Category Archives: Benoît Mernier

Pro Arte goes on tour; new faculty hires; di Sanza receives award

Pro Arte Quartet Rehearsal with composer Benoit Mernier
Benoit Mernier rehearsed with the Pro Arte Quartet in March. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

Pro Arte Quartet Plans Belgium Concert Tour

The UW Pro Arte Quartet will return to its roots in May with a concert tour of Belgium, where the group was first formed in 1912.

The trip is the capstone of the Pro Arte’s centennial season and is believed to be the quartet’s first return to its homeland since being stranded in the U.S. when Nazi forces invaded Belgium, and UW responded by creating a residency for the group. The tour will feature the European premiere of the quartet’s latest commission, String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.

Mernier’s composition received its world premiere by the Pro Arte on March 1 at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The European premiere is scheduled for May 26 at the Brussels Conservatory, where the Pro Arte itself originated. Read a review of the Madison concert here.

The Pro Arte will kick off the weeklong tour on May 22 with a performance in Studio 1 of the Flagey Building, home to Belgium’s broadcast industry. The program will include compositions by Mozart, César Franck and Randall Thompson. Studio 1 has historic significance for the Pro Arte, too. An earlier iteration of the quartet recorded a Beethoven cycle there in 1938.

On May 23, the Pro Arte will perform an afternoon concert in the Arthur de Greef Auditorium of the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels. The library series features works important to the library’s collections, and Pro Arte will present a program featuring works by Bartok and Haydn, since the library holds first editions of these composers. Know any Dutch? If so, you may read the announcement here: http://www.kbr.be/actualites/concerts/programme/23_05_nl.html

On May 24, the Pro Arte will travel to Dolhain Limburg, birthplace of the quartet’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou for a reception, dinner and performance at Kursaal Dolhain. The evening program will include compositions by Mozart, Franck, Haydn and Alexander Glazunov. The Mernier European premiere at the Brussels Conservatory follows on May 26, along with compositions by Mozart, Thompson and Samuel Barber.

The final performance of the tour on May 27 will take place at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve. In addition to the Mernier work, the performance would include works by Mozart and Barber. In addition, the audience will view a 1975 documentary film about the Pro Arte by Pierre Bartholomée that includes interviews with composers Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky and others.

Final arrangements for the trip are in the works pending the resolution of some current restrictions regarding international travel.

The Pro Arte Quartet issued a commemorative CD last year. Read about the CD here. To purchase it, click here.

Wisconsin Public Television filmed the quartet in concert last year. Watch the video here.

New faculty hired for next year

The School of Music will add three visiting professors next year. One, David Ronis of New York City, will replace retiring opera director William Farlow. A second, Tom Curry, will replace retiring tuba professor John Stevens, And a third, Leslie Shank, will replace violin professor Felicia Moye, who has accepted a position at McGill University in Montreal.

The School has issued separate news releases for all new faculty.

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Leslie Shank to join UW

School of Music appoints alumnus Tom Curry as visiting assistant professor of tuba

School of Music announces David Ronis as visiting director of opera

 

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Percussion professor wins Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award

Nominated by one of his students

Anthony Di Sanza
Percussion Professor Anthony Di Sanza working with students. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

Anthony Di Sanza, professor of percussion in the School of Music, has received the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, nominated by percussion student Jacob Wolbert (who was published in this space last summer), who was himself inducted into the society on April 12. Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society and honors undergraduates for outstanding scholarly achievement. Students elected into Phi Beta Kappa are asked to nominate a deserving faculty whose teaching is exemplary and who encouraged their love of learning. Wolbert nominated di Sanza.

“Professor DiSanza found a way to transfer my musical skills into my non-musical ones and has encouraged my endeavors, providing wisdom and guidance even when they are unrelated to music,” says Wolbert. “Overall, he recognizes the value of music in an interdisciplinary education, a crucial tenet of what it means to receive an undergraduate liberal arts education here at UW-Madison.”

“I am deeply honored by this award and even more so by the fact that Jacob Wolbert, this engaged, talented and thought-provoking student, would think highly enough of my efforts to nominate me,” says di Sanza. Read the full press release here.

Speaking of choral: Sing this Summer! Auditions are now open for Madison Summer Choir

The Madison Summer Choir is an approximately 80-voice, auditioned choir performing a cappella, piano-accompanied, and choral-orchestral works, conducted by alumnus Ben Luedcke. We are supported by singers, the larger Madison community, and UW-Madison School of Music. 2014 will be our sixth year keeping summer choral arts alive – please join us on stage or in the audience! Rehearsals start in room 1351 Humanities, Monday May 19th, 5:15-7:15 pm, and are open to all current UW choral singers, as well as the community. The final concert is June 27, 7:30 pm, at First Congregational United Church of Christ. On the program: Schicksalslied, Op. 54, of Johannes Brahms, and Te Deum, by Georges Bizet.

Graduate wins Elliott Carter Rome Prize for music composition

Paula Matthusen, a 2001 graduate in composition who studied with professor Stephen Dembski and is now Assistant Professor of Music at Wesleyan University has received the Elliot Carter Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. The prize is awarded annually to about thirty people “who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities,” according to the academy’s website.  Winners receive a fellowship and are invited to live in Rome for up to two years. Read a 2009 review of Paula’s work here.

Selected upcoming concerts at the School of Music

(For a full list, please see http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar )

Saturday, April 26: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” or “All-Night Vigil” performed by Choral Union

Choralunion-111413-8082_WEB
The Choral Union in rehearsal. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

On Saturday, April 26 at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison Choral Union will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” or “All-Night Vigil,” composed in 1915, consisting of settings of texts taken from the Russian Orthodox All-night vigil ceremony. Read about this work in Madison’s blog, The Well-Tempered Ear.

Tickets: $10/Adults & General Public, Free/Students and Seniors. Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info or buy online (surcharge applies; no surcharge if purchased at box office).

