... music with life

Copyright 2013. con vivo music with life. All rights reserved.


con   vivo!

con  vivo!...music with life, Madison’s professional chamber music ensemble, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary season with a special concert featuring Madison Symphony Music Director John DeMain conducting 16 musicians in works by Wagner and Dvorak.  The concert, entitled “Celebration!”, is on Saturday, June 3rd, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $20.00 for adults and $15.00 for seniors and students.  Maestro DeMain will conduct the chamber music gem Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner in its original version, followed by Antonin Dvořák’s masterpiece the Serenade for Winds, Op. 44.  Audience members are invited to join Maestro DeMain and con  vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature.
con  vivo! recently spoke with John DeMain about his upcoming appearance with the chamber music ensemble:
cv!: Maestro DeMain, you have spent most of your career conducting large symphony orchestras and operas.  How does conducting a small chamber ensemble differ from the larger groups?

DeMain:  “I have conducted smaller groups, chamber orchestras in St. Paul and Texas, that are the size of Haydn’s orchestras of 23 musicians.  With even smaller ensembles like con  vivo!, the conducting must be clean, neat and more precise, rather than using a lot of big gestures.  It’s more about helping to coordinate the music and letting the musicians just play.”

cv!:  Your appearance with con  vivo! for their 20th Anniversary concert in June will be your fourth time conducting these musicians.  What appeals to you about these collaborations?

DeMain:  “I love working this close to one on one with musicians and don’t get to do this very often.  I enjoyed playing chamber music with musicians in St. Paul because you are one among equals.  It’s a collaboration rather than the ‘big maestro!’”

cv!:  Tell us about what draws you to the repertoire on this concert. (Dvořák’s Serenade for Winds and Siegfried Idyll in its original version by Richard Wagner)

DeMain:  “I love, Dvořák, one of great composers!  I’m always blown away by the depth and variety in his music.  Siegfried Idyll is one of the most beautiful pieces, and this is a rare opportunity to perform it in its original form for chamber ensemble.  It’s terrific to have the chance to perform these pieces with

con  vivo!  I congratulate them on 20 years of intimate chamber music making and wish them the best for many more years.  I’m honored to be part of this celebration!”

con  vivo!...music with life is a professional chamber music ensemble founded in 2002 and comprised of eleven core musicians who draw upon professional experience with the Madison Symphony, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and other regional performing groups to deliver dynamic and high-caliber performances.  These core members are often joined by guest artists from the Madison music community, including  a March 2011 performance of Igor Stravinsky’s masterpiece, The Soldier’s Tale, with conductor John DeMain and actors from American Players Theater.  Maestro DeMain most recently conducted the ensemble in 2017, and his appearance in 2013 was pronounced the best classical music concert of 2013 (Isthmus, 12/27/13).   

con  vivo! was honored to  represent the Madison arts community nationally by performing at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in New York City on December 13, 2012.  In June, 2015, con  vivo! was invited to represent Dane County in a cultural exchange with our sister county of Kassel, Germany.  The ensemble performed three concerts at the Kultursommer Nordhessen Arts Festival in Kassel, Germany.

con  vivo!’s repertoire represents a variety of time periods and styles from the classics to lesser-known chamber works presented in a concert setting that is uniquely engaging and inviting. The ensemble’s home venue, First Congregational Church at University Avenue and Breese Terrace, is ideally suited for chamber music. Concerts are followed by a reception where audience members and musicians can meet and discuss the performance.  con  vivo!’s community outreach includes performing each concert at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community which provides access to chamber music for community members with economic, transportation or health challenges, and performances for area high school music classes.

Program notes for con  vivo!’s 20th Anniversary celebration concert June 3, 2023

Siegfried Idyll                      Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Richard Wagner composed the Siegfried Idyll as a 33rd birthday present to his second wife, Cosima (the daughter of Franz Liszt) after the birth of their son, Siegfried, in 1869. It was first performed on Christmas morning 1870, by a small ensemble of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich on the stairs of the Wagner’s villa at Tribschen (today part of Lucerne), Switzerland. Cosima awoke to its opening melody. The original title was Tribschen Idyll with Fidi's birdsong and the orange sunrise, a symphonic birthday greeting. Presented to his Cosima by her Richard. "Fidi" was the family's nickname for their son Siegfried. It is thought that the birdsong and the sunrise refer to incidents of personal significance to the couple; orange sunrise being the effect made by the morning sun striking the orange wallpaper in Cosima's bedroom.

Wagner's opera Siegfried, which was premiered in 1876, incorporates music from the Idyll when Brunhilde sings the theme in the opera's final scene.  The work also uses a German lullaby, "Schlafe, Kindchen, schlafe," played by the solo oboe. Ernest Newman discovered it was linked to the Wagners' older daughter Eva. This and other musical references, whose meaning remained unknown to the outside world for many years, reveal the Idyll's levels of personal significance for both Richard and Cosima.

Wagner originally intended the Idyll to remain a private piece.  However, due to financial pressures, he decided to change the title to Siegfried Idyll and sell the score to the publisher B. Schott in 1878.  Sentimental and musical interrelationships abound in this music, tying together Wagner's creative work, his love for Cosima and their children, and their home itself. No wonder that, according to Cosima's diary, she wept when Wagner found it necessary to sell this intimate family document.

The piece is scored for a small chamber orchestra of 13 players: flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. The piece is commonly played today by orchestras with more than one player on each string part.

Serenade for Wind Instruments Op. 44            Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

The heyday of the serenade as an orchestral genre was in the 18th century, culminating in the works of Mozart and, to a smaller degree, Beethoven. The early Romantics (Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn) showed little interest in the orchestral serenade, but the generation following them - Brahms, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky-revived it. In their hands, the genre came to embody these composers' desire to revisit the past and to make it meaningful to the present.  Dvorák’s Serenade is an homage to Mozart; at the same time it is imbued with the spirit of Czech folk music.

Dvorák's music had come to the notice of Johannes Brahms, who introduced him to his own publisher, and to his closest friend, the great violinist Joseph Joachim, one of the most influential musicians in the German-speaking world.

"Take a look at Dvorák's Serenade for Wind Instruments," Brahms wrote to Joachim in May 1879. "I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do...It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent.”