The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here is what superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman has to say about turning 70, about dealing with his disability and about receiving the National Medal of Freedom.

November 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past week, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman (below) and 16 other major figures from the arts, entertainment, sports and politics received the National Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Izthak Perlman gets the Medal of Freedom

This year, Perlman also turned 70.

To mark the two events, National Public Radio (NPR) featured an interview with Perlman that shows his always self-deprecating humor and his insights into living and performing.

And in a second NPR interview Perlman, who had polio as a child and walks with braces or crutches and uses a scooter,  talked about his championing by example the cause of people with disabilities.

The piece also has some interesting personal background about Perlman (below, in a photo from Getty Images) that you may not know. And it has some wise advice about getting older and appreciating one’s own accomplishments.

It is hard to name a major composer whose works, sonatas and concertos alike, he has not performed and recorded: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Niccolo Paganini,Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky, Edward Elgar, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg and so many more — some 77 CDs in all, done for several labels.

Itzhak Perlman Getty Images

Here is a link:

The Ear hopes you enjoy it and learn from it, as he did on both scores.

And here, in a YouTube video, is an excerpt from his latest recording — of two sonatas by Richard Strauss and Gabriel Faure with pianist and his longtime friend pianist Emanuel Ax.


Classical music: Today is Small Business Saturday. Here are classical music gift suggestions from the critics for The New York Times. Plus, a FREE Christmas Carol Sing is in Overture Hall tonight at 7.

November 28, 2015
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ALERT: Want to relax after eating and shopping? Tonight at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, there is a FREE and PUBLIC one-hour Community Christmas Carol Sing, hosted by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. All ages are welcome. Accompaniment will be on the Overture Concert Organ, played by MSO Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison.

By Jacob Stockinger

Thanksgiving is done, and now we look forward to the holiday season of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and even winter solstice festivals.

To further and foster your shopping, today is now known as Small Business Saturday, the day following Black Friday. It is supposed to encourage consumers to shop and eat at locally owned businesses.

Unfortunately, the availability of classical music recordings has shrunk so much over the past decade, it can be hard to shop locally for classical music gifts except tickets — which make a great gift.  But you can still try. Any tips you want to leave in the COMMENT section and share with others?

And a gift guide might be appreciated or even helpful, whether you shop online or locally.

Today, The Ear offers installment Number 2 from The New York Times.

New York Times classical music gift guide 2015

Yesterday’s post featured gift ideas from the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

Here is a link to that post:

Today is the annual gift guide put together by the various critics for The New York Times. Prices have a wide range, and there are some inexpensive gifts. But this year there seems to be an emphasis on more expensive sets of books and recordings.

Could it possibly be that because the critics get free review copies, they feel compelled to push them or hawk them at the holiday time?

Maybe. But in the spirit of the season let’s pretend that the suggestions – many of which are very good and The Ear agrees with – are based on merit alone.

Here is a link:

All the gift guides in various areas or field are on the same website.

So first you have to scroll down to Classical Music.

Then you have to click on the name or title to get more information about the item including the price.

It seems kind of inconvenient and a little bit sleazy to The Ear, what with all that navigating.

Which web designer came up with this way? The Ear much preferred the guides of past years, where you got the full text without so much work and so much clicking. All you had to do was scroll.

Try and see what you think, whether you disagree or agree with The Ear.

Good luck.

Good shopping.

And, if you are the recipient rather than the giver, good listening and reading.


Classical music: Here are the best classical music CDs of 2015, according to the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

November 27, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday –- the much-touted big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

(FYI: It’s Black Friday not because it is bad, but because it is so good that it puts many businesses from the red into the profit-making black for the year.)

And all indications are that this year a record-setting amount of the shopping will be conducted online.

Between now and the holidays, The Ear will direct you to various lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015.

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Today, he offers two such guides and gift suggestions, and future guides will include picks by the forthcoming Grammy nominations and The New York Times critics.

The first of today’s two gift guides is the well-regarded BBC Music Magazine (below) and its list of awards for 2015:

It features Record of the Year plus eight other categories that you can click on. The categories include: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber, Instrumental and Jury Awards.

Of course, make allowances of course for cultural and geographic bias. So you may find more British or UK artists or labels than you might think.

BBC Music Magazine

The second is the Telegraph newspaper and website in England and the United Kingdom:

Don’t forget to leave your own suggestions in the COMMENTS section. Some pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated listeners follow The Ear.

So … The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Famed New York City radio station WQXR offers its Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. Plus, Wisconsin Public Radio has lots of holiday fare to listen to.

November 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2015.

Music is such a part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.

thanksgiving dinner

Today, Wisconsin Public Radio will feature a lot of music with the theme of Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

And from 10 until noon, will also feature band, choral and instrumental music from the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association. That involves middle school and high schools students from around the state.

wpt state honors concert 2014

Then from noon to 3 p.m. there is a special National Public Radio (NPR) program for Thanksgiving that includes the British pianist Stephen Hough, who has performed several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who also held master classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The NPR show features music and stories, and will also include Chris Kimball of the popular TV show and magazine America’s Test Kitchen, which he is leaving because of a contract dispute. By the way, you can stream Wisconsin Public Radio,)

But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.

