloist.
After a brief intermission the program will continue with Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations – including Theme I, VII, VIII, IX, XI, Finale and end with Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky in an orchestration by Maurice Ravel.
This is the third “Side by Side” collaboration between the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and WYSO.
According to WCO Maestro Andrew Sewell, “Side by Side” concerts give students “tremendous inspiration and the confidence to play difficult repertoire next to seasoned musicians. We are thrilled to bring this notable musical performance to Overture Hall.”
The public is invited to this free concert. Reservations must be made by calling the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra office at (608) 257-0638. Please note that places are being reserved for this concert, but there will be no tickets. Seating is General Admission. For more information please visit www.wcoconcerts.org.
These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of the The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear supposes that Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra qualifies as program music since it aims to translate Plato’s famous dialogue about love — “Symposium” — into music. (At the bottom, is a YouTube video of Joshua Bell performing the work with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Alan Gilbert in 2013.)
This much is sure. The 1954 work by Bernstein — to be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — is part of what makes this weekend’s one of the most interesting programs, maybe THE most interesting, of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The combination of Romantic and post-WW II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is beloved around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, also known as the “Choral” and Ode to Joy” symphony.
That was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein himself famously conducted in Germany to celebrate to fall of the Berlin Wall. So, what better offering is there to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein?
(John DeMain talked about the Beethoven symphony in a Q&A here earlier this week. Here is a link to that post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/classical-music-maestro-john-demain-talks-about-the-challenges-and-rewards-of-beethovens-ninth-the-choral-or-ode-to-joy-sympho/ )
Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?
The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral department.
Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenor Eric Barry; and bass Morris Robinson.
Tickets are $12-$84.
For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven
Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” with The Ear:
How would you compare Leonard Bernstein’s work to the great historical violin concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius? What about to modern and contemporary violin concertos by, say, Samuel Barber and Philip Glass, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich? Are there any you would draw parallels or contrasts to?
The five-movement format in Bernstein’s “Serenade” differentiates it substantially from some of the 18th and 19th century classics. While there’s no literal program, there is the suggestion of a basic narrative in Bernstein’s re-imagination of Plato’s communal dialogue. This element alone connects the work more closely to the late 19th and 20th century sub-genre of “program music.” (Below is a portrait of Leonard Bernstein composing at the piano in 1955, around the time of the “Serenade.”)
In its familiar tonal language — combing modal and traditional harmonic elements — it has some resemblance to the Barber concerto. I don’t think middle-of-the-century American composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein were consciously adhering to style parameters.
That said, there is a distinctive “American-ness” to their works. Much the same way music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev has a “Russian” sound, without necessarily being nationalistic. It’s subtler than that. It is more like these composers shared some common aesthetic DNA due to their national and cultural origins.
Where do you place it among Bernstein’s body of works? Is he generally underappreciated as a composer compared to his work as a conductor and his music for the Broadway theater?
To the latter question, this is certainly true. He was such a charismatic public figure in music, especially in his work as an educator, conductor and composer of popular music. In light of this, I think his remarkable contributions to “art” music are easily overlooked.
In the Serenade he manages to blend many stylistic elements. I hear the Devil’s Dance from Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and, in the fourth movement, glimpses of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The instrumentation is a nod to Bela Bartok in his “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste” and the tonal language shows Paul Hindemith’s influence.
But despite all of that, Bernstein’s unique language is apparent within the first five seconds of the piece when the rising augmented 4th resolves up a half step. That’s what is so remarkable about Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) — he manages to blend disparate elements of other great artists without losing his own intrinsic style.
How does Bernstein express the idea of Platonic dialogue?
Each of the movements is loosely based on the themes of the seven speakers in the work by Plato (below is an ancient sculptural depiction of the philosopher). The concerto begins with the soloist alone in a rhetorical statement and the piece unfolds as each orator presents his perspective on the topic of love. By the end of the fifth movement, drinking seems to have taken over the gathering, leading to a thrilling depiction of a boisterous dinner party.
How is the idea of love as a carnal and spiritual subject that the guests discuss get expressed?
On describing the duality of love, as a force that cuts both ways, Bernstein is explicit. For example in the third movement Erixymathus, he uses the soloist and orchestra as warring factions. The orchestra explodes with a three-note jab. Then the soloist introduces a quasi-tone row that’s passed back and forth with contrasting intensity. Further into the movement, he piles these themes on top of each other in a frenetic fugue that expresses the mystery and ecstasy of love.
In contrast, the next movement Agathon features the same three-note motive that opened the previous movement, but stretched to 10 times its initial length, utterly transforming it into a spiritual and intimate aria. Bernstein does this all over the piece, taking material from previous movements and showing them in a new light. (Below is a fresco depiction of the Symposium.)
What do you think of the work itself and how its fits with Beethoven’s Ninth? Have you played it before or is it new to you?
Until last year I’d only known the Serenade by recording, so I was thrilled when John suggested we perform it here with the MSO.
It’s strangely neglected in the solo violin repertoire. Maybe that is because of the unconventional five-movement format, or that the title “after Plato’s Symposium” is somehow intimidating or off-putting.
It’s clearly one of Bernstein’s great orchestral works and is a firework of a showpiece for the violin. As far as pairing with Beethoven’s Ninth, the themes of brotherhood and platonic love feature prominently in both works.
How challenging is it to play and what are the challenges both technically and interpretively? What would you like the audience to pay special attention to?
