The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music Alert: Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs Saturday night

November 20, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

I try to be comprehensive in my local listings for classical music performances.

But I am not aware of all the groups and their concert schedules, and it seems some of the gorups are not aware of me — yet.

So on Wednesday in my Best Bets for the coming week, I inadvertently left out the noteworthy performance by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) this Saturday evening, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the  Trinity Lutheran Church on Madison’s near east side.

That’s too bad for me and too bad for them.

Whenever I have heard them, the WCC, which was founded in 1998, has been a top-notch performer. I have no reason to doubt that it will turn in another winning concert with this well planned program under the direction of Robert Gehrenbeck, who is also the choral director at the UW-Whitewater.

Here’s a link with more information about time, location, tickets (advance and at the door), CDs, staff and members and notes about the “Bacchus” program, which includes a tribute to Haydn on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his death as well as music by Brahms, Copland and Kodaly:

My apologies to the Wisconsin Chamber Choir go with my hope they have good attendance and a successful performance.

If you go, let us know how they did.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: There are more great cellists than Yo-Yo Ma, so today in Madison it’s Ralph Kirshbaum Day

November 19, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are quite a few great cellists playing in the world today, and Madison has done an outstanding job in presenting many of them.

That’s more of a feat than it might sound.

But let’s start with the big event that sparks these musings: the Madison orchestral debut this weekend of cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, an American by birth and education who now is based in the Great Britain.

Kirshbaum will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain this weekend.

But TODAY, THURSDAY, NOV. 19, he will also give an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday, with knowledgeable hosts Norman Gilliland and Stephanie Elkins, at NOON – 88.7 FM in the Madison area.

Then — also TODAY AT 1 P.M. IN MORPHY HALL — and Kirshbaum will also give a free public master class on the UW campus in the Mosse Humanities Building.

(With the MSO, Kirshbaum will perform Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo” and Dvorak’s “Silent Woods.” Also on the program, to be conducted by John DeMain, are Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome.”

(Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $75. Call 258-4141.)

If you’ve never heard of Kirshbaum — even though only 34 years ago he performed a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater during the 1975-76 season —  that can easily be forgiven.

After all, these days Yo-Yo Ma is the Microsoft of cellists, seemingly playing everywhere and everything, and then recording it or going on TV to broadcast it. Small wonder he probably has a cello market share in the high-90s.

Still, there are some outstanding cellists out there, many of whom Madison presenters thankfully get to come through town. These cellists include Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Alisa Weilerstein (below left, who recently played at the White House’s classical music night), Matt Haimovitz, Amanda Forsythe and Alban Gerhardt. Thank you!

I’d also like to see: Mischa Maisky, who often partners with famed pianist Martha Argerich, though I find his Bach playing a bit melodramatic and Romantic; and especially Jian Wang (below right), the outstanding Chinese cellist who as a boy was featured in violinist Isaac Stern’s Oscar-winning documentary film “From Mao to Mozart” but whose Deutsche Grammophon recordings of Bach suites and other music from the Baroque and Classical eras, right through Brahms and Dvorak, are terrific.

These are the inheritors to such historic giants and master cellists such as Janos Starker, Pablo Casals, Gregor Piatigorsky, Emanuel Feuermann, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Rose and Pierre Fournier among others.

A comparatively neglected contemporary master is Ralph Kirshbaum. I am particularly fond of his recording of the Bach solo suites, which blends the robustness of modern playing with the sprightly lightness of period instruments and early music interpretations.

The cello is such an appealing instrument, so vocal and resonant, that we really should hear more of the today’s Great Ones live – and not just Yesterday’s Great Ones on recordings.

Nor, since monopolies or near-monopolies are unhealthy for the Republic of Taste, should one confine one’s cellists to Yo-Yo Ma. (Not that there is anything wrong with Ma’s playing, but you’d be surprised how exciting other cellists can be.)

Anyway, it is well worth your while to get to know the neglected contemporary cello masters better.

