The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: John W. Barker reviews conflicting concerts by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the choral group Voces Aestatis.

August 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a two-fer or double 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

Scheduled train-wrecks are, sadly, all too familiar in the regular music season, say in October and April. But at the very end of August? Absurd! Unacceptable!

And yet there it was. Last Friday night, August 21, we had two concerts needlessly set at loggerheads. One had been scheduled for months; the other was hastily set and on terms that had little to do with the risks of spoiling the logical audience for both.

The two events were: the second and final summer concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO); and the only summer concert by the new choral group Voces Aestatis (Latin for Voices of Summer).

Feeling the need to report on both, I was boxed in and forced by circumstances to review one concert directly and the other though its dress rehearsal.

That is grossly unfair to the disadvantaged choice, the MAYCO concert, for obviously the ensemble needs to be judged on its definitive public performance. Still, rehearsals are themselves often fascinating, and so I hope my approach is not without merits of it own.

MAYCO

The MAYCO rehearsal (below, in a photo by John W. Barker; other performance photos were taken by The Ear) was held on Thursday morning, August 20, in the venue of the concert itself, Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

The program is one that was connected to that of the earlier concert this summer, on June 20, in that each explored approaches to the Baroque ensemble idiom of the concerto grosso and brought together examples old and new.

MAYCO rehearsal 2015 JWB

This second program opened with an outstanding example of a Late Baroque masterwork, the fifth of George Frideric Handel’s great set of 12 Concerti Grossi, Op. 6.

Conductor and ensemble founder, Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) showed his fresh and enterprising approach in so many ways.

Mikko Rankin Utevsky MAYCO 8-15

He used the supplemental wind parts that double merely the string voices but are authentic survivals. He opposes first and second violins, allowing the concertino’s trio of soloists a proper place in the texture. He had the players (save for cellos) stand for the performance, rather than sit. (In the rehearsal, too, he himself conducted while playing the viola part.) The performance stressed vitality and vigor, and showed that the 19 string players could make a quite coherent ensemble sonority.

By contrast, the second work was a modern counterpart, Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for Strings and Piano, the latter played by UW-Madison student Jason Kutz (below). Composed in 1925 — and followed by a second one some years later — this is a remarkable example of neo-Classicism, in which a Baroque form and mentality could be recast in 20th-century harmony.

Bloch knew that the piano could not match the harpsichord as an “authentic” continuo instrument: while he often uses it to reinforce the string bass line, he gives it roles across the texture, while even allowing it tiny solo moments. The style is richly varied, with elements of folk dances, and an overall suggestion of the neo-Hebraic sound with which he was becoming identified.

Jason Kutz MAYCO

The final work was Franz Joseph Haydn’s beloved Symphony No. 94 in G major, the “Surprise.” Utevsky showed a thorough command of the score’s varieties and possibilities, exploiting them with some fine subtleties.

At the dress rehearsal and at the performance, Utevsky also gave two of his conducting students Maynie Bradley and Majestic Lor (below top and bottom respectively)  the chance to lead parts of the slow movement, as an introduction to actual podium experience — a wonderful idea!

Maynie Bradley

Majestica Lor

This has been the MAYCO’s fifth summer season. Utevsky promises to be back leading it at least one more year. He deserves every encouragement to arrange the extension beyond that, as an extension of this wonderful program he has created to allow talented young student players to have orchestral experience.

SUMMER VOICES

The conflicting choral concert was held Friday night in St. Andrew’s Church on Regent Street.

The group “Voces Aetatis” (Voices of Summer) is in its second season and offered a single concert. The group consists of 16 mixed voices, four singers to a part. They are devoted to “early” choral music, predominantly from the Renaissance, an age that offers particularly superlative choral writing just waiting to be exploited. Conductor Ben Luedcke has shaped them into a finely balanced ensemble, with beautifully nuanced overall sound.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The first (and larger) part of the program was devoted to sacred music by eight composers, chronologically: Jean Mouton (1459-1522), Jean Lhéritier (1480-1551), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Giovanni Gabrieli (1554-1512), Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), and Antonio Lotti (667-1740). Of the last two, Gesualdo is a very late Mannerist, while Lotti is really a Baroque composer, represented by his retro-polyphonic warhorse, the eight-voice Crucifixus. Otherwise, the selection represented some prime Renaissance art.