Thursday, May 1: Brian Lynch, the UW Jazz Orchestra and the High School Honors Jazz Band

Lynch to offer master classes on Wednesday, April 30 and Thursday, May 1 – see http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar for details

Grammy-award winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch will perform May 1 as a guest of the UW Jazz Orchestra. Lynch, a native of Milwaukee who now makes his home in New York City, will appear in concert with the orchestra and the High School Honors Jazz Band, an auditioned ensemble comprised of the best jazz musicians that Madison-area schools have to offer.  Student tickets $5/general public $10. http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Brian-Lynch.html

Read an earlier post here.

Read an interview with Brian Lynch in the blog, The Cultural Oyster.

UW singers win a first round; pianist Christopher Taylor secures patent for double piano; UW Opera bids farewell to Bill Farlow in April show

NEWS

Madison a cappella choir one of region’s best

It was the colorful chalk drawings that drew Mike Fuller to sing with Fundamentally Sound, advertisements painted on sidewalks near the Humanities building last September. But it was Mike’s voice–and those of 16 others–that allowed them to win first place a few weeks ago in the first round of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA), held at the University of Chicago.  The group, open to students who either have “a voice and/or can make noises with your mouth,” according to their website, is an auditioned, all-male a cappella choir founded in 2005 that sings arrangements of Disney songs, rap, hip-hop and more. The group rehearses twice a week, performs regular shows and gigs, and even released a CD in the fall of 2012, “Sounding the Alarm.”

The next competition will be in Normal, Illinois, on April 5. The group will also perform April 25 at the Orpheum Theater on State Street in Madison; buy tickets here.

“It’s a fun escape from homework and studying,”  says Mike, a freshman who sang in choirs at Pacelli High School in Stevens Point before entering college. He is not a music major–in fact his favorite class is Physics 109, the physics of light and sound–but is one of many students who take lessons to have fun and improve their skills. Along the way, they sometimes discover they have more talent than they realized.

Mike Fuller.
Mike Fuller. Photo by Katherine Esposito.

Last fall he enrolled in Music 144, a group voice lesson class open to non-majors that was taught by Jordan Wilson, a graduate student; this semester, he’s taking lessons from Elizabeth Hagedorn, visiting assistant professor of voice.

The voice lessons have given him much better range, he says. And he’s made a bevy of great new friends. “I feel it was one of the best decisions I made this year at UW-Madison.”

Albany music director and SOM alumnus Brian Gurley is really glad winter is over

Brian Gurley, SOM alumnus in choral conducting (M.M., 2011), moved from Wisconsin last summer to take the position of music director of the 162-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, New York, a church built during the height of the Irish potato famine that served as a refuge for persecuted Irish. Over its century-and-a-half, church activities included welcoming the Archbishop of Canterbury, hosting a “forgiveness ceremony” between Catholics and Jews,  and avoiding demolition in the 1960s. Lately, the church had been undergoing significant restoration that included replacement of deteriorated sandstone with imported stone from England, new granite steps and a unique rolled lead roof. But this past winter (the one we’re all hoping is finally OVER), as Gurley played a Steinway piano for a choir rehearsal, he heard the sound of dripping water. “My stomach kind of went in my mouth and I thought oh my gosh, they spent all this time and money on the restoration and now the roof leaks,” Gurley told reporter Paul Grondahl of the Albany Times-Union. Want to know what went wrong? Click here to read the entire story.

Pro Arte premiere of new Benoit Mernier string quartet draws appreciative crowd as well as positive critical reviews

Benoit Mernier rehearses with the Pro Arte String Quartet
Belgian composer Benoit Mernier rehearses with the Pro Arte String Quartet, March, 2014.
Photo by Michael R. Anderson

The fifth of six world premieres commissioned by Madison’s own Pro Arte String Quartet took place on March 1 in Mills Hall, and was enthusiatically received by former UW-Madison history professor and music critic John Barker (who also helped to plan the centennial events). The new work, funded by both the Pro Arte Quartet and the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation, deliberately hailed the quartet’s roots in Belgium, as Mernier is from that country, and “was the most musically satisfying of all the commissioned works presented so far,” according to Barker in a post on The Well-Tempered Ear, Madison’s classical music blog. “Met honestly, the score has a logic and even power to it that one might compare to Bela Bartók’s quartets — and we have all caught up with those by now, haven’t we?” The final commission, a clarinet quintet by French-Canadian composer Pierre Jalbert, will be performed next September.

Read the entire review here.

Read an interview with Pro Arte violinist Suzanne Beia in the Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 27, 2014

School of Music music ed students band together to support music education in public schools

 NAfME students,
The NAfME students, excited about their new chapter!

Over 40 music ed students have launched a UW-Madison chapter of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Membership will allow students to network for job and educational advancement, as well as finding ways to assist area schools, according to Dan Joosten, co-president. The chapter is advised by Teri Dobbs, associate professor of music education and Darin Olson, assistant director of bands.

With over 130,00 members, NAfME bills itself as the world’s oldest arts education organization, and includes students, faculty, and professional teachers, both active and retired. According to its website, “NAfME developed the National Standards for Music Education and administered the overall development of the National Standards for Arts Education (1994) under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Standards represent the first comprehensive set of educational standards for K–12 arts instruction.” The group meets Wednesday nights at 8PM in Humanities. For more information, contact Dan Joosten at djoosten@wisc.edu, or Jenny Deroche at jlderoche@wisc.edu.

Piano Extravaganza High School Competition announces winners

Finalists in the 2014 UW-Madison Piano Extravaganza Competition. Front L-R: Anthony Cardella, Vivian Wilhelms, Kaitlin Lalmond, Olivia Montgomery; Bach L-R: Ethan Nethery, Garrick Olsen, Quinton Nennig, Theodore Liu.
Finalists in the 2014 UW-Madison Piano Extravaganza Competition. Front L-R: Anthony Cardella, Vivian Wilhelms, Kaitlin Lalmond, Olivia Montgomery; Bach L-R: Ethan Nethery, Garrick Olsen, Quinton Nennig, Theodore Liu.