So here is a link to unusual biography of Kirshbaum, who has performed world-wide, won major prizes and made some outstanding recording:

And here’s a link to an interview with Kirshbaum on the Cello Society’s webpage:

But don’t forget that today and this weekend you can also hear him in person, talking as well as playing.

Finally, the Governor, County Executive and Mayor probably won’t proclaim it, so I will: Happy Ralph Kirshbaum Day!

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: Madison’s highlights this week include a cellist’s debut, band music, choral music and educational programs for children

November 18, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music event this week is the Madison concerto debut of cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, an American by birth and education who now is based in the Great Britain, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Kirshbaum, who performed a recital during the 1975-76 season at the Wisconsin Union Theater, will appear with the MSO this weekend.

(On Thursday, he will also appear giving an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday at noon – 88.7 FM in the Madison area – and will give a free public master class at 1 p.m. Thursday in Morphy Hall on the UW campus in the Mosse Humanities Building.)

With the MSO, Kirshbaum will perform Ernest Bloch’s moving “Schelomo,” one of Bloch’s Hebraic works that have a minor-key Old Testament sound and feel, and Dvorak’s quietly lyrical “Silent Woods.”

Also on the program, to be conducted by John DeMain, is Tchaikovsky’s deeply moving and tumultuous Fifth Symphony – always a popular a crowd-pleaser, even for first-time listeners — and Respighi’s upbeat and evocative  “Fountains of Room.”

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 pm..; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $15 to $75. Call 258-4141.

On THURSDAY, NOV. 19, at 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW Guitar Ensemble, under director Javier Calderon, will perform music by Albeniz, Giuliani, Tchaikovsky, Manuel de Falla, Boccherini and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6.

The concert is free and open to the public.

On FRIDAY, NOV. 20, at 8 p.m. in Mills Halls, the Women’s Chorus and University Chorus will perform.

The Women’s Chorus will feature “Hoj, hura, hoj!” by Otmar Macha, accompanied by Carole Schultz, Bianca Torres, and Rebekah Bernhoft; “Glaedjens blomster” by Hugo Alfven, conducted by Ellen Bins; and “Lift Thine Eyes” by Felix Mendelssohn; with others.

The University Chorus will perform “Verleih’ Uns Frieden” by Mendelssohn, accompanied by Elizabeth Phillips; “Steal Away,” conducted by Courtney Cottrell; “Homeland” by Gustav Holst, accompanied by Elizabeth Phillips; “Zadok the Priest” by George F. Handel, accompanied by Patrick Christians; and more.

The University Chorus will be conducted by Michael Pfitzer.

The Women’s Chorus will be conducted by
 Kimberly Dunn Adams.

The concert is free and open to the public.

On SATURDAY, NOV. 21, at 11 a.m. in the Madison Children’s Museum, 100 N. Hamilton St., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will present another is its outstanding “Meet the Musician” series of outreach programs for young children.

Here is the MSO press release: “Would you like to introduce the children in your life to the magic of a musical instrument? Come down to the Madison Children’s Museum for a close encounter of the musical kind. The professional musicians of the MSO take time out to play for and with children on Saturdays during the concert season.

“There’s no extra charge and no reservations are needed; just show up and have fun!”

Saturday’s guest artist is violist Alexis Carreon.

SUNDAY, NOV. 22, seems to be Band Day at the UW:

You can get a preview THIS  THURSDAY MORNING, NOV. 19, from 7 to 8 a.m. when graduate assistant conductor Matthew Schlomer will be the guest of Jim Schwall on WORT-FM in Madison. Schlomer will talk about the band concerts this weekend (with excerpts of great band music from the 20th century).  WORT is at 89.9 FM on the dial.

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Concert Band will perform under Scott Teeple.

The performance features “March from Symphonic Metamorphosis” by Paul Hindemith; “William Byrd Suite” by Gordon Jacob; “October” by Eric Whitacre; and “Candide Suite” by Leonard Bernstein/Grundman.