Here is a link:!/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And if you have other ideas about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year, please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Classical music: An outstanding concert by two harpsichordists explores the rich Baroque repertoire of arrangements and transcriptions. Let’s hear more!

November 25, 2015
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ALERT: The will be NO free Friday Noon Musicale this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The musicales will resume on Dec. 4.

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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

Trevor Stephenson (below left), the versatile founder, director and keyboard player of the Madison Bach Musicians, ventured another early music novelty last Saturday evening at the Madison Christian Community Hall on Old Sauk Road. (All performance photos are by John W. Barker.)

He and a colleague, Stephen Alltop (below right) from Northwestern University, braved our football traffic and our first snowstorm to bring their respective harpsichords for a joint program.

It was called “Music for Two Harpsichords,” but a better title would have been “Music for Two Harpsichordists.”

Stephenson and Alltop two harpsichords

The fact is, only one item on the program was actually written for two harpsichords playing together. This was the Concerto for Two Harpsichords  in C Major (BWV 1061), for which the string-ensemble parts are purely optional — and which were dispensed with in this case. (For the harpsichord-only version, see the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The two artists did play otherwise together, but in transcriptions.

They took several selections from Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which Rameau (below) himself adapted from purely harpsichord pieces into trios for harpsichord and two other instruments. But these were played in adaptations that turned the other instrument parts into a second harpsichord.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

And there was a transcription for two harpsichords of the Fandango finale from the Quintet No. 4 in D Major by Luigi Boccherini (below) for guitar and string quartet.

Boccherini with cello 1

In between these works there were solo keyboard segments.   Alltop played three of the Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and Stephenson played three of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 harpsichord sonatas.

For some extra spice, Tania Tandias (below), of local Flamenco dance activities, contributed some tambourine rhythms to a pair of the Rameau pieces, and she worked up a lot of castanet excitement in the Boccherini.

Tania Tandias

The two keyboard artists are each wonderful musicians, and obviously are compatible partners as well as gifted individual soloists. Alltop (below) matches Stephenson’s witty commentaries with wonderfully articulate and informed discussion.

Stephen Alltop speaks

Their two harpsichords are, inevitably, quite distinct in tone, so that it is possible to discern each player’s role. Fortunately, too, the Christian Community’s hall is moderate in size and intimate, a perfect acoustical setting for such keyboard playing.

The Stephenson-Alltop partnership deserves to continue. There is a lot of actual two-harpsichord literature out there. Francois Couperin wrote a good deal of music for the combination, as did a number of Elizabethan composers. It would be wonderful if such material could be explored in further ventures like this one, and by these two splendid artists.

Do remember the Madison Bach Musicians’ annual Baroque Holiday Concert, which features cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and music by Georg Philipp Telemann and Arcangelo Corelli. It will take place at 8 p.n. on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall. For more information, visit:

Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a Thanksgiving concert on this coming Sunday afternoon.

November 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble have sent the following word:

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a Thanksgiving concert on this coming Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, at 3 p.m. in Saint Andrew‘s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side. (Below are photos of the church’s exterior and interior.)

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

Performers include Brett Lipshutz, traverse; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger, traverso, recorder, harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Tickets at the door are $20, $10 for students.

For more information: Call (608) 238-5126; or email; or visit

The program features: “Ricercata X sopra il violoncello” (1687) by Giovanni Battista Degli Antonii; “Nel dolce dell’ oblio,” HWV 134, by George Fridrich Handel; Sonata 5 for traverse and basso continuo by Johann Kirnberger;  the Second Concert, from Concerts Royaux (1722) by François Couperin; Pièces de Violle, Suite 4 (1685) by Monsieur de Machy; “Mi palpita il cor,” HWV 132c, by George Friderich Handel: Suite No. 6 in E-flat Major by Georg Boehm (1661-1733): and Quartet in E Minor by Georg Philipp Telemann (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom as played on Baroque period instruments and historically informed performance practices by members of the Freiburger Barockorchester.) 

PLEASE NOTE: There will be a reception at our studio at nearby 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor, immediately following the concert.


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players will give two performances of “Holiday Fun” this coming Sunday afternoon.

November 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at The Oakwood Chamber Players write:

Join the Oakwood Chamber Players as they present two performances of Holiday Fun, their annual Christmas Lights concert on this coming Sunday, Nov. 29.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

Holiday Fun, which will mix in the sweet appeal of pieces such as Home for the Holidays, the upbeat It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and Vaughan-Williams’ gentle and lulling Withers Rocking Song.

Also on the program is Old World Wisconsin Christmas arranged for the group by Wisconsin composer and arranger Pierre LaPlante.

Pierre LaPlante

An array of holiday songs and carols, interspersed with stories, will fill out the concert programming. The group will offer a range of combinations from solo piano to keyboard plus a variety of winds and strings.

