The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Best Bets for March 24-31: Mahler’s tragedy, Bach’s anti-Semitism, Haydn’s valve trumpet, Wagner’s Dutchman and a free Community Orchestra concert highlight the week before UW spring break | March 24, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Things slow down a lot this week as the University of Wisconsin heads into the Spring Break, which ends April 5.

But there are still some fine classical music events to take in:

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall is a MUST-HEAR concert: The UW Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of James Smith (below), will perform Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 6 (“Tragic”) that will be played without intermission and last about 90 minutes.

It is an amazing work, considered one of Mahler’s masterpieces, and has a slow movement that carries you to the heights and depths.

It is also a test of the musicianship for the UW students because there is nothing easy, technically or interpretatively, about the symphony.

Admission is free and open to the public.

If you can make it, go. You won’t be sorry. I know because I heard them rehearsing.


On Thursday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Neil Sisauyhoat, percussionist, will perform a UW fauclty recital.

The program includes “A Minute of News” by Eugene Novotney; “Ultimatum I” by Nebojša Jovan Živković; “Mariel” by Osvaldo Golijov, with cellist Parry Karp; “Triple Jump” by Kenji Bunch; and “She Who Sleeps With a Small Blanket” by Kevin Volans.

Neil Sisauyhoat is a specialist in classical, contemporary and Afro-Cuban percussion. He is currently an adjunct instructor of percussion at UW-Madison, where he teaches percussion fundamentals to music education majors and studio lessons to percussion majors.

Admission is free and open to the public.


On Thursday, March 25, at 8 p.m., in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society a FREE PUBLIC forum will be held on J.S. Bach’s “ ‘St. John Passion’ and Anti-Semitism.”

It is being held in conjunction with an upcoming performance by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and period instrumentalists of J. S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” on Good Friday, April 2, at 8 p.m. in the Unitarian Society’s new Atrium Auditorium.

Tickets for the performance at the door are $25 for adults and $15 for students.

Here is a link to more information about the performance:

(An interview with the leader of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir was started Tuesday and will be completed Thursday.)

In recent years, Bach’s “St. John Passion” has stirred controversy in classical music circles due to its alleged anti-Semitic content.

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s forum will address this issue from different points of view by including participants from Madison’s Jewish, Lutheran, and classical music communities. Panel members will include: Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth-El;
 Pastor Franklin Wilson of Luther Memorial Church;
 Michael Schuler of the First Unitarian Society; 
Professor Jeanne Swack, UW-Madison musicologist;
 and Robert Gehrenbeck, director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below).

According to Gehrenbeck, Bach’s “St. John Passion” has as its basis the story of Jesus’ final days and death as told in the Gospel of John. In addition to this text from the New Testament, Bach added other texts—Lutheran hymns and freely composed poetry—that comment upon the Gospel narrative.

Within the past few years, Biblical scholars and musicologists have presented various, often conflicting arguments about the perceived anti-Jewish bias of the original Gospel text, and about Bach’s participation in, or mitigation of, this bias.

The conflicts swirling around Bach’s St. John Passion today have their roots in the social and religious background of the oratorio. Bach’s own performances of the work were not without controversy: at least one performance during his lifetime may have been canceled due to opposition by local religious authorities.

Jewish, Christian, and secular perspectives on the work’s background, history and modern reception will be among the topics of discussion at the Thursday night forum.


The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform on Friday, March 26, at 8 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below).

According to program notes, returning is trumpet virtuoso, Ryan Anthony (below), who wowed audiences at Concerts on the Square in 2008.  He is featured on two works in the first half, Italian baroque composer, Tomaso Albinoni’s Concerto St. Marc, followed by Haydn’s historical Trumpet Concerto.  At the time of composition, it was one of the first concerti written for the newly invented “valve” trumpet and is a masterpiece.

Shostakovich’s moving String Quartet No. 8, has had numerous arrangements for string orchestra, but most notably by the Russian violist and conductor, Rudolf Barshai, known as Chamber Symphony Op.110a.

Shostakovich wrote the Eighth Quartet over three days in 1953 while visiting Dresden, on assignment to write music for a documentary film about the bombing of that city during World War II. At the time, he was so overcome and depressed, speculation exists that he may have been considering suicide.

Was he writing about his dismay at the destruction of War, or was he writing a subliminal suicide note?  Borrowing themes from his earlier Symphony Nos. 1 and 5, and the Cello Concerto No.1, it is both a powerful and personal testimony of one man’s search for the meaning of life.

Tickets are $19-$62. Call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.


In addition to performances of Richard Wagner “The Flying Dutchman,” (set for Act 1 is below top) the Madison Opera is offerings audiences the chance to enhance their operatic experience with “Opera Up Close: ‘The Flying Dutchman Preview’” on Sunday, March 28, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Lecture Hall in the Overture Center.

The presentation features behind-the-scenes previews of each of this season’s productions. With extensive multi-media presentations, engaging guest artist commentaries, historical perspectives and musical and production explorations of each opera, there’s no better way to gain access into the operatic art form. This popular series regularly attracts capacity crowds, according to the Madison Opera.

General admission is $20.

One hour prior to each performance, Madison Opera’s General Director Allan Naplan also presents a free Pre‐Opera Talk in the Wisconsin Studio at the Overture Center.

For more information about the opera performances, here is a link:


On Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m. in the Mitby Theater of Madison Area Technical College-Truax, 3550 Anderson St., the Madison Community Orchestra – an ensemble of devoted amateurs — will perform a FREE one-hour concert under the baton of it director Blake Walter of Edgewood College.

The program includes Nicolai’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” Overture; 
Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slav”; Saint-Saens’ “Bacchanale” from his opera “Samson and Delilah”; and 
Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance, Op 46, No. 8.

In addition UW graduate student and soprano Emily Birsan (below) will perform 
Puccini’s “O mio Babbino caro,” 
Mozart’s “Ach, Ich fuhls”  from “The Magic Flute” and Gounod’s “Ah, je veux vivre” from “Romeo and Juliet.”

The concert takes place in the Mitby Theater at Madison College. A map and directions to the campus can be found at:

Patrons can be dropped off next to the Mitby Theater entrance on Wright Street. State disabled parking is available at the Mitby entrance, and ample free parking is available across Wright Street from the theater.

Free concert reservations can be made by contacting the Mitby Theater box office at (608) 243-4000. The box office is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from noon until 4 p.m.

In addition to taking your reservation, the box office staff will answer any questions you may have about the performance.

For more information about the Madison Community Orchestra, visit the website:

Posted in Classical music

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