The selections sounded lovely — and all the same. Director Luedcke (below) takes everything at a consistently smooth and stately pace, often rather too slowly to get at the textual and spiritual meanings. Only the Gesualdo Tenebrae motet conveyed any propulsive power. Pieces by Byrd and Gabrieli should have surged in excitement, but did not.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

The program’s second part was devoted to madrigals by Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), John Bennet (1575-1614) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Now, the problem is that madrigals are not (and were not) intended as choral music. The particular attention to the texts the composers so carefully set is simply steamrollered by the blurred diction of a sizable chorus.

The ideal is one singer per part, and it is a pity that Luedcke did not pull out individual singers from the ensemble in varying combinations of such limited scale.

The obscured clarity of the Italian texts was bad enough, but was disastrous in the English pieces. The words to The Silver Swan (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Orlando Gibbons (below), offered as an encore, and to his What Is Our Life? were totally lost — a particular injustice since the latter sets an ironic poem attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh as he awaited execution, with interesting Shakespearian parallels. To render the words unintelligible is no way to treat madrigals, however prettily.

Orlando Gibbons

This ensemble has so much potential, and is a brave vehicle for an area of musical literature too little performed. One hopes it can mature in future years to the effectiveness of which it is capable.

And without competing with another event for attendance.

 


Classical music: Voces Aestatis will perform its second annual concert of 16th-century choral music this coming Friday night.

August 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the choral group Voces Aestatis (below) – which performs early and pre-Baroque music – send word:

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VO-ches Eh-STA-tees) – or Summer Voices — is a professional choir of 16 voices that specializes in choral literature from the Renaissance and earlier.

Voces Aestatis 2015

The choir will present its second annual concert in Madison on this coming Friday night, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. Tickets are $15 at the door.

Director Ben Luedcke (above, far left in front row, and below) has prepared a concert that will feature both sacred and secular works from the 16th century.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) is an intimate and acoustically ideal performance space for this ensemble — which is a highly select group of Madison singers, hand-picked for their vibrant voices, blended tone and experience with early music, particularly the a cappella repertoire of the 16th century.

One of the few professional choirs in Madison, this group of paid singers only rehearses a handful of times, performing once per year.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The first half of the concert will begin and end with double-choir pieces by Jean Mouton, and the master of the polychoral sub-genre, Giovanni Gabrieli. Music by William Byrd (below) and Jean l’Heritier celebrate the glory of God.

William Byrd

Also included are works by Giuseppe Pierluigi da Palestrina and Orlando di Lasso (below), with texts taken from the Song of Songs. Though sanctioned in the Old Testament as an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, these biblical passages are infamous for their explicit erotic qualities and have been favorites of choral composers for centuries.

Music of Carlo Gesualdo and Antonio Lotti, with dramatic texts taken from the Tenebrae service of Good Friday round out the first half of the concert.

Orlando di Lasso

The second half features both English and Italian madrigals by Orlando Gibbons, John Bennet, Jacques Arcadelt, and Claudio Monteverdi (below). These highly sensual texts deal with lust as well as death, even questioning the meaning of our short lives.

Monteverdi 2

Video and audio recordings from last year’s concert are available on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogmeA8EYrW0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQQ-cDhyFao

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vzm2TmSEFjw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuRZ5b3NR6c

Voces Aestatis 2015 poster

 


Classical music: Early music group Eliza’s Toyes offers a fascinating exploration of the role of music in medicine from Medieval though Baroque times.

May 24, 2015
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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, who also took the performance photos. 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

Eliza’s Toyes (below top), the consort of voices and instruments devoted to early music, is led by the formidably talented Jerry Hui. The group gave another of its imaginative programs, this time on Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom).

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

The theme and title of this program was “Music: The Miracle Medicine.” Offered were 15 selections, conveying various ideas or beliefs about health (both physical and spiritual), illness, medicine, miracle cures and good living.

Toyes medicine motet JWB

Each selection was preceded by the reading of passages from moral and medical texts of various periods. (I wonder if today’s medical and health-advice writings will sound as comical generations from now as do those of the past to us!)

Toyes medicine physician JWB

Fifteen composers were represented in the course of the program, from Medieval through Baroque: Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179), Alfonso El Sabio (1221-1284), Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), Cipriano da Rore (1516-1565),Hubert Waelrant (1515-1595), Orlando di Lassus (1532-1594), William Byrd (1540-1623), Lelio Bertani (1553-1612), John Wilbye (1574-1638), Gabriel Bataille (1575-1630), Melchior Franck (1579-1639), John Maynard (15??-16??), Anonymous 17th-Century (2 items), Marin Marais (1656-1728) and John Eccles (1668-1735).

