The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record 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.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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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.

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.


Classical music: After this year’s success, “Bach Around the Clock” will return next year on March 10, 2018

March 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The revival of “Bach Around the Clock” (below) this past Saturday proved so successful to listeners, performers and organizers that it will return again next year in March 2018. (Below are violist Stan Weldy and his mandolinist son Alex.)

“It went so well, we will do it again,” said the chief organizer, violist Marika Fisher Hoyt (below), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Ancora String Quartet. She not only was the main host for BATC, she also played in more than half-dozen performances.

As you may recall, the marathon event to mark the 332nd birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) took place from noon to midnight, wisely revised to 9:30 p.m. after too few performers signed up, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 Regent Street.

Plans for next year are already being made and meetings have already been held. And next year will bring major some changes, Fischer Hoyt told The Ear.

For one, the date will be March 10, 2018 – not March 17 or March 24 – which means it will come well before the usual timing of the Saturday nearest to Bach’s birthday of March 21. But, unlike what happened this year, this earlier date avoids the UW-Madison spring break plus the Easter break for public schools. That could reap big benefits in terms of audience and performers.

Because of the immense amount of work involved, Fischer Hoyt said, a non-profit organization will also be formed and more volunteers will be recruited to help spread out the workload of lining up performers and donors, and of organizing and hosting the event.

As for lining up performers, Fischer Hoyt is extremely optimistic.

“There’s a lot of talent in this town I’ve never heard of,” she told The Ear. (Below is impressive pianist Tim Adrianson performing three Preludes and Fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book II.)

The Ear, who spent an enjoyable six hours or so attending the event, has to agree. He took a lot of photos and will be posting more about the event in the coming days.

Right now, he wants to give a big shout-out to Fischer Hoyt for some of the innovations she brought to this year’s revival of a traditional event that was held for three years, and then abandoned, by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here are a few of the changes she made, which The Ear thinks proved all for the better, for BATC 4.

1) There were multiple hosts, which breaks up the event and helps avoid monotony.

2) Prior to playing, performers, some of whom traveled from as far away as Dubuque, Milwaukee, Chicago and Waupun, were briefly interviewed and asked what they liked about Bach’s music and why they chose a particular piece to perform. (Below, flutist Casey Oelkers, left, talks with Hoyt.) That adds personal interest.

3) Free quality snacks of fresh fruit and cheese, not just delicious sweet things like cookies and kringle, were available, as were bottled water, tea and coffee. Good food translates into longer and more comfortable attendance.

4) The church’s venue, especially its woody interior (below), seemed much more suited to Bach’s music and friendly to the audience than the Pres House. And thanks to donations, in addition to a fine church organ there were fine instruments to play, including a Kawai grand piano and a hand-built clavichord from Farley’s House of Pianos. There were also birthday cakes donated by Clasen’s European Bakery of Middleton.

5) The entire event was recorded by Rich Samuels (below) — Madison’s chronicler of live music. He is from WORT-FM 89.9 and he will air BATC in increments on his “Anything Goes” program on Thursday mornings. In fact the broadcasts started this past week with a performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on Thursday morning.

6) The event was streamed live via four different places or portals: the St. Andrew’s website, the Bach Around the Clock website, the Audio for the Arts website and WORT website.

7) There was an impressive variety of performers on all levels and of repertoire. It ranged from student to amateur to professional; from solo and small chamber groups to larger choral and orchestral ensembles, plus faculty members from the UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh as well as the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. The Ear expects the lineup will get even better as word of next year gets out and spreads. (Below are students from the Suzuki Strings of Madison.) Time to get out the music and start practicing!

8) There might a 9-CD boxed set from Audio for the Arts, depending on getting authorization from all the performers.

In short, Bach Around the Clock 4 was a remarkable community event to honor both a remarkable composer and a town with a remarkable commitment to and a remarkable amount of classical music.

To keep current with BATC news, check the event’s website: https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

Cheers to Bach Around the Clock.

And special cheers to Marika Fischer Hoyt.

Bravissimo tutti!

Did you go?

What did you think?