The concert is free and unticketed.

Then at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall,University Bands will perform.

The concert will contain several pieces by individual directors. Justin Stolarik will perform such works as the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein; “Irish Tune from County Derry” by Percy Grainger and more. Matthew Schlomer offers “Russian Festival” by Anatoli Lliadov and “Badger Variations” by Jerry Bilik. Erik Jester will conduct “The Cowboys” by John Williams/Curnow; “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson and more.

The concert is free and open to the public.

Also on SUNDAY, NOV. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Winds of Wisconsin will perform. The program features the premier UW high school wind ensemble. Works include “Earle of Oxford’s March” from “William Byrd Suite” by Gordon Jacob; “Where the Waters Gather,” by Wisconsin composer Charles Rochester Young; and “Sketches on a Tudor Psalm” by Fisher Tull.

Scott Teeple will conduct.

The concert is free and open to the public.

On TUESDAY, NOV. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will hold its annual morning Fall Youth Concert.

The concert, will usually reach about 6,000 elementary and middle school students, take place in Overture Hall at 9:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. and 1 p.m.

This year’s Fall Youth Concerts include Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance,” Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 5, Tchaikovsky’s “Soldier Doll” from “The Nutcracker,” Prokofiev’s “Fairy of Spring” from “Cinderella,” Stravinsky’s “Berceuse” and “Finale” from  “The Firebird” and Ginastera’s “Danza final” from “Estancia: Four Dances.”

In addition, the winner of this year’s Fall Youth Concerto Competition, violinist Leslie Huang, will play Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.” (the pianist above is last year’s concerto winner in a photo by the late Bob Rashid.)

To reserve tickets, fill out the Registration Form (see the link below) and fax it to MSO Education Director Michelle Kaebisch at 608 280-6192 or mail it to 222 W. Washington Ave. Suite 460, Madison, WI 53703.

Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The cost is $4 per student and scholarships are available.

Teachers and chaperones are free with groups of 10 or more students.

Ticket subsidies are available upon request and are calculated on individual school free/reduced lunch participation percentages.

For more information, contact Michelle Kaebisch at 608 280-8680 x225 or

A limited number of adult tickets are available by calling 608 257-3734.

For more details, here is a link:

On TUESDAY, NOV. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Old Music Hall, the University Opera Workshop will take place.

The event is free and unticketed.

Also on TUESDAY, NOV. 24, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall, Sole Nero — with Jessica Johnson, piano and Anthony Di Sanza, percussion –will perform.

The Faculty Concert Series program features the world premieres of “Bluefire Crown VIII” by UW composer Les Thimmig and “Equatorial Jungle” by UW composer Laura Schwendinger.

Other selections include “Inner Rebellion” by Steve Rush, with Mark Hetzler, trombone; “Rebellion” by Steve Rush, with Mark Hetzler, trombone; and “Rain Down” by Lembit Beecher.

The concert is free and open to the public.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music and Asperger’s Syndrome come together in critic Tim Page’s new memoir – but not quite close enough

November 17, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

What did Mozart and Beethoven have in common besides Vienna, Franz Joseph Haydn and composing great music?

Both are suspected of having Asperger’s syndrome, a scientifically controversial and high-performing level of autism, according to a website for the disabled that speculates on what famous people had Asperger’s.

(Here’s a link:

But you wouldn’t know that to read the new memoir “Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s” (Doubleday) by renowned music critic Tim Page (below), who himself spent most of his early and adult life as an undiagnosed sufferer of Asperger’s syndrome.

Page, who won a Pulitzer Prize while he was at The Washington Post but who also wrote for the New York Times and Newsday, who consulted with the St. Louis Symphony (a disaster by his own admission) and who now teaches journalism at the University of Southern California, is to be commended for his frankness.

The memoir is extremely readable, enjoyable and revealing.

Still, I find it not quite revealing enough.