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

The selections were mostly vocal, either solo or ensemble. One instrumental selection stood out as probably the one most likely to be familiar: Marin Marais’ excruciatingly detailed “Representation of the Operation for Gallstone” (below top is Marais, below bottom is the introduction to his work) — complete with narrative headings for each section. (You can hear the narration and the music to the unusual piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Marin Marais 2

Toyes medicine Marais operation JWB

The performances were earnest and often accomplished. But it must be said in honesty that, in motets and madrigals, the vocal ensemble was not balanced or smooth — the singers clearly need to live with this kind of musical writing somewhat longer. Still, the overall effect was certainly entertaining and thematically fascinating.

Toyes medicine motet 2 JWB

There were no printed programs, but the titles and text translations were projected on a background screen. These projections were fully visible and readable, so they worked well.

Toyes medicine projection JWB

This is a program that will be offered again, I understand, at the Chazen Museum of Art on July 15, so that it can be caught and savored once more.

Above all, it is one more tribute to the thoughtful, deeply researched and intriguing program skills of Jerry Hui (below).

Jerry Hui

 


Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore music as medicine in a concert this Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend Jerry Hui –- a supremely talented individual and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who performs, composes and teaches at UW-Stout – sends the following word:

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below top) has a concert this Friday night, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom). The concert is titled “Music: The Miracle Medicine.”

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

Here is an introduction to the program:

“Rediscover the integral role of music as the restorer of health in the early days of medical science during the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“Music has been an integral part of our wellbeing. To this date, many listen to music for its power in relaxation, excitement, and even catharsis. The development of music therapy as a medical profession, as well as increasing research in the physiological and psychological effects of music, signifies our ongoing interest to understand and utilize music.

“As scientists continue to examine music in a utilitarian light, it is worthwhile for us to rediscover how human beings have historically viewed music and its connection with health.”

music and medicine clef

Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for the general public and $10 for students.

Here is the program, which is organized by theme, and which include singing i English, Latin, French, German and Spanish:

CONCERNING THE FOUR HUMORS

Vos flores rosarum  — Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179)

Descendi in hortum meum — Cipriano de Rore

Absterge Domine (1575) — Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Turn Our Captivity (1611) — William Byrd (below bottom, 1540-1623)

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

William Byrd

MIRACLES AND REMEDIES

Tantas en Santa María — (Cantigas de Santa Maria)

In principio erat Verbum (1566) — Orlando di Lassus (below, 1532-1594)

Caecus quidam (1558) — Hubert Waelrant (1518-1595)

Gehet hin und saget Johanni wieder — Melchior Franck (1579-1639)

Orlando di Lasso

PRACTICING MEDICINE

Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (1725) — Marin Marais (below, 1656-1728; you can hear the piece, with a narration in French, in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Qui veut chasser une migraine — Gabriel Bataille

The nurse’s song — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

A Wonder: The Physician — John Maynard

Marin Marais 2

GOOD HEALTH THROUGH GOOD LIVING

Chloe found Amyntas lying — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

My fair Teresa — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

O Sonno / Ov’e’l silenzio — Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643)

Cara mia Dafne — Lelio Bertani (1553-1612)

Sweet honey sucking bees — John Wilbye (1574-1638)

John Wilbye


Classical music Q&A: Choral director Robert Gehrenbeck talks about his favorite works by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can hear some of them when the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — which unveils its 2014-15 season here — performs works by Vaughan Williams and his followers this Saturday night. Part 2 of 2.

May 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will wrap up its current season with a special concert of “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Friends.”

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Nov 17, 2012 Bethel Lutheran

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on this Saturday, May 31, in the acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church, West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

The soloists include violinist Leanne League and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Admission is $15, $10 for students.

One of the best-loved choral composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams was renowned not only for his compositions, but also for his friendship and advocacy on behalf of countless other musicians.

The concert features some of Vaughan Williams’ best-known works including, “Serenade to Music,” Mass in G Minor, and the powerful anthem, “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge.”

Vaughan Williams shared a passion for collecting folksongs with his close friend Gustav Holst, whose heartfelt setting of “I Love My Love” will be heard alongside several of Vaughan Williams’ own folksong arrangements.

