The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Best Bets for Feb. 24-March 2 include a surefire Tchaikovsky piano concerto, an unknown Sibelius symphony and a world premiere contemporary chamber work by Nathan Currier | February 24, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music event this week is Madison is the program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which features the returns of British pianist Stephen Hough and Estonian guest conductor Anu Tali.

The program includes the popular and passionately tuneful Piano Concerto No, 1 in B-Flat minor, Op. 23, by Tchaikovsky (the same surefire work that Van Cliburn rode to fame) as well as Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ little known Symphony No. 1 and the 20th-century work “Dawn” by the Estonian composer Heino Eller (1887-1970).

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

Tickets are $15-$75. Visit or call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

I am giving this concert a MUST-HEAR rating for several reasons.  The Tchaikovsky never fails, except perhaps in a realty dreadful performance, to thrill listeners and get them jumping out of their seats as soon as it ends.

Plus, Stephen Hough (below) is among the most interesting and exciting pianist on the scene today. A renaissance man who blogs, writes poetry, paints and composes, Hough rarely turns in an uninteresting performance, and there is no reason this concert should be different. In April, his recording of the complete Tchaikovsky piano concertos, with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vanska, will be released.

The last time I heard Anu Tali (below) with the MSO, she was a firecracker. Her performance was exciting and her podium presence was riveting. It is also refreshing to see a woman on the podium and in charge.

Finally, this concert offers things to learn through the Sibelius First Symphony and the Estonian composer Heino Eller.

NEWS FLASH: Also, piano fans and Stephen Hough fans might especially be interested to learn that Hough will conduct a FREE AND PUBLIC MASTER CLASS at the UW School of Music this THURSDAY from 1 to 3 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Four students will perform: Monica Schultz (undergraduate who studies with Christopher Taylor) in Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, K. 310; Chaoyin Cai (doctoral student who studies with Christopher Taylor) in Chopin’s “Polonaise Fantasie,” Op. 61; Margie Runaas (a master’s student with Todd Welbourne) in Schumann’s  “Faschingsschwank aus Wien” (Carnival Jests from Vienna), Op. 26, movement 1; and Ji Young Noh (a doctoral student with Martha Fischer) in Chopin’s  “Bolero,” Op. 19.

For Friday’s free Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. violinist Kangwon Kim (below, on right, seated with members of the Madison Bach Musicians) and pianist Li-shan Hung, piano play works by Mozart, Messiaen and Brahms.

The concert is at the First Unitarian Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive.

Admission is free and so is the coffee

If you miss that performance, the same players will perform on Sunday at a different venue – and with a much larger reach.

This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert features the same violinist, Kangwon Kim. The concert takes place from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art. Kim will be accompanied by pianist Lis-shan Hung and violist Matthew Michelic.

As usual, the concert will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area).

The program will feature Olivier Messiaen’s “Theme and Variations” for violin and piano, Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for violin and piano in D minor from Opus 108, as well as Mozart’s Sonata for piano and violin in G major and his too rarely heard Duo for violin and viola in B-flat major.

Kim is a versatile violinist with a repertoire ranging from baroque to 21st century, using both baroque and modern violins. She has given solo and chamber recitals throughout the U.S., Korea, Canada, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Norway. Hung serves as Associate Professor and the Keyboard Area Coordinator at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

Michelic has performed throughout the U.S. and internationally as a member of the DaVinci and Delos Quartets, the Milwaukee Symphony and the Aspen Festival Orchestra.

On Sunday, Feb. 28, at 2:30, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform in the St. Joseph Chapel under director Blake Walter.

The event spotlights concerto competition winner Brianna Buhr (below), a soprano voice major, who is studying with Kathleen Otterson at Edgewood College. The performance will include works by Rossini, Pärt, Handel and Mozart.

Admission is $5 admission, or free with Edgewood College ID.

It’s generally a pretty quiet week over the University of Wisconsin School of Music – lots of faculty play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, after all. But there is one minor exception and one major exception.

On Sunday, at 6: 30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW student group After Hours Brass Quintet will perform an unspecified program.

