The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: The Ear hears the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra perform and says “Let us now praise young musicians.”

March 21, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

I stopped into the Winterfest concert last Sunday afternoon in Mills Hall by the Youth Orchestra, the premier performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

It was quite an event. It’s another reason that leads me to say: Let us now praise student musicians.

The music-making itself was impressive. The large ensemble (below) played under conductor James Smith, who had a busy weekend since he also conducted the UW Chamber Orchestra with the Eroica Trio on Saturday night.

They opened with an upbeat performance of  Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festival Overture.” Then, rounding out the first half, came Manuel De Falla’s colorful and very Spanish-sounding suite from “The Three-Corner Hat.”

Then finally, after intermission, the group finished with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6. They gave it a big beautiful reading with lots of nuances and subtleties. You don’t make that mind of music without talent, without practice or without caring. They played with total commitment, and as a result they made me optimistic about the future of classical music.

This is extraordinary group of young people. Not for nothing did the program booklet feature ads about music scholarships available at Edgewood College and Lawrence University.

I was impressed with the accuracy and precision of the playing, with the cohesion of a stage full of somewhere near 100 young and talented classical musicians.

I also took some photos (done low light and with no flash so as not to distract the players or other listeners) that I am using on this blog post.

I was struck not just by the age of the players, but by the age of the listeners. Somehow, it reassured me about the future of classical music and its audience.

I saw quite a video cameras set up by families and friends of the performers (see below). I also saw a lot of young brothers and sisters and maybe other relatives. Good listening is a good habit to start young.

At the end, the performance earned a loud standing ovation (below) and quite rightfully so. Like me, many in the audience, I suspect, were applauding not only this particular performance but the whole idea of WYSO and the people who have made it happen since 1966, teaching some 5,000 students from more than 100 communities in southcentral Wisconsin.

I also note, with admiration, that the WYSO members have raised some $29,000 towards a goal of $44,000, according to WYSO officials. They did it not by gimmicks or selling things at a discount, but by writing letters to people they know and simply explaining why they find WYSO a valuable experience and why it should be supported. That too is exemplary on their part.

They also deserve your support. If you care about the future of talented young people and the future of classical music, consider making as donation. It couldn’t go to a better use.

You can send your donations to: WYSO, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI 53706. For information, call 608 263-3320. CDs of various concerts held during Winterfest will soon be available.

Do you hear any of WYSO’s Winterfest concerts?

What did you think?

What do you think of WYSO?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music events: Here is the line-up for Saturday’s “Bach Around the Clock”

March 20, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

On today, Saturday, March 20, the inaugural Bach Around the Clock (BATC) will take place from noon to midnight in the chapel at the Pres House (below), 731 State Street, around the corner from the University Bookstore and across from the Library Mall and UW Faculty Club. It has a fine piano and a new organ that will get its first workout.

The community event is sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio but will not be broadcast.

However there will be a live web cam you can go to at in order to get more information and background, and to hear and see amateurs and professionals and students play Bach in order to greet the 325th birthday of Johann Sebastian on Sunday.

Here is a direct link to the live streaming web cam:

“I want it to be very relaxed and fun,” says Cheryl Dring (below), the music director at WPR who worked so hard to get this event started and recruit talent, and who hopes to expand it and make it an annual event.

Here is the tentative and impressive line-up:

Noon: harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below top) and the Madison Bach Musicians (below bottom) in movements form Cantata No. 78.

1 p.m.: Organist Alexander S. Ford from Verona playing Preludium in G, the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” chorale, and 3 of the 8 “Small Preludes and Fugues.”

2 p.m.: David Susan.

2:30 p.m.: Pianist Jacob Stockinger (The Ear turns Fingers) and flutist Laura Muller in the F Minor Prelude and Fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II; movements from Partita No. 1 in B-flat and French Suite No. 4;  the song “Bist du bei mir” and the “Siciliano” movement from the Flute Sonata No. 2.

3 p.m.: two piano students of area teacher Gloria Chuang (below).

3:30 p.m.: Susan Hollingsworth.

3:45 p.m.: Soprano Katherine Peck with  pianist Dorothy Hui and flutist David Pierringer.

4 p.m.: Piano students of area teacher and UW voice coach Bill Lutes. Pieces include Two- and Three-Part Inventions, preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier; movements from the French Suite No. 6; and other works.

5:30 p.m.: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) in selections from the “St. John Passion.”

6:30 p.m.: Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Edith Hines (below) performing some solo violin works and sonatas.

7:30 p.m.: Mike McConnell.

8 p.m.: Organist John Krueger in various works.

9:30 p.m.: Chris Allen.

10-Midnight: UW organist and harpsichordist John Chappelle Stowe (below top in a photo by Katrin Talbot), violinist Edith Hines, Ancora String Quartet and Madison Symphony Orchestra violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below bottom in a photo, also by Katrin Talbot).

If you go to Bach Around the Clock — or watch it on web cam — let us know what you thought of the event and the performances?

Do you use the live web cam?

Should it be held again next year?

How can it be improved?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2010-11 season

March 19, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has announced its 85th Season.

Maestro John DeMain, who will be marking his 17th season in Madison, will conduct all eight concerts. He often guests conducts around the nation and world.