Works by Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams’ students Imogen Holst and Elizabeth Maconchy will demonstrate Vaughan Williams’ influence on succeeding generations.

Finally, selections from the motets and anthems of Thomas Tallis exemplify Vaughan Williams’ debt to his English predecessors, notably Tallis’ “Third Mode Psalm Tune,” the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

Joining the WCC in this performance are violinist Leanne League, associate concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Advance tickets are available for $15 from http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10.

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn; of a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and of world-premieres. Dr. Robert Gehrenbeck, who teaches and directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.

Gehrenbeck recently agreed to an email Q&A about the upcoming concer.

Yesterday, Part 1 appeared. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/classical-music-qa-choral-director-robert-gehrenbeck-talks-about-how-british-composer-ralph-vaughan-williams-sparked-two-renaissances-or-revivals-you-can-hear-the-results-when-the-wisconsin-cha/

Today’s post features the second and last part of the Q&A.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

What are your favorite works –- choral or otherwise — by Vaughan Williams, ones you would recommend to those listeners who don’t know him?

Many discussions of Vaughan Williams’ body of works start with his visionary orchestral work, the “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” from 1910. The “theme” of this work is a choral psalm tune in the Phrygian mode by Tallis (below) that Vaughan Williams discovered while working as music editor for the 1906 “English Hymnal.” (The WCC’s concert includes this Tallis work in its original form, using words from the English Hymnal.)

Not only did Vaughan Williams borrow Tallis’ melody, but, more importantly, his harmony, which is full of jarring cross relations, such as E-minor juxtaposed with E-major. Throughout his “Fantasia” — and throughout his career —Vaughan Williams exploited and extended this harmony based on what I like to call “consonances in unusual relation” (that’s a quote from the Grove Dictionary article on an obscure English composer named Alan Bush).

Thomas Tallis

Unlike his contemporaries who developed increasingly chromatic music around the same time, Vaughan Williams stuck with simple triads but subjected them to various sorts of modern treatments, especially by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated chords, as in the 1910 Fantasia.

Finally, the form of this piece is not, as one might expect, a theme and variations scheme, but rather a free, rhapsodic meditation on the ethos of Tallis’ tune, somewhat in the style of an Elizabethan keyboard fantasia by William Byrd.

So it is that in this work, we have the characteristics of Vaughan Williams’ mature style in a nutshell — a melody-based form that develops freely, rather than predictably, whose harmonic language is based on new, modally inspired ways of using common chords.

The overall effect is mysterious, awe-inspiring, and revelatory. The young Herbert Howells (below) was so awestruck by the premiere performance that he spent the rest of the night pacing the streets of Gloucester, trying to digest what he had heard.

herbert howells autograph

As I mentioned above, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, and several of these are favorites of mine, particularly the first, sixth, and ninth. His first symphony is a choral-orchestral masterpiece (following the examples of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler). It’s called “A Sea Symphony,” with a libretto based on the poetry of Walt Whitman (below).

Completed the year before the Tallis “Fantasia,” this score gives voice to the muscular, optimistic humanism of Whitman’s poetry in triadic eruptions that stir the soul. I don’t claim to know all of Vaughan Williams’ music by any means, but, like many others, I am also a fan of his sixth symphony, composed in the aftermath of World War II and premiered in 1948, soon becoming the most popular English symphony of all time. The change in Vaughan Williams’ style during the 40-year period between his first and sixth symphonies is startling.

Walt Whitman 2

The sixth provides a good rebuttal to those who claim that Vaughan Williams remained a reactionary, rather than a modern composer. It’s full of dissonance and gnawing ostinatos that create an atmosphere of unease and dislocation, which seemed to fit the post-Hiroshima age — including our own times — extremely well.

The long final movement is marked “pianissimo, senza expressivo” (very quietly, without expression) throughout, eventually dissolving into a weird undulation between two unrelated triads, E-flat major and E-minor. Such a concluding movement is exactly the opposite of what traditional symphonic form leads listeners to expect. It’s one of the most eerie moments in the entire symphonic repertoire.