The ensemble is pleased to feature the talents of soprano Heather Thorpe (below) who will collaborate with the Oakwood Chamber Players on “The Oxen,” which brings to life the poetry of Thomas Hardy in a setting by Paul Brantley, as well as Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino.” (You can it sung by Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Heather Thorpe

Both performances are on Sunday afternoon and will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison far west wide. The first performance will be 1 p.m. with a second performance at 3:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the door. Prices are $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit for more information.

This is the second of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2015-2016 season series titled “Play.” Remaining concerts include Fairy Tales and Other Stories on Jan. 16 and 17, Children’s Games on March 5 and 6; and Summer Splash on May 14 and 15.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.

Classical music: Let us now praise flutist Robin Fellows, who has died. He played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s all-French program with cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio.

November 22, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to hear the acclaimed all-French program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with guest cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio. Here are links to two very positive reviews.

Here is the review written by critic John W. Barker for Isthmus:

And here is the review written by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times and the The Wisconsin State Journal:

And here is a link to an interview with more about the concert, the program and the soloist:

By Jacob Stockinger

This news is old and dated, and it comes late, too late for you to attend the memorial service. The Ear apologizes for his tardiness.

But the past several weeks have been very busy with concerts, and therefore with previews and reviews. Plus, he didn’t hear about the news until later.

Putting excuses aside, The Ear wants to take a moment to recognize the passing of an extraordinary talent many of us heard in performance and deeply appreciated.

Flutist Robin Fellows (below) has died of cancer at 66. For many years, he was principal flute with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He was also a longtime music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

robin fellows with flute

And he performed his share of other dates, such as playing with the Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by John W. Barker)

robin fellows plays with ancora string quartet cr john w barker

Here is a link to his obituary:

Robin Fellows copy

In his memory, here — in a YouTube video at the bottom featuring flutist Emmanuel Pahud and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic — is a favorite work of The Ear with a major flute part: the Sarabande by French composer Gabriel Faure.

Please feel free to leave your personal memories and recollections in the COMMENT section for others and the family to see.

Classical music: A FREE and PUBLIC choral and guitar concert this Sunday night at Edgewood College will explore the new St. John’s Bible musically and visually.

November 21, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday night at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, a FREE concert by the local percussion group Clocks in Motion will give the world premieres of two new works by composers Ben Davis and Anthony Donotrio.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday night, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. the public will have the chance to explore musically and visually the modern Saint John’s Bible, a large mutli-volume work. which is beautifully illuminated with original contemporary art that is reminiscent of Medieval illuminated manuscripts.

St. John's Bible 1 Matthew

The audio-visual event, “Illuminated Harmony,” will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

No tickets are required and the event is FREE. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Saint John's Bible 2 Ecclesiastes

This musical and visual collaboration explores the themes of creation, incarnation and transformation. Inspired by illuminations from the Saint John’s Bible Heritage edition, choral selections will be accompanied by projected animations of the chosen illuminated images. It was on display this past year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art.

Edgewood College officials say that this concert is an invitation to the community to tap into the deep spirituality of the music and the illuminations in the presence of the Gospels and the Acts volume of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition.

saint john's bible close up

Here is a link to the official website for the Bible, which was commissioned and cost $145,000 in 1998 and was finished in 2011:

And here is a link to an online exhibition of the Bible at The Library of Congress, so you can explore it more before or after the concert:

The event will feature the Campus-Community Choir, the Chamber Singers, the Women’s Choir (below) and the Guitar Ensemble. Sorry, no word about the specific pieces or composers that will be sung and played.

Edgewood Women's Choir

Here is a link to a brief audiovisual sample of the Edgewood presentation:

In the YouTube video below, art director Donald Jackson talks about creating the new Bible:

Classical music: This Saturday brings Alban Berg’s “Lulu,” one of the most unusual and noteworthy offerings of the “Live From the Met in HD” series of operas shown in cinemas this season.

November 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, “Live From the Met in HD” features Alban Berg’s  opera “Lulu,” a difficult landmark work know for both its 12-tone music and its plot of social commentary, all marked by the violent and decadent German Expressionist sensibility.

Met Lulu poster

The opera will be shown at the Marcus Corporation‘s Point Cinemas on Madison far west side and — now that the Eastgate Cinemas have closed — at the Marcus Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie, a bit past Madison’s far east side.

The production by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City starts at 11:30 a.m. and has a running time, with two intermissions, of 4-1/2 hours. (Below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich of The New York Times, is Marlis Petersen, who is known for the role of Lulu — but who says she will retire the role after this production — and Donald Brenna as a smitten man. Susan Graham, not shown, also stars.)

Tickets are $28 for adults; $22 for seniors; and $18 for young people.

Here is a synopsis and notes about the cast:

Met Lulu Marlis Petersen as LuLu and Daniel Brenna a smitten man Sara Krulwich NYT

And here is a link to more about the cast and production with video samples:

The Ear thought some other things might be useful and might whet your appetite to see this unusual production.

Here is a fascinating background piece by Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times, who interviewed several sources involved with the production and are knowledgeable about the opera (below is a photo of the German Expressionist set, taken by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times):

Met Lulu and German Expressionism CR Sara Krulwich NYT

And if you are undecided or wavering about going to the acclaimed production, directed by William Kentridge, here is a rave review by senior music critic Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times:


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