For its size and city, the MSO has gained a unique reputation among comparable orchestras  for its performance of triple subscription programs and its high subscriber renewal rate.

Season brochures arrived in the mail last week and online subscription ordering began last Saturday

For more information, or to be added to our mailing list, visit

Performances will be Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.


Here, taken and modified from a MSO press release,  is the season line-up:

October 15-17, 2010: Pianist Olga Kern (below), a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medalist, will headline. The first woman to win the legendary competition in more than 30 years, Kern captivated MSO audiences in her Madison debut last season.

Kern will perform Rachmaninoff’s most popular work, the Piano Concerto No. 2, a melodic tour de force that marks Rachmaninoff’s triumphant return to composing. These concerts open with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and will close with Bartók’s orchestral masterpiece, Concerto for Orchestra, a work that will highlight the virtuosity of every section of the MSO.

November 12-14, 2010: The MSO welcomes celebrated composer John Harbison of MIT and Token Creek fame for prelude discussions and a suite from the opera he wrote for the Metropolitan Opera, The Great Gatsby. Richard Strauss’ orchestral romp, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, follows.

After intermission, cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below) will make her MSO debut. New York Magazine said, “At 26, Weilerstein is arguably Yo-Yo Ma’s heiress apparent as sovereign of the American cello.” Her musical personality is positively magnetic, and she’ll illuminate Dvořák’s beloved Cello Concerto.

Dec. 3-5: Christmas Spectacular, Madison’s most anticipated holiday tradition, follows on  with Metropolitan Opera star, soprano Angela Brown (seen below as Aida at the Met). “It is says that big voices win out at the Met. Ms. Brown has one, but her real secret is a purity and presence that can send even the quietest passages floating out to the back of the house,” said The New York Times of the MSO’s Christmas angel.

The Madison Symphony Chorus under the direction of Beverly Taylor, the Madison Youth Choirs under the artistic direction of Michael Ross and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir under the direction of local celebrity Leotha Stanley round out the season’s offerings. Traditional Christmas caroling in Overture Lobby will again preface these concerts.

January 14-16, 2011: The Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud (below), who wowed MSO audiences last season with his stunning interpretation of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, returns. This time he will perform Tchaikovsky’s popular Violin Concerto.

The concerts begin with Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of America’s great Romantic composer, Samuel Barber. After intermission, the concerts pay tribute the Robert Schumann’s 200th anniversary with his uplifting Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish).

February 18-20, 2011: The MSO welcomes the young pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below), who caused a sensation when she independently recorded and released her own debut album—Bach’s Goldberg Variations—to instant world-wide critical acclaim in 2007. Her album earned the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Classical Chart during its first week of sales, appeared on The New York Times’, The Los Angeles Times’ and The New Yorker’s “Best of 2007” lists and later received France’s prestigious Diapason d’Or Award. Since then, Dinnerstein’s concert debut with the New York Philharmonic and recital debuts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy and Lincoln Centers have followed in quick succession.

She’ll be playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, the most poetic of all of his piano works. These concerts open with Elgar’s jaunty Pomp & Circumstance March, Op. 39, No. 1 (and no, this is not the one you heard at high school graduation). Prokofiev’s epic Symphony No. 5 will close these concerts with a joyous and dizzying swirl of music.

March 25027: MSO favorite, violinist Robert McDuffie (below, in a photo by Christian Steiner), returns to play Barber’s lush and melodic Violin Concerto. Dvořák’s Carnival Overture opens these concerts and the MSO will close with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). A Beethoven symphony is always cause for celebration, but his Eroica is one of the truly revolutionary works of his repertoire. Its epic beauty captured the Romantic imagination and redefined the symphony ideal.

April 15-17, 2011: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) has carved out a unique place for himself in the world of classical music. “…He has emerged as the leading pianist of his generation,” said the Boston Globe. The New York Times goes even further, saying, “Those who know the pianist Christopher Taylor tend to speak of him in the hushed, reverent tones typically reserved for natural wonders, if not the otherworldly. Colleagues trip over words like ‘innocence,’ ‘fervor,’ ‘beauty,’ and ‘vision’ in an attempt to capture his elusive personality.” He joins the MSO April 15-17, 2011 for Schumann’s effervescent Piano Concerto in A minor.

Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, opens these evocative concerts. After intermission, in place of the traditional symphony, John DeMain has chosen the hushed melodies of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Tchaikovsky’s dramatic Francesca da Rimini, a work that tells the story of star-crossed lovers forever trapped in the storm of Dante’s Inferno.

May 6-8, 2011: The season’s finale brings together two of the greatest composers of all time. MSO Principal Flute Stephanie Jutt (below top) and Principal Harp Karen-Beth Atz (below bottom) will solo for Mozart’s beguiling and delicate Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra.

After intermission, Mahler’s explosive Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) brings together UW soprano Julia Faulkner (below), mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck and the Madison Symphony Chorus. Mahler said of this piece: “One is battered to the ground and raised on angel’s wings to the highest heights.” The work will provide a dramatic conclusion to another MSO season.


