The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music: Unitarians announce December’s Friday Noon Musicales

November 30, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

The First Unitarian Society of Madison has announced its December line up of free Friday Noon Musicales.

And it looks really good — keeping  in mind that both Christmas and New Year’s Eve fall on Friday this year.

The concerts take place on Fridays 12:15 – 1 p.m., October through May, in the historic original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed sanctuary called the Landmark Auditorium. It’s located at 900 University Bay Drive, on Madison’s near west side near University Hospital, right off the end of Campus Drive where it turns again into University Avenue.

You can bring a lunch, maybe even a dessert to share.

Silence is requested — out of respect for the performers and other listeners — and free coffee is served.

And then there is the music.

What a deal!

This Friday, DEC. 4: Madison keyboard artist and conductor Trevor Stephenson (below) will perform works by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven on his fortepiano, the early form of the modern piano –with leather over the hammers rather than felt — that followed the harpsichord.

Plus, you should know that Stephenson, who teaches at Edgewood College and heads up the period group Madison Bach Musicians. is not only a terrific performer but also a wonderful and insightful explainer. When it comes to communicating, he has that light Leonard Bernstein touch — remember the Lennie of the Young People’s Concerts and the Norton lectures? — and makes great sense of the music, putting it in aesthetic and historical contexts that illuminate and deepen your appreciation.

I wish I knew the specific program and pieces, so I could tell you. But I’ve heard him this year on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” and “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen,” and am sure he’ll be playing some great music — perhaps even Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, as it must have originally sounded or  close to it.

Then on Dec. 11 you can hear a performance of Brahms’ String Sextet in B flat Major, Op. 18. It’s a gorgeous piece of chamber music not heard often enough, one suspects, because of the scoring requirements. It’s not easy finding a string sextet. But the Society has — with Kangwon Kim and  Edith Hines on violin; Andrew Waid and Youngwha Chae on viola; and Eleanor Cox and Martha Vallon on cello.

On Dec. 18 will be a Holiday Carol Sing with Linda Warren on harp and FUS music director Dan Broner on piano. That sure would be a nice interlude form working or shopping.

There is No Musicale on Dec. 25 because it is Christmas.

The Noon Musicales take place October through May.

Plus, the Society seems ot have a new logo (below).

I like it.

Good design.

Bold lines.

No right angles.

Done in black-and-white.

I think Frank would approve.

What do you think of the new logo?

Of the Friday Noon Musicales?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: Close the score and listen to the music

November 29, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

I hear a lot of classical music on the campus of a major university (University of Wisconsin-Madison) where there is a major School of Music (ranked in the top 5 percent of public schools of music,  according to UW officials) that offers some 300 concerts a year. score2

So fairly often I see people listening with a score, either a regular size music score or one of those smaller study scores that seem to be getting harder to find these days.

I have heard other members of the audience talk with reverence about those who really want to know the music intimately that they bring a score. (And I saw quite a few score-listeners during the Beethoven piano sonata cycle performed last season by UW pianist Christopher Taylor.)

I beg to differ, to disagree.

I think that, except in unusual circumstances, a score gets in the way of appreciating the music – and in the way of others appreciating the music.

True, you may be listening to a piece because you yourself are studying or even learning it.

True, you may be a professional critic or a student studying the piece and have a special reason to see if the performer is following the dynamic or tempo indications or even playing the right notes. Henlescore

But for the most part, reading a score is too often a kind of pompous exercise, a way of showing off that you are a special or sophisticated listener. It’s like the way The New York Times critic Harold Schonberg used to listen with a stop watch to compare tempi. But psychological time (philosopher Henri Bergson’s “duree” or duration)  and clock time are quite different matters. A slower playing can sound faster and vice-versa. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz was a master of that.

You actually learn much more about the music simply by concentrating on the listening experience (and, as the composer Igor Stravinsky pointed out, on the visual experience, since so much of making music involves hand-eye coordination.)

But overall, I find the scores to be a distraction — not only to me and to the music, but to the people who are sitting near me and who cannot avoid watching me turn pages or, worse, hear me turning them, no matter how careful I am.

If you are there for the experience of music, then get into that experience and kept yourself be convinced or unconvinced by what the performer or performers do with the music – not with what the written notation, an approximation at best, of the music happens to be.