I’m afraid I’ll have to save a discussion of other orchestral works for another day, but I do want to mention a few additional favorite choral works: the war-time oratorio “Dona Nobis Pacem” (another Whitman libretto), the rarely heard oratorio “Sancta civitas” (libretto from the Book of Revelation), and the late “Three Shakespeare Songs” for unaccompanied choir. Several other favorite works of mine are on the WCC’s concert, so I’ll discuss them next.

shakespeare BW

What would you like the public to know about the specific composers and works on the program, and why you chose them?

We are looking forward to performing what I think is Vaughan Williams’ most inspired setting of William Shakespeare, his “Serenade to Music,” composed in 1938. Vaughan Williams adapted his libretto from Lorenzo’s meditation on the power of music to mediate between human passion and the harmony of the spheres in “The Merchant of Venice,” Act V

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony….

Thus begins Vaughan Williams’ one-movement nocturne featuring some of his most lovely melodies, exquisite modulations, and ethereal scoring. The original version was for 16 solo singers and orchestra, so we will alternate between multiple soloists from the choir with the full chorus singing the tutti passages. Our fabulous organist, Mark Brampton Smith (below top), is responsible for most of the orchestration, Leanne League, who is the associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and a violinist with the Ancora String Quartet, is joining us to perform the original solo violin part. (You can hear “The Serenade to Music” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Brampton Smith

leanne league

The remainder of our program draws on the rich a cappella repertoire of Vaughan Williams and several of his followers.

We’re doing two movements from his incredible Mass in G minor, which he wrote in 1921 in response to the revival of the sacred music of Byrd and Tallis at Westminster Cathedral. We’ll precede that work with an actual motet by Tallis, “Mihi autem nimis.”

In addition to the Serenade, the second half of our program features folk song settings by both Vaughan Williams and his closest friend, Gustav Holst (below), including Holst’s justifiably famous “I Love My Love,” based on a Dorian-mode tune. This piece is one of the absolute masterpieces in the genre of choral folksong arrangements.

Gustav Holst

From Vaughan Williams’ numerous additional “friends” (composers who were all literally good friends of his) we have chosen Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst’s daughter Imogen Holst (below top) and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom). Howells is represented by the “Jubilate” movement from his “Collegium Regale Service,” a set of Anglican canticles he composed in 1945 for King’s College in Cambridge.

The flowing melodies, modally flavored harmonies and Howells’ expert control of pacing in this work are all reminders of Vaughan Williams’ influence. Imogen Holst (below) was the only child of Gustav and Isobel Holst, and an important composer, conductor, writer, and organizer of musical festivals in her own right. Her teachers included both Howells and Vaughan Williams, and she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten during her later years.

We will perform Holst’s “Hymne to Christ,” a luminous setting of a poem by John Donne.

Imogen Holst

Finally, Elizabeth Maconchy was another of Vaughan Williams’ students and a classmate of Imogen Holst. Maconchy (below) is best known for her chamber music, but also composed operas and a significant body of choral music. We have chosen two movements from a 1979 work called “Creatures,” settings of poems written for children about various animals and their foibles.

The music of “Cat’s Funeral” is an example of the English predilection for “consonances in unusual relation” that I mentioned earlier. The string of unexpected, descending minor triads that opens this movement creates a mood of exaggerated pathos perfectly matched to the poem. The other movement is “The Hen and the Carp,” a humorous dialogue that doubles as social commentary.

elizabeth maconchy

What are the current plans and future projects including programs for next season, for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir?

We are very excited about our upcoming season. On December 19, 2014 we will present “Wolcum Yole,” a Christmas-themed concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” and on April 18 and 19, 2015, we will perform Brahms’ “German” Requiem with full orchestra. Also featured on the April concerts will be the world premiere of a piece we have commissioned from English composer Giles Swayne, called “Our Orphan Souls.” Swayne has chosen an excerpt from chapter 114 of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” as his text, and his piece will be scored for two soloists and choir with alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Swayne (below, in a photo by Alice Williamson) plans to begin writing this piece next month, and I’m eagerly anticipating receiving the completed score in the fall. An interesting connection to our current season is that Swayne’s first composition teacher was Elizabeth Maconchy, who was his mother’s cousin.

giles swayne CR Alice Williamson

 

 

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Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
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NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

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 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

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes celebrates winter this weekend with two performances of Medieval and Renaissance British vocal music.

January 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below) will be performing British sacred choral music from the Medieval and Renaissance eras in two performances – one FREE and one with admission — this coming weekend.

