The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why are the Willy Street Chamber Players so successful at presenting neglected and new music?

July 12, 2018
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Many individuals and groups, large and small, like to program neglected works and new music.

But no one does it better than the Willy Street Chamber Players, who are now in the middle of their fourth annual summer season.

So what is the secret of the Willys?

Some clues were given at the outstanding and thoroughly successful opening concert last Friday night, when the Willys, with guest mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil (below), played new music by Caroline Shaw, Colin Jacobsen and Michael Kelley – all to a very enthusiastic reception from the large audience.

More chances to experience such success and figure out the reasons behind it are coming up.

Tonight from 4 to 7 p.m. – and again on next Thursday, July 19, at the same time and place — at the Art and Literature Laboratory, 2021 Winnebago Street, the Willys will hold an open rehearsal. Admission is FREE, and you can bring something to eat and have a drink, including beer ($5 donation), as you listen and wander around to explore the space.

Then on Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m., during the Community Connect Concert for the whole family at the Goodman Community Center (below top) at 149 Waubesa Street, the Willys will perform “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” by the contemporary American composer Gabriela Lena Frank (below bottom) and  the rarely performed “Procession of the Military Night Watch in Madrid” by the Classical-era composer Luigi Boccherini. (Starting at 11 a.m. there is also an instrument “petting zoo.”)

(You can hear an excerpt from the work by Gabriela Lena Frank in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

On this Sunday from 5 to 6 p.m., the Willys will perform the same program — which also features some string quartet selections by Romantic composer Robert Schumann — for FREE on the Union Terrace (below).

Other regular series concerts include the rarely heard String Quintet in A Major by Alexander Glazunov on July 20 and “Light Screens” (2002) by Andrew Norman (below) on July 27.

For times, place and details about series and special concerts, and for other information, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

Anyway, the way The Ear sees it there are several reasons to explain the Willys’ success with new and neglected music.

One can start with the basics: The impressive musicianship of all the Willys, who are remarkable for both technique and interpretation.

Another reason is the players’ unflagging ability to project energy and enthusiasm, suggested by upbeat and exciting tempi and by even such a small gesture as the two violinists and two violists playing while standing up, as was the custom in the Baroque era, rather than seated.

The Willys also introduce the pieces, providing not only information but also some humor, often self-deprecating. They prepare you for liking the music, not just for listening to it.

They often choose shorter and easily digestible pieces, so it is never an ordeal that overwhelms you. Sometimes you want a musical short story, not a musical novel.

But most of all the Willys do what more proponents of new music should do: They seem to keep their listeners in mind when they choose the pieces they will play.

Never do you get the feeling that listening to new or neglected music is some sort of aesthetic obligation imposed on you. It is there to be enjoyed, and you are there to be pleased, not just instructed or preached to.

Too often new music seems chosen as a gesture of R&D – research and development – that feels more important to the performers rather than to the audiences.

Maybe there is more to say? What do others think? The Ear looks forward to hearing what you think.

In the meantime, The Ear suggests you take in as much as you can of the superlative music-making of both classics and new music by the Willy Street Chamber Players.

He doubts you will be disappointed and is pretty sure you will be as pleased and impressed as he is.


Classical music: You probably know Brahms, but who are Caroline Shaw, Colin Jacobsen and Michael Kelley? The Willy Street Chamber Players will show you this Friday night

July 5, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual concert series by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) promises to be one of the high points of the summer season.

For more background about the Willys, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/classical-music-the-willy-street-chamber-players-announce-their-five-impressive-july-concerts-three-with-admission-and-two-for-free-as-both-subscription-and-single-tickets-go-on-sale/

Three concerts in July – at 6 p.m. on July 6, 20 and 27 in the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) at 1021 Spaight Street on the near east side – are all inviting. (A subscription to all three is $40, while admission is $15 for each one separately.)

Each concert lasts about 60 to 90 minutes with no intermission.