Saturday, March 1 was the inaugural UW-Madison School of Music Piano Extravaganza Competition. Nine finalists from Wisconsin and Minnesota competed for cash prizes. The 1st prize winner ($1,500) was Vivian Wilhelms, a freshman at Waunakee High School. Vivian is a student of William Lutes and was a finalist of the 2010 Chopin Piano Competition in Milwaukee, 2011 winner of the Fall Youth Concerto Competition sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and 2013 winner of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. The 2nd prize winner ($1,000) was Garrick Olsen, of Madison. Garrick studies with William Lutes and plans to major in piano performance in college next fall. Garrick will make his subscription concert debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in May 2015, playing Gershwins’ I Got Rhythm Variations. He is the winner of a number of competitions, including the Wisconsin Public Radio’s 2013 Neale-Silva Young Artist Competition, the 2012 PianoArts award for Best Performance of a North American Competition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2012 Bolz Young Artist Competition (“Final Forte”) as well as MSO’s 2003 Fall Youth Concerto Competition. 3rd prize ($500) went to Quinton Nennig from Sherwood, Wisconsin. Quinton currently studies at the Interlochen Arts Academy with Dr. TJ Lymenstull, where he is the recipient of a merit scholarship. Previous studies were with Nina Mink. His many accomplishments include winning Lawrence University’s Piano Festival (2009-2012), and 1st place in the WMTA Badger Competition in 2010 and 2012. Honorable mention went to Theodore Liu, a sophomore at Waunakee Community High School. Theodore studies with Shu-Ching Chuang and plays trumpet in band and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. He is very fond of mathematics and science due to their precision and logic.

Judges for the competition were Jess Johnson, Christopher Taylor, John Stowe, Todd Welbourne, Dino Mulic and Seungwha Baek.

The Piano Extravaganza Competition was sponsored by the Evjue Foundation and Former Chancellor Irving Shain.

Pianist Christopher Taylor receives patent for new double keyboard

Christopher Taylor
Christopher Taylor performs at the Miller Theater in New York City, May 2013.
Richard Termine photograph.
Click photo for the New York Times review.

It’s official: The new digital double keyboard piano invented by UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, modeled after a unique double Steinway that resides in Taylor’s office, is the owner of patent number 8,664,497, issued to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Association on March 4.  As described in San Francisco’s Classical Voice: “The instrument setup is an unusual one in that a console, with the two sets of 88 keys, will drive two “slave” pianos, remotely. The console piano will not produce any sound. Instead, an electronic sensor will record what a pianist is playing and instantaneously send that information across the stage, MIDI style, to two normal pianos that will produce the music.”  Taylor has worked extensively with scientists and technicians at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery to perfect the instrument.

It’s not built yet, though. What it means is that anyone with an interest in something very musical and very new could apply for a license to pursue actual construction of the piano, says WARF spokeswoman Emily Bauer, license manager. “It’s a cool case. We’d love to see it licensed and commercialized,” Bauer says.

Taylor hopes that in a couple of years, he’ll be able to unveil both the first iteration of this new piano and a new piece written especially for it. He’s already talked to composer Derek Bermel about the idea.  “Bermel welcomes the idea of writing music for an instrument where limitations are not known. The possibilities for new music are many, said Bermel, who wrote his first work for Taylor — a solo piano piece titled Turning — in 1995,” wrote Classical Voice writer Edward Ortiz. “ ‘[Repeated] notes on one set of hammers are pretty tough to play, but with two sets of hammers you can repeat notes by playing one note on one keyboard and a note on the other; then you can get this incredible, drumroll-like effect,’ said Bermel. “ ‘Also, there are some chords you cannot play on the piano because they would be too wide —– you would need fingers that were two feet long!’ ”

Read about Christopher Taylor in On Wisconsin! magazine, February 2014.

Read “The Quest for the Perfect Piano” in San Francisco Classical Voice, May 2013

Read about Taylor in the Wisconsin State Journal, 2011

And one more: Madison Magazine Q&A with Taylor in February, 2014.

SAVE THE DATE! SELECTED UPCOMING CONCERTS AT THE SCHOOL OF MUSIC

Paul Rowe, Julia Foster, and Martha Fischer perform the Italienisches Liederbuch of Hugo Wolf

Paul Rowe.
Paul Rowe. Photo by Michael R. Anderson

Austrian-born Hugo Wolf (1860-1903), a child prodigy who became a devotee of Richard Wagner, was known for his “concentrated expressive intensity” in his compositions, especially his lieder (songs). On March 26, at 7:30 PM in Mills Hall, voice professor Paul Rowe, alumna Julia Foster (now assistant professor of voice and opera at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida) and pianist Martha Fischer will perform his “Italian Songs.” Read about the program here (PDF): Notes on the “Italienisches Liederbuch” of Hugo Wolf

Cello professor Uri Vardi bridges a cultural divide with trans-Middle Eastern music

On April 5 at 8 PM, cello professor Uri Vardi, oud artist Taiseer Elias, and composer/pianist Menachem Wiesenberg will present a concert, “Fusions,” of Arabic and Israeli music on the stage of Mills Hall, co-sponsored by UW’s Center for Jewish Studies. Elias is founder and conductor of the first Orchestra of Classical Arabic Music in Israel and is currently the musical director and conductor of the Arab-Jewish Youth Orchestra; he is the head of the Eastern Music Department at the Jerusalem Music Academy and is a professor of musicology at Bar Ilan University. Wiesenberg  is a professor and dean of composition, conducting, and music education at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and also a senior consultant to the Jerusalem Music Center. Cellist and pedagogue Uri Vardi has performed as a recitalist, soloist, and chamber player across the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, and his native Israel. Born in Szeged, Hungary, Vardi grew up on kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, Israel. He studied at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv, was an Artist Diploma student at Indiana University, and earned his Master’s degree from Yale University.