Eliza's Toyes 2012 1

Here is a press release from the group:

“Titled “A British Winter,” the performances will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chocolaterian Café, 2004 Atwood Ave.; and again on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m. at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), 302 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park.

Admission is free on Saturday at the Chocolaterian; tickets are $15 ($10 for students) on Sunday, sold at the door.

For more information about the concert, please visit the website of Eliza’s Toyes at toyes.info, or its Facebook page at facebook.com/elizastoyes.

Gates of Heaven

In this program, Eliza’s Toyes revisits its founding mission of a cappella early music. The musicians who will perform are sopranos Deb Heilert and Chelsie Propst; Sandy Erickson, alto; Peter Gruett, alto/tenor; Jerry Hui (below), tenor/bass; and Mark Werner, baritone.

Jerry Hui

A vocal sextet will perform music with Latin and English text composed by William Byrd, Robert Fayrfax, Peter Phillips, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, and Christopher Tye. A few anonymous pieces likely of British origin are also included.

The choice of composers spans at least 200 years, and highlights the development of polyphonic British music. Tallis (below) in his early age took works of Fayrfax as a model for his own Latin sacred music; Byrd studied with and worked for Tallis; and both Tomkins and Philips were students of Byrd’s.

Thomas Tallis

Here is the complete program of “A British Winter”:

Anon.: Regina caeli (chant)

Anon.: Regina caeli à 3

William Byrd (1540-1623): Memento salutis auctor

Byrd: O magnum mysterium (sung in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521): Magnificat “O bone Jesu”

Peter Philips (1560-1628): O beatum et sacrosanctum Diem (1612)

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585): O sacrum convivium (1575)

Christopher Tye (1505-1573): A sound of angels

Tallis: O nata lux (1575)

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656): Music Divine (1622)

Anon.: Tidings True

Anon.: There is no rose

Byrd: Sing Joyfully (1641)

Among the selection of music is a rarely heard piece, Magnificat “O bone Jesu” by Fayrfax. Likely composed around 1500-1502, it is a setting of Magnificat text whose musical material is based on Fayrfax’s own motet (survived only in fragments). The piece is a fine example of English choral music of its time: polyphonic settings are only written for the even verses, while the odd verses remain as plainchant; and much of the piece features a trio texture, with intricate rhythmic interactions among voices.

Eliza’s Toyes is a Madison-based early music ensemble specialized in performing vocal and wind music from before 1700. Its creative concert programs often feature geographical or narrative themes, partnering with both music and non-music academic fields. Now in its fifth season, Eliza’s Toyes has been performing at least twice a year, in various venues including UW-Madison Memorial Library, the Chazen Museum of Art, and the Gates of Heaven. It has also been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” concert series.

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Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians serve up a superb concert of “holiday” baroque music that goes beyond the holidays and shows the group has a new local tradition in the making.

December 17, 2013
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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 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 Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians presented their third annual Baroque Holiday Concert at the First Congregational Church. That the event has taken solid hold was attested to by a record audience of over 300 people.

MBM group Holiday 2013

The idea is to avoid all the seasonal fluff and music mandated for hearing just because of its Christmas associations, and instead to present a program of excellent Baroque music, performed on period instruments, with stylistic skill and artistic vitality — material to be cherished any time of the year, not because the calendar tells us so.

The performers were, in effect, a vocal quartet and a string quartet (plus harpsichord and a bassoon for good measure). The guest singers were soprano Chelsea Morris, alto Sarah Leuwerke, tenor Peter Gruett, and bass Joseph Hubbard; the string players were Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, violins, Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola, and Martha Vallon, cello, with director Trevor Stephenson on harpsichord, and UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon lurking in the wings. 

The program contained, in fact, almost no pieces with any Christmas connections.

The a cappella vocal quartet (below) launched the proceedings with a late Renaissance piece, to be sure: William Byrd’s beloved motet, “Ave verum corpus.” That is a work usually identified with choral repertoire, but Byrd composed it for more-or-less underground Catholic liturgies in Protestant England, probably to be sung by no more than one singer per part. It sounded very beautiful in this form, with the singers expertly balanced.

William Byrd Ave Verum Corpus MBM

Next, Morris sang the first half of George Frideric Handel’s setting of the Gloria segment of the Mass Ordinary, composed in Italy as a cantata for soprano, strings, and continuo.  Only recently discovered, this is not great Handel, but any Handel is good to have, and the bright and confident voice of soprano Chelsea Morris (below left) carried the segments beautifully.

