The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How does Italian Baroque music differ from German Baroque music? Trevor Stephenson answers in Part 1 of a 2-part interview

September 30, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians – who I think are Madison’s premier early music-period instrument ensemble -– will open their new season this weekend with a concert of Baroque orchestral music and concertos.

MBM (below) will perform and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave.

The program includes: Corelli’s Concerto Grosso; Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto, with guest soloist UW bassoonist Marc Vallon
 on the baroque bassoon; J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major; and 
Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor (“Lamentation”), one of the Storm-and-Stress symphonies known for their depth of emotional feeling and expression.

Saturday performance is at 8 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture by MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson at 7:15 p.m.

On Sunday, the concert is at 3 p.m. with a 2:15 p.m. pre-concert lecture.

The Ear thinks Stephenson (below) is a terrific explainer. He is knowledgeable, witty and accessible. So I highly recommend attending the pre-concert lectures.

Tickets are cash or check only – no credit cards.

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

Tickets at the door are $25 for general admission, $20 for students and seniors over 65.

For information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit:

Stephenson recently agreed to an e-mail interview for The Ear about the upcoming concerts. Today offers Part 1 of two parts. The second will run tomorrow:

How would you explain the differences between German and Italian baroque for non-specialists?

It seems to me that the Italians were generally striving for “tunes you can hang your hat on.” That is, in the quicker movements something toe-tapping and catchy; and in the slower movements, a type of vocality and directness of emotion (even when there is a fair amount of ornamentation) that will win your heart. The Italians went for tunes that you find yourself humming for weeks afterward.

The Italians also gravitated toward idiomatic instrumental and vocal writing—line and shape that bring out the natural beauty in the instrument (particularly the violin) and the human voice.

By contrast the German composers, while they were very influenced by the Italians, were somewhat more abstract in their construction. German vocal lines are sometimes a bit instrumental sounding, and they often wrote for instruments in a highly vocal fashion.

Many German writers about music were quite aware and enthusiastic about the German propensity to seek integrated styles—what we might call “fusion.” The Germans’ strongest suit was their mastery of counterpoint (fugues and canons) and their understanding and technical control of large-scale structures.

Handel (below) is a great example: though German born, his melodies are largely Italianate (modeled on Corelli –- below — and Vivaldi, and Italian opera composers like Alessandro Scarlatti) and are simply unforgettable.

He marries this with his German training in counterpoint and long-term structural planning—and the result is, to take a familiar example, “Messiah” where he is simply able to take the roof off when he sees fit. The chorus “For Unto Us a Child is Born” is, as it were, Vivaldi on steroids, Handel’s German religious groundedness integrated with Italian élan and heavenly melodic sweep–and the tears of joy come, every time!

Tomorrow: How good is Vivaldi really? How hard is it to play the Baroque bassoon? And why include a Haydn symphony in a Baroque program?

Posted in Classical music

Best Bets for Sept. 29-Oct. 5 include Romantic and modern piano music, and Baroque orchestral music

September 29, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

A reminder: Tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 30, at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” program (88.7 FM in the Madison area), Trevor Stephenson will talk about the concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon by the Madison Bach Musicians (see below). Also: This Friday night,Oct. 1, is Fall Gallery night in Madison. Hosted by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (go to MMoCA’s interactive website — — for details), it will run from 5 to 9 p.m. and feature 65 different shows or exhibits citywide.  So you may want to park early and take in a free art show or two or three before attending a concert.

The concert season now seems to building up to full steam, which will be when we all feel there is so much music, or too much music, for a city of this size and  that we have to make unfortunate choices between worthy events. Such luck!

But for my money and taste, two of the finest performers in the city will be offering events this events.

One will focus on Romantic and late 20th century music; the other will focus on the Baroque era. They should b make good bookends to a UW Symphony Orchestra concert that features turn-of-the-century music.


On Friday, Oct. 1, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW piano virtuoso Christopher “Kit” Taylor (below) will perform a recital.

