The Well-Tempered Ear

UW Faculty Series to Be Free This Season

August 21, 2009

mills hallBy Jacob Stockinger

Well, it seems Mr. Well-Tempered has an Ear for news as well as beautiful sound.

In July, even before it was publicly announced, I learned that the University of Wisconsin School of Music — which will open its 2009-10 season of 300-plus concerts, as it always does, with the Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, pictured at right  — will not charge admission to its prestigious and deservedly praised Faculty Concert Series for this season.

That’s right: Concerts by the UW faculty members this season are free. (The UW Opera and Choral Union will still charge modest admission to cover costs, however.)

(By the way, this year’s 33rd annual Karp Family Concert program features Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 1;  Hans Huber’s Waltzes for piano-four hands, violin and cello;  and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio — the latter a tuneful, accessible and moving masterpiece of chamber music if there ever was one . Add that appealing program to the new no-admission policy, and the Karps (pianist-mom Frances and pianist-dad Howard, cellist son Parry, violinist son Christopher and violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot along with guest violinist Suzanne Beia) should see a packed or even full house, which, on the basis on past performances they certainly deserve.

The admission fee was instituted many years ago with the laudable goal of raising scholarship money for the school’s students. And for many, many seasons it seemed to work well.

But in a bad economy, admission fees and ticket handling costs ate into attendance and revenue. So Music School director John William Schaffer has wisely decided to drop admission for at least a year.


“We know that many of you are dealing with the consequences of a spiraling downturn in the economy,” Schaffer (above, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) writes in a letter in the  season brochure. “We feel that great music is such a constant positive force in our society that we do not want anyone to miss an important musical experience due to the cost of a ticket.”

Bravo, bravissimo.

One also also expects, perhaps mistakenly, other things added to the decision.

The admission fee had risen to $9, with some small discounts for quantity and seniors. Bad move. That’s pretty high, especially in a bad economy or for people on a fixed or low income.

Add to that the increasing ticket processing costs and especially the escalating parking fees, up unreasonably in a few years from $1 several years ago to $5 now, and that too made what I have long called “the best deal in town” less financially attractive, less “deal-ish,” if you will.

Plus, of course, especially with the opening of the Overture Center, there are also more cultural events taking place in the small place at the same times, so competition takes its toll.

But won’t losing the scholarship money hurt the School of Music students during hard times?

One can wonder why they didn’t cut the baby in half, so to speak. How about a steep price cut to $3, or maybe $5 tops, with appropriate discounts and the prices guaranteed for, say, the next five years until the School of Music opens its new music halls (an 800-seat concert hall and a 350-seat recital hall) in 2013? Maybe free or reduced parking (how about a season-long “arts supporter” off-hours parking pass?) at Grainger Hall on concert nights could be thrown in. Most listeners, one suspects, are happy to contribute via admission to the school’s well-being and students’ welfare.

Schaffer responds in an open letter included in the season brochure. (To get a brochure or find out about concerts, call the school at  263-1900 or the concert hotline at 263-9485; go on-line and visit and go to the “Events Calendar”; or send your e-mail address to music@music.wisc/edu for sign up for the electronic events digest.)

Schaffer says that the no-admission policy is a “gift” made by the UW School of Music in the hope that those listeners who can afford it will make a generous donation to the school’s scholarship fund and it will all come out awash, maybe even ahead, of ticket revenue.

The Ear hopes he is right—and will be checking periodically to see if he is.

In any case, however you look at it, “the best classical deal in town” just got better.

How can you beat hearing for free such outstanding artists as pianist Christopher Taylor; oboist Marc Fink and flutist Stephanie Jutt; soprano Julia Faulkner and tenor James Doing; violinists David Perry and Felicia Moye; trumpeter John Aley; the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, the Wisconsin Brass Quartet; and so many other first-rate individuals and ensembles?

But what about you?

Will you attend the Karp Family Concert, which is usually the top attraction of the UW faculty series?

What do you think of UW Faculty Concert Series, which has brought listeners some very memorable moments?

And what do you think of the free admission policy and the effect it will have on the UW Faculty Recital Series and other local musical presenters? Will you go to more UW faculty concerts because they are free?

Finally, will you send in a donation to make up for free admission and help out the music student scholarship fund?

Let The Ear, whose donation check is already in the mail, know.

Posted in Classical music

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