MBM Chelsea Morris Vivaldi Gloria Holiday 2013

Marc Vallon (below) then joined in for one of Antonio Vivaldi’s many bassoon concertos, this one in A minor.  A bouncy but also thoughtful piece, it allowed appreciation of the very rich sounds of the Baroque bassoon.

MBM Marc Vallon bassoon Vivaldi holiday

Vivaldi also served to round out the first half of the program with his Trio Sonata, Op. 2, No. 12, a set of variations on the “La Folia” formula.  That idea was first carried out by Corelli in the last of his 12 Violin Sonatas, Op. 5. But Vivaldi showed that he could beat Corelli at his own game with a line of spectacularly varied variations. Kim and Berry (below left and right, respectively) brought off the virtuosic violin parts with precision and flair, a real rouser!

MBM Vivaldi La Folia

The second half was devoted in large part to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 153, “Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind” about resisting the destructive temptations or “enemies” of the world in the coming year. The work calls for three soloists and a choir, with strings and continuo. In this case, the four singers constituted a “chorus” for the three chorale treatments, while the string players were one to a part. (The group is below.)

I fear I do an injustice to the other singers, but I have long admired the work of alto Sarah Leuwerke (below bottom, left) , and her singing this time was pure joy.

MBM Bach canata 2013 Dec

MBM Bach canata alto Sarah Leuwerke

Almost as an afterthought came three scant excerpts from — you guessed it — Handel’s Messiah. Hubbard gave sturdy renditions of the “darkness” recitative and aria from Part I, and then the four singers and the players (Vallon jumping in on bass line) joined in the chorus “For unto us a child is born”: it was fascinating to hear the almost madrigal-like qualities this familiar music took on in such a minimalist rendition.

MBM Handel Messiah 2013

As an encore, we were given the final chorus from Bach’s cantata 172, which is an elaboration of the Christmas chorale “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” (How brightly shines the morning star). (You can hear a different setting of the well-known tune from Bach’s Cantata No. 1 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

It should be noted, too, that Stephenson (below) prefaced the concert with one of his witty and personable but exceedingly informative lectures.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

The event was a totally delightful concert, proving ideal and much-appreciated musical respite from all the dunning of seasonal rituals. This is a tradition that Stephenson and his MBM should surely continue in years ahead.  Meanwhile, though, watch for their all-stops-out presentation of Bach’s great Mass in B Minor, this coming April 18 and 19.


Classical music: NPR gives us a FREE Christmas gift of vocal music from the acclaimed early music Stile Antico. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering its cut-rate tickets gift special through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24

December 15, 2013
2 Comments

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra is again running hits holiday special. That includes an all-Beethoven concert and an inside look at Antonin Dvorak‘s “New World” Symphony as well as the Mozart Requiem and a concert highlighting the George Gershwin legacy. Tickets to all MSO upcoming subscription concerts are just $20 or $45. You’ll get A, B and B/C section seats (valued at up to $82.50 each) for just $45. And C and D section seats (valued at up to $43.50 each) are just $20. For more information visit:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/sale

SONY DSC

By Jacob Stockinger

I have nothing big, important or particularly useful for you to read today.

If you want that, go back to yesterday’s post with all the nominations for the 56th Grammy Awards in the Classical Music categories.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/classical-music-here-are-the-new-56th-annual-grammy-award-nominees-for-classical-music-as-a-guide-for-holiday-gifts/

Instead of suggesting gifts you can give, here is one you gift get to receive: NPR’s wonderful blog Deceptive Cadence, has posted a FREE one-hour concert by the acclaimed and best-selling early music group Stile Antico (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve), which sings beautiful music a cappella – that is, without accompaniment.

And the fine acoustics of St. Paul’s Church, located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., where the concert was recorded live, only enhance the sound.

stile antico cr marco borggreve

It is quite lovely, even breath-taking and haunting, as it offers some unusual repertoire by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, John Sheppard and Tomas Luis de Victoria for the holiday season. So stream it and listen to it — don’t just read the transcript — if you can.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/03/166416569/a-choral-christmas-with-stile-antico

Enjoy!


Classical music: Madison Youth Choirs presents its 11th Annual Winter Concert Series this coming Sunday afternoon and night.