Do you have something to say that you can leave in the COMMENT section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Percussion Ensemble holds a benefit concert this Saturday afternoon for Ronald McDonald House Charities

March 22, 2017
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ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9, who recorded all of “Bach Around the Clock” this year, writes: “At 7:08 a.m. this Thursday morning, I’ll be airing Saturday’s “Bach Around the Clock” performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. This was a collaboration of Trevor Stephenson, Kangwon Kim. Nathan and Gillian Giglierano, Micah Behr, Marika Fischer Hoyt, Illana Schroeder, Martha Schroeder, Martha Vallon, Eric Miller and Mark Bridges.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to post something about a worthy cause and a worthy event:

Drum roll, please!

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Percussion Ensemble (below) will host its 16th annual PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA!! on this Saturday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the UW George L. Mosse Humanities Building. (A video sampler of profiles and music of WYSO’s 13th Annual Percussion Ensemble in 2014 can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under 18, and are available at the door 45 minutes before the concert begins.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble (below top) — 14 student musicians from 10 communities playing under Vicki Jenks (below bottom) — hosts this signature percussion benefit to help others.  Previous PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZAS! have benefitted Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the local American Red Cross.

This year—for the first time ever—Ronald McDonald House Charities will partner with WYSO in the collection of tangible items need for the Ronald McDonald House in Madison. The concert will also feature Ronald McDonald himself in person.

Nearly 60 performers—featuring Mannheim Steamroller drummer, Tom Sharpe (below) —will present eclectic, global music dedicated to PEACE. The theme of the event is “Lifting the World to Peace.”

Other EXTRAVAGANZA artists include Madison’s own Black Star Drum Line Percussion Group, led by Joey B. Banks; the UW-Madison Pan-Global Percussion Ensemble, Todd Hammes, instructor; and the WYSO Chamber Strings, led by its director Karl Lavine (below), principal cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

For more information and details about the performers and the complete program as well as a video and a list of related activities and needed items you can bring and donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/percussionextravaganza/

Parking is available at State Street Campus, Helen C. White, and Grainger Hall parking facilities.

For more information, please contact the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble and PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA! are supported by the Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund, the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Middleton Community Orchestra and cellist Andrew Briggs succeeded beautifully in music by Rossini, Dvorak and Mendelssohn but a public reading of short essays by Matt Geiger seemed out of place

March 3, 2017
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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. He also took the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Despite nasty weather and icy conditions, a quite substantial audience turned out for the concert Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra  (below).

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There was an unusual element to the program.

The mostly amateur orchestra opened with an exuberant performance of Rossini’s overture to his opera Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy).

Then the normal procedures were interrupted by a local writer, Matt Geiger (below), reading two of his short essays from a recently published collection, which was sold in the lobby.

This appearance was based on his long and valiant boosting of the orchestra in his journalism, but it would have been more appropriate at some community festival than in the midst of an orchestra concert. His essays were not without wit, but had absolutely nothing to do with music.

matt-geiger-at-mco-march-2017-jwb

Back to business with guest soloist Andrew Briggs (below), a young cellist who played two miniatures for his instrument, with orchestra, by Antonin Dvorak.

Silent Woods, Op. 68, No. 5, is sometimes heard as a foil or filler for the composer’s great cello concerto, especially in recordings. Still less familiar is a Rondo in G minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 94. It is a work of charm and imagination.

Briggs played both of these with affectionate sensitivity. Currently finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, he is an artist with an already expanding reputation and a great future.

andrew-briggs-mco-march-2017-jwb

The second half of the concert was devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the “Reformation.” Composed to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, it was offered here as a gesture to this year’s 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of his Reformation movement with the posting of his 95 Theses. This is a score full of Lutheran symbolism, particularly with the prominent use of Luther’s chorale, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”). 

NOTE: You can hear how Mendelssohn uses the Luther hymn in the symphony’s final movement by listening to the YouTube video at the bottom.

Commentators have sometimes shrugged off this work, and it has been overshadowed in audience favor by the composer’s popular third and fourth symphonies. But it is a well-wrought score, full of fine musical interest. Conductor Steve Kurr (below) led the orchestra through a sturdy and solidly played performance, ending the concert on a triumphant note.

Steve Kurr conducting


Classical music: The 14th annual Wisconsin Flute Festival takes place this Saturday and offers a FREE concert at 5 p.m. Plus, a FREE recital of French flute music is this Friday at noon

March 2, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Iva Ugrčić, flute and pianist Kyle Johnson performing an all-French program of music by Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, Claude Debussy and Jules Bouquet. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

The 14th annual Wisconsin Flute Festival will take place this coming Saturday, March 4.