The MSO is continuing its popular new subscriber discount of 50% off single ticket prices for subscriptions of six, seven and eight concerts, and has added another new subscription option, allowing new subscribers to choose five concerts at a 40% discount. New subscriber packages start at just $53.

Renewing subscribers save up to 25% off the price of single tickets and will be entered for a chance to win a free subscription for up to two people if they renew by April 12.

Renew by April 30 to keep your current seats or request a priority upgrade.

There is no deadline for new subscriptions, however, you are encouraged to order early for the best available seats. In addition to subscriber discounts, unlimited ticket exchange and optional reserved subscriber parking in the Dane County Ramp, the MSO also offers an exclusive 10% discount on single tickets during Subscriber Courtesy Days, August 25-27, 2010.

What do you think of the new Madison Symphony Orchestra season?

What are your most favorite programs and soloists?

Your least favorite?

What would you like to see or not to see?

Which of the three performances for each program do you think is best to go to, and why?

The MSO wants to know.

And The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: Madison Symphony’s John DeMain gets raves for the “Nixon in China” he does in Vancouver

March 18, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday, Madison maestro John DeMain (below top in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who is the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera, got unanimous raves for the Vancouver Opera’s production of John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China” (below).

The Vancouver Opera production was the Canadian premiere of the 1987 opera, and DeMain, who gave the world premiere in Houston, has been in Vancouver since before the Olympics getting ready for the three performances.

And there are more reviews to come and more videos to be seen (go Google and to YouTube and type into the search engine Vancouver Opera Nixon” and you can also see what Canadians say about Nixon the Politician as well as Nixon the Opera.

Do you have a message for John DeMain?

A comment about either the music of John Adams or “Nixon in China”?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music datebook: Best Bets for March 17-23 include celebrating J.S. Bach’s 325th birthday and hearing young talent at the Madison Symphony Orchestra

March 17, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a MUST-HEAR concert.

It seems to be escaping the attention of a lot of people – probably because it features young and relatively unknown names: the 29-year-old American pianist Jonathan Biss (below top, who will make his Madison debut and will be on Thursday’s “The Midday” program from noon to 1 p.m. on WERN 88.7 FM) and German conductor Patrick Strub (below bottom, who made his debut here last season with a stellar performance with UW Symphony Orchestra).

Plus, the repertoire is not that well-known or familiar: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 “Jeunehomme” is not the famous “Elvira Madison” or another of the most famous later of Mozart’s 27 concertos. And Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 doesn’t carry the cachet of his four symphonies, four concertos or two overtures. Plus, few people know more of Carl Maria von Weber’s music than “Invitation to the Dance.” His Overture to “Oberon” will be performed.

But the relative rarity of that repertoire is precisely one reason to go hear it. Here is a link to porgram notes if you want to find out more:

Plus, make no mistake.

These young, so-called no-name musicians have major firepower when it comes to delivering superior classical music. I have heard them and I know. Trust The Ear. If you haven’t heard them yet and don’t hear them now, I am sure you will be hearing about them in the future.

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 are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at 258-4141.


Saturday is a historic day to celebrate Sunday as a historic day. And so is Tuesday (see below).

On Sunday, Johann Sebastian Bach – the composer of all composers — turns 325.

And to mark it Wisconsin Public Radio is sponsoring Bach Around the Clock or BATC, a noon to midnight event in the Pres House, 731 State St., near the Library Mall, where amateurs and professional musicians will perform Bach’s music to celebrate his birthday.

It’s live only, with no radio broadcast – although WPR is working on live web-streaming.

The event is the brainstorm – note storm? — of Cheryl Dring (below), the music director of WPR and the host of “Morning Classics” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. She borrowed it from her native New Orleans where they held a 24-hour Bach Around the Clock in a church.

She says she hopes if this is successful, to do it if future years and to expand it.

She may just have her wish come true, judging by the interest this inaugural BATC has created.

The full schedule is still being decided, but here are some highlights: Keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below) of the Madison Bach Musicians and Edgewood College is kicking things off at noon.

Piano teacher, UW voice coach and former Wisconsin Public Radio host and music director Bill Lutes is bringing his piano studio with some Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias as well as some preludes and fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” and some movements from the French suites other suites.

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir is performing choruses from the “St. John Passion” at 5:30 p.m.; a couple of the Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians are coming after their concert Saturday night And UW organist and harpsichordist John Chappell Stowe is taking the late wrap-up shift from 10-midnight – when the Birthday Boy gets a cake.

Also on Saturday, at 4 p.m. in nearby Morphy Hall, UW pianist Ina Selvelieva (below), performs a recital.   The program includes “Desperate Measures” (Paganini Variations) by Robert Muczynski; “Sonata in E-flat major,” Op. 27, No. 1 by Beethoven; selected etudes from “Etudes tableaux” by Rachmaninoff; and “Gaspard de la Nuit” by Ravel. Admission is free and open to the public. (She will perform the same program without the Ravel at the First Unitarian Society’s free Noon Musicale on Friday from 12:125 to 1 p.m. at 900 University Bay Drive.)

Also on Saturday, and also at 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, the UW Trumpet Ensemble will perform. All the trumpet majors at the School of Music participate in this concert of works for different numbers of trumpets—quartets and quintets up to the full ensemble of 17 members. The program includes an arrangement for seven trumpets of the overture to “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, utilizing instruments of different sizes and range. UW virtuoso trumpeter John Aley is the director.  Admission is free to the public.

On Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” welcomes Chris Cramer, guitar and Yi-Lan (Elaine) Niu, soprano, in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art.

The concert will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio, 88.7 FM in the Madison area.

Also on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., in St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College presents its Spring Choral Concert. The Edgewood College Chamber Singers, conducted by Albert Pinsonneault, and the Women’s Choir, conducted by Kathleen Otterson will perform. Admission is free.

Also on Sunday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Faculty Concert Series offers Mark Hetzler (below) trombone, with Todd Hammes, vibes, tabla, harmonium and percussion.

The concert features Hetzler’s new composition “Three Views of Infinity,” a fusion of diverse Western styles with traditional Islamic and Indian classical music influences; and music from the landmark 1966 Latin jazz album “El Sonido Nuevo,” utilizing a 12-piece jazz ensemble of five trombones and full Latin rhythm section.

Guest musicians are Vincent Fuh, piano; Nickolas Moran, bass; Anthony Di Sanza, Jamie Ryan and Neil Sisauyhoat, percussion; Dawn Lawler, flute; and Eli Brauner, Corey Murphy, Kevan Feyzi and Ben Sorce, trombones. Admission is free to the public.

On Tuesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m., Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band performs under the direction of Mike Leckrone (below). Admission is free to the public.


Also on Tuesday, March 23, at  7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, three of Madison’s great organists get together for this festive celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 325th birthday: Bruce Bengtson (below top), Director of Music and Organist at Luther Memorial Church; Gary Lewis (below middle), Director of Music & Organist at Bethel Lutheran Church; and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Samuel Hutchison (below bottom), Principal Organist and Curator of the Overture Concert Organ join forces to bring you works by Bach and others.

Bach wrote more than 400 works for organ, and among them are some of the greatest masterworks for the instrument. They won’t have time for all 400 in this recital since they also say they want to leave room for other composers as well.

Tickets are $15, with $10 for student rush. Call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.

Here is the program:

Gary Lewis:  Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, Chorale Partita “Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig,” BWV 768. Variation II; Max Reger’s “Benedictus,” Op. 59, No. 9 and Toccata in D Minor Op. 59, No. 5.

Bruce Bengtson: Bach’s Fugue in G Major, BWV 577, Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), “Christe, du Lamm Gottes,” BWV 619, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross,” BWV 622; “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” BWV 625; and “In dir ist Freude,” BWV 615. He will also perform Alexandre Guilmant’s  “Variations and Fugue on the chant Stabat Mater.”

Samuel Hutchison: Marcel Dupré’s Prelude in B Major, Op. 7, No. 1; Bach’s “We All Believe in One True God,” BWV 740, and Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542.

Gary Lewis, a native of Oshkosh, Wisconsin holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Church Music from Northwestern University where he studied organ with Wolfgang Rübsam and Arthur Poister and conducting with Margaret Hillis. For eight seasons he was Artistic Director of the 100-voice Virginia Choral Society. Since 1994 he has served as Director of Music and Organist at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison where he directs a very active music program for all ages.

Bruce Bengtson is Director of Music at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, a position he has held for the past 32 years. Responsible for the choral and instrumental programs of the parish, he directs the adult, youth and children’s choirs. The church’s three pipe organs are heard weekly at a noon time recital played by Bengtson. He is active in the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, the American Guild of Organists and has two commissioned anthems recently published by Augsburg Fortress.

Samuel Hutchison is Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Overture Concert Organ where he holds the Wayne Curtis & Maybelle Slavens Hall and Francis Vincent & Lettie von Kalweit Dunnebacke Organ Curatorship endowed by an anonymous donor. An honors graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey he has played recitals at the Riverside Church in New York City in addition to many European cathedrals including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Notre Dame and St. Sulpice in Paris and the Marien Kirche in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Major funding for this concert is provided by Friends of the Overture Concert Organ. Support for all Overture Concert Organ performances is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.  The Overture Concert Organ is the gift of Pleasant T. Rowland.

A reminder: On Wednesday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Symphony Orchestra, directed by James Smith will perform Gustav Mahler’s massive “Symphony No. 6” (“Tragic”), a 90-minute work performed in four movements without intermission.  Orchestra will be expanded with extra winds and percussion to 108 players. The sixth symphony is considered among Mahler’s greatest. Admission is free and open to the public.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: The Ear speaks to pianist Jonathan Biss. Part 2 of 2.

March 16, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

At 29, the American pianist Jonathan Biss (below) – the son of violinist Miriam Fried (who performed the Dvorak Violin Concerto here years ago) and violist Paul Biss – is among the rising classical stars of his generation.

His recordings of solo works by Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert and of Mozart piano concertos, have been critically acclaimed. Plus, he writes his own liner notes, which are always enjoyable personal and highly informative in well-written English — not Music Speak.

You may have seen Biss perform on TV when his teacher Leon Fleisher received the Kennedy Center honors.

He will perform in Madison this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the terrific young German guest conductor Patrick Strub who performed superbly in Madison last season with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The MSO program, includes Weber’s Overtue to “Oberon,” Brahms’ Serenade No.1 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 (“Jeunehomme”), K. 271, with Biss.

