The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet closes out its season with polished, precise and emotionally intense performances of contrasting music by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Caroline Shaw

May 16, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. 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

The Ancora String Quartet (below) is closing its season with a cluster of concerts around the area, including a central one Tuesday night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Regent Street in Madison.

Of the three works in the program, the centerpiece was the Entr’acte by the American musician and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Kait Moreno). It was written in 2011 when Shaw was 29, and has won some acclaim over the years.

It is cast roughly in the traditional form of a minuet and trio, but its point is less any musical substance than the invention of new and utterly eccentric ways of string playing for ear-catching sound effects. Many of those effects are, to be sure, intriguing.

Surrounding this was a pair of quartets seemingly very distinct from each other but related.

The first published quartet, in A major, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn (below), was written in the wake of a romantic song he wrote and whose motives he then used in the quartet.

Emotional suggestions aside, however, it is notable as a darker and more intense work than his subsequent ones in this form. It was composed in 1827, when Mendelssohn was 18, but also the year in which Beethoven died. And it is the shadow of Beethoven, and of Beethoven’s innovations in his later quartets, that hangs over the Mendelssohn work.

Clearly the young master was trying to see how he could absorb the older master’s progressive style into his own still emerging one. I think he found in the process that the two could not be reconciled, and so his subsequent quartets were to be in a less stressful vein.

Against that 1827 work, we were then offered a composition from Beethoven’s own earlier years when he was 29 or 30.  This was the final quartet in the set of six published as his Op. 18.

This Op. 18, No. 6, by Beethoven (below) in B-flat major — the program had it mistakenly in G major — is a Janus-faced work, its first two movements still rooted in the late 18th-century background, but with a scherzo full of quirks and tricks that point to the future, and a finale that plays on emotional contrasts.

Its opening Malinconia – or melancholic – music is contested by music of rousing joy, somewhat prefiguring Beethoven’s absorption with recovering his health in the Heiliger Dankgesang (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving) of his late string quartet, Op. 132. (You can hear the two contrasting moods and themes in the last movement, played by the Alban Berg Quartet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For all three of these scores, a quartet member gave some introductory comments. (Below, first violinist Wes Luke introduces the work by Caroline Shaw.)

Members of the Ancora String Quartet are violinists Wes Luke and Robin Rynan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. As a group, the Ancora players displayed intensity and absorption as well as polished precision, in a program of contrasts.


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Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet closes its 18th season with three upcoming local concerts of music by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Caroline Shaw

May 12, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ancora String Quartet closes its 18th season with a trio of concerts, and a program featuring two quartets from the early 19th century, juxtaposed with a shorter piece of much more recent date.

The program is the String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn; “Entr’acte” (Minuet and Trio) by Caroline Shaw; and String Quartet No. 6 in B-Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The schedule of concert dates, times and venues is below.     

Members of the Ancora String Quartet (below, from left, in a photo by Barry Lewis), who also perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups, are: Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whtewater.

Here are some program notes provided by violist Marika Fischer Hoyt:

“Mendelssohn’s Op. 13 was written in 1827 when he was 18 years old. He’d written the Octet two years earlier, but this was his first mature string quartet. It expresses his youthful passion and includes one of his signature bubbly scherzos.

“Between our two more-established works, we insert a short piece entitled (appropriately enough) “Entr’acte” (“Intermission,” heard in the YouTube video at the bottom), composed by the American Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Dashing Burton) in 2011. (It is one of The Ear’s favorite contemporary works.)

The 12-minute piece, subtitled “a minuet and trio,” takes haunting fragments and memes from Baroque and Classical styles and treats them with 21st-century audacity. With an ABA structure, the opening and closing sighing motif seems dolorous, but takes its own sadness in a philosophical spirit.

“While both the Mendelssohn and Shaw end quietly, we conclude the program with Beethoven’s exuberant Quartet No. 6, the final quartet in the composer’s set of six early quartets, his Opus 18. This delightful work, completed in 1800, is full of energy and drive; the melancholy mood of the brief fourth movement “La malinconia” (Melancholy) is banished by a cheerful Allegretto, ending with a flourish in the final Prestissimo.”

SCHEDULE

Monday, May 13, at 3 p.m. in the Stoughton Opera House‘s Music Appreciation Series, 381 East Main Street, Stoughton. Free and open to the public

Tuesday, May 14, 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, Madison. Ticketed event — $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $6 for young people. There will be a reception following the concert.