Flute

The Wisconsin Flute Festival brings together flutists and music lovers of all ages from Wisconsin and the greater Midwest.

The day’s events include workshops, performances, youth and collegiate competitions, a master class, and a 2,300-plus square foot exhibition hall with purveyors of fine flutes, music and accessories.

This year’s Festival will feature guest artist Lorna McGhee (below), principal flute of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Artist Lecturer in Flute at Carnegie Mellon University.

lorna-mcghee-2

The 14th annual Wisconsin Flute Festival will begin at 8 a.m. in the Pyle Center at UW-Madison and will culminate in a FREE public concert beginning at 5 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, in the Mosse Humanities Building, at UW-Madison.

This concert, “Landscapes and Love Songs,” will be performed by featured guest artist Lorna McGhee. (Sorry, The Ear has no details on the program.)

This year, an expanded variety of workshops and performances will be offered. Workshop topics will include circular breathing, articulation and vibrato, in addition to sessions on maximizing practice time, musicians’ health and interpreting musical pieces.

Participants will also have the opportunity to experience an interactive session with low flutes including; alto flutes, bass flutes and a contrabass flute (below).

contrabass-flute

Performances during the day will feature: electro-acoustic music; Telemann (below top) on historical flutes; lesser-known modern masters; Romanian composers; Latin music; Bach (below bottom) transcriptions; contemporary interpretation; and works for flute, clarinet and voice. Student soloists and chamber ensembles from UW-Whitewater and UW-Madison will present concerts.

georg philipp telemann

Bach1

For flutists shopping for an instrument, music or accessories, over a dozen companies and organizations from across the US will be on-site in the Festival’s exhibit hall. Technicians will be also available to evaluate instruments and conduct minor repairs.

Exhibitors include Altus Flutes, Atlantic Crossing Records, Brannen Brothers Flutemakers, Inc., Burkart Flutes & Piccolos, Di Zhao Flutes, Flute Center of New York, Flute Specialists, Flute World, Heid Music, The National Flute Association, Ward-Brodt, White House of Music and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

Tickets are $20 to $35 for Festival participants. Tickets for non-flutist family members of participants (parents, siblings) are available for at a special rate of $5. Registration information is available online at wisconsinflutefestival.org. Tickets can be purchased at the Festival.

The evening concert beginning at 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Wisconsin Flute Festival is a program of the Madison Flute Club.

About the Madison Flute Club

The Madison Flute Club was founded in 2002 and currently presents over 20 concerts each year to an audience of more than 1,500 community members. The club involves, on average, 35 active adult members and over 30 youth from the surrounding area.

To advance and achieve its mission, the Madison Flute Club has undertaken several large projects and partnered with numerous organizations and events in Dane County.

These projects include the commissioning and world premiere of a work for flute choir for Design MMoCA, successfully fundraising for a contrabass flute (the first such instrument in Wisconsin) and performing at the National Flute Association Convention.

Madison Flute Club ensembles and members have been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday with Norman Gilliland, WORT 89.9FM Madison and in the publication The Flutist Quarterly.

The 2017 Wisconsin Flute Festival is co-hosted by Madison Flute Club and UW-Madison Flute Studio.

Major funding is provided by: Heid Music, American Printing Company, Eric and Tobi Breisach, Distillery Marketing and Design, Karl Sandelin in honor of Joyce Sandelin and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

Additional funding is provided by Altus Handmade Flutes, Breisach Cordell PLLC, and Dane Arts with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.


Classical music: Pianist Gabriela Montero plays music by Schubert and Schumann and then does her own spontaneous improvisations this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.

On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

gabriela-montero-2017-shelley-mosman

Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.

Tickets can be bought online; by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787); or in person — see locations and hours here.

The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.

After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.

According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”

Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:

Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.

Montero played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.

Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.

She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.

She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Montero improvise on a famous melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM. 


Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concert shows Andrew Sewell is a born Bruckner conductor who uses a smaller orchestra to reveal structure

January 30, 2017
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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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) gave the second concert of its season on Friday evening in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program opened with a rarely performed symphony, No. 30 in D Major, K. 202, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart did not muster in this score anything like the ideas he delivered in his symphonies on either side of this one.

Still, it is an engaging piece, and maestro Sewell always shows great sympathy for the Austrian Classical-era composers of the late 18th century, so the performance was nicely molded.

