The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music news: Free concerts building audience, scholarship fund for UW-Madison

November 12, 2009
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mills hallBy Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you’ll recall that earlier this year the University of Wisconsin School of Music decided to allow the public free admission to its critically acclaimed and popular Faculty Concert Series held in Mills Hall (right).

The idea was to make a gift to the community during times of financial hardship. (See my blog posting of Aug. 21. It was also to help have money go directly to the School of Music scholarship fund rather toward incidental expenses like printing and distributing tickets.

So how is the new policy working so far?

As we head towards the end of the first semester, it seems to be doing exactly what it was meant to do, according to the School of Music spokesman Concert Manager Rick Mumford.

WisconsinBrass Quintet

Here is what Mumford told The Ear this week in an email:

“As you know, this was a gesture to the community during an economic downturn, so that no one needed to feel excluded from attending the school’s concerts due to financial circumstances.

“When comparing attendance figures from one year to the next, it’s always a cautionary exercise; do you compare figures for a single artist or group, or add up all the events in a given month, semester or year?

“There are lots of reasons why this is an “apples and oranges” scenario, given other events competing for audience share, the immediate popularity of the program, even the weather.  In addition, students are included in the overall numbers, and they have been free all along.

“But with those qualifiers, the attendance figures for the Faculty Concert Series do appear to be higher this fall over last fall.

“In six cases where we have figures for the same artist/ensemble from last fall to this fall, 2009 is higher in each one, often by more than half, and in a couple of cases it’s more than twice as many.  For the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, for instance, we had to open the balcony of Morphy Hall on Sept. 26 since the downstairs was packed.  That’s a rare occurrence for any Morphy event.

“We received a number of generous contributions at the start of the season, and are hoping they will pick up again as the calendar year draws to a close.

“The School of Music, as the largest presenter of classical music in the city, offers a great variety of concerts throughout the academic year, and this year especially offers newcomers the opportunity to be adventurous, perhaps mixing it up with faculty, guest and student ensemble programs, all without spending a dime.  (Only the Choral Union and University Opera have an admission charge this year.)  By the same token, we continue to solicit the support of the concert-going public to help generate scholarship funds.”

Here are some specific figures that Mumford provided:

Karp Family (below, for Labor Day Concert): 327 (9/7/09) vs. 305 (9/1/08). karps 2008 - 13

Trombonist Mark Hetzler: 134 (9/17/09) vs. 83 (11/1/08) vs.54 (11/15/07).

Wingra Woodwind Quintet: 164 (9/26/09) vs. 67 (11/20/08) vs. 76 (10/11/07).

Cellist Uri Vardi: 216 (10/1/09) vs. 74 (11/13/08) vs. 132 (9/20/07).

Wisconsin Brass Quintet (above): 114 (10/17/09) vs. 71 (10/4/08) vs. 50 (10/27/07).

Pro Arte String Quartet: 192 (10/30/09) vs. 109 (11/16/08) vs. 103 (12/6/07).

Please note, adds Mumford, that some of these occurred considerably earlier in the fall this year than last.

“Two other high-attendance concerts this fall where he I don’t have figures for last year were flutist Stephanie Jutt  — 199 (9/12/09) vs. 185 (9/14/07); and the first Pro Arte Quartet (right) concert of the semester — 279 (9/25/09) vs. 212 (9/6/07). ProArtecolor

The voluntary contributions this fall have so far amounted to about $3,000.

The Ear thinks some of these figures are pretty impressive, and they don’t even take account of the many free other events – student orchestral concerts, vocal concerts, student recitals, guest artists, master classes and so on – that take place at the UW School of Music.

Wouldn’t it be nice to reach a round number like $5,000 for the semester? It would certainly go to a good use – and still amount to a very small fee per person who attended.


Posted in Classical music

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