Read an interview with Uri Vardi in the Center’s winter 2014 newsletter. 

Learn about the backgrounds of the musicians and hear a track of their music.

View the concert program.

The concert will be repeated on Sunday, April 6 on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Live at the Chazen afternoon show, starting at 12:30 PM. It will also be held in Milwaukee that evening. Learn more here. 

Final Farlow opera to be staged April 11, 13, and 15 in Music Hall

Put it on your calendar: After 15 years with University Opera,  director William Farlow will retire after this spring’s performance of Hector Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, a comic opera in two acts that was Berlioz’s last work; according to a National Public Radio story from 2009, it “combines the signature brilliance and bombast of composer with the sly, comedic insights of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.” Berlioz wrote both the libretto and the music. Look for an official news release very soon. Hear the overture in this YouTube video clip.

Tickets are $22.00 for the general public, $18.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at (click “buy tickets” on the site): http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

JUST ANNOUNCED: OPERA STAR SUSANNE MENTZER TO CONDUCT MASTER CLASS AT SCHOOL OF MUSIC

Opera singer Susanne Mentzer, in town for Madison Opera’s April 25-27 production of Dead Man Walking, will conduct a master class on Monday, April 7 at the School of Music, 1:15 to 3:15 in Room 1321 (one floor below below Mills Hall). This event is free and open to the public.  Ms. Mentzer will be working one-on-one with students, performing a signature aria for the class, conducting a Q&A session, and staying to meet and greet all attendees. From her online bio: “Ms. Mentzer has appeared with nearly all the major opera companies, orchestras and festivals of North and South America, Europe and Japan. For over 20 years she has sung leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera. She has collaborated with many of the world’s great conductors and singers including James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, Pierre Boulez and Christoph Eschenbach, Joan Sutherland, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Natalie Dessay, Renee Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Carol Vaness, Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade to name just a few.” Read more here: http://www.susannementzer.com/index.html

Madison Opera website, for information and tickets: http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/dead_man_walking/

New York Times review of Susanne Mentzer, 2000

The School of Music offers many more concerts and recitals this spring. See the full schedule at http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar

Farlow
Retiring opera director Bill Farlow exchanges pleasantries with Beatrice et Bendict chorus member Annisa Richardson
on the stage of Music Hall, March 2014. The two are old pals.
Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

UW alumna singer records with Grammy winner Roomful of Teeth; Brass and Woodwind Quintets to play at a town near you; Piano lovers’ heaven this Sat. at UW

UW alumna singer making a mark as vocalist

UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill's sound engineer, Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley, Dashon Burton.
UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill’s sound engineer (in blue), and singers Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley and Dashon Burton.

A round of applause for Sarah Brailey, a 2007 master’s graduate who studied with vocal professor Paul Rowe and received the School’s prestigious Collins Fellowship, who has been lately appearing on stages from continent to continent, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, and Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Sarah is a full-time member of the Choir of Trinity Church on Wall Street and has been a part-time writer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (“who are totally supportive of my singing and are willing to let me have a very flexible schedule”). Nowadays, though, singing is taking the biggest role in her life.

Sarah, who received a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, is originally from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. While in Madison, she played the role of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with University Opera.

Here’s what Sarah says about her work these days: “I’ve been on tour with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and The English Concert, doing Handel’s Theodora. Among the incredible soloists are David Daniels, Dorothea Röschmann, and Sarah Connolly. We have been to Sonoma and Costa Mesa, California, Chapel Hill, and will have concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, Town Hall in Birmingham (England), and the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris.

“This season, I had the immense pleasure of performing Britten’s Les Illuminations for the first time with Novus NY. Read a review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/arts/music/handels-messiah-at-trinity-church.html

“I have recently started working with legendary composer John Zorn. This past summer, we premiered his “Madrigals” at the Guggenheim Museum.” Wrote the New York Times’s Steve Smith: “Those singers and three more — the sopranos Lisa Bielawa and Sarah Brailey, and the mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer — brought the same exactitude and luster to “Madrigals,” for which Mr. Zorn assembled phrases inspired by reading Percy Bysshe Shelley. Harmonically consonant, often unambiguously melodic and rhythmically effervescent, these half-dozen songs could easily slip into standard repertory.”

(L to R): Aulikki Eerola, Pertti Eerola, and
Three revered musicians from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland will be in Madison and Milwaukee for a one-week residency March 2 – 8 to talk about Finland’s music education system, hold master classes, and perform a concert on March 8 at Luther Memorial Church. Click image to learn more.

“We also sang his piece, ‘Holy Visions,’ based on the writings of Hildegard von Bingen, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an entire day dedicated to his works that were performed throughout the museum. We traveled to Huddersfield, England to perform both pieces in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and will be recording Holy Visions this spring.

“I have also worked on and off this season with the Grammy-winning contemporary a cappella vocal group, Roomful of Teeth. The photograph is from a recording session we did in August with Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs at Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Electric Lady was originally built by Jimi Hendrix and has been used by artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Daft Punk, and AC/DC.

In March, Sarah will perform Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” down in Knoxville, Tennessee at the Big Ears Festival and also recording with the Grammy-nominated vocal octet, New York Polyphony. In May, she’ll perform with the Trinity Choir and Bang on a Can All-Stars for the New York premiere of Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial Celebration.

National alumni, take note! Sarah’s other upcoming performances include:

Feb 26, 5pm, CUNY Grad Center: I’m performing a song cycle by André Brégégère with text by French-Carribean poet Édouard Glissant on CUNY’s Composers Now Festival.
March 4, 8pm, Alice Tully Hall: I’m soloing with The American Classical Orchestra in Handel’s Samson under the direction of Nicholas McGegan.
March 14 in Aiken, S. Carolina; March 16 in Morrow, GA; March 17 at Alice Tully in NYC: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Juilliard 415.
March 29-30: I’m performing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN.
April 18: I’m performing Josep Sanz’s King Lear with Ekmeles at the MATA Festival in NYC.

