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2016 Madison World Music Festival

From Tibet to Zanzibar, Sudan to Mexico, Hungary and beyond, the 13th annual Madison World Music Festival offers many unique styles to explore. The festival is sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Theater and begins Sept. 13 with a mandala construction by the monks of the Mystical Arts of Tibet. Events take place at Shannon Hall, the Memorial Union Terrace, Fredric March Play Circle and the large stage in the Willy Street Fair.

Various times Sept. 13-29 at University of Wisconsin venues in Madison; FREE; union.wisc.edu

The Midtown Men

Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and J. Robert Spencer have all strutted the boards as members of Jersey Boys, the jukebox musical that celebrates the lives and music of The Four Seasons. But when their time as crooners was over, they decided not to put down the microphone. Instead, they formed the Midtown Men, the first vocal group formed from the cast of a successful Broadway show. The quartet will perform a collection of classic ‘60s hits, moving beyond the sound of the Four Seasons to include works by acts like the Beatles, the Rascals and the artists of Motown.

The group will pass through Wisconsin at the end of the month, checking off a bunch of gigs throughout the week (they’ll also be in Milwaukee this November). At the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, 2420 Nicolet Dr., Green Bay; Grand Theater, 401 Fourth St., Wausau; Wisconsin Union Theater, 800 Langdon St., Madison. Tickets are $35 to $55 in Green Bay, $55 to $75 in Wausau, and $33 to $58 in Madison ($17 for UW-Madison students). Visit weidnercenter.com, grandtheater.org, and uniontheater.wisc.edu for details.

7:30 p.m. Oct. 27 (Green Bay) and Oct. 28 (Wausau), 8 p.m. Oct. 29 (Madison)

Yo Yo Ma

Acclaimed cellist Yo Yo Ma will make his seventh appearance at UW-Madison, along with British pianist Kathryn Scott. It’s a program that takes them between Europe and Latin America, with performances slated of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Messiaen’s “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus,” Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 and a variety of pieces by Brazilian and Argentinean composers, including Ástor Piazzolla and Camargo Guarnieri.

At the Wisconsin Union Theater, 800 Langdon St. Tickets are $125, $116 for UW-Madison faculty and $110 for Wisconsin Union members and non UW-Madison students, with a limited number of $25 tickets for Madison students. Call 608-265-2787 or visit uniontheater.wisc.edu to order.

8 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 18

 

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Pro Arte Quartet taps its Belgian roots

The Pro Arte Quartet wanted to honor its Belgian heritage when it commissioned Belgian composer Benoît Mernier to write a composition for its centennial celebration.

Mernier’s work — String Quartet No. 3 — will receive its world premiere on March 1 during a concert that also includes 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.

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, formed in 1911–12, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on May 10, 1940, when Nazi forces overran and began the occupation of Belgium. Three of the quartet’s original four musicians became war orphans.

Later that year, by October 1940, the group officially had become the UW Pro Arte Quartet — the first artist ensemble-in-residence at a university.

Today Pro Arte — featuring violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp — is known as the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet. Frequent collaborator and violist Samuel Rhodes, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, will perform with the four musicians on the Bruckner composition.

Mernier’s 25-minute composition consists of nine movements, all of which have a compositional relationship with each other. Some movements are distinct and deliberate, others flow together in an attempt to create a multidimensional 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 studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music in Liege, Belgium, and records for the European label Cypres, also writes opera. “My favorite instrument is the voice, because the singing voice is the most expressive of all instruments,” he says. “The song is the model for all instrumentalists.”

For this reason, Mernier found composing for a string quartet challenging. Having one family of instruments to work with limited the voice of the composition, he says. But employing different musical styles, from pizzicato to arco, and playing sul ponticello (on the instrument’s bridge) or sul tasto (on the fingerboard), broadened the tonal appeal.

Mernier’s experience writing for voice shows in the finesse he applied to the strings. “I was not surprised to hear that Mernier’s favorite instrument is voice, as there is extensive use of portamenti and glissandi,” violinist Perry says. “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 colleagues influenced Pro Arte’s decision to choose him for the centennial commission.

The choice, says Chisholm, was a good one.

“The many quick changes of sonorities — from our most intimate to our most electrifying — are exciting techniques that demanded much practice,” says the violist. “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!”

The Mernier commission represents the first for a non-U.S. composer in the centennial series.

It also brings Pro Arte back to its Belgian roots, a course that will include several concert dates in Brussels in May. 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,” the composer says. “I know the commission is a very great symbol.”

On stage

Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 receives its world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet at 8 p.m. on March 1 at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. Admission is free to the performance, which also includes Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major Opus 20, No. 4, and Bruckner’s String Quartet in F Major.