Too much of it is devoted to trivial details and adventures of the young Tim Page, to his childhood and college days and to later adult living in Baltimore.

The real subject he set out to tackle, and readers want to learn about, is the relation between Asperger’s and creativity.  After all, other famous “Aspies,” according to the above web site, include Shakespeare and Viriginia Woolf; Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt; Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton; Bill Gates, Glenn Gould and Alfred Hitchcock.

Page, it turns out, is in some pretty good company – not that he offers many other examples.

So naturally I wanted to know more about Asperger’s – and about how it affected the adult Tim Page and his distinguished career in music criticism writing both journalism and books. You get some information about that, but not enough.

I might be mistaken but it seems to me I heard more about Asperger’s when Page recently spoke to NPR’s Terri Gross on her interview program “Fresh Air.”

Here is a link:

The memoir does answer some questions including the difficulty of maintaining a focus, the feeling of being an outsider, the difficult in expressing emotions and making social contacts, and the importance of repetition and routine.

But the memoir also left me with a lot of questions: What is like writing with Asperger’s? What led up this diagnosis? How has knowing about Asperger’s changed his view of himself and his career beyond the relief he discusses late in the book?

Still, there are some fine passages: “Every so often, someone asks me if I would undergo some yet-to-be-discovered treatment that might end my Asperger’s syndrome. Such questions have become politically fraught and my answer is a complicated one. I wouldn’t wish the condition on anybody – I’ve spent too much of my life isolated, unhappy and conflicted – yet I am also convinced that many of the things I’ve done were accomplished not despite my Asperger’s syndrome but because of it. I’m sure that it is responsible, at least in part, for my powers of concentration …  I’m also sure it’s one of the reasons I take my work so seriously … And I wouldn’t swap my sensory melding of music and words for anything for it continues to provide me with a privileged and other-worldly ecstasy into my sixth decade.” (Pages 178-79).

This is the kind of writing and analysis I wanted more of from the book. Does Page see some kind of affinity between himself and Glenn Gould, who became a friend and about whom he wrote a book? What does he think about Mozart and Beethoven as Aspies? Does he see its effect in their work?

I’d have liked a little more research, some history and medical background, and interviews with some experts? Is it genetic and did it run in his family? Is it underreported? Maybe over-reported and over-speculated about?

And what about some consumer information about advocacy groups for people who might wonder if they too have Asperger’s? Are there treatments, either medication or behavioral therapy, for Asperger’s?

Perhaps an editor should have kept him more on track (and corrected mistakes unworthy of a music critic such as misidentifying Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata being Op. 27, No. 1 – not No. 2.)

Still, this is a brave book. Page’s candor and directness has opened up a dialogue and will be interesting to see where it leads him, his readers and many other people with Asperberg’s syndrome.

In the end, he emerges not just as someone to read and respect, even admire. He comes across as a person you would like to meet and get to know and learn from.

Have you read Page’s criticism and this book?

Do you have thoughts about art and Asperger’s syndrome?

Do you have personal experience with Asperger’s and what do you make of it?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music notes: Some great piano music is inherently risky to hands, fingers

November 16, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

After I posted my notes about anatomically correct and pain-free, injury-free piano playing workshops that recently given here by the nationally renowned expert Barbara Lister-Sink (right), I got a response from a piano teacher who wanted to comment. (Below is a link to many YouTube videos by her): Lister-Sink

I think you’ll find it the response of The Piano Teacher as interesting and thoughtful as I did.

Here it is:

“Thanks also for reporting on Lister-Sink.

“Sounds like she had some good — if not startling — advice.

“I must say, though, that not all music can be played gracefully and fluidly. Sometimes the hands have to perform unnatural acts in the name of art.

“Beethoven, for instance, is rarely physically easy. His aesthetic is tied up with the idea of struggle, the will to power and the transcendence of spirit over the limitations of the flesh –and these qualities must to some extent be experienced and communicated to the listener. If Beethoven becomes merely easy, we lose something essential in the music.