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 are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at 258-4141.

Recently Biss spoke via e-mail with The Ear about his upcoming Madison performances, his career and other matters. Here is the last of the two-part interview.

What are you plans for future recordings – solo, concertos and chamber music? Is there particular recording you are proud of having made?

While there are many things in discussion, nothing is firm at the moment. Among the recordings of made, I would probably single out the Mozart and the Schubert as both were made live. The experience of recording concert – while scary – is really exhilarating.

You seem to favorite the German composers – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann along with some Kurtag. What composers do you feel the closest affinity to and why?

There’s nothing more difficult than explaining why it is that you love one kind of music more than another – it’s so extremely personal, and it has to do with feelings that defy description. While I love a wide variety of music, it is true that Germanic music has a special place for me. If I had to make a very broad statement, I’d say it’s because the German composers (across several centuries) dealt with the Big Questions – life and death, man’s place in the universe. While that undoubtedly led to the creation of some very bad, very self-important music, it also inspired some of the most moving creations of civilization.

How can classical musicians help build audiences of young people today?

That’s a big question without a simple answer. I think first of all we have to find them – going to schools and exposing kids to music is the most important component of building on audience, because a person who heard music growing up is vastly more likely to feel comfortable with it.

I think the other thing we need to do is examine all of the various rituals of the concert hall – some of them make sense, and others have absolutely nothing to do with the music and just create walls between the performer and the audience. I think breaking down those barriers could bring in a new audience that currently feels intimidated by the concert hall.

Does starting a career today mean relying more on new media and social network media? Are there examples from your own life and career?

This will seem crazy, but things have changed so much since I was starting out (more than 10 years ago…) that I’m not really equipped to answer. I think that the internet has created all sorts of opportunities for finding an audience for oneself which didn’t exist previously, but I’m not the right person to comment on it!

Here is Biss on YouTube commenting of what he has on his Ipod and on jazz:

Why do you blog? Do you enjoy it? How does it fit into your schedule?

I blog, first of all, because it is a creative outlet which is utterly different from playing. I also find that when I blog about music it helps me clarify certain priorities – being forced to choose my words makes me realize which aspects of a piece I find really come to define it.

(Here is a link to his blog:

And lastly – but definitely not least – it is a way to flesh out aspects of my musical personality that I suspect my audience might be interested in. I’m an extremely irregular blogger – I desperately need to get back to it, in fact – but I always enjoy it when I do it.

How many dates do you generally play in a season? What is a typical day for you when you are on tour?

I play between 80 and 90 concerts in a season, although that number is something I’m constantly re-examining. There really is no typical day, but practice is always involved! Regular contact with the instrument is not something I can manage without.

You studied with Leon Fleisher. Are there teachers and other pianists you particularly admire or find influential? Why?

I spent many summers at Marlboro, and Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida have both been big influences. I think in each case – even though they are very different – it is their utter integrity, and their desire to always go deeper into the music that I have found very inspiring.

You’re young and you’re successful without having won a major competition. What advice would you give to young aspiring professional musicians today about building a career?

I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice, but I think any musician can do is follow their passion, develop it, and resist – at all costs – becoming jaded about music-making. It the risk of sounding overly idealistic, I think that if you do something with energy, devotion, and quality, there will always be an audience for it.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: The Ear speaks to pianist Jonathan Biss — Part 1 of 2.

March 15, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

At 29, the American pianist Jonathan Biss (below) – the son of violinist Miriam Fried (who performed the Dvorak Violin Concerto here years ago) and violist Paul Biss – is among the rising classical stars of his generation.

His recordings of solo works by Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert and of Mozart piano concertos, have been critically acclaimed for their lyrical musicality and lack of pretense or showboating. Plus, he writes his own liner notes, which are always enjoyably personal and highly informative as well being written in exemplary English — not Music Speak.

You may have seen Biss perform on TV when his teacher Leon Fleisher received the Kennedy Center honors.

He will perform in Madison this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the terrific young German guest conductor Patrick Strub (below) who performed superbly in Madison last season in a memorable concert, featuring the Brahms Violin Concerto with UW violinist Felicia Moye,  with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The MSO program includes von Weber’s Overture to “Oberon,” Brahms’ Serenade No. 1 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major (“Jeunehomme”), K. 271, with Biss.

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 are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at 258-4141.

Recently Biss spoke via e-mail with The Ear about his upcoming Madison performances, his career and other matters. Here is the first of a two-part interview. The second part will be posted Tuesday.

What do you know or have heard about Madison, Madison audiences and the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I’ve often heard Madison cited as one of the most altogether appealing college towns in the country – and every time I mention that I’m going there, I’m told I’ll love it! I can’t say that I know much in particular about the audience, but I’ve heard very good things about the orchestra – I’m looking forward to it.

In a YouTube video, you talk about a special relationship with Mozart, a composer you will play in Madison. What is that relationship and what makes it special?

I’ve always felt that Mozart translated feeling into sound with both more purity and more complexity than any other composer, and so playing his music put’s one in touch with human emotion in a very direct and beautiful way. While I love playing a wide variety of music, in that respect Mozart is really unique.

