The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Critics for The New York Times name their favorite works by and performers of Richard Strauss. Plus, catch the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Early Music Festival on radio this Sunday.

January 3, 2015
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HERE ARE TWO ALERTS FOR SUNDAY:

At 10 a.m, on WORT FM 89.9: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) under the direction of Mikko Utevsky will be featured in an hour-long broadcast this coming Sunday (January 4).

The “Summer Voices” concert was recorded live last August 22 at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Included are interviews with MAYCO founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky and guest soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below).

The program includes: the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the cantata “Knoxville Summer of 1915” by American composer Samuel Barber; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The hosts of Musica Antiqua yielded the final hour of their early music show so that WORT can provide these young musicians with the station’s largest classical music audience.

MAYCO 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller and Mikko Uevsky

Then at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area and online at wpr.org): Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) will broadcast a concert of 16th-century Renaissance music from Italy inspired by “I Trionfi” by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). The concert was designed and conducted by Grant Herreid, and was performed at the Madison Early Music Festival’s concluding All-Festival Concert (bel0w) in July 2014 at Luther Memorial Church in Madison. This recording is part of WPR’s new program, “Wisconsin Classical.”

Listen to station 88.7 FM at 1 p.m.or stream it online at http://www.wpr.org/

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the public’s favorite Late Romantic composers is Richard Strauss, seen below in old age in a photo by H. Hoffmann and Ullstein Bilderdienst.

Richard Strauss  old CR H. Hoffmann Ulstein Biulderdienst

Writing about Strauss is timely, if belatedly so, because 2014 was the 150th anniversary year of his birth.

But better late than never.

Strauss composed in every genre, from orchestra and opera to chamber music, and the last part of his career was controversial because of his involvement with Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

What is your favorite work by Richard Strauss?

Your favorite performances and performers?

Your favorite recordings?

Various critics for The New York Times recently offered their own year-end takes on those questions.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/arts/music/richard-strauss-recordings-recommended-by-critics.html?_r=0

And here is my favorite Strauss music — the Suite from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier” in a YouTube video — although it is also hard to beat “Four Last Songs” for soprano and orchestra:

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Classical music: Find out what eight famous composers were doing on Christmas Day. Plus, UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen on WORT FM early on Christmas morning.

December 23, 2014
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ALERT: Blog fan and WORT 89.9 FM radio host Rich Samuels, who also documents the local music scene, writes:

Jake:

My Christmas Day 5-8 a.m. show on WORT will include a complete performance of Olivier Messiaen‘s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus” by University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as an interview that I recorded with Taylor about the piece and its composer.

The performance was recorded December 11, 2012 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Taylor performs this two-hour work from memory.)

Here’s a link to the New York Times review of the performance:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/messiaens-vingt-regards-sur-lenfant-jesus-at-met-museum.html

All the best in 2015.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an unexpected Christmas gift I stumbled across.

It consists of Christmas Day excerpts from letters and diaries by and about eight Romantic and modern composers. They include Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev.

I like that the various writings demystify the lives of composers, and artists in general, and shows their ordinary human side through what they thought, felt and did on a special day, even on a holiday.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

http://www.classical-music.com/article/8-composers-at-christmas-through-letters


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians successfully mines early music for its latest holiday concert of unusual offerings superbly performed.

December 15, 2014
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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 20 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 (MEMF) and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. And he also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stephenson (below top) and his Madison Bach Musicians (below bottom) have established a solid tradition of offering a December “holiday” concert as a triumphant antidote to the debasement of musical life that the Christmas season seems to bring inevitably with it.

MBM holiday 2014 Trevor speaks JWB

MBM holiday 2014 all usicians JWB

This time around — specifically, last Saturday night at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ — was no exception, and even a step forward.

It was further testimony, also, of Stephenson’s thriving collaboration with Marc Vallon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty. Vallon chose a good many of the selections, organized the program, conducted (below top) some of it, and played the dulcian (Baroque bassoon, below bottom on the right).

MBM holiday 2014 Vallon conducting JWB

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

In that last, Vallon was joined by his wife, Martha Vallon, on viola da gamba as well as by Anna Steinhoff on the same instrument, violinists Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, plus Linda Pereksta on recorder.