Do you use a score at concerts?

What do you think of people who do?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein talks to The Ear — Part 2 of 2

November 28, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

American pianist Simone Dinnerstein will make her Madison debut at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m.

Her solo recital program includes Bach’s French Suite, No. 5, Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, Philip Lasser’s “Twelve Variations on a Bach Chorale,” Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations and Franz Schubert’s first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 90 or D. 899.

Tickets are $18, $25 and $30 with $12 for young people 6-18; and $10 for UW students. Call 608 262-2201 or visit

Here is the second part of the e-mail interview she gave to The Well-Tempered Ear:

Could you comment on your Madison program of Schubert’s Four Impromptus, the Bach French Suite No. 5, Philip Lasser’s variations on Bach, Webern’s Variations and Copland’s Piano Variations? Is there a link or a point of view that unifies it?

I think of this program as being about small forms, which together create a larger form.  All of the pieces in the program do that.  I like the echoes between the works too – the connections between Bach and Lasser, for example, and the starkness that begins both the Copland and the Schubert.

How many concerts per year are you performing these days? Where have recent tours taken you? Will you be doing more concerto and chamber music performances?

I’ve been fairly busy recently, and I’m actually in the extraordinary position of having to refuse work I’m offered. I’ve recently played debut performances with the New York Philharmonic and with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which was a lot of fun, and I gave my debut in Vienna’s Konzerthaus. This season I’m also playing with the Minnesota, Atlanta and Frankfurt Radio Orchestras, among others.

Chamber music is more challenging. I’ve played a lot of chamber music in my life, but for now my time is really limited. I’m hoping I can add it back in over the next few years.

What are the biggest challenges facing classical music today at a time of economic hardship and declining ticket sales?

I think one of the biggest problems for classical music is that its presentation seems to be stuck in the 19th century. There’s so much emphasis on tradition and a certain type of formality that I think it scares a lot of people off. The emphasis should be on the power of the music itself and in finding a way to make its presentation accessible to a wider range of people.

Are there older, famous pianists you particularly admire and listen to?

There are many and, unfortunately, most of them are no longer with us.  I’m a huge fan of Glenn Gould, Artur Schnabel and Alfred Cortot. Among the living pianists I admire are Daniel Barenboim and the great jazz pianist Hank Jones.

Among others who come to mind right now, Myra Hess stands out. She was a pianist of great integrity, and combined great thoughtfulness and spontaneity. Her sound world was just magical.

You just released the Beethoven cello sonatas after two solo CDs. What will be your next solo piano CD and when will it appear? Other concerto or chamber music CDs?

I can’t talk about my next project right now, but I’m very excited about it!

Editor’s Note: Here are some other video sites and interviews to visit if you want to know more about Simone Dinnerstein:

About Simone’s CD, “The Berlin Concert”:
Simone Dinnerstein talks about her Goldberg Variations CD:
Michael Lawrence’s Bach Documentary segment:


Morning Edition:
PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Art Beat blog:
Studio 360:
The Howard Stern Show News, with Robin Quivers:

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: Pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who performs Dec. 4 in Madison, talks to The Ear — Part 1 of 2

November 27, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

American pianist Simone Dinnerstein is one of the first classical pianists to successfully ride the wave of new media.

While record companies were cutting back on artists and recordings because of the competition from digital downloads, Dinnerstein topped Billboard’s classical chart with her self-financed debut recording of J.S. Bach’s mammoth and famed “Goldberg” Variations.

(The popular and critically acclaimed recording – named one of the Year’s Best by The New York Times, ITunes and the Los Angeles Times — was released by Telarc, for whom she has now recorded “The Berlin Concert” and the complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano by Beethoven.)

Dinnerstein will make her Madison debut at the Wisconsin Union Theater on next Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m.

Her solo recital program includes Bach’s French Suite, No. 5, Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, Philip Lasser’s “Twelve Variations on a Bach Chorale,” Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations and Franz Schubert’s first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 90 or D. 899.

Tickets are $18, $25 and $30 with $12 for young people 6-18; and $10 for UW students. Call 608 262-2201 or visit

For the blog The Well-Tempered Ear, Dinnerstein, just back to her New York City home from concerts in Vienna and elsewhere in Europe, recently answered some questions via e-mail. Her interview will be divided into two parts to run today and tomorrow.