Saturday, June 15, at noon in Grace Episcopal Church for “Grace Presents,” 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. Free and open to the public.


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Classical music: A busy Sunday at the UW is highlighted by a FREE band concert and a public reception to mark the retirement of legendary band master Mike Leckrone

April 26, 2019
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ALERT: The Madison-based Avanti Piano Trio will give two FREE public concerts this weekend. The first one is TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, off the Capitol Square; the second one is on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 302 Wisconsin Avenue. Members of the trio are violinist Wes Luke, cellist Hannah Wolkstein and pianist Joseph Ross. The program includes works by Leon Kirchner, Ernest Bloch, Claude Debussy and Johannes Brahms.

By Jacob Stockinger

As the semester and academic year come to a close, concerts usually get packed into the schedule.

This coming Sunday, April 28, is no different – except that one event is clearly the headliner.

Mike Leckrone (below, in a photo by UW Communications)  – the legendary and much honored director of bands and athletic bands at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – is retiring after 50 years.

Sunday marks a last appearance. He will conduct the UW Concert Band one last time and then be honored with a public reception.

The athletes and athletic fans love him. The students and band members love him. The alumni love him.

And, yes, the School of Music loves him. After all, not many band directors do what he did when he asked the late UW-Madison violin virtuoso Vartan Manoogian to perform the popular Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn with a band instead of an orchestra. But Manoogian agreed — and said he loved the experience.

Also, not many band directors could start an annual spring concert in Mills Hall with an audience of some 300 and then saw it grow decades later into a three-night extravaganza that packs the Kohl Center with some 50,000 people and gets seen statewide on Wisconsin Public Television.

One time years ago, The Ear — who was then working as a journalist for The Capital Times — interviewed Leckrone. It was a busy year when he and the Marching Band were going with the football and basketball teams to the Rose Bowl and the March Madness tournament.

Mike Leckrone was charming and humorous, open and candid. The interview was so good, so full of information and human interest, that it was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed statewide and nationally.

That’s how big Mike Leckrone’s fan base is. Other schools and bands envied him.

All honor, then, to this man of action and distinction who was also creative and innovative.

Here is more information – but, alas, no program — about the FREE band concert on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-band-spring-concert-2/

For really detailed biographical background about Mike Leckrone and his achievements, go to:

https://news.wisc.edu/mike-leckrone-a-legendary-career/

And here is a statement by Leckrone himself about his approach to teaching and performing as well as his plans for retirement. (You can hear an interview Leckrone did with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://ls.wisc.edu/news/hitting-the-high-notes

Now you may think Leckrone can’t be followed.

But just this past week, the UW-Madison announced that Corey Pompey (below) is Leckrone’s successor. Here is a link to the official announcement, with lots of background about Pompey:

https://news.wisc.edu/new-marching-band-director-to-take-the-baton/

What else is there to say except: Thank you, Mike!

On, Wisconsin!

As for other events at the UW on Sunday:

At 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform a FREE concert.  Darin Olsen, O’Shae Best and Cole Hairston will conduct. No program is listed.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Madrigal Singers (below top) will perform a FREE concert. Bruce Gladstone (below bottom, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct. No word on that program either.


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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players perform all 20th-century American music this Saturday night. Plus, a master class about Schubert is TODAY at 4:30

January 24, 2019
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ALERT: Susan Youens, a world-famous scholar of the music of Franz Schubert, will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class TODAY at 4:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. Her class is in advance of her appearance and pre-concert lecture at the annual UW Schubertiade this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 27. More information about that event will appear in tomorrow’s blog post. 

By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Mosaic Chamber Players will perform a concert of all-American music from the 20th century this Saturday night, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed  Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for senior citizens; and $5 for students. Only cash and personal checks will be accepted.

A reception will follow the concert.

Performers are violinists Laura Burns and Wes Luke, cellist Kyle Price, and founder-pianist Jess Salek. (Photos below of the performers are by John W. Barker at a previous concert.) They also play with other professional groups such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Ancora String Quartet and the Rhapsodie String Quartet.

The program includes the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Aaron Copland; the Sonata in Three Movements for Violin and Piano by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (below); “Road Movies” for Violin and Piano by John Adams (you can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 6, by Samuel Barber.