The program features “Waldszenen” (Forest Scenes) by Robert Schumann (2010 is the bicentennial of his birth); “32 Variations in C minor,” WoO. 80 by Beethoven; “Klavierstücke,” Op. 11, and “Small Pieces for Piano,” Op. 19 by Arnold Schoenberg; and “Three Movements from Petrouchka” by Igor Stravinsky, who made the virtuosic piano arrangement of his orchestral suite for Artur Rubinstein.

Taylor, a bronze medalist at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, is the Paul Collins Professor of Piano at UW-Madison.

Admission is free and open to the public.

In a review of Christopher Taylor’s July 2010 concert at the Music Academy of the West, Mark Swed of The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Taylor possesses one of the great keyboard techniques of our time and has a probing mind, musical and otherwise.”  Read the full review at:

Of a performance at UC-Berkeley in January 2008, Jason Victor Serinus wrote for San Francisco Classical Voice, “It is doubtful that many of us who heard Taylor’s transcendent traversal of Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” for Cal Performances can imagine another pianist making an equal impact in such challenging music.”  Read that review at:

ALSO ON FRIDAY: Musicologist Lily E. Hirsch will examine the role of Handel’s music in Nazi culture in a free lecture at the UW School of Music.

Her presentation is called “Jewish music, Handel, and the Berlin Jewish Culture League.”

The Berlin Jüdischer Kulturbund, or Jewish Culture League, was a closed cultural organization created by German Jewish luminaries in cooperation with the Nazi government.

This presentation examines the organization’s debate on “Jewish music” and its culmination, represented by the Jewish Culture League Conference in 1936. To further access this debate in practice, the presentation specifically focuses on Handel’s popularity in League performance.

However, Handel’s standing in the League’s repertoire may further confound, rather than clarify, this inquiry.

After all, Handel, of German origins, was quite popular in the League in part because of his music considered Jewish. Despite or maybe because of contradictions like this one, this paper is able to shed light on the complicated process of defining “Jewish music” in Nazi Germany.

It also offers a glimpse into the internal operation of this unique organization, a product of collaboration between Jews and Nazis, and, for many, a place of both salvation and damnation.

The presentation is at 4 p.m. in Room 1641 of the Mosse Humanities Building.

Admission is free and to the public.


The Madison Bach Musicians – who I think are Madison’s premier early music ensemble -– will open their new season with a concert of Baroque orchestral music and concertos.

MBM will perform and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave.

The program includes: Corelli’s Concerto Grosso; Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto, with guest soloist UW bassoonist Marc Vallon
 on the baroque bassoon; J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major; and 
Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor (“Lamentation”), one of the Storm-and-Stress symphonies known for their depth of emotional feeling and expression.

Saturday performance is at 8 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture by MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson a 7:15 p.m.

On Sunday, the concert is at 3 p.m. with a 2:15 p.m. pre-concert lecture.

The Ear thinks Stephenson (below) is a terrific explainer. He is knowledgeable, witty and accessible. So I highly recommend attending the pre-concert lectures.

Tickets are cash or check only – no credit cards.

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

Tickets at the door are $25 for general admission, $20 for students and seniors over 65.

For information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit:


This weekend’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” sees the Kosower Trio (below) performing at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art. Paul Kosower will be playing the cello, Richard W. Fletcher the clarinet and Nicholas Phillip the piano.  The trio will feature music from Gabriel Fauré’s Après un rêve, Op.7, No. 1, Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat major, Op.11, and Johannes Brahms’ Trio in A minor, Op.114. The concert will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 3 p.m. (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area.)

Alos on Sunday, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith (below) will perform. The program includes  “The Forgotten Offerings” by Olivier Messiaen; “La Mer” by Debussy; and Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”) by Carl Nielsen.

Admission is free, unticketed and open to the public.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: NPR’s new “Deceptive Cadence” blog is a winner. Listen to it and subscribe to its podcasts for FREE

September 28, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

I’ve written before about National Public Radio and the great job they do with music. NPR gets a lot of traffic about music, music of all kinds.

Now you don’t have to hunt things down beyond using the search engine for “Music Interludes” — those snippets you hear between stories on “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition” and other shows.