You established your career in a non-traditional way, without winning a major competition. Could you recount how and why you did that? How difficult was it? What does it mean for other young musicians? What advice would you give young performers today hoping for a professional career in such a competitive environment?

After I graduated from Juilliard, I entered the life of a typical freelance musician. I played a lot of chamber music concerts and worked collaboratively with other instrumentalists. I did a certain number of solo recitals that I set up through my own efforts at networking. I became affiliated with the Piatigorsky Foundation, which has a small roster of musicians that it sends around the country on short concert tours playing in communities that might not otherwise be exposed to a live Classical concert. I taught privately in my own home.

For a time I entered competitions, but I was not successful mostly because I would become so stressed by the competitive environment. Eventually I won an audition for Astral, an organization based in Philadelphia that helps to develop the careers of young musicians.

They were extremely helpful in many ways, not least of which was in boosting my self-connfidence. They encouraged me to think imaginatively about my career and to develop my strengths.

I decided to learn and perform Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations for my Philadelphia debut, which they presented.  That led to me recording the variations, which started a very surprising path to the career that I am now enjoying.

It is tremendously difficult to be a young musician and I would say that the most important advice I can give is to try to discover where your interests and strengths lie and to develop them. You can’t control the way the world reacts to you, but you can be sure to nurture your own voice so that you have something worth saying.

You perform for prisoners. Why do you perform such outreach concerts? What you they get out of it and what do you get out of it?

I’ve performed twice in prisons, once in a high-security prison in Louisiana for the Piatigorsky Foundation and most recently in a prison in Baltimore on a visit set up by the Baltimore Symphony.

If ever there was an experience of hearing music freshly, it’s when it’s played in a prison.  There’s nothing musical about that atmosphere. And yet when you start playing, everything becomes musical. It’s a really extraordinary experience.

I should add that one of the most perceptive and thoughtful reviews of my playing I’ve ever read was published in the Avoyelles Correctional Center prison newspaper.

Tomorrow: In Part 2, pianist Simone Dinnerstein talks about her Madison program on her Dec. 4 recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and you will find more links to video and interview sites with information about Dinnerstein.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: On Thanksgiving, which classical music composers do you most give thanks for?

November 26, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Thanksgiving.

I know that even loyal readers have better things to do today than read my blog — eat turkey, visit with family and friends, watch football, nap

But I was looking for a theme that is appropriate to the day.

Many radio stations play American classical music as a way to honor the day.

But I was looking at it in a bigger, more inclusive and less parochial way.

So, I ask, what classical music composers do you most give thanks for?

It’s probably pretty predictable, but for me there are three: J.S. Bach, Chopin and Schubert, in that order.

I guess Bach tops them all because without him the others might not exist — if I understand music history well.

Besides, Bach (painting at right) is not only the Big Bang beginning of Western classical music. In Bach you can find everything: Baroque moments, Classical moments, Romantic moments, even Modernist moments.

For his part, Chopin (photo below left) had an uncanny sense of how to fuse the Classical and the Romantic, how to meld form with feeling. Plus, he is so consistent. He doesn’t fail very often. His magic almost always works.

Did anyone ever have more innate musical talent than Schubert (below right), who was so prolific before he died at 31. His harmonies and melodies break your heart and then put it back together. Take your pick–songs or piano works (big sonatas or smaller miniatures), string quartets or piano trios, symphonies or masses. You can’t do better.

I know, I know.

I should be more thankful for Haydn and his astonishing inventions.

For Handel and his ear-easy humanism.

For Beethoven and his willfulness and astonishing technical command of music.

For Mozart and his otherworldly combination of pathos and grace.

What can I say?

Maybe next year.

Maybe next Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, tell me: When it comes to classical music, which composers do you give most thanks for when and why?

The Ear wants to hear.

And also to thank you for all your support. I had dared to hope for 7,500 hits by Jan. 1., 2010.

Now — as of yesterday — we’re already there.

So thanks, and keeping spreading the word.

Every hit counts.

And every reader matters.