Wingra Woodwind Quintet and Wisconsin Brass Quintet on tour to northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota


The Wisconsin Idea is alive and well in the School of Music. This week, two of our four ensembles-in-residence will be on the road, offering a wonderful opportunity for classical music aficionados who don’t live in Madison (and we know there are many!) to hear some beautiful music.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

  • Tuesday, February 25, UW-Barron County – Fine Arts Auditorium, Rice Lake, WI. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Thursday, February 27, Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minnesota. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Future outstate concerts, please see http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wis_brass.html
  • In Madison, you can see the quintet perform on March 29, at 8 Pm in Mills Hall.

 Wingra Woodwind Quintet:

  • This Wednesday in Madison, the  Wingra Woodwind Quintet will perform at a new location, Capital Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, 7:30 pm. The quintet will also perform at a special dinner concert at the University Club on May 8.
  • In Ashland on February 28, United Presbyterian- Congregational Church, 7:30 pm. Tickets $15.00. http://www.ashlandchambermusic.org/concerts.html
  • In Three Lakes on March 1, at Three Lakes Elementary School, 6930 West School St. The concert begins at 7:30 pm. Tickets $10.00.
  • More information: http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wingra.html

Meanwhile, here in Madison we have a few special events on the docket for this weekend and next week….including the Pro Arte Quartet’s world premiere of String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (read this week’s story by local blogger Jake Stockingerand a residency by three musicians of the Sibelius Academy, in Helsinki, Finland. That residency begins with a master class for singers and collaborative pianist on March 2. Read more, including the complete schedule, here.

Piano Extravaganza! to feature well-known pianists as well as rising stars

Hear the UW’s best collegiate pianists, faculty and high school talents at an all-day festival this Saturday at UW-Madison. Masterclasses, workshops and performances hosted by UW-Madison faculty and students. This year’s Piano Extravaganza will feature piano works influenced by jazz and blues. Here is the schedule of events:

Friday, February 28, 2014

8:00 PM: Mills Concert Hall: Christopher Taylor, Faculty Concert Series

Saturday, March 1, 2014

8:30-11:00 AM: Piano Extravaganza Competition

11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Professor Johannes Wallmann, Jazz Improvisation Workshop

1:30-3:30 PM: Masterclass and Q&A with UW Piano Faculty

3:45-6:30 PM: Jazz and Blues in Classical Music  (Performed by UW-Madison Piano Majors)

Download the full schedule here:  PIANO EXTRAVAGANZA

Richard Davis on WORT Radio; Wind Ensemble and Brass Quintet on tour; NYC violinist plugs in to perform; Pro Arte premiere

Richard Davis to speak on WORT radio about the Black Music Ensemble, his work on racism and music relevant to black history

On Thursday, February 13 from 9 to 10 am, bass professor Richard Davis, recently dubbed a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts, will be a guest on WORT radio’s  “Diaspora” show with host Terry O’Laughlin, who describes his show as “a weekly journey across the musical spectrum.” Davis is the founder of the Institute for the Healing of Racism, which offers a ten-week series of Thursday evening classes to address issues of racism and allow discussion and solutions to heal it. (Click here for class info.)   That evening, Feb. 13 at 8:30 PM in Morphy Hall,  Davis’s Black Music Ensemble will present a concert of jazz, soul, and blues, and songs by artists such as Sam Cooke, John Legend, Snarky Puppy and Nat King Cole. Says BME member Ellen Breen: “There’s no a better way to celebrate Black History month than by coming out to the concert and enjoying the gifts black artists have given to the musical world!”

Meanwhile, registration is now open for Davis’s 21st annual Foundation for Young Bassists conference, to be held April 18-19 in Madison at the Pyle Center. Learn more here: http://www.richarddavisfoundation.org/

The Hunt Quartet,
The Hunt Quartet, the graduate quartet of the UW-Madison School of Music. Left to right: Ju Dee Ang, viola; Elspeth Stalter, violin; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and Lindsey Crabb, cello.
Please join us for the Hunt’s annual concert, Sunday, February 23, at 3:30 pm in Morphy Hall.
The program includes Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet, Op. 76/4; Bartók’s String Quartet #1; and Brahms c minor Quartet, Op. 51/1. Photograph by Katrin Talbot.

UW-Madison Wind Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet to tour western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota

Do you live near Bloomer, Wisconsin, or Mankato, Minnestota? If so, you’ll have an opportunity to watch the UW Wind Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet in live performances in late February, as the two groups wend their ways on a chartered bus through western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota in order to showcase the School of Music’s band program while livening up the winter with a bit of brassy cheer. Not only do the tours spread Wisconsin Badger pride, they are also an important illustration of the Wisconsin Idea: that the boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state (stretching the boundary a bit, though, in this case).

Mi-Li
Flutist Mi-Li Chang and an unidentified high school student, on tour last spring with the UW Wind Ensemble.

The tour, the Wind Ensemble’s fifth, is scheduled for February 25 through the 28th; specific stops include high schools in Cameron and Bloomer, Wisconsin, plus five small cities in Minnesota: Mankato, Rosemount, Watertown, Owatonna, and Edina. At each stop, the two groups will offer an evening concert, with afternoon workshops in some locations.  All events are free. The program will include Amazing Grace (Traditional/Himes), Lincolnshire Posy (Percy Grainger/Fennell), First Suite in E-flat for Military Band (Gustav Holst), March from “Symphonic Metamorphosis” (Paul Hindemith) and Shadowcatcher, for brass quintet and wind ensemble (Eric Ewazen).

In Madison, the Wind Ensemble will perform on February 22 in Mills Hall, presenting music of Karl Husa, Roger Zare (Wisconsin premiere) and Steven Byrant.