IMG_1307

There was also a fine vocal quartet of soprano Chelsea Morris (below, far left), alto Sarah Leuwerke (far right), tenor Kyle Bielfeld (center left) and bass Davonne Tines.

MBM holiday 2014 singers

Stephenson himself, held much of it together playing on a dandy “orgel positif” or chamber organ, made all of wood.

MBM holiday 2014 pos tive or chamber organ JWB

The program was a nicely varied mix of vocal and instrumental music, and going back further than the usually featured 18th century.

Of the vocal works, all but one were sacred in character and function, though few were specifically related to the Christmas season.

The 16th century was represented by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) in four Latin pieces for the vocal group alone.  (One was an extraordinary chromatic study, typical of the composer’s experimentation with tonic bypassing of the old modal system.) The rest of the material was effectively from the 17th century, a time of wide explorations of the new Baroque idiom.

Orlando di Lasso

After an organ fugue by Giovanni Gabrieli, the explicitly instrumental pieces came from the pens of Johann Schenck (1660-1716), and Antonio Bertali (1605-1669), with varying instrumentations—the one by Schenck for two gambas (below, with Martha Vallon on the left and Anna Steinhoff) was particularly delicious.

MBM holiday 2014 Martha Vallon left and Anna Steinhoff CR JWB

Again in varying combinations, singers and players joined in selections by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1682), Johann Froberger (1616-1692), and Johann Schelle (1648-1701), as well as by two members of the musically prolific Bach family, of generations before Johann Sebastian Bach: Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), and Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694).  The latter’s double-choir German motet provided a chance for all 11 performers to come together for a grand finale (singers in one choir, instruments in the other).

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

German was the predominant language of these vocal works. But an interesting curiosity was an adaptation that Heinrich Schütz made (his SWV 440), fitting a German translation to Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Italian madrigal, “Chiome d’oro” (the Monteverdi version is in a YouTube video at the bottom).

All the performers were expert in their work, though the two gamba players were particularly appealing among the instrumentalists, while — with no disrespect to the others — Morris and Leuwerke were truly wonderful in their singing assignments.

What matters most is that Stephenson and his colleagues have once again demonstrated that the realms of early music have endless treasures to offer — ones most particularly welcome on the parched December scene.

A large and enthusiastic audience testified to public recognition of that fact.


Classical music Q&A: How does a string quartet come up with programs? The Ear catches up with the Ancora String Quartet, which will close its 13th season this Friday night with piano quartets by Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. Plus, WYSO members talk Thursday morning on WORT 88.9 FM

May 7, 2014
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ALERT: We are in the run-up to the always impressive Spring Concerts by members of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).  And Good Friend of The Ear radio host Rich Samuels is helping to publicize the WYSO chamber music concerts on this Saturday, May 10, and the other instrumental groups and orchestras, with soloists, that will perform on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday May 18. The radio segment with violinist Isabelle Krier and pianist Charlie Collar will air on WORT 89.9 FM, starting at 7:08 a.m. on this Thursday morning, May 8. Following that segment, Samuels will be airing a concert featuring conductor Ken Woods (a WYSO and UW-Madison alumnus, who leads the English Symphony Orchestra in Wales in the United Kingdom). Here is a link to the WYSO website for more details about the two weekends of WYSO concerts:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m., three members of the Madison-based and critically acclaimed Ancora String Quartet (below) will close out its 13th season with a program that features a relative rarity in chamber music: piano quartets — by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frank Bridge and Joaquin Turina. (Below are, from left, Ancora members violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.)

Ancora Trio 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

The program includes the lyrical Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-Flat Major, K. 493, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the one-movement Piano Phantasy in F-Sharp Minor by 20th-century British composer Frank Bridge, who was also the teacher of Benjamin Britten; and the impassioned Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 67, by the lesser known 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Turina.

The guest artist is University of Wisconsin-Whitewater pianist MyungHee Chung (below), who joined the Ancora in 2010 in a memorable performance of the iconic Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms.

myung hee chung

The concert will take place in the historic Landmark Auditorium, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are available at the door, and are general seating. They cost $15 for the general public; $12 for students and seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

A free post-concert champagne reception is included in the ticket.

This year the quartet is a strong trio made up of violist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. First violinist Leanne League is on a one-year leave.