I’ll be giving thanks to all of you, and for all of you, tomorrow.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Sounds of the holiday season start this weekend with Oakwood Chamber Players, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

November 25, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s generally a quiet week because it is Thanksgiving Week and the UW is on break and there isn’t a lot happening — at least by the usual standards in the music-busy city.

But as we approach the holidays, one of Madison musical holiday traditions is about to happen – twice — this Friday:

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will perform their annual Holiday Lights Concert “Lighting the Way” on FRIDAY, NOV. 27.  The two performances will be held in the Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6201 Mineral Point Road, at 3 P.M. and 7 P.M.

This year’s Christmas Lights Concert will include:  “Il Presepio” (The Crib) by Nino Rota, “Ave Maris Stella” by Bernhard Krol, “Alleluia” from “Exsultate Jubilate” by Mozart, “Carol of the Birds” by John Jacob Niles, “Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Cradle Song) by Johannes Brahms, “Estrellita” by Manuel Ponce and other Christmas favorites.

Tickets can be purchased at the door.  Admission is $20 for general admission, $15 for senior citizens and $5 for students.  They accept cash and personal checks—but not  credit cards.

The Oakwood Chamber Players (above) consist of: Anne Aley, horn; Vincent Fuh, piano; Michael Allen, cello; Nancy Mackenzie, clarinet; Marilyn Chohaney, flute; Leyla Sanyer, violin;  Christopher Dozoryst, viola;  and Amanda King Szczys, bassoon.  All perform actively in the Madison area with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and an eclectic mix of other professional ensembles.

The concerts will feature soprano Mary Elizabeth Mackenzie (below right) as this year’s guest soloist. Mackenzie is a native of Madison, and now resides in New York City. Described by the New York Times as “a soprano of extraordinary agility and concentration,” Mackenzie has captured the attention of audiences in New York, Chicago, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Boston.

A passionate performer of contemporary music, Mackenzie has appeared with The Juilliard School’s AXIOM Ensemble, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, the Continuum Ensemble, the Oakwood Chamber Players, Red Light New Music, the Talea Ensemble, and at John Harbison’s Token Creek Music Festival. She recently made her Alice Tully Hall debut with the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble, performing Jean Barraque’s “Chant Apres Chant.”

Since she’s local with lots of friends and fans, The Ear will include more than the usual amount of information about her and her blossoming career:

Mackenzie made her professional opera debut as Despina in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” with the Madison Opera under the direction of Kelly Kuo, and recently appeared in New York City Opera’s production of Hugo Weisgall’s “Esther.”  Solo concert appearances include Mozart’s “Exsultate Jubilate” with the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra, Handel’s “Messiah” with the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, The Youth in Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Faure’s Requiem in New York City.

Christmas Lights was first presented in 1994 as a memorial concert for the mother of one of the group’s supporters.  It was a huge success that year, and the Oakwood Chamber Players have presented Christmas Lights every year since then on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

This concert has led the Oakwood Chamber Players to produce 3 CDs of Christmas music with works commissioned by and written exclusively for the Oakwood Chamber Players.

The Oakwood Chamber Players have been together since 1984.

Here is a link for more information:

Then another holiday musical tradition takes place twice: on SATURDAY, NOV. 28, at 8 p.m. and SUNDAY, NOV. 29, at 1 p.m., the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will present its 11th annual holiday concerts –the Middleton Holiday Pops – at the Madison Marriott West, 1313 John Q. Hammons Drive.

Complementing the decor of snowflakes and Christmas trees will be the WCO performing with a 80-voice Middleton High School Concert Choir, all under the direction of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and choir director Tom Mielke.

UW tenor James Doing (below left) will perform “Oh Holy Night:” and “Comfort Ye” from Handel’s “Messiah.” Also included in music by Chadwick, Tchaikovsky. Szymanowski and other holiday fare to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah.

Three types of seating are available: Theater style, which ranges, depending on the day, from $5 for youths 6-17 to $25 for adults with discounts for seniors and students; Cabaret tables, which seat four and include desserts and coffee for $150 (Sat.) and $120 (Sun.); and Premier Tables for eight with dinner (Saturday for $750) or Sunday brunch (for $250).

For theater-style seating, call 608 258-4141.

For Cabaret and Premier tables, call 608 257-0638.