“Isn’t piano playing something of an athletic endeavor? We don’t expect gymnastics to be easy for the novice. It requires much development of muscle, coordination, and conditioning to be able to do it. And it can sometimes result in injury. piano hands

“Is it worth it? Yes, to people who love and pursue gymnastics as an art.

“Why should piano playing also not cost us something?

“On the other hand, when the effort expended or the tension experience is too great to allow one the freedom to move (both physically and emotionally), then we have to learn to step back and to use only that which is truly necessary.

“We don’t just want to be the perpetrators of a pathetic struggle against our own limitations. We want to conquer; we want to succeed, to come out at least with the chance of meeting the music on its own terms. That takes courage, discipline, will, sweat, and grace and humility and patience all intermingled.

“For late Beethoven, or Chopin’s etudes, Brahms’ second concerto, or Debussy’s preludes or a 5-voice Bach fugue there are no easy answers or quick fixes, nor should there be.  If you want to be comfortable, better to play comfortable music.”

Do I agree? Yes, I do. Part of a great performance on the piano is seeing extraordinary hand-eye coordination and the element of sheer physical virtuosity.

I also think it is the role of a fine teacher to know how to help the student progress gradually in mastery – both musical and technical or physical — of the instrument. A good piano teacher knows how to suggest or assign pieces and practice techniques to help get the student to handle without injury the most physically taxing peaks of the vast piano repertoire the student is capable of.

Plus, let’s state the obvious: Talent matters. Not every hand or arm – let alone mind or heart — is capable of playing all piano pieces. Few of us will ever attain the physical mastery and ease of a Maurizio Pollini, a Martha Argerich, a Marc-Andre Hamelin (below right). Hamelin

Nonetheless, a lot of injuries can be prevented and I’ll bet that Lister-Sink is aiming to reach typical players, not the greatest of the greats, and to save people from avoidable and unnecessary and unproductive pain.

But that’s what The Piano Teacher thinks and what I think.

What do you think?

And, I wonder, if she ever gets to read this, what does Lister-Sink herself think?

Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Berlin Philharmonic symphony orchestra and Simon Rattle to play in Ann Arbor; why not in Madison?

November 15, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic are coming pretty  close to Madison this week. Rattleplayers

They will perform in Chicago and, on Tuesday night, in Ann Arbor, Mich., as part of a seven-stop U.S. tour that includes New York, Boston, Los Angeles and  San Francisco.

The tour comes as a coincidence, no doubt a planned coincidence, with two other factors.

One is that Rattle has just been renewed as the Berliners’ director though 2018 (he started in 2002 when he picked up the baton from the legendary Claudio Abbado). That renewal comes despite rumors of tensions between him and both the players and BPO management.Rattle2

The tour program includes two Brahms symphonies (nos. 3 and 4) — Rattle and the BPO have just released a 3-CD set of the four Brahms symphonies on EMI –and a rarely performed work by Arnold Schoenberg, the inventor of atonal music who said Brahms was his favorite composer.

Here are some links to stories about the concert, including a brief interview with Rattle:

And here is a review of the Carnegie Hall performance:

My question is simple: How come we don’t get to hear this group doing this repertoire with this conductor in Madison?

Ann Arbor and Madison are often compared to each other in the way that faculty members and students go back and forth between the two famed Big 10 state universities.

So how did Ann Arbor pull it off?

We have the much-touted Overture Center, but apparently they have the population of Detroit and that counts for more.

But don’t you wonder if booking them in Madison might draw people from, say, Milwaukee? Or will those people go to Chicago? How about from the Twin Cities?

Anyway, I would sure like to see and — more importantly — hear Rattle and the Berliners doing Brahms here. That might settle the issue about buying the Brahms set I asked in yesterday’s blog post.

Would any one else like to hear them in Madison?

So why aren’t they coming here?

Is it economics — you know, plain old cost and high ticket prices?

