John Harbison

John Harbison, artistic director and composer, plays piano at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

The late-summer garden inspires the 2018 season theme of “harvest” at this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Both garden and festival share similar elements: risk, patience, experimentation, disappointment, and finally amazement that a piece—whether it be a piece of ground or a piece of music—is capable of such nourishment, abundance, and variety.

In the musicians’ garden, with its similar level of unpredictability and surprise, there is always the hope of reducing the variables—but they persist, and the richness of choice, the endlessness of the resources we inherit drives us to continue to create.

“One of the advantages of our season title, harvest, is that it implies a summing up, a reaping of things planted, but of a kind that can occur each year,” writes artistic director and composer John Harbison. “Each planting retains some elements that stay and some that have been adjusted, with the hope of increased productivity. But there is an even nicer subtlety, that so many of the adjustments that are made in hope of improvement do not work, create new problems, require new approaches. What a fine analogy for the making of art.”

Program I: Roots – Music of Bach & Primosch

Saturday & Sunday, Aug. 25 & 26 (both at 4 p.m.)

Some works of art are so rich that they sustain a lifetime of inquiry and encounters, each time revealing fresh new insights only possible through sustained engagement, pieces so resilient they admit multiple interpretations, approaches, nuances, shadings. We open the season by continuing our ongoing exploration of the music of Bach, continually finding his music ever more rewarding to study and perform, and ever more difficult to do so at a level it demands. The two cantatas that anchor the program are exemplary in this regard, No. 158 & No. 58. With each encounter performer & listener find this music more subtle, more lightning sensitive, more elusive, more impressive.

James Primosch is one of the few composers working today who approaches the same spiritual and philosophic terrain inhabited by these Bach works — his music offers an especially eloquent fusion of word and sound. Our sampling of his music includes the new work, A Catskill Eagle, written in honor of artistic director John Harbison’s 80th birthday, which premiered earlier this summer.

The largely vocal concert also presents some purely instrumental works of Bach: string quintet adaptations of chorale preludes, and selections from the magnum opus Art of Fugue.

We are pleased to introduce two new vocalists, who join the Token Creek Festival orchestra for the first time: soprano Sarah Yanovitch and baritone Ryne Cherry.

Rose Mary Harbison and Laura Burns, violin; Jen Paulson, viola; Mark Bridges, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; John Harbison, piano and portative; James Primosch, piano

Program II: New Growth – The Kepler Quartet: “Music In Between the Notes”

Wednesday, Aug. 29 (7:30 p.m.)

Token Creek presents a rare concert performance of the Kepler Quartet, formed in 2002 to record the complete string quartets of Ben Johnston. Johnston’s compositional methods are often described as highly complex, pursuing solutions to dense problems both metaphysical and mathematical. But in hearing his work we are immediately impressed that these novel constructive investigations have sought lucid structure, aurally intelligible surface—the pure pleasure of hearing tones combining differently but convincingly. The Keplers offer demonstration and discussion along with their recital of beautifully alluring music “in between the notes” — Johnston, Scodanibbio, Cowell, and Partch.

The Kepler Quartet:

Sharan Leventhal, violin; Eric Segnitz, violin; Brek Renzelman, viola; Karl Lavine, cello

Program III: Cornucopia

Saturday & Sunday, Sept. 1 & 2 (both at 4 p.m.)

For the last two seasons our Festival has given over much of its final weekend to song cycles by Franz Schubert. This year we shift to Schumann, and his monumental cycle Dichterliebe. While Schumann never attempted the scope and daring of the big three Schubert works, he did transform the concept of the voice and piano song established by his predecessor: where Schubert strives for an almost equal partnership between singer and pianist, Schumann brings piano to the fore, following a less Viennese- and more Leipzig-like trajectory of composers who find no text unsettable if the issues fire their mind, who add a freely inflected vocal part against an extended instrumental core.

We are pleased to introduce tenor Frank Kelley and pianist Janice Weber to present not only Dicheterliebe, but also the premiere of John Harbison’s new song cycle, In Early Evening, on texts of former poet laureate Louise Glück.

The program, which opens with Mozart and Haydn sonatas, concludes with Schumann’s impassioned, enigmatic, exuberant Piano Trio in D minor. In the remarkable slow movement he gives us a piece so strange, so personal, so intimate—the opening is the phrase which Schumann chose to have inscribed in what became his final portrait.

Frank Kelley, tenor; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Karl Lavine, cello; John Harbison, piano; Janice Weber, piano

The Token Creek Festival has been called ferociously interesting and important, an ideal musical experience, a treasure nestled in the heart of Wisconsin cornfields. Now in its 29th season, this late-summer series near Madison is known for its artistic excellence, diverse and imaginative programming, a deep engagement with the audience, and a surprising, enchanting and intimate performance venue in a rustically comfortable refurbished barn.

The 2018 festival offers five events to close the summer concert season, Aug. 25 – Sept. 2.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison, near Sun Prairie). The charmingly rustic venue—indoors and air-conditioned, with modern comforts—is invitingly small; early reservations are recommended. Ample parking is available. New this year: all weekend concerts will begin at 4:00pm.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, or by calling 608-241-2525.

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