The Wind Ensemble, conducted by Professor Scott Teeple, is a 41-member group of wind and percussion players, both undergraduate and graduate students. Entrance is by audition. For more information about the tour, contact Barb Douglas at the School of Music, bldouglas@wisc.edu.

Violinist Todd Reynolds and laptop in concert February 19

Think of great composer-performers of the past. Think of great singer-songwriters of the present. Now, meet violinist Todd Reynolds. A virtuoso performer, Todd writes much of the music he performs. He has collaborated with countless other musicians, but his most frequent partner in his solo work is the electronics software on his computer.

Todd will be in at UW-Madison February 19-21, performing and leading masterclasses and workshops. His recital on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 PM in Mills Hall will include some of his own music and some works written for him, all played on violin with electronics. He will be holding a variety of other events during his visit that will reach many School of Music students and community members. These will include:

  • A violin masterclass: Friday, Feb. 21, 2:30-3:30PM , Morphy Hall.
  • “How I Did It: A Career Workshop”: Thursday, Feb. 20, 12:00-1:00PM, 1321 Humanities.
  • “Performing with Electronics” workshop: Thursday, Feb. 20, 6:00-7:30PM, Eastman Recital Hall, Humanities.

The violinist of choice for Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, and Bang on a Can who has also performed with electronic cellist Zoe Keating, Todd Reynolds’ compositional and performance style is a hybrid of old and new technology, multi-disciplinary aesthetic and pan-genre composition and improvisation. He has released a double CD of solo works on Innova Records which was rated best of classical by Amazon. His music is soulful but edgy and filled with brilliant violin playing.

Todd is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and the New School Mannes College of Music, and was a frequent collaborator with School of Music horn professor Daniel Grabois, who was based in New York City for many years.

Horn professor presents concert of UW-Madison composed music

Speaking of Dan Grabois: On Wednesday, February 12 at 7:30 pm, Dan and and piano professor Jessica Johnson will offer a faculty recital comprised of all-UW-Madison-composed music, some only recently. Dan writes:

“John Stevens wrote his ‘Sonata’ in 2008. Like much of his music, it is written in a lyrical style that has a jazz influence lurking under the surface.

“Les Thimmig’s ‘Four Ballads,’ from 2000, are pure emotional song.

“My own ‘Antilogy’ was written last week. It alternates sections of driving Bulgarian style odd-meter rhythms with sections of slow lyrical writing.

“And the final piece was written by Alex Charland, who is a sophomore sax major here at the SOM. He is a Stamps Scholar, and as such a member of a group of six undergraduate high-achieving musicians whom I advise. Alex is an extremely talented player and composer. He offered to write this piece, ‘War Suite,’ for this recital – an offer that was gladly accepted. The piece was completed over winter break this year.”

Download the program here.

Mernier Composition Brings Pro Arte Quartet Full Circle

New Chamber Work to Premiere in Madison March 1, 2014

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Saturday, March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The 8:00 p.m. event is free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

The March 1 concert will be preceded on Thurs, Feb. 27, by an open rehearsal from 9 a.m. to noon, also at Mills Hall, during which the composer will coach the Pro Arte as they prepare for the premiere of the work, composed in honor of the quartet’s Belgian heritage.

Click here for the full story. 

The UW-Madison School of Music offers a smorgasbord of mostly free concerts and events during the academic years. Click here for the full calendar. And bookmark it to plan your next visit!

Mernier Composition Brings Pro Arte Quartet Full Circle

New Chamber Work to Premiere in Madison March 1, 2014

Contacts:

Sarah Schaffer 608/217-6786
Mike Muckian 608/287-6261

 

The Pro Arte Quartet. Left to Right: David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp.
The Pro Arte Quartet.
Left to Right:
David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp. Photo by Jim Gill.

MADISON, Wis. — Belgian composer Benoît Mernier writes music he says communicates with audience members in a variety of ways. He believes firmly that there is no single right way to experience music providing audience members are open to its messages.

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet as part of its ongoing centennial celebration, embraces a lyrical path that takes the composer in new directions.

“My favorite instrument is the voice, because the singing voice is the most expressive of all instruments,” says Mernier, who studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music in Liege, Belgium, and records for the European label Cypres. “The song is the model for all instrumentalists, and theoretical treatises in ancient music tell the players to imitate the voice in their performances.”

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Saturday, March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The 8:00 p.m. event is free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

The March 1 concert will be preceded on Thurs, Feb. 27, by an open rehearsal from 9 a.m. to noon, also at Mills Hall, during which the composer will coach the Pro Arte as they prepare for the premiere of the work, composed in honor of the quartet’s Belgian heritage.

New Chamber Work Taps Pro Arte’s Belgian Roots

Benoit Mernier
Benoit Mernier

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. Pro Arte also is the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.

Other events surrounding the concert include a March 1 dinner and cocktails with the composer at the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. (for details and reservations visit info@proartequartet.org or call 608-217-6786.)  The cost is $35. There also will be a pre-concert conversation with Mernier at Mills Hall at 7:00 p.m. just prior to the March 1 performance.

In addition to the Mernier premiere, the concert will include Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major Opus 20, No. 4, composed in 1772, and Bruckner’s String Quartet in F Major, written in 1879. Frequent Pro Arte collaborator and violist Samuel Rhodes, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, will perform with the Pro Arte’s four musicians on the Bruckner composition.

On Sun., March 2, both the Mernier and the Bruckner pieces will be performed live at the Chazen as part of the art museum’s regularly scheduled Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen broadcast at 12:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Linear Structure, Musical Flow

Mernier’s 25-minute composition consists of nine specific movements, all of which have a compositional relationship with each other. Some movements are distinct and deliberate, while others flow into one another in an attempt to create a multi-dimensional structure, the composer says.

“The structural idea is to have a sort of linear music that moves in different directions,” Mernier says. “But at the end of the work there is a global sensation, like a story with different chapters. It will be up to the listener to structure and unify the different parts of the story.”