Too small an audience base?

Bad planning or no offer to book them?

Too much competition from, say, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other classical music events?

The Ear would like some opinions and answers.

Posted in Classical music

Sir Simon Rattle to stay with Berlin Philharmonic through 2018; Should I buy his new set of Brahms symphonies?

November 14, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

I just can’t decide.

Should I get the new set of Brahms symphonies by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic? RattleBrahms

Or should I save the money and use it for something else.

I do love the Brahms symphonies. And I do love the Berlin players(below). I heard them perform Beethoven’s Seventh Symph0ny and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 (with conductor Claudio Abbado and pianist Maurizio Pollini) right after 9/11 in Carnegie Hall. And I have never before or since heard any large group of double basses play fast sixteenth notes with such precision and audible detachment or distinction. DV177039

And as you may have read, Sir Simon recently has had his contract with the Berliners extended though 2018, although there were rumors that the Berliners’ bosses were displeased that Rattle was doing too many modern things and wasn’t doing enough of the standard, solid German repertoire.

(Could the new 3-CD Brahms set be timed to be an answer to that criticism right during contract negotiations? Now, why would anyone be suspicious about such things. This is art. I mean, ART.)

Sometimes I like Rattle and sometimes I don’t.

And I am fond of Leonard Bernstein’s recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic, which may be quirky but are certainly distinctive and, to me, convincing.

For more mainstream readings, I also have a set by George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and another by Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic. (Is the van Karajan set really that good?)

But I have heard some excerpts of the Rattle Brahms on the radio. I liked Rattle’s faster tempi, but the sound seemed thin and superficial.

Has anyone out there heard the whole set?

Buyer or user review at are generally very positive but I don’t always trust them.

What do you, my readers, recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music postmortem: How live blogging went at Madison Opera’s ‘Carmen’

November 13, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

It was just a week ago, last Friday night, that I participated in the first-ever Bloggers Night for the Madison Opera (see below). It was held on the opening night of their production of Georges Bizet’s always popular “Carmen.” operablognight

“It exceeded everything I had hoped for,” says Brian Hinrichs, the communications manager for the Madison Opera. “I am very pleased with how it went and so is Allan.”

Allan Naplan is the general director of the Madison Opera.

It turns out the opera’s two performances were both sold-out houses in  Overture Hall (a total of some 4,400 seats).

But not a lot of credit for that should go to the bloggers, though they might have helped fill the house on Sunday afternoon. Rather, Bizet’s story of gypsy love and betrayal is always popular, and didn’t  fail to be so again.

The Madison Opera’s board of director was also pleased, according to Hinrichs.

So, will the Madison Opera do another Bloggers Night?

“Definitely,” says Hinrichs. It was will probably be in the spring, he adds, when the Madison Opera launches its first-ever Richard Wagner production (“The Flying Dutchman” on April 9 and 11) but NOT for the January 28-31 production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of Henry James’ famous ghost story “The Turn of the Screw,” which will be performed in the much smaller Playhouse rather than in Overture Hall.

Hinrichs says the first time also showed him how to improve it.

Some of the bloggers have said they needed more time, especially during the intermissions. So next time, bloggers might be invited to the dress rehearsal to get down the basics that they can then quickly modify, rather than start from scratch, on opening night.

In addition, the bloggers may be given aisle seats, which will help speed up the process since this time many bloggers sat in the middle of long rows and Overture Hall, unfortunately, does not have center aisles to expedite exit and entry.

Did he hear good things about the bloggers from the audience?

Yes, says Hinrichs (seen below, on the left, in Thailand where he had a Fulbright scholarship after college to study the growth of Western classical music in Asia), from what he heard most people seem to find the new event exciting. Hinrichs in Thailand

But there were some exceptions. Some older members of the audience were a bit confused about what the bloggers were doing there and some said they even felt kind of spied on since bloggers talked about the audience, their behavior and their dress.

