The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A world premiere and outstanding performances bode well for the 25th anniversary season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

June 13, 2016
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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 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. Performance photos are by Margaret Barker.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is now into its 25th anniversary season, its Silver Jubilee. It opened last Friday at the Stoughton Opera House with a program of Kevin Puts, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré.

BDDS 25th poster

I attended the second program, given at the Overture Center’s Playhouse on Saturday night.

The distinctive feature of that program was the official world premiere of a song cycle by Kevin Puts, the American composer with whom the BDDS folks have been forging a close friendship. Indeed, the ensemble is a co-commissioner of this cycle.

The work in question is In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry. The composer himself (below) was on hand to introduce this.

Kevin Puts BDDS Margaret Barker

It was then performed by bass-baritone Timothy Jones, with a quartet of flute (Stephanie Jutt), Violin (Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio), viola (Sally Chisholm), cello (Kenneth Olsen), and piano (Jeffrey Sykes).

The poems are varied in character, most of them in free form, and Puts has responded to them with a flexibility of vocal line that closely inflects the words. Only the last poem is in rhyming strophes, and there Puts is able to develop a lyricism that brings the cycle to a warm conclusion. The instruments add a mixture of accompaniment and commentary, and their work was done handsomely.

Jones himself (below, with the quartet), who has a suave and mellow voice, showed notable sensitivity to words and diction in an ideal performance. This cycle’s future is still to be seen, but it holds good prospects for being taken up by singers and players around the country, especially given Puts’ enhanced reputation as a recent Pulitzer Prize winner.

Timothy Jones sings Puts BDDS 2016 Margaret Barker

The concert opened with a transcription of a Mozart piano sonata (K. 570) for transcribed flute, violin, viola and cello (below). It was a strange choice, since Mozart left us four flute quartets of his own devising. Still, it was delivered with flair and polish.

BDDS 2016 Mozart Flute Quartet Margaret Barker

The grand finale was the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, for violin, viola, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms. (Much was made of the appropriateness of an Op. 25 masterpiece to mark the silver anniversary.)

Like so much of Brahms’ music, this is brawny, muscular stuff. The four players (below) responded with appropriate energy, matched by a wonderful intensity of feeling.

BDDS 2016 Brahms Piano Quartet 1 Margaret Barker

The fast sections of the “Hungarian Rondo” finale — which you can hear with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom — were brought off at a truly breakneck speed, without missing a note.

I must say, too, that, as I listened to Sykes in his role, it struck me that the piano part in the slow (third) movement could almost be played by itself as an independent keyboard piece. Brahms was, after all, a strong hand at the piano, and had himself in mind in what he wrote for the instrument.

This was a performance that allowed you to get so much out of this score at just one sitting.

As always, the BDDS programs are stimulating and wonderfully brought off. The concerts this coming weekend feature music by Franz Schubert, Joseph Haydn, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, and Astor Piazzolla, among others.

For details, visit:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

And there is a third week after that — of which, more to follow.


Classical music: On Saint Patrick’s Day, The Ear explores Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland -– who composed it, who played it and how important it has been.

March 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.

ST PATRICK'S DAY logo

There will be big, loud. colorful and music-filled parades (below top), complete with leprechauns, around the country and around the world wherever the Irish gather and celebrate their heritage. Even the Chicago River even turns green (below bottom).

And a lot of us who aren’t remotely Irish will nonetheless eat the traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner of corned beef and cabbage.

saint patrick's day parade albany 2010 leprechaun

Green Chicago River on Saint Patricks Day

So The Ear asks: What about Irish classical music? And what about classical music in Ireland?

After all, the Irish seems a deeply musical culture. But there must be more to Irish music than Riverdance (below top), Celtic Woman, The Irish Tenors and The Chieftains (below bottom), don’t you think?

riverdance

The Chieftains

For all the immense popularity of Celtic music these days, for all the justly famous Irish literature by William Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Maeve Binchy and many others –- especially fiction, poetry and plays -– one never hears very much about Ireland and classical music.

(To be fair: The Ear does recall a memorable and rare performance a couple of seasons ago of a John Field piano concerto by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who also happens to be an adventurous programmer.)

So today seems a fitting occasion to take a look both those issues.

Oh, there are some well-known composers.

In the 19th century John Field (below), who spent much of his career in Russia, is said to have invented the nocturne form that Frederic Chopin turned to and mastered and made famous. He also wrote quite a few piano concertos and a piano quintet.

John Field

Of course Irish singing and fiddling are justly famous. But how did it affect the classical music tradition.

These days the early 20th-century composer E.J. Moeran (below) seems to be undergoing something of a revival. He had strong Irish roots, but is technically an English composer if you look at his biography.

e.j. moeran

So who are the Irish classical composers – and their masterpieces – that we should know about?

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford seems to be one candidate. 

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford

What about Irish classical music performers? Perhaps the most well-known candidate today is the prize-winning and award-winning pianist John O’Conor, who, concertizing and teaching at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, has championed Irish piano music as well as the piano music by Ludwig van Beethoven and other standard classical composers?

John O'Conor_1

And what about the role that some famous, non-Irish classical music composers and performers –- including George Frideric Handel, who premiered his oratorio “Messiah” in Dublin, the violinist Paganini and the pianist Franz Liszt -– played in the history of Irish culture?

Here are some links to help you explore the question of Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland.

http://classicalartsireland.com/archive-project/

http://basilwalsh.wordpress.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Irish_classical_musicians

And here are two sound samples to help celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.

The first is the Irish Rhapsody No.1 by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford:

And the second sound sample is the lovely Nocturne No. 2 in C minor for solo piano by John Field as performed by John O’Conor:

HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!

And the chances are good that some of you readers know more about Irish classical music and classical music in Ireland than The Ear does.

So be sure to leave what you know in the COMMENTS section along with links to websites, blogs and YouTube videos that will illuminate me and other readers.

The Ear wants to hear.

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