Mernier, who also writes opera, finds composing for a string quartet challenging, since there is only one family of instruments, limiting the voice of the composition. Employing different musical styles, from pizzicato to arco and playing sul ponticello (on the instrument’s bridge) or sul tasto (on the fingerboard), has helped the composer broaden the work’s tonal appeal.

“When you compose a string quartet, you are faced with a pure musical phenomenon,” Mernier says. “You can’t be on the periphery; you must be in the heart of things.”

Mernier’s experience writing for voice shows through the finesse applied to his string quartet, according to David Perry, one of Pro Arte’s two violinists.

“I was not surprised to hear that Mernier’s favorite instrument is voice, as there is extensive use of portamenti and glissandi,” says Perry. “I have never encountered a piece with more specific gradations of sul ponticello, or bowing close to the bridge for different shades of sounds with lots of high overtones. This technique can result in some unusual, and often beautiful colors.”

Mernier’s style and status among his European musical colleagues helped Pro Arte choose him for its fifth centennial commission. Based on the composition and its challenges, the quartet’s choice was a good one, says Sally Chisholm, Pro Arte’s violist.

“The many quick changes of sonorities from our most intimate to our most electrifying are exciting techniques that demanded much practice,” says Chisholm. “The required virtuosity of string writing in the second half of the quartet is quite challenging. Paganini would be a warm-up for some of the viola writing!”

A New CD, A Belgian Tour, A Wisconsin Public Television Special

In addition to the Mernier commission, Pro Arte Quartet’s 2013-2014 is filled with activity.

Performances of Pro Arte’s four previous centennial commissions by American composers William Bolcom, John Harbison, Walter Mays and Paul Schoenfield have been issued as an Albany Records 2-CD set. The release date was Dec. 10.

Later this spring, Wisconsin Public Television will air a one-hour documentary about Pro Arte and its work, featuring interviews with the musicians and excerpts from performances of the centennial works. The broadcast dates have yet to be determined.

The Mernier commission represents the first non-U.S. composer in the centennial series. It also brings the Pro Arte full-circle to its Belgian roots, a course that will include several concert dates in Brussels in May 2014. The Belgian connection is something that makes the String Quartet No. 3 a very special work, Mernier says.

“In the history of modern music, the Pro Arte Quartet is very important,” Mernier says. “I know the commission is a very great symbol.”

The Madison-based quartet agrees with the composer, citing Mernier’s work as a strong contribution to its long tradition of commissioning and premiering new work. Pro Arte’s list includes Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, which the quartet premiered in Rome in 1936.

“Just like the other four commissions, this new work represents a beautiful and serious addition to the chamber music repertoire,” Chisholm says.

In addition to Chisholm and Perry, current musicians in the Pro Arte include violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp.

New Pro Arte CD featuring centennial commissions now for sale

Pro Arte Quartet Release Centennial CD

New recording features four commissioned works

by Mike Muckian

MADISON, Wis. – The Pro Arte Quartet, the string ensemble-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, has released The Pro Arte Quartet Centennial Anniversary Commissions on the Albany Records label. The double-CD, which contains the first four compositions commissioned to celebrate the Pro Arte’s 2011-2012 100th anniversary season, is now available. 

The four new compositions recorded by the Pro Arte, considered the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet, will soon be joined by a fifth commissioned work, the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier. The world premiere of Mernier’s work is scheduled to take place March 1, 2014, in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus, and will bring the Pro Arte full-circle to its Belgian roots.

ProArte CD

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, founded in 1911, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world.

Current members of the Pro Arte who perform on the new CD include David Perry and Suzanne Beia on violin, Sally Chisholm on viola and Parry Karp on cello.

The recording, produced by multiple Grammy Award-winning classical producer Judith Sherman, contains commissioned work by American composers Walter Mays, Paul Schoenfield, William Bolcom and John Harbison. The Mays and Schoenfield string quartets were recorded in December 2011 in Mills Hall, where each received its world premiere, and the Bolcom and Harbison piano quintets were recorded in May 2012, also in Mills Hall.

Mays’ String Quartet No. 2 “Dreaming Butterfly” is based on writings in the second chapter of the Zhuangzi, the ancient book of Chinese Taoist philosophy. The work is a follow-up to Mays’ String Quartet in G Minor, written for the Pro Arte during the summer of 1998. The new work takes as its inspiration Master Zhuang’s dream of being a butterfly, floating free of worldly cares, then awakening to wonder if he wasn’t really a butterfly dreaming that it was the Taoist philosopher. 

“’Dreaming Butterfly’ is laid out in five connected sections, three scherzo adventures surrounded by two ‘sleep music’ episodes,” says Mays, a member of Kansas’s Wichita State University composition faculty. “There is also a brief codetta, inspired by Zhuang’s idea that he might still be a butterfly. An important feature is the virtuosity of the first violin part, which represents the spirit of the butterfly.”

Schoenfield’s Three Rhapsodies for Piano Quintet combines three very different influences to comprise a 25-minute work inspired by literature, Yiddish ceremony and even 1950s pop music.

“Every time I sit down to compose a piece of music, a little voice in my head asks, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’” says Schoenfiled, a Detroit native and professor of music composition at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “So that became the first movement of my work.”

The composition’s first rhapsody is based on the 1957 Silhouettes doo-wop hit “Get A job.” The second rhapsody takes both its title and tone from “The Beach of Desolation,” an elliptical Henry James story about unrequited love, a threatened breach-of-promise suit, and a surprise solution. The third rhapsody, “Klezmorim,” is “joyfully” composed and performed in Hasidic fashion, the composer says.

Brian (Keng-Lun) Hsu, a former University of Michigan doctoral student in piano studies and now assistant professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, performs with the Pro Arte on the Schoenfield composition.

Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 fulfills the composer’s mission to mirror society. “It’s a very broad and passionate piece,” says Bolcom, a Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer who retired as musical composition teacher at the University of Michigan in 2008. “It’s kind of a warning, even a lament, perhaps, of what we’ve become in our world today.”