On Tuesday, March 2, at 7:30 in Mills Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform under the direction of  UW award-winning composer Laura Schwendiger (below).

The program features the WORLD PREMIERE of  “Looking Out” for mezzo-soprano, tenor, clarinet, horn, cello and piano by contemporary American composer Nathan Currier (below). Other works include Kaija Saariaho’s “Miranda’s Lament”; Ravel’s “Madecasses Songs”; “Dark upon the Harp” by Jacob Druckman, “Cryin’ Time” by Bob Becker and “Melos ophiae” by UW student composer Filippo Santoro.

Performers in this concert include UW-Madison piano lecturer Ina Selvelieva and adjunct percussion instructor Neil Sisauyhoat, as well as the following students, alumni and guest artists: soprano Jennifer Lien, mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sanudo, tenor David Redick, cellist Alison Rowe, clarinetist Rosemary Brumbelow, horn players Elysa DiMauro and Katie Johnson, percussionists Ian Disjardin, Todd Hammes and Megan Shieh, pianist Jonathan Kuuskoski, trombonist Dylan Chmura-Moore, trumpeters Logan Brown and Daniel Cross, tuba player Stephanie Frye, violist Nicholas Jeffery, violinist Wes Luke and conductors Ching-Chun Lai and Thomas Lang.

Currier is a winner of the lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Rome Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship and other awards. His work has been performed by groups including the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and, this season, the Berlin Philharmonic. Notable soloists who have played his compositions include pianist Leon Fleisher, tenor Paul Sperry and violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

“We are so thrilled to be giving the world premiere of a work by one of the most important American composers of his generation,” said Schwendinger. “This is a rare opportunity to hear a premiere by Nathan outside of New York, and may be the most important premiere the CCE has presented in its years of existence at the UW.”

Currier, who will be present at the premiere, will be giving a composition master class on Wednesday, March 3 at 3:15 p.m. in Room 2551 of the Humanities Building. The public is invited, although seating is limited.

If you wonder why we don’t hear more contemporary classical music, consider the timing: You could hardly pick a night for a lower profile than Tuesday night. It’s a mid-week date, a work night and school night, so to speak.

One can only imagine how the attendance for a world premiere might increase if the concert took place on, say, a Saturday night.

Maybe next time.

It seems to The Ear that a nationally prominent School of Music is the perfect place for new and experimental music to receive a higher profile and more prominent place for a larger hearing. It makes the contemporary more mainstream and normal, less rare or exotic.

What do you think about that?

And about the role of contemporary classical music in the cultural life of Madison?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Sibelius’ 1st Symphony is not “unknown.” It is not “little known.” It is in no category of “known, not very much” except for people who wouldn’t recognize the first theme of Beethoven’s Fifth.

    It IS in the category of “not enough played in live concerts,” so its appearance this weekend is most welcome.

    Comment by Martin Barrett — February 25, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    • Hi Martin,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to write a comment.

      I’ll accept your point — but I note that I cannot recall hearing a local performance or radio performance of the Sibelius’ First Symphony.

      I also think the distinctions you draw are a bit quibbling and the context you establish in hyperbolic, overblown or exaggerated — maybe even snobby.

      Beyond the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth, there are Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 2, 5, 7 and 9 — all of which are much better known than the No. 1. Take a poll of the concert hall or the general public, and I think you will find that Sibelius’ First Symphony is, comparatively unknown.

      Is it completely unknown? No, and on that count you are certainly right.

      Let’s see what other readers have to say about the public status of the work. Readers?

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 25, 2010 @ 3:35 pm

  2. Thanks Brian.
    I heard nothing and got nothing about it.
    No snub meant.
    I see tickets are $23. Program says music by Liszt, Chopin, Mozart, Ravel and Scriabin.

    Comment by welltemperedear — February 24, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  3. Also, a piano recital by Steinway artist Xiayin Wang in The Playhouse at Overture on Thurs, Feb 25:

    Nobody seems to have heard of it; I only learned through an e-mail from the presenting company the Palomino Group last week.

    Comment by Brian H — February 24, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

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