The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music datebook: Best Bets for April 7-13 include Wagner’s “Dutchman”; an injury prevention workshop; J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburgs” and complete violin sonatas; New Music; and award-winning young performers.

April 7, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring break is over and the classical music season has resumed with a vengeance for another month or so.

The “r-e-e-ally b-e-e-g shew this week,” as Ed Sullivan might put it, is the Madison Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman.” Directed by Michael Scarola (who has directed Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” here), it will be the first staged Wagner production for the 49-year-old Madison Opera and it sounds like a winner of a debut.

It’s a historic event for the city. But don’t let that put you off or intimidate you.

The length of the show is very manageable (about three hours with intermission), something that cannot be said of Wagner’s later operas “Tristan und Isolde” and “Parzifal” and especially “The Ring.”

The music is dramatic, tuneful and accessible, and the story of a love-seeking sailor is based on a folk legend about a ghost ship that must sail the seas eternally.

The imported abstract and colorful sets (below) from the New York City Opera look impressive – “bold” is how the company’s general director Allan Naplan describes them – and the strong cast is made up of seasoned veterans (including UW soprano Julia Faulkner) who also have a fine track with other Madison productions. Plus Naplan (a former professional touring baritone) and music director John DeMain (who specialiizes in opera) sure know their voices and what makes for memorable ones. They know how to recruit a cast.

Then there is the large Madison Opera Chorus and the terrific instrumentalists from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

All that, plus the opera will be sung in German with super-titles in English.

So it all adds up to a MUST-HEAR performance where you can be a witness to local history as it is made.

Performances will be given in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $16-$112. Call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or for more information about the cast and for program notes, visit the Madison Opera site below:

I wish I could say more about the opera and the production. The Ear was supposed to interview conductor John DeMain about the opera and its place both in Wagner’s own career and in the history of opera – it is a turning point because it pioneered German versus Italian opera — but something things didn’t work out. That happens, especially when events like DeMain’s well-received Canadian premiere of John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China” (see previous posts on this blog) and the UW-Madison spring break interfere.

So instead, here are links to two good local stories.

The first, and more comprehensive, story is by Sandy Tabachnick in Isthmus:

The second, and shorter story, is by Lindsay Christians of 77 Square (that is, The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times):

But the week is so full of classical music, it’s probably best to back up and then go forward.


On Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW keyboardist John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord, and Edith Hines, baroque violin, will perform early music on the Faculty Concert Series.

Appearing as Ensemble SDG — (“SDG” or Soli Deo Gloria means “Glory to God Alone” and was how Bach signed his cantata and other manuscripts — the two will perform all six sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord by J. S. Bach. And there is wonderful music in those sonatas.

Stowe will perform on a harpsichord by Willard Martin (1983) in emulation of surviving early 18th-century French instruments. Hines will perform on a baroque violin made by Warren Ellison (2006) and with a bow constructed after 17th-century models by David Hawthorne (2009).

This is the first time these sonatas will have been presented in Madison as a group with period instruments. Especially for early music fans, this is a MUST-HEAR concert.

Admission is free and open to the public.


Two noteworthy events take place on Friday over the UW School of Music.

From 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Morphy Hall, a FREE PUBLIC workshop with Kathleen Riley (below), of New York University, will focus on “Peak Performance Conditioning for Musicians.”

Riley will give a presentation based on her 30 years of piano teaching experience, training in biofeedback techniques and research in biofeedback and music practice and performance.

Here’s a link to her website:

Then at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Iowa Center for New Music, directed by David Gompper (below), participates in a three-way exchange with UW-Madison’s Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and the University of Minnesota’s New Music Ensemble.

This program features works composed between 1992 and 2010, beginning with “The Seven Seas” for two violins, viola, cello and bass by Stas Omelchenko. The program continues with “Clarinet Sonata” by Michael Finnissy, featuring guest clarinetist Michael Norsworthy and pianist David Gompper. Gompper then appears as conductor, leading a 15-piece ensemble of woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion and piano performing “Erosion” by Matthew Dotson, a doctoral candidate in composition at the University of Iowa. Following intermission, the program resumes with “Trio” (for violin, cello and piano) by Nicholas S. Omiccioli. Finally, Norsworthy joins the Maia Quartet for “Clarinet Quintet” by Magnus Lindberg. Program notes and bios may be found at the University of Iowa’s website

The concert is free and open to the public.


Saturday is another busy day when it just doesn’t let up.

On Saturday at 1 p.m. in the new Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, the Independent Students Orchestra, founded and led by students of the UW School of Music, will present a concert.

The concert will feature Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 and excerpts from Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” In addition, ISO will be performing a few student compositions and a Messiaen tune arranged by Jordan Henry.

The concert is free and open to the public.

On Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago Street – on Madison’s near east side – Trevor Stephenson (below) and the Madison Bach Musicians will perform J.S. Bach’s iconic “Brandenburg” Concertos Nos. 4, 5 and 6. There will be a free lecture at 7:15.

(A repeat performance, with lecture, is on Saturday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive.)

You may recall I named Stephenson the blog’s “Musician of the Year” for 2009 after his memorable performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and his terrific lecture-recitals with harpsichord and fortepiano.

Advance tickets are $20, $15 for student s and seniors over 65, and are available at A Room of One’s Own, Farley’s House of Pianos. Orange Tree Imports, Ward-Brodt Music Mall and the Willy Street Coop.

At the door, tickets go to $25 and $20, respectively.

If you want more information, call 608 238-6092 or visit:

Then, also on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Choir invites all Concert Choir alumni to return to campus for this FREE and PUBLIC concert and join the current choir for a performance of the “Choral Fantasy” by Beethoven with a student orchestra and pianist Hyo-Jung Huh.

The current members of the choir will perform works by Di Lasso, Barber and Wilbye, the Requiem by Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) and a selection of folk songs and spirituals.

Alumni who wish to participate should come to Room 1351 Humanities at 1:30 pm on April 10 to warm up, rehearse the Choral Fantasy and sing through other favorite repertoire.

For further information, contact UW choral director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below), director of choral activities, at


The week the radio program “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” switches to the Wisconsin Union Theater where from 12:30 to 2 p.m., the winners of Wisconsin Public Radio’s annual Neale-Silva young Artists Competition will perform live.

The concert, hosted by WPR’s Lori Skelton, will be broadcast  live (88.7 FM in the Madison area).

But the concert is free and open to the public with no need for tickets.

Go the link below and you’ll find names of the five winners (out of more than 30 contestants statewide) and their teachers  — but NO PROGRAM, NO PROGRAM NOTES AND NO PHOTOS! Isn’t that appealing? Doesn’t the lack of information just make you want to get a up and go grab a seat?

Well, in any case the event has a very fine track record over many years, take my word on it. You’ll have fun if you go.

Plus, local alumni of Lawrence University in Appleton may be interested to see how well that school – that conservatory – is represented.


On Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest artist and flutist Jonathan Keeble (below) will perform a free concert.

The program includes “Hungarian Peasant Suite” by Bela Bartok; “Les folies d’Espagne” by Marin Marais; “Achoo Lullaby” and “Pulse Aria” by Stephen A. Taylor; and “Fantasy on ‘Der Freischutz’” by Paul Taffanel.

Keeble is associate professor of flute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He performs regularly as recitalist, chamber musician and soloist with orchestra in North and South America and Europe and is the flutist with Prairie Winds, a woodwind quintet. He performs and teaches each summer at the Madeline Island (Wis.) Music Camp.

A master class will follow the recital.

Posted in Classical music

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