December 11, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) will present a winter concert series featuring over 300 talented young singers in three performances during the afternoon and evening of Sunday, December 15, at Madison’s First Congregational Church.

madison youth choirs

The nine performing choirs will raise their voices in celebration of MYC’s 11th season theme, “Arts and Minds.” Singers have spent a semester studying the connection between visual art and music, using both mediums as a lens to discover the world.

Concert selections will include works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten (below top), Palestrina, Johannes Brahms, Vincent Persichetti and Pablo Casals (below bottom), as well as a few holiday favorites and folk songs.

Benjamin Britten

Casals

Cantabile, MYC’s choir for advanced high school women, will also sing a hauntingly beautiful version of U2’s “With or Without You,” which earned the choir a standing ovation during a preview concert at Hilldale Mall this month.

All concerts will take place at First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave., Madison

Tickets are available at the door. General admission is 
$12 general admission at the door, and free for children under 7.

HERE IS A MASTER SCHEDULE

1:30 P.M. – CANTILENA, CANTABILE, AND RAGAZZI (below, in a  photo by Dan Sinclair) (HIGH SCHOOL ENSEMBLES)

Selections from the 1:30 p.m. concert include:

“Turn Then Thine Eyes” (from “The Fairy-Queen”) by Henry Purcell

“Nigra Sum” by Pablo Casals

“Sicut Rosa” by Orlando di Lasso

“The Roadside Fire” (from “Songs of Travel”) by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“The Young Man’s Song” (premiere) by Eric William Barnum

“Ich weiss nicht” by Johannes Brahms

“Les Berceaux” (The Cradles) by Gabriel Faure

“Sam Was a Man” by Vincent Persichetti

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi by Dan Sinclair

4:30 P.M. – PURCELL, BRITTEN, HOLST, AND RAGAZZI (BOYCHOIRS)

Selections from 4:30 p.m. concert include:

“Bright is the Ring of Words” (from “Songs of Travel”) by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“Ich will den Herrn” by Georg Philipp Telemann

“Magno Gaudens: by Anonymous (12th century)

“All Things Bright and Beautiful” by John Rutter

“Sicut Rosa” by Orlando di Lasso

“The Roadside Fire” (from “Songs of Travel”) by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“The Young Man’s Song” (premiere) by Eric William Barnum

“Fancie” by Benjamin Britten

“Exultate Justi in Domino” by Lodovico Viadana

“All Ye Who Music Love” by Baldassare Donato (text from the 18th century, Thomas Oliphant)

7 P.M. – CHORALIERS (below, in a photo by Cynthia Hawkinson), CON GIOIA, AND CAPRICCIO (GIRLCHOIRS)

Selections from the 7 p.m. concert include:

Non Nobis Domine” by William Byrd

“Yet Gentle Will the Griffin Be” by Franciso Nuñez

“Fire” by Mary Goetze

“Dona Nobis Pacem,” attributed to Clemens non Papa

“Ich jauze, ich lache” (from BWV 15) by Johann Sebastian Bach

“Pavane” by Gabriel Fauré (at bottom in a popular YouTube video that features painting by Claude Monet and that has almost two million hits)

Madison Youth Choirs Choraliers by Cynthia Hawkinson

This project is supported by American Girl’s Fund for Children, by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times, and by BMO Harris Bank.

ABOUT THE MADISON YOUTH CHOIRS (MYC)

Here is some additional impressive information from the Madison Youth Choirs:

Recognized as an innovator in youth choral education, Madison Youth Choirs inspires enjoyment, learning and social development through the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature.

The oldest youth choir organization in Wisconsin, MYC welcomes singers of all ability levels, challenging them to learn more than just notes and rhythms. Singers explore the history, context, and heart of the music, becoming “expert noticers,” using music as a lens to discover the world. MYC serves more than 500 young people, ages 7-18, in 11 single-gender choirs.

In addition to a public concert series, MYC conducts an annual spring tour of schools and retirement centers, performing for more than 7,000 students and senior citizens annually. MYC also collaborates with professional arts organizations including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Ballet and the Madison Opera, while continually supporting and recognizing the work of public schools and music educators throughout the area.

In summer 2014, MYC boychoirs will travel to Scotland for their first appearance at the prestigious “by invitation-only” Aberdeen International Youth Festival.

For more information – and to hear samples under the MEDIA section or find out about joining the group — visit: http://www.madisonyouthchoirs.org


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