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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players perform an all-Schubert concert on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, Opera Props presents singers in a benefit concert to support the opera program at the UW-Madison

September 13, 2018
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ALERT: On this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., in the Madison Christian Community Church at 7118 Old Sauk Road on Madison’s far west side, Opera Props will present a benefit concert to raise money for the UW-Madison’s opera program and University Opera.

Student singers and piano accompanist Daniel Fung will perform arias and songs. But the spotlight will shine on University of Wisconsin-Madison alumna soprano Julia Rottmayer, who is a new faculty member at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. (Sorry, no specific program is given and no names of composers and works are mentioned.)

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door with student tickets costing $10. Tickets include a reception with local Gail Ambrosius chocolate, fruit, cheese and wine. For more information, go to: https://www.uwoperaprops.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Why is The Ear increasingly drawn to the music of Franz Schubert (below) over, say, the music of his contemporary and idol Ludwig van Beethoven? It seems to be more than its sheer beauty and lyricism.  It also seems to possess a certain warmth or human quality that he finds irresistible, poignant and restorative, especially if it is true, as the Buddha said, life is suffering.

In any case, The Ear is not alone.

The Madison-based Mosaic Chamber Players (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) will open their new and ambitious season this coming Saturday night with a concert of music by Franz Schubert.

The all-Schubert concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the  chapel of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium — NOT at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, as was incorrectly stated earlier in this blog post.

The program includes two Sonatinas for Violin and Piano in D Major, D. 384, and A minor, D. 385; the famous “Arpeggione” Sonata, D. 821, performed on the cello with piano; and the lovely and songful Adagio or “Notturno” (Nocturne) for Piano Trio, D. 897, which you can hear with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Daniil Trifonov, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets cost $15 for adults; $10 for seniors; and $5 for students. Cash and checks only will be accepted; no credit cards.

Members of the Mosaic Chamber Players are: founder and pianist Jess Salek (below top); violinist Wes Luke (below second), who plays with the Ancora String Quartet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; violinist Laura Burns (below third), who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the MSO’s Rhapsodie String Quartet; and cellist Kyle Price (below bottom), who founded the Caroga Lake Music Festival in New York State and is pursuing his doctoral degree at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music with distinction and who was a member of the graduate student Hunt Quartet while he studied for his master’s.

A reception will follow the concert.

For more information about the Mosaic Chamber Players and about their new season, which includes some very varied composers but no specific titles of works, go to: http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com

What do you find so appealing and so special about the music of Schubert?

What is your favorite Schubert work?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section with a link, if possible, to a YouTube video performance.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players close out their season with great performances of great piano trios by Beethoven and Brahms

April 30, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

By John W. Barker

On Saturday evening at the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season with a superlative program offering two of the greatest trios for piano and strings.

The players this time (below) were violinist Wes Luke and cellist Kyle Price, together with the group’s guiding spirit, pianist Jess Salek.

The first of the two works was the grand Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, known as the “Archduke,” by Ludwig van Beethoven. This is an expansive work, full of bold ideas and adventurous spirit, while demanding much of its players.

Of its four movements, the flanking ones are full of exuberance. The scherzo has double trios or mid-sections, and is full of tricks. The third movement is a noble set of variations on a broad, hymn-like theme. (You can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The second work, following an intermission, was the Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. Though composed and published very early in his output, it was revised by the composer into a distinctly new version some 35 years later. It thus offers the passion of youthfulness as tempered and given better focus by age and experience.

Also cast in four movements, it is infused with full-blooded melody, especially in the first one, but the whole piece is worked out in a richness of texture typical of the composer.

Each of the two works was given a performance of unrestricted commitment and power, in the process demonstrating the contrasts in their styles. Each was introduced by violinist Luke (below), whose comments spoke to the works and their history but also to his own feelings about them.

This in fact pointed up the degree of personal involvement these performances conveyed. It was as if the three musicians were playing as much for their own delight as for the audience’s.

That quality illustrated why this Mosaic series of programs has been so very satisfying. This is chamber music playing of the highest quality and character, some of the very best to be had in Madison.

The more reason for these Mosaic concerts to be publicized widely and broadly supported by our musical public. Few cities in our country could offer better.


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