Violist Marika Fisher Hoyt, who also hosts a Saturday afternoon program on Wisconsin Public Radio and plays in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other local groups, including period-instrument, early music ensembles, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

MarikaFischerHoyt

How does the Ancora Quartet choose repertoire and programs? How do you balance the well-known and the neglected? Highlight various instruments? Is any one of your members more active in selecting programs than the others?

All Ancora String Quartet players (below)  participate equally in proposing pieces and crafting the final programs. We keep a list of pieces that one or more of us would like to perform. In the spring of each year, we look at the list, and select pieces to form programs of roughly 70 minutes of music.

We aim for programs that offer a nice balance of familiar and unfamiliar, of Classical, Romantic and Modern style, and of varying lengths and degrees of emotional intensity.

For the first 10 years we presented pieces that were new to us as a quartet, but at this point we’ll sometimes include a piece we’ve performed before.  That’s usually a piece we really love, like the Beethoven Op. 74 “Harp” Quartet.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

How much does the audience figure in setting up a program?

We don’t really consider the audience’s hypothetical preferences, other than to try to present programs with enough variety that there’s something for all tastes. The constant factor is our love for the music and our commitment to working together.

Ancora Rhapsodie audience

What are current projects and future plans for the Ancora?

Our current project is preparing for and presenting this week’s program!

We’re still in the process of planning next season’s programs. Our first violinist, Leanne League (below), will be on leave next season, and two wonderful violinists will be joining us, both of them players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Wes Luke (below) will join us for our fall programs, which will almost certainly include one of his favorites, the Mendelssohn Quartet, Op. 80, in F Minor, a powerfully moving work written at the very end of that composer’s life.

wes luke

Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will join us for our spring programs, and she’s hoping to perform one of the gorgeous Brahms quartets with us.  We look forward to working with these talented colleagues.

Eleanor Bartsch

Another project is that of increasing our quartet’s presence online.  A few years ago we redid our quartet website www.ancoraquartet.com, which now features a blog. While we don’t aspire to publish new postings every day (like The Well-Tempered Ear), every couple of weeks I’ll publish an interview with a guest artist, a report of our first rehearsal on a new program, or links to reviews.

We also have a Facebook fan page at facebook.com/ancoraquartet.  We only give 8-10 concerts per year, and these online sites are a nice way to stay in touch with the concert-going public. They give our fans an easy way to contact us with any questions or comments.

Ancora Trio 2 2014 Robin Ryan, Benjamin Marika Fischer Hoyt Whitcomb

Is it different playing a PIANO quartet or quintet than an all-string quartet? Pianists often have the reputation of being soloists at core and not easy chamber music partners. Is that your experience?

Yes, the sound of a piano is qualitatively different from that of the violin family of instruments, and so in a piano quartet or quintet we must all work a little harder to achieve a unified effect, through phrasing and careful balancing of dynamics.

Pianists may have the reputation of being divas, but we have worked with MyungHee Chung (below) before, and that has certainly not been our experience with her.  It’s true that a powerful pianist can overwhelm the sound of three or four string instruments.  But, while MyungHee spins out her solo passages with effortless ease and grace, she is also an extremely sensitive collaborator and accompanist, and we are so pleased to be able to work with her again.

Steinway Grand Piano

What would you like to say about each of the pieces on this weekend’s program?

The Piano Quartet by Mozart (below) demonstrates a perfect fusion of elegance, charm and sensuality. Benjamin often reminds us of the vocal quality in much of Mozart’s music, and we will imagine that we’re singing an aria tune from a Mozart opera.  And, on a personal note, I can tell from his writing that Mozart was a violist; I appreciate the melodies I get to play, and how well they lie on viola!

Mozart old 1782

The “Phantasy” by Frank Bridge (below is a wonderful example of late Romantic British style, by turns voluptuously lush and singing, or fiercely dramatic.

Frank Bridge

The work by Joaquin Turina (below) gives us three movements of smoldering Spanish melodrama, spiced with playful cross-rhythms.  We’ll be ready for the champagne reception, after that!

joaquin turina 1

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

We Ancora players are now in our 13th recital season, and our joy in making music together has only deepened over the years. Chamber music is so much more intimate than orchestral playing, and we are extremely grateful for the chance to share this music with our audiences.

The Madison community’s deep appreciation of the arts supports so many wonderful musical ensembles. We feel lucky to be a part of it all, to inspire, and be inspired, in our turn.

 

 

 

 

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