Here a link to more information about the event, the program and the reservations:

When the brief Thanksgiving Break is over, the concerts at the UW School of Music start right up again.

On TUESDAY, DEC. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Western Percussion Ensemble will perform under the direction of UW percussionist Anthony Di Sanza. (No program is available.)

The concert is free and open to the public.

So far, I’m a bit disappointed not to see anything from J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” which is my favorite classical holiday work.

Do you have a favorite classical holiday work?

What is it?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: John DeMain’s journey from opera conductor to orchestra conductor now seems complete – and wows me

November 24, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

When maestro John DeMain took over the reins of the Madison Symphony Orchestra 16 seasons ago – can it really be that long? – he was already a highly accomplished musician and widely respected conductor with world premieres, TV and radio appearances, world-class galas and a Grammy to his credit.

Madison was lucky to lure him and smart to snatch him up.

But there is no denying that DeMain came here primarily as an opera conductor.

Now if he should leave here – and I, for one, hopes that event is not soon on the horizon — he will leave as an orchestra conductor.

Not that he has lost his touch as a first-rate opera conductor. Anyone who heard his performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera earlier this month can attest to that.

But if you heard the MSO’s most recent concert this past weekend, and particularly the high-octane performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 – you can also attest to the fact that DeMain has grown. And I mean grown impressively.

DeMain arrived in Madison with the opera repertoire – from the big staples (Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly”) and the less frequently played classics “(many Verdi operas) to some contemporary works (Leonard Bernstein and John Adams) – comfortably under his belt.

That background prepared him for a lot, and especially for accompanying not just vocalists but also instrumentalists. (His talent to partner with others was also in ample evidence this past weekend when DeMain accompanied cellist Ralph Kirshbaum (right) in moving performances of Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo,” not an easy piece to hold together, and Dvorak’s “Silent Woods.”)

And not for nothing did the once-pianist study conducting under Leonard Bernstein.

But the purely orchestral works bore out the same impression I had when DeMain conducted Mahler, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies and concertos in recent years. (Tellingly, Brahms wrote choral works, but no operas.)

First, he raised the curtain with Respighi’s brightly colorful tone poem “The Fountains of Rome” and it felt like listening to a painting – as it should.

Then came the Tchaikovsky Fifth—one of that popular composer’s most popular works.

I won’t go through all the many fine points I heard.

Suffice it to say that with such a fetching interpretation, you do not mind Tchaikovsky’s overworked compositional technique of penning a great theme – the composer clearly understood the importance of a wonderful melody to his listeners – and then throwing it around to every section in every possible permutation.

But under DeMain’s at once intelligent and visceral direction – with his fine sense of balance and shading as well of tempo changes — the symphony always sounded exciting, never boring or tedious or repetitious. Strings, brass, winds, percussion – it was hard to find a weakness.

And when they arrived at the finale, the march tempo exploded as it picked up and DeMain pushed the orchestra to full throttle, giving the piece all the juice he could muster. You found no “Song of the Volga Boatmen” trudging along in this reading. What began as a soulful lament ended up transformed into a victory march full of energy and triumph.

Bluntly put and shortly stated, I think John DeMain is taking more risks these days and has a sharper edge now than when he came. He knows the repertoire better and, more importantly, what he wants to do with that repertoire. DeMain never seemed a timid interpreter, but one senses a newfound and powerful confidence on his part.

That is no small achievement to arrive at in your 60s. It took hard work and a willingness to learn over time and through experience. So DeMain is to be praised for openness to growth and his desire to avoid cruise control at precisely the age when so many other people begin to rely on it.

Judging by the immediate and prolonged standing ovation and bravos DeMain and the MSO elicited in the Tchaikovsky, and judging also by the comments I heard from other audience members as I left Overture Hall, I am not alone in my opinion in seeing this concert as an exciting event that makes great classical music sound vital and necessary rather than luxurious or optional. He makes the music sounds as great as it is.

I have not surveyed orchestra players or other listeners, but I would like to hear from them both.

I would like to know that my ears and my memory are not deceiving when I say that there has never been a better time to take in the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It’s not by chance or coincidence, one suspects, that the MSO scored its most subscribed concert and best single tickets sales (for a total attendance around 5,000) so far this season with the Tchaikovsky concert, according to MSO marketing director Ann Miller.