Can you talk about the “Jeunehomme” concerto you will perform here and what it means to you?

This concerto is probably the first really immortal masterwork that Mozart wrote, and even though he lived another fifteen years after writing it, I wouldn’t say that he surpassed it. The level of innovation in nearly every phrase is remarkable, and the depth of feeling – particularly in the tragic slow movement – is just ridiculous for a 21-year-old.  If you look at the previous concertos and compare it with this one, you can see that it is an enormous leap forward.

Tomorrow: Jonathan Biss on future CDs, building younger classical music audiences and new media, including his blog.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra announces 2010-11 season

March 14, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its concert lineup for the 2010-11 indoor season.

The announcement came at a gala fundraiser last Saturday, March 6, 2010 in honor of the 10th anniversary of maestro Andrew Sewell (below) with the WCO. The evening included silent and live auctions, dinner and dancing. A proclamation by Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz was read declaring March 6, 2010 as “Andrew Sewell Day” (for a full copy of the proclamation, go

“It was one of the best event ever and very successful,” said Sue Ellen Maguire, marketing director  of the WCO. Bidding was high especially for one item — a chance to conduct one song at the WCO’s popular Concerts on the Square, which will run this summer form June 30 through Aug. 4.

The WCO also unveiled its new logo (below):

This year’s schedule includes the critically acclaimed Masterworks series, Middleton Holiday Pops and Handel’s “Messiah.”

But the traditional Halloween concert has been scrapped to devote more resources to educational programming, according to the WCO public relations director..

For the 2010-11 season, the WCO presents a myriad of unique repertoire chosen by Music Director Andrew Sewell, performed by the very talented WCO musicians, featuring world-renowned guest artists.

These guest artists have performed with some of the finest orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and the Hong Kong Philharmonic. They have performed in such venues as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, St. Martin-in-the-Field, and Alice Tully Hall.

Here is the official announcement:


Masterworks I:  Friday, October 8, 2010, Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), violin, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts. Program is Daugherty ‘s”Strut”; Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”; and Beethoven’s  Symphony No.  8.

Masterworks II: Friday, October 29, 2010. Local sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton (below), pianos; 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts. Program is Michael Torke’s “Adjustable Wrench”; Schubert’s “Unfinished”  Symphony  No. 8; and Mendelssohn’s  Concerto for Two Pianos in E major.

Concert Sponsor:  The Grantham/Heinrichs Group at Merrill Lynch.

Middleton Holiday Pops and Silver Screen Christmas. Saturday, November 27, 2010, 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 28, 2010, 1 p.m. at Madison Marriott West. With Middleton High School Concert Choir. Concert highlights: Silvestri’s  Concert Suite from “The Polar Express”; Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”; Martin’s  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; Rutter’s   “Gloria.”

Concert Sponsor:  Middleton Tourism Commission

Handel’s “Messiah.” December 10, 2010 at  7 p.m. in the Blackhawk Church.

Masterworks III: Friday, January 21, 2011, with Molly Barth (below), piccolo, and the Madison Ballet. 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts. Program includes Resphigi’s  “Ancient Airs and Dances”:  Suite III; Vivaldi’s   Piccolo Concerto and “L’Eventail du Jeanne” (“Jeanne’s Fan”) with music by Ravel (Fanfare), Ferroud (Marche), Ibert (Valse), Roland-Manuel (Canarie), Delannoy  (Bourrée), Roussel (Sarabande), Milhaud (Polka), Poulenc (Pastourelle), Auric (Rondeau).

Concert Sponsor: Pleasant Rowland Foundation

Masterworks IV: Friday, March 4, 2011, With Time for Three String Trio (below). 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts. Holst’s  “St. Paul’s Suite”; Higdon’s Concerto 4-3; Milhaud   “Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit”; and Meyer/Hedges   “The American Suite.”

Concert Sponsor:  Johnson Bank

Guest Artist Sponsor:  Alliant Energy Foundation

Masterworks V

Friday, April 8, 2011. With Anne Marie McDermott (below), piano. 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts. Wuorinen’s  “Flying to Kahani”; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C, K. 491; and Beethoven’s  Symphony No. 7.

Concert Sponsor: Whyte Hirshboeck Dudek

Here is ticket information

  • Subscription Tickets are on sale now:  New Subscribers: Save 50%. Renewing Subscribers: Save 25% and get to keep their current seats, will be first to upgrade if they wish, first to order pre-concert dinners, and invitation to subscriber events. Order season tickets by May 31, 2010 and the WCO will waive the $7 subscription processing fee.
  • Single ticket prices for the Masterworks concerts have remained the same as last year with a range of $19-$62, with discounts for seniors, students and youth.
  • Middleton Holiday Pops – Madison Marriott West.  Reserved Theater Style seating:  Saturday Evening: $15 student/youth, $22 senior, $25 adult
  • Sunday Afternoon: $10 student/youth, $16 senior, $19 adult
  • Cabaret Tables (Seat 4) :  Saturday Evening (includes dessert & coffee) $150;   Sunday Afternoon (includes pastries & coffee) $120
  • Premier Tables (Seat 8):   Saturday Evening (includes dinner) $750;   Sunday Afternoon (includes brunch) $250
  • Handel’s Messiah – Blackhawk Church,  $30 General Admission

Before each Masterworks concert, patrons are invited to a gourmet dinner and a lively discussion of that evening’s concert.  Doors open to Overture Center’s Wisconsin Studio, with cash bar at 6 p.m., and dinner served buffet-style at 6:30 p.m.  At 7 p.m.  Maestro Andrew Sewell and the concert guest artist will enlighten you with insights into the upcoming concert repertoire.