I find all music challenging. Mozart is simpler in terms of notes and patterns than, say, Shostakovich or Bernstein, but in its own way it is just as hard to play and requires just as much diligent work to pull off.
The Bernstein is full of musical challenges and requires lots of imagination and characterization to communicate the narrative of Plato’s dialogue.
That being said, it’s a major 20th-century solo work so it’s also chock full of technical hurdles. Isaac Stern (below, in 1977) – for whom this piece was written — has left us fingering and bowing suggestions, so I know the thorny passages are at least theoretically possible!
In any event, I’m really looking forward to these performances and think these will be fantastic concerts for anyone who loves great music.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), a prize-winning professor of composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (You can hear a sample of her chamber work “High Wire Act” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
“Creature Quartet,” composed by University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Laura Elise Schwendinger (below), will be premiered by The JACK Quartet on this Friday, May 8, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
For more information, including ticket prices and reservations as well as other works on the program and the JACK’s concert to be played in the dark on this Thursday, go to:
Schwendinger, a Guggenheim winner and the first composer recipient of the Berlin Prize, wrote the Creature Quartet, a one-movement work for string quartet, with “portraits in music” of extinct, mythological or endangered creatures.
The quartet will be accompanied by an evocative animation by the gifted French artist, Pauline Gagniarre. The animation depicts the creatures in the quartet, and was commissioned by Memorial Union Concerts for this premiere
Each of the quartet’s movements feature different creatures such as extinct birds, like the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Passenger Pigeon (the last surviving Passenger Pigeon died 100 years ago this year), the marvelously funny looking Dodo Bird, as depicted in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as mythological creatures like the Yeti, Chupacabra, and the famous “sea monster” Nessy.
Here are more details from program notes:
The Creature Quartet is a one-movement work for string quartet, played without break, comprised of 12 short movements, each a paean or character portrait in music to an extinct, mythological, or endangered creature. It is my personal response to the current mass extinction that we are facing.
The work starts with a “hymn for lost creatures,” which comes back in various forms between the sections or movements devoted to each animal.
Musical relationships exist as well, between the various movements, for instance, the repeated pattern of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (below) in Movement I, played in pizzicato (plucked string) then col legno (or with wood of the bow) comes back in the movement VII. the Javan Rhinocerous, but in a triple-forte fff (very loud) and much more aggressive, grumpy manner, and then again in movement XI. The Thalycine (or Tasmanian Tiger), but this time a little more active and agile yet still fearsome.
The music heard in movement II. Passenger Pigeon (below), is characterized by tremolando figures (trembling string with shifting bow), which represents the evocative yet mysterious flight of the large flocks of birds that were known to fill the skies. This music is also hinted at, through chromatic transformation, and string tremolando, in movement IV. Yeti, where it is introduced now pianisissmo (very, very soft), but when the Yeti is finally seen, turns and growls ffff (very, very loud). This tremolando music is referenced and developed in the longest of the movements VIII. Mustang, when the tremolando moves with the energy of running horses.
Movement III — the sad and poignant music of the Dodo Bird (below), expressed in the solo viola, with awkward pizzicato accompaniment and reflecting the funny image we have of this charming large, flightless bird — is referenced again in inversion (upside down) in movement X. Lowland Gorilla, this time with the solo cello moving from the instrument’s majestic lower register through a higher singing line, and again with a combination of awkward pizzicatos and more aggressive tremelandos, all leading to a final fff (very loud tremelando) as the Gorilla beats his chest.
Movement V. Chupacabra, has its own distinctive creepy, yet harried character, captured in trills, the piercing red of the animal’s eyes in the night heightened with harmonic notes that jump out of the frenzied texture. This chilling character is amplified for movement IX. Tasmanian Devil, when the strings play frenzied lines in sul ponticello (over the bridge for a sharp and piercing string sound), and finally just loud growling sounds, made by the bows being played behind the bridge, literally sounding like the voice of the Taz Devil.
The music of Movement VI. Nessy (below), is captured in a rolling string figure that reflects the undulating motion of the waves of the deep and mysterious lake waters of Loch Ness, the melody itself dark and mysterious. This music returns, yet brighter and more open sounding, for movement XII. the Northern Right Whale.
These relationships give the work a sense of symmetry and balance. The animals are part of a musical “ecosystem” as it were, and organically lead from one to another, with only the hymn in between to remind us of their sad fate.
The hymn too, starts to reflect the character of the animal that precedes or follows, as the tremelandos of the Thalycine and Mustang and Gorrilla,for instance, sit somewhere in the quartet, not yet freed from its setting and sometimes in the cello, as a grumpy echo of the animal that still lingers.
Nessy is featured in the trailer by Pauline Gagniarre’s for the Creature Quartet. https://vimeo.com/118388679.
Also depicted is the adorable yet irascible Tasmanian Devil (below), famously portrayed in the Looney Tunes cartoons, and the Tasmanian Tiger, a fearsome yet elegant animal, the last of which died in captivity in 1936.
Pauline Gagniarre has created fantastic animated video that introduces the audience to each creature as each movement of music starts, in order to help the listener visualize each animal.
The JACK Quartet (below) is arguably one of the finest string quartets performing today, and one of the best interpreters of new music.
As winners of numerous awards for adventurous programming, JACK has performed premieres to critical acclaim internationally at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall in London, The Venice Biennale, the Lucerne Festival, the Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia) and the Cologne Philharmonic.
The quartet has commissioned and premiered new works with such composers as John Luther Adams, Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Mackey, Steve Reich, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino and John Zorn.