But some of that criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the role or purpose of blogging, Hinrichs points out.

Blogs are not supposed to provide finished reviews or critiques so much as they are meant to put readers the feeling on being right there, on the scene or spot.

As for this particular blogger, the night also proved a big success.

I got to see an outstanding production of a great work.

Plus, my blog also recorded a record number of hits with the three opening night postings I filed.

I also got to meet some very kind and friendly readers and fans who said it was good to finally put a face to the words.

And one man strongly suggested that I would get more comments if I asked fewer questions. (Do you think he was right?)

For excerpts for some of the five other blogs, most of which are not specifically devoted to opera or classical music, and for some of the reviews, here is a link to the Madison Opera’s own blog lined to its home page on the web. (I am on the far right in the picture, which can be enlarged if you click on it):

And for information about other Madison Opera productions this season, here is a link to the home page:

Now the question is whether some other performing arts organizations in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the UW School of Music, the UW Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater (which sponsors me), University Theatre, the Bartell Community Theatre and others – will follow suit and try to do more with new media and new audiences, which could be a smart move.

We shall see. And hear.

I’ll ask around and try to find out.

And then of course I will tell.

After all, kiss-and-tell is what news is all about.

So stay tuned.

Posted in Classical music

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

Classical music best bets Nov. 11-17: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra marks 50 years; WYSO holds fundraising gala, concerts; vocal music soars at UW

November 11, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

It seems a perfect match: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will celebrate its Golden Anniversary with a Gold Flute. gallways

Sir James Galway, the most internationally celebrated flutist since Jean-Pierre Rampal—and, truth be told, the Irish Galway is a bigger phenomenon than the French Rampal ever was – returns to be the guest soloist at the WCO concert this Saturday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. His wife, flutist Lady Jeanne Galway will join him.

The program includes Ibert’s Flute Concerto, which was featured in Sewell’s debut concert way back at the Wisconsin Union Theater back in 2000; Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, with two flutes, will be heard with concertmaster Suzanne Beia doing the solo violin work; Aaron Copland’s rarely heard Three Latin American Sketches; and Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite,” the charming Neo-Classical work that the WCO recorded in 2004 on its first CD.

So the concert is a summing up of sorts.

The special celebration concert will be overseen by maestro Andrew Sewell, who must be relieved, after the labor problems that led to cancelled concerts last season, that the WCO has even made it to 50.

The rest of us can be relieved too. Over many years, the WCO has proven a valuable community resource. And this season sees it returning to such community events as the Sing-Out Messiah (Friday, Dec. 11, at Blackhawk Church).

For a while, it seemed then WCO would transcend its primary reputation as the orchestra for Concerts on the Square, now 26 years old. After all, the New Zealand-born Sewell is in my experience a seriously talented and deeply convincing classical musician. andrewsewell

But  this season seems a bit too scattered, too uncentered. The Ear would like to see a more concentrated focus that draws in subscribers.

Somehow I want more predictability. Eclectic programming is Sewell’s hallmark and there is much to be said in favor of eclecticism.

But somehow I think some kind of organizing unity is needed, especially to draw in patron dollars in tough economic times and in a very competitive performing arts environment.

What about an annual concert of all the Bach Brandenburg concertos, such as the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center does in New York City each holiday season?

Perhaps the WCO could dedicate itself to doing chamber orchestra versions of all nine Beethoven symphonies, five piano concertos and violin concerto. Or perhaps a Vivaldi survey. Or a limited cycle of Haydn symphonies (say, the Paris or London symphonies).

Or perhaps the late Mozart symphonies and piano concertos. Perhaps the WCO could have an annual all-Mozart concert with the same pianist, Adam Neiman, with whom they cut such an outstanding CD.

The WCO has already done much of this repertoire, but somehow I think it needs to package itself better. It needs something to link one season to another—an on-going project for listeners to pursue for several years and look forward to.

Anyway, I speak as a friend and fan. And I wish them well and a hearty HAPPY BIRTHDAY with hopes for another 50 years!