Incentives for Early Subscribers: Order season tickets by May 31, 2010 and the WCO will waive the $7 subscription processing fee.

Subscription tickets are on sale now.  Call the WCO office to request a subscription guide and order form, or go to

Single tickets will be available at the Overture Center Box Office (608 258-4141) starting in September, 2010.

Do you have a message for maestro Andrew Sewell on his 10th anniversary in Madison?

What do you think of the new Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra season?

Of its programs?

Of its soloists?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music alert: Reviews and reminders — Saturday is a busy day for Chopin fans and Beethoven fans

March 13, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Remember the book and movie about D-Day called “The Longest Day”?

The title comes to mind because today, Saturday, March 13, may just be the busiest day – and the longest day — of the entire classical music season this year in Madison. You can easily spend a full 12 hours taking in classical music.

Starting this morning, the University of Wisconsin School of Music will host a Chopin Fest in Music Hall (below) to mark the bicentennial of Chopin (1810-1849). ALL EVENTS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

From 9 a.m. to noon there is a master classes for area middle school and high school piano students about Chopin, given by University of Wisconsin School of Music faculty. Take the master classes in, and you might learn a thing or two about interpreting this deceptive composer who seems so very listenable that he must be straightforward and easy to play. (WRONG!).

Here is the line-up: 9-9:15:  “Black Key” Etude, Op. 10, No. 5 in G-flat (Christopher Eom); 9:15-9:30: “Military” Polonaise, Op. 40, No. 1 (Garrick Olsen); 9:30-9:45: Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 in E-flat (Vivian Wilhelms); 9:45-10: Prelude, Op. 28 No. 8 in F-sharp minor (George Degen); SHORT BREAK 10:15-10:30: Prelude, Op. 28, No. 18 in F minor (Daniel Turner); 10:30-10:45: Prelude, Op. 28, No. 24 in D minor (Benjamin Wade); 10:45-11: Waltz in A-flat, Op. 69, No. 1 (Sophia Musacchio); 11-11:15: Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1 in B-flat Minor (Cody Coetz); SHORT BREAK 11:30-11:45: Mazurkas, Op. 67, Nos. 2 and 4 (Antonia Rolfing); 11:45-Noon: Preludes, Op. 28, Nos. 1-4 (Amy Hua)

Then from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m. is a Community Chopin Recital where area piano teachers, piano students and amateur pianists will perform various works of Chopin and talk about what Chopin means to them. It is the Wisconsin Idea in action, arts-wise.

Here is the program: Polonaise-Fantasie in A-Flat, Op. 61 (Bill Lutes); Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 1 (Denise Taylor); Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No.1, and Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2 (Timothy Mueller); Scherzo -Allego con brio and Largo from Sonata for cello and piano in G Minor, Op. 65   (Sig Midelfort, cello, and  Gloria Chuang, piano); Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1  (Jacob Stockinger); Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23 (Vincent Fuh); Prelude in A-flat, Op. 28, No. 17 (Carol Ricker); Scherzo in E Major, Op. 54 (Stephen Leeds); Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49 (Gloria Chuang).

Finally, from 3:30 to about 6:30, undergraduate and graduate students at the UW School of Music will perform the complete mazurkas – more than four dozen miniatures that offer perhaps the most representative and original form of Chopin’s music.

The Ear is calling it a tag-team Mazurka-thon, and it promises to be both fun and instructive. The mazurkas are usually among the more playable of Chopin’s works for amateurs, but they can be very tricky and flexible, and open to a wide variety of interpretations. (Who, you might ask while you are listening, is more Polish?)

There is also a terrific colorful booklet- program to take home with the names of all the UW students and opus numbers and composition dates of the mazurkas as well as program notes by Denise Taylor. Clearly, this event has been very well planned and very well executed.

Mid-way through the Mazurka-thon, there will be a reception with a cake to celebrate the Birthday Boy – Chopin (below), who turned 200 on March 1.

Then there is a break for dinner.

And a break from Chopin as well.

At 8 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Eroica Trio (below) will perform Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor James Smith. (Also on the program is an orchestral arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti keyboard sonatas and Charles Ives’ rarely heard Symphony No. 3.) Tickets are $10 at the Union Theater – with free admission for those of you who attended the Eroica Trio’s recital Thursday night.

And it was a fine recital.

They opened with a performance of Beethoven’s early Piano Trio, Op. 1, No. 3, in C minor – the most Beethovenian of keys – and ended up turning is a high-octane performance that cooked.

Joan Tower’s “Trio for Daniel” was performed with virtuosity, emotion and commitment. The work itself did not speak deeply to me, but it did please a good number of listeners.