Bolcom’s four-movement composition features UW School of Music Professor Christopher Taylor on piano. Taylor, the recipient of numerous honors and accolades including the Van Cliburn Bronze Medal, had previously recorded Bolcom’s 12 New Etudes in 2000.

Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5, which completes the CD’s lineup, is comprised of 10 short movements. It’s an approach that Harbison, winner of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius award, the Pulitzer Prize and the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities, had never before taken in his string quartets.

“Many of these movements were longer when they started out,” says Harbison. “I retained the parts of each that were closest to the central theme.”

The composition replicates in structure the Leonard Stein Anagrams, a piano work Harbison composed in honor of the late Leonard Stein, composer Arnold Schoenberg’s personal assistant and former head of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los Angeles. Stein’s predilection to turn names of friends and acquaintances into anagrams inspired Harbison’s short-movements approach to both the piano work and string quartet.

Copies may be purchased through Albany Records or at the School of Music.  Call 608.263.1900 to order from the School of Music, or check this site: http://apps.music.wisc.edu/cdstore/all.asp 

Review copies of The Pro Arte Quartet Centennial Anniversary Commissions are available to critics and journalists upon request. Please contact Sarah Schaffer at the UW School of Music, 608-217-6786 or slschaffer@wisc.edu for more information.

Older releases (dating back to 1931) by the Pro Arte Quartet can be found here.

Pro Arte Quartet to Premiere Work by Belgian Composer

Mernier Composition Brings Pro Arte Quartet Full Circle

NOTE: This concert and associated events has been postponed to March 1, 2014. We apologize for any inconvenience.

by Michael Muckian

Belgian composer Benoît Mernier writes music he says communicates with audience members in a variety of ways. He believes firmly that there is no single right way to experience music providing audience members are open to its messages.

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet as part of its ongoing centennial celebration, embraces a lyrical path that takes the composer in new directions.

The Pro Arte Quartet.  Left to Right:  David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp.
The Pro Arte Quartet.
Left to Right:
David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp.
Photograph by James Gill.

“My favorite instrument is the voice, because the singing voice is the most expressive of all instruments,” says Mernier, who studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music in Liege, Belgium, and records for the European label Cypres. “The song is the model for all instrumentalists, and theoretical treatises in ancient music tell the players to imitate the voice in their performances.”

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Friday, March 1 at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The 8 p.m. event is free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

The March concert will be preceded by a dinner and an open rehearsal during which the composer will coach the Pro Arte as they prepare for the premiere of the work, composed in honor of the quartet’s Belgian heritage. Please check back for more details.

New Chamber Work Taps Pro Arte’s Belgian Roots

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. Pro Arte also is the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.

Benoit Mernier
Benoit Mernier
Photograph by Bernard Coutant.

In addition to the Mernier premiere, the concert will include Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major Opus 20, No. 4, composed in 1772, and Bruckner’s String Quartet in F Major, written in 1879. Frequent Pro Arte collaborator and violist Samuel Rhodes, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, will perform with the Pro Arte’s four musicians on the Bruckner composition.

Linear Structure, Musical Flow

Mernier’s 25-minute composition consists of nine specific movements, all of which have a compositional relationship with each other. Some movements are distinct and deliberate, while others flow into one another in an attempt to create a multi-dimensional structure, the composer says.

“The structural idea is to have a sort of linear music that moves in different directions,” Mernier says. “But at the end of the work there is a global sensation, like a story with different chapters. It will be up to the listener to structure and unify the different parts of the story.”

Mernier, who also writes opera, finds composing for a string quartet challenging, since there is only one family of instruments, limiting the voice of the composition. Employing different musical styles, from pizzicato to arco and playing sul ponticello (on the instrument’s bridge) or sul tasto (on the fingerboard), has helped the composer broaden the work’s tonal appeal.

“When you compose a string quartet, you are faced with a pure musical phenomenon,” Mernier says. “You can’t be on the periphery; you must be in the heart of things.”

Mernier’s experience writing for voice shows through the finesse applied to his string quartet, according to David Perry, one of Pro Arte’s two violinists.

“I was not surprised to hear that Mernier’s favorite instrument is voice, as there is extensive use of portamenti and glissandi,” says Perry. “I have never encountered a piece with more specific gradations of sul ponticello, or bowing close to the bridge for different shades of sounds with lots of high overtones. This technique can result in some unusual, and often beautiful colors.”

Mernier’s style and status among his European musical colleagues helped Pro Arte choose him for its fifth centennial commission. Based on the composition and its challenges, the quartet’s choice was a good one, says Sally Chisholm, Pro Arte’s violist.

“The many quick changes of sonorities from our most intimate to our most electrifying are exciting techniques that demanded much practice,” says Chisholm. “The required virtuosity of string writing in the second half of the quartet is quite challenging. Paganini would be a warm-up for some of the viola writing!”

A New CD, A Belgian Tour

Performances of Pro Arte’s four previous centennial commissions by American composers William Bolcom, John Harbison, Walter Mays and Paul Schoenfield will be issued this fall on Albany Records. The release date is on or around Dec. 1.

The Mernier commission represents the first non-U.S. composer in the centennial series. It also brings the Pro Arte full-circle to its Belgian roots, a course that will include several concert dates in Brussels in May 2014. The Belgian connection is something that makes the String Quartet No. 3 a very special work, Mernier says.

“In the history of modern music, the Pro Arte Quartet is very important,” Mernier says. “I know the commission is a very great symbol.”

The Madison-based quartet agrees with the composer, citing Mernier’s work as a strong contribution to its long tradition of commissioning and premiering new work. Pro Arte’s list includes Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, which the quartet premiered in Rome in 1936.

“Just like the other four commissions, this new work represents a beautiful and serious addition to the chamber music repertoire,” Chisholm says.

In addition to Chisholm and Perry, current musicians in the Pro Arte include violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp.

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