The guest soloist this time was Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic (below). She was originally scheduled to play the Second Guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but for some reason she switched late on to the more substantial Concierto de Aranjuez by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.

ana-vidovic-2017

Unfortunately, Vidovic followed other guitarists of today who feel they must fortify their performances with electronic amplification, so she brought her own rig with her. The result was a boomy, hollow sound, completely artificial, pitted in fake balance against the natural world of the orchestral writing that was rendered, by the way, with charm and delicacy.

The composer (below) was very careful about not allowing the orchestra to overwhelm the intimate guitar, and generations of guitar players have been able to perform this and parallel concertos without benefit of sonic hype.

Alas, the combination of technology with egotism! Vidovic is obviously a musician of genuine artistry, but she quite sabotaged her playing by use of this six-string howitzer. And the knobs were still on through an encore, a trivial Cavatina by one Stanley Meyer.

joaquin rodrigo

The evening was richly redeemed by the main work. Sewell has, in recent years, been working his way into the symphonies of the 19th century, late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner—a composer usually tackled by large orchestras. But he has brought off the first two numbered symphonies with aplomb, and now was the turn of the Third.

This is a work with a complex history of versions and revisions. Sewell bravely chose to use the 1874 revision of the original 1873 version, rather than the ill-fated revision of 1877 or the once-standard bowdlerization of 1889.

Sewell could command only 20 string players, but they proved quite sufficient, even with the occasional divisions of the violins. The reduced lushness resulting allowed inner parts to come through, and the rest of the orchestra played magnificently. Sewell understands Bruckner’s individual rhetoric, with its stop-and-start pacings and dramatic shifts between tremendous power and great delicacy.

Sewell (below) is indeed a born Bruckner conductor. The second movement in particular I have never heard played so eloquently. (You can hear the second movement of the 1874 edition in the YouTube video at the bottom.) I don’t know if Sewell plans to probe still further into Bruckner’s symphonies, but I am ready to follow him eagerly if he does.

AndrewSewellnew

Far from being put off by the often-maligned music of Bruckner, the very large audience gave the performance a justly deserved standing ovation. This was, I think, a genuine landmark in the WCO’s history.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players mix classical and contemporary string quartets and again show off their exceptional artistry and adventurousness

January 23, 2017
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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. Barker also provided the performance photo.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.

Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.

willy-street-chamber-players-at-a-place-to-be-jan-2017-cr-jwb

Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.

Opening the program was the String Quartet in D, Op. 20, No. 2 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn, which was played with delightful elegance and spirit.

Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.

For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.

The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.

astor piazzolla

Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.

His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)

daniel-bernard-roumain

The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”

They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.

For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Then click on concerts or events.


Classical music: You can hear the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players perform music by Mozart on WORT radio this Thursday morning and in the coming year

January 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that several days ago, The Ear named the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) as Musicians of the Year for 2016.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

He also mentioned that although there were not yet any YouTube videos of the group, which will have its third season this summer, the alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 has broadcast recordings of live performances.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

If you haven’t yet heard the Willy Street Chamber Players live, you can hear them this Thursday morning on WORT FM 89.9.

Here is what Rich Samuels, radio host and friend of the Willys, writes:

“Thursday morning, Jan. 5, at 7:28 a.m. on my WORT “Anything Goes” broadcast, I’ll be airing the Willy Street Chamber Players performing the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which I recorded last July 29 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church.

(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the opening movement of Mozart’s beautiful Clarinet Quintet performed by the Emerson String Quartet with clarinetist David Shifrin of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Players in New York City.)

“Michael Maccaferri is the clarinet soloist (below). He’s a member of the eighth blackbird ensemble of Chicago. He’s participated in four eighth blackbird Grammy-winning releases on the Cedille label, the local nonprofit recording label that is also in Chicago and that recently turned 25.

michael-maccaferri

“Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), who presently freelances in Chicago, recruited Maccaferri for this event. In addition to Eleanor, this performance features Willy Street violinist Beth Larson, violist Rachel Hauser and cellist Lindsay Crabb.

Eleanor Bartsch

“It was my privilege to record most of the first two seasons of the Willy Street Chamber Players for broadcast on WORT.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that tradition in 2017.”

Here is a link about upcoming strong quartet concert on Jan. 21 and 22 and about the Willy Street Chamber Players in general:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org


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