That’s something The Ear really likes and would like to see copied by other groups and presenters. Such a format leaves you plenty of time to do other things to start the weekend – including enjoying the post-concert reception (below) with snacks the Willys obtain from east-side providers.

The opening concert seems especially promising to The Ear.

That is because so far the Willys have had a knack for programming new music that The Ear really likes.

This time is no different.

Along with the regular members, who rotate in and out, a guest singer, mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil (below), who sang a new work by John Harbison with the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet this past winter, will team up to present new works.

The three contemporary composers and their works are: “Cant voi l’aube (composed in 2015 and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) by Caroline Shaw (below top), a composer whose work the Willys have performed before with great success; “For Sixty Cents” (2015) by Colin Jacobsen (below middle, in a photo by Erin Baiano); and “Five Animal Stories” for string sextet and “Ashug” (2018) by Michael Kelley (below bottom).

Then to leaven newness with something more classic and familiar, the concert will close with the String Quintet No. 2, Op. 111, by Johannes Brahms. (The Willys have been working their way through the string quintets and sextets of Brahms with terrific performances.)

Other concerts will include:

On July 20, six arias from the opera “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin as transcribed and played by UW-Madison soprano saxophonist Les Thimmig (below) and the rarely performed String Quintet in A Major, Op. 39, by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov ;

And on July 27, a program featuring wind music that includes “Night Music in the Streets of Madrid,” Op. 30, No. 6, by Luigi Boccherini; the Overture on Hebrew Themes by Sergei Prokofiev “Light Screens” (2002) by Andrew Norman (below); and the Kaiser Waltzes of Johann Strauss II, as arranged by Arnold Schoenberg.

The three local soloists for the final concert are: flutist Timothy Hagen (below top) and clarinetist Alicia Lee (below middle), who both teach at the UW-Madison and are members of the Wingra Wind Quintet, and pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who is finishing his doctorate at the UW-Madison and has often soloed with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

For more information about the Willy Street Chamber players—including a FREE community concert at the Goodman Community Center on Friday, July 13, at noon (with an instrument “petting zoo” for children at 11 a.m.) and at the Wisconsin Union Terrace — go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org


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Classical music: Let us praise musicians who played outdoors this summer and remember the challenges they faced.

September 8, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently the composer Johannes Brahms was very fond of going to outdoors concerts in his native Vienna.

No surprise. There is something liberating and social, something relaxed and informal, for both players and listeners about hearing music outdoors. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performing under its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell at the state Capitol.)

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, it is good to recall that we in Madison are lucky to have so many outdoors musical events and so many of high quality.

During this past summer, for example, outdoor concerts were given by: the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its Concert in the Park; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its justly popular Concerts on the Square; the Madison Opera for its “Opera in the Park” (below); and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras in its Concert in the Park. And there are many others who could be named.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

Then too, I think of so much other kinds of music, usually non-classical and very often roots music such as folk and bluegrass, that gets performed at various outdoors venues from the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Lakefront Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, La Fete de Marquette, the inaugural Make Music Madison Festival and the Orton Park Festival to little groups of musicians that play informally at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and various other farmers’ markets in the area.

Farmers Market music

Yet there are serious challenges to performing outdoors that non-musicians may not know about that are easy for the public to overlook. (Check out the YouTube video at the bottom and its advice from London about playing outdoors.)

Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim of the New York Times recently wrote about some of those challenges as an outdoors concert at the bandshell in Central Park by the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was gearing up to perform its first-ever outdoor concert, of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak, for the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts.

It is a very well done story with sources including the concert veteran and former Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel (below) and others. And her reporting gets quite specific about the challenges from keeping instrument in tune and playing the music to taking care of instruments and securing music in the stand.

Here is a link to a story that should remind us of what we can be grateful for this past summer and what we can look forward to next summer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/arts/music/chamber-music-society-gears-up-for-naumburg-bandshell.html

Do you play music outdoors?

What stories or anecdotes and experiences can you share with others about the challenges of playing music outdoors?

The Ear wants to hear.


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