The Well-Tempered Ear

Motorcycle maestro gets 5 more years at Minnesota Orchestra

September 30, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Finnish-born conductor (and composer)  Osmo Vanska (below right), 56, will lead the Minnesota Orchestra at least through the end of the 2015 season, according to news reports in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the New York Times. He took over the Minnesota ensemble in 2003.Vanska

Vanska, who is known for riding his motorcycle around downtown Minneapolis, has led the Minnesota ensemble through some great times that some observers are describing as a golden age or a rebirth.

His achievements include three European tours and concerts in Carnegie Hall plus a 5-CDs of Beethoven nine symphonies that have garnered critical raves and even a Grammy nomination (for the Ninth Symphony.) A specially priced CD-SACD boxed set is scheduled to be released by BIS records on Oct. 27.

I like not only the playing, but also the coupling of early and late symphonies (No. 7 with No. 2, No. 6 and with No. 1).

For BIS, Vanska is also recording all five of the Beethoven piano concertos with the acclaimed young Russian pianist Evgeny Sudbin Sudbin (below right) and will release  the complete Tchaikovsky piano concertos in live performance with British pianist Stephen Hough (who will perform the Tchaikovsky First this season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in late February) on the Hyperion label this spring.

Vanska is working through a cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra and it looks like that will be his next major recorded cycle. (The fourth symphony by Bruckner — “Romantic” — is due to be released this year.) I’d also like to hear him do all the Brahms symphonies, overtures and concertos. It’s along his lines and affinities. (He also recorded a well regarded set of all the Sibelius symphonies with the Finnish Lahti Symphony, which he used to direct.)

I’d also really like to hear him guest conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Here is a link to his official website:

I like the fact that Vanska is letting the U.S. and the world know that there are more great orchestras in the Midwest than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There is the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The Detroit Symphony used to be world-class, too, but I haven’t heard much about or from them lately. And I suspect we may be hearing more from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which plays here Oct. 9 at the Wisconsin Union Theater, under its new conductor Edo de Waart.

What do you think of  Vanska’s performances and recordings?

Are there other Midwest orchestras the music world should know about?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Best Bets: Sept. 30-Oct. 6: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens this weekend: Now the classical music scene gets really busy

September 30, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, the classical music season in Madison is getting under way for real with a full schedule that offers a lot of symphonic music as well as chamber music and vocal music.

The Big Guy on the Block – the Madison Symphony Orchestra – opens its season this weekend with conductor John DeMain leading the MSO and pianist Peter Serkin (pictured below) in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15. Also included ares Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” Overture and Richard Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration.” PeterSerkin

It should be a memorable event and gets The Ear’s MUST-HEAR rating.

Serkin, the son of pianist and Beethoven-Schubert-Brahms meister Rudolf Serkin, is his own interpreter who always manages to find something new to say and to make even the most familiar music interesting.

Serkin was scheduled to be interviewed  Thursday, Oct. 1,  around noon on The Midday on Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area.) But he has refused to do a live interview and The Ear is still waiting to hear if Serkin will do a taped one to air at that time.

But Serkin is hardly the main attraction. DeMain turned in a terrifically vibrant, high-energy account of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 at the end of last season, much as he did with Brahms’ Fourth Symphony the season before. DeMain, in short, shows all the signs of becoming a very accomplished Brahmsian.

DeMain (below right) came to Madison as as opera conductor, and after 15 seasons all the signs point tot he fact that he is becoming more and more at home in the symphonic repertoire and is willing to leave a personal stamp on it. DeMainOpera

Performances this weekend are in Overture Hall with a free lecture (to take place at all concerts except for the Christmas concerts) starting one hour before curtain time: Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $15 to $75, but it is also not too late to get a subscription ticket to a season that has a lot of highlights and a lot of pianists in great concertos.

Here is link to the season and to ticket information:


THURSDAY, OCT. 1, in Mills Hall at 7:30 p.m.: UW cellist Uri Vardi (below right) with UW violinist Felicia Moye and UW pianist Christopher Taylor perform a program of masterpieces that includes Beethoven’s Trio in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3 and Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 102, No. 1; Ernest Bloch’s “Prayer” (From Jewish Life, No. 1); and Serge Prokofiev’s Sonata in C major, Op. 119. It’s during the work week, but if you can manage it, this is another MUST-HEAR because it features first-rate players in first-rate repertoire. Vardi

Admission is free and open to the public.

FRIDAY, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive,  Madison Song Masters project will give its debut concert, “A Singer’s Passsion.”

The Ear thinks such an organized effort and project  is long overdue, and that Madison has too little art song concerts for a city with a major School of Music and several big classical music presenters. (The Wisconsin Art Song Project is also active now.) I’ll be anxious to see what you think about its debut.

The first MSM concert includes about an hour’s worth of music with works by Brahms, Puccini, Copland and Gounod, among others.

Tickets cost $20 for the general public, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. For more information, call 233-9774 or visit the Unitarian Society website,

The singers, Emily Birsan, Codrut Birsan, Celeste Fraser, Katherine Peck, Adam Shelton and Jennifer Sams, are all voice performance majors. Five are completing or have already received the master’s degree while one is an undergraduate student. Pianist Stephen Lewis will accompany.

Here is are the specifics of the program with singers:

Katherine Peck:  “Laurie’s Song” from “Tenderland” by Copland;  “Wie melodien zieht es mir” by Brahms; “Art Is Calling for Me” by Victor Herbert; J Adam Shelton in “Dies Bildnis…: form Ozart’s “The Magic Flute,” “Bonjour ma belle” by Alfred H Behrend, “Ride on King Jesus”  arranged by Hall Johnson

Codrut Birsan: “Tanzlied des Pierrot” from  “Die Tote Stadt” by Korngold and “O Xaima” by Gounod.

Jennifer Grace Sams: “Sein wir wieder gut” from “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss, “Amor” by William Bolcum and “Anzoleta co passa la regata” by Rossini.

Emily Birsan (below right): ” O mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini; “Ah! je veux vivre” from “Romeo et Juliette” by Gounod; “zdes’ khorosho” by Rachmaninoff. EmilyBirsan

Celeste Fraser: “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka” by Dvorak; “Allerseelen” by Strauss; “Si. Mi Chiamano Mimi” from “La Boheme” by Puccini.

Group songs: “An die Musik” by Schubert; “Deep in My Heart, Dear” from “The Student Prince” by Romberg.

To audition for the Madison Song Masters, contact Joseph Brachmann (below right) at or call 920-452-2462.  Joseph Brachmann

For more background about the art songs projects taking place locally, see the story in The Capital Times/77 Square of Sept. 22 by Lindsay Christians:

SUNDAY, OCT. 4, at 7:30 p.n. in Mills Hall: UW Symphony Orchestra under conductor James Smith. The program features Witold Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra and Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. (Can’t get too much Dvorak!) The concert is free and unticketed.

TUESDAY, OCT. 6, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall: UW Chamber Orchestra (below center, in a photo by Jack Burns) under conductor James Smith. The program includes Faure’s “Masques et Bergamasques”; Benjamin Britten’s “Four French Songs” with UW faculty soprano Mimmi Fulmer; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. The concert is free and unticketed.UW Chamber Orchestra low res

There’s a lot of great live music to catch this week. So let us know what you heard and what you thought of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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