So if you agree or disagree, or have something to add, please leave a comment.

If there are enough, I will make them a separate blog posting.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Contemporary classical music: UW composer Laura Schwendinger’s following and reputation grow; her work will be performed Tuesday night

November 23, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

With a few exceptions — John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich — more attention is being paid these days to classical performers than to composers.

But there are some important composers at work who have ties to Madison.

The biggest one currently is, of course, is John Harbison, who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” and who co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

But a relative newcomer to the University of Wisconsin School of Music — Laura Schwendinger (above)  — is building a reputation and a following, as well as solid series of performances both here and, more importantly, elsewhere.

Schwendinger is particularly timely this week because this Tuesday, Nov. 24, her work “Equatorial Jungle” will be performed by Sole Nero (UW pianist Jessica Johnson and UW percussionist Anthony Di Sanza) at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall. The concert is free and open to the public.

Here is a link to review of another recent performance of her work in Chicago by the well known  contemporary group eighth blackbird in a review by the well known Chicago critic John von Rhein:,0,6445847.column

Here is a link to her impressive resume or biography at Wikipedia:

And here is a link to her 2003 interview with the Radcliffe Institute where she was a fellow:

Some UW groups seem devoted to premiering and promoting the work of their colleague.

But one wonders when larger groups in Madison — the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, for example  — will program one of her works so that her music (and her name) gain wider recognition in her hometown.

Have you heard Schwendinger’s work?

What do you think of it?

The Era wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: This Tuesday night UW Opera to feature scenes from “Carmen,” “Pagliacci” and other famous opera

November 22, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Wednesday, when I listed the free and public University Opera workshop coming up this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, I didn’t have a program for the event of snippets and scenes — with minimal costumes and the suggestion of sets ( That’s unlike the photo, below, of UW graduate student and soprano Emily Birsan in the title role of Jules Massenet’s “Thais,” which was University Opera’s most recent full production.)

Now I do, and it might well appeal to some fans and draw new ones.

This performance will present selected scenes from several famous operas such as Bizet’s “Carmen,” Boito’s “Mefistofele,” Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,”Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.”

Well, OK, maybe Boito isn’t so famous. But the rest certainly are.

A reception for the musicians and the audience, sponsored by Opera Props, will follow and will be held in the lobby of the Carol Rennebohm Auditorium of Music Hall.

For more information, here are two links:

If you go, let us know what you thought — high points, low points, overall quality — and whether you encourage others to attend the workshops.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music’s fate: What’s in store for symphony orchestras? Recordings? Opera? A major critic speaks out

November 21, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a happy time for The Well-Tempered Ear.

Exactly three months to the day — yesterday, Friday, Nov. 20 — from when the Madison-based classical website was launched (Aug. 20), it surpassed 7,000 hits.

That’s well ahead of schedule, ahead of what I expected and what Ralph Russo and Esty Dinur of the Wisconsin Union Theater — who encouraged and sponsored the blog in the first place — expected.

So thank you, readers, thank you.

I hope I continue to bring you information and opinions you find helpful and interesting.

Please let me know what else you would like to read and see.

I’m especially interested in knowing what I can do to get more of you to leave more comments. (Unfortunately, the template doesn’t give comments a very high profile.)

And please continue to forward postings, share links and spread the word. Every hit counts –and it’s particularly satisfying to see comments from readers as far away as Japan and Australia.

But my blog’s good luck is not universal in music.

In fact, this is generally not a happy time for classical music performers, presenters and fans, what with sagging ticket sales and attendance figures plus financial woes for major record labels.

So just how healthy is classical music today?

Are you worried about the future of individual artists and groups?

What about the classical recording scene?

What can be done to revitalize classical music?

Do you worry that classical music radio — still in great shape in Wisconsin — will gradually give way to talk radio disappear?

If wonder about these issues, then you might like to look at, or listen to, the question-and-answer session with critic Anne Midgette (above), of The Washington Post, and Tom Huizinga, a music producer at National Public Radio.

Midgette answers 10 different questions that range form exciting new music and successful symphony orchestras to opera after Pavarotti.

Here is a link:

Happy reading.

And please let me know your thoughts about their thoughts.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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