For more information about WCO tickets and concerts, call 608 258-4141. Here is a link:

This week is also a big week for the WISCONSIN YOUTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRAS, which kicked off its current season with an open rehearsal and get-together last week.

This weekend, it has double-barrel events.

On FRIDAY, NOV. 13, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society’s Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, WYSO will hold its annual fundraising gala Art of Note, featuring the auction and sale of artistically refurbished broken violins. (See Madison artist Randall Berndt‘s Green Man violin below.) This is the sixth year for the successful campaign, though it has been moved form the spring to the fall. There will be a silent auction and many more activities. BerndtViolin

Then on SATURDAY NOV. 14, and SUNDAY, NOV. 15, there will be several WYSO concerts by small and large student groups, orchestras and ensembles.

Here’s a link to both WYSO events:

Also on FRIDAY at 7 p.m., the Music Teachers National Association UW-Madison Collegiate Chapter is continuing its successful Fundraising Concert Series at the Steinway Gallery (6629 Mineral Point Rd). Sonatas by Schubert, Haydn and Prokofiev will be featured. Suggested donation is $10.

Also on SATURDAY, NOV. 14, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp will perform a recital that features of the greatest classic cello works: J.S. Bach’s Solo Suite No. 2 in D Minor (used as the soundtrack in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film “Though a Glass Darkly”) and Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D, 821.

The program also features “Ricordanza” by George Rochberg; “Three Pieces from Jewish Life” by Ernest Bloch; “Variations on a Slavic Theme” by Bohuslav Martinu; “Two Pieces for Violoncello and Piano” by Felix Mendelssohn; “Hebrew Mediation” by Bloch; and “Variations on a Theme of Rossini” by Martinu.

Karp’s pianist parents Howard and Frances will take turns accompanying him.

The concert is free and open to the public.


On THURSDAY, NOV. 12, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra under James Smith, will perform a program of featuring the Concerto Grosso in E-flat, “Dumbarton Oaks” by Igor Stravinsky; “Pan and Syrinx,” Op. 49 by Carl Nielsen; the world premiere of “Waking Dream” by the award-winning UW composer Laura Elise Schwendinger, with flutist Christina Jennings; and Symphony No. 4 (“Tragic”) by Franz Schubert.

The concert is free and open to the public.

On FRIDAY, NOV. 13, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Concert Choir, conducted by Beverly Taylor, will perform a program including motets by Otto Olsson, Stanford and Gibbons, plus the “Lamentations of Jeremiah” by Ginastera; Lukas Foss’ “Behold I Build an House”; and Swedish and American partsongs and folksongs. BevTaylor

Admission is free and open to the public.

At the same time, also 8 p.m., in Morphy Hall Scott Teeple will lead the UW Wind Ensemble’s Chamber Concert. The program includes “Le Bal De Beatrice D’Este” by Reynaldo Hahn; Symphony for Brass and Percussion by Gunther Schuller; and “Dog Breath Variations” by Frank Zappa (yes, the late leader of the rock band “The Mothers of Invention”).

The concert is free and open to the public.

Then on SUNDAY, NOV 15, at 3 P.M. in the LUTHER MEMORIAL CHURCH – 1021 University Ave. — the UW Madrigal and Chorale singers, under Bruce Gladstone, perform a shared program “Hail and Farewell.” The choirs perform separately and together in the acoustics of a neo-Gothic church. Chorale begins with “African Processional” by David Montoya and Carah Reed and “Ave Maria” by Tomas Luis de Victoria. Madrigal Singers perform “Songs of Farewell” by C. H. H. Parry. The combined voices and organist John Chappell Stowe perform Maurice Durufle’s Requiem – a must-hear if you like the quietude of Faure’s Requiem.

So whatever you go to and listen to, let us know what you thought.

I’m especially interested in what you thought of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s anniversary concert and how area students performed in the WYSO concerts.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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