Then came a delicious – no other word will do – performance of Dvorak’s zesty “Dumky” Trio. It danced and pranced and went from minor-key melancholy to vivacious major-key dance steps. It had sparks and sparkle.

The crowd was smaller than it should have been, but it was enthusiastic enough to get a great encore: a wonderful arrangement for piano trio of Saint Saens’ “The Swan,” created by the cellist Sarah Sant’ambrogio. It even showed off the violinist, who until then sometimes seemed timid on the otherwise exemplary balance and dynamics of the trio.

As I recall, the Eroica Trio knows Beethoven’s Triple Concerto so well, and performs it so frequently, they play it from memory.

And you should also know, I heard a recent concert with major Haydn and Mozart works by the UW Chamber Orchestra (below top) under James Smith (below bottom), and they were terrific.

So it all bodes well for a memorable day, memorable afternoon and memorable night of music-making.

But: Was it memorable?

What events did you go to?

What did you think of them?

What did you think especially of all the Chopin festivities?

Everyone’s a critic.

Plus, The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Wisconsin Union Theater announces its 2010-11 classical music season

March 12, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater has announced its classical music line-up for the 2010-11 season.

All five concerts will begin at 7:30 p.m. — a major change from the 8 p.m. curtain time in past years.

Some artists have not yet announced their programs.

Specific ticket prices are still being worked out –but  general admission for the public will be as low as $20, and tickets for UW students will remain $10.  There will also be a Choose Your Own subscriptions series ticket.

All subscription and single tickets will be available starting APRIL 9 at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office (608 262-2201) or on the Union Theater’s website

Here is the line-up, with details from a press release:

FRIDAY, OCT. 22: The Jerusalem String Quartet (below). Readers of this blog and the general public will be asked to vote on a choice of programs at a later date.

One of the most dynamic and exciting quartets currently performing, the Jerusalem String Quartet is “one of the most exciting string quartets to emerge for many years, its members’ outstanding technical accomplishment and musical insight belying their youth,” according to the British Strad magazine, which adds, “superlatives are inadequate in describing just how fine this playing was from one of the young, yet great quartets of our time.”

This prize-winning quartet, known especially for Haydn and Shostakovich, has recently begun touring North America, and will be making its Wisconsin debut at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

SUNDAY, NOV. 21: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) with conductor Edo de Waart.

Under the direction of world-renowned conductor Edo de Waart, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra returns to the Wisconsin Union Theater stage. It will perform the Barber Violin Concerto with Frank Almond, soloist, and other works.

SATURDAY, DEC. 11: “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” – a musical drama performed by Cantus (below) & Theater Latte Da.

It is the Western Front, Christmas Eve, 1914. Out of the violence of the Great War’s trenches comes a silence, then a song as a young German soldier steps into no man’s land singing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). Thus begins an extraordinary night of camaraderie, music, and peace.

Cantus, Theater Latté Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust present All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach.

Through new arrangements of European carols and war-songs, “All Is Calm” recalls the remarkable World War I truce between Allied Forces and German soldiers in No Man’s Land on Christmas, 1914.

THURSDAY, FEB 17: Violinist Hilary Hahn (below) with Valentina Lisitsa on piano.

The program will include Tartini (arranged by Kreisler) “Variations on a Theme by Corelli”; Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, “Spring”; Charles Ives’ Violin Sonata No. 4; J.S. Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 1; and Antheil’s Violin Sonata No. 1.

Two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn is celebrated for her innovative interpretations, technical assurance and captivating stage presence. Named the 2008 Gramophone Artist of the Year, Hahn appears regularly with the world’s leading orchestras and in the most prestigious recital series in Europe, Asia, and North and South America.

THURSDAY, APRIL 21: Pianist Jeremy Denk (below).

In 1998 Jeremy Denk — who accompanied violinist Joshua Bell at the Wisconsin Union Theater — won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and received a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant. Since then the pianist’s career has flourished.

The New York Times described his playing as “bracing, effortlessly virtuosic and utterly joyous,” and he has garnered comparable critical acclaim for his engagements with leading orchestras nationwide.

The versatile American pianist’s repertoire ranges from the standard works of the 18th and 19th centuries to twentieth-century masters such as Ives, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Messiaen, and further to new works by leading composers of today.

In addition, “KEYBOARD CONVERSATIONS” by pianist JEFFREY SIEGEL (below) are going from three this season to two:

They are on Tuesdays at 7:30 in Mills Hall at the UW School of Music.

November 9: “THE ROMANTIC MUSIC OF ROBERT SCHUMANN: FANTASIES FORBIDDEN AND FULFILLED”: Celebrate the 200th birthday of this beloved composer with some of the most love inspired music ever written. Program includes the fantastic “Fantasy Pieces,” Opus 12 and the stunning, virtuosic “Symphonic Etudes,” Opus 13 – or “Variations on a melody of a false Father-in-Law”!

March 22:  PARIS – 1911!  A CENTURY CELEBRATION! Enduring, forever engaging masterpieces composed exactly one hundred years ago! Ravel’s “Noble and Sentimental Waltzes”; exotic Preludes of Debussy and Faure; humorous short pieces by Eric Satie; and Stravinsky’s colorful “Petrouchka.”

Posted in Classical music
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