NPR has started a new classical music blog – complete with stories and comments– you might want to add to your Favorites or Bookmark list. I have.

It’s called “Deceptive Cadence” and can be found at

Then first story is about contemporary composer Robert Kyr (below) of Oregon, working on a new commission for a choral group in Austin, Texas. (You might recall that the UW Choral Union did his Requiem a few years back.)

Then the blog hosted an hour-long conversation between composer Jennifer Higdon (below top) and violinist Hilary Hahn, who has just released a recording of Higdon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto (which Hahn commissioned) coupled with the popular Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. (Hahn — who will perform a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater this season — likes to couple modern works with old favorites – a smart strategy for selling both kinds of music.)

And then the blog has started a series about which pieces of music classical musicians first fell in love with.

So you see, it is really doing good things. It may even climb to the top tie of classical music blogs, along with Alex Ross. It deserves to.

And what’s all this talk about classical music being dead?

Either reports of the death were premature.

Or the corpse sure seems like it is twitching its way towards resuscitation.

And a link to the introduction:

Happy reading.

And happy listening. Here is an intro story you should stream about “Deceptive Cadence” blog producer Tom Huizenga (below) and his asking people, professional musicians and just ordinary listeners, what piece of classical music they first fell in love with.

You should also know that it is now available as a podcast for iPods (below) and MP3 players. I’ve subscribed – it’s FREE – and so should you. (I think they are still catching up on moving broadcasts to podcasts.)

So send on word to your family, friends and co-workers by forwarding a link to The Ear.

And let me know: What do you think of NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog?

Do you share my esteem and enthusiasm?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music review: UW’s Pro Arte Quartet beautifully captures Mozart’s mastery and Schumann’s longing

September 27, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is heading toward history – and in fact is already there.

It already is – at least to the best of the evidence we have – the longest lived string quartet to have ever existed in the history of music, and will mark its 100th birthday next season.

But the celebrations are already starting, this time Saturday night with a sold-out, pre-concert donor dinner at the Faculty Club that by the accounts of sponsors and attendees alike was thoroughly enjoyable.

Then it was on to Mills Hall where, to a half-house of 350 or do, the ensemble played a program of Mozart, Schumann and Dvorak.

THen yesterday their interpretations of the last two composers went out again statewide over Wisconsin Public Radio’s live broadcast of “Sunday Live From the Chazen.”

Each time I go to a Pro Arte concert, I wonder if the ensemble will live up to my expectations. And each times it does – not only meeting those high expectations, but usually surpassing them.

So it was this time.

Mozart’s music offers little room to cheat or hide, and the Pro Arte players didn’t need any. They clearly worked on this quartet – the Quartet in E-Flat Major, K. 428 (1783) — with all the care that Mozart himself, looking to the shadow of his mentor Haydn, brought to the genre.

By turns, this work had light 18th-century moments and darker, fiercer premonitions of 19th-century Romanticism.

To my ears, the Pro Arte did not push or force the music in either direction. What it did was get out of the way and simply play what is there in the score — which is not so simple to do. They allowed Mozart to speak for himself.

The group blended its sound, balanced its dynamics and parts, kept the rhythms sharp and shaped the vocal lines into long phrases, as they should be for the work of such a vocal, operatic composer.

This was the full-blooded Mozart who was important to the history of music, not the music box Mozart that is brittle, pristine and elegantly embalmed.

Then came the Schumann’s Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3 (1842). For The Ear, this was the highlight of the evening.

Did any composer ever capture longing and yearning as fully and as beautifully and as moving as Schumann? I don’t think so.

Schumann (below) does it constantly — in his solo piano music, his songs, his chamber music and his orchestral music. Other composers from Bach to Beethoven and Schubert and on to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff have their moments. But none tops Schumann for frequency and beauty. You believe it; you share it.

Tradition holds he was yearning for his wife Clara, who was held back by her father, and Schumann’s teacher, Frederick Wieck. Eventually, love won out and Robert and Clara married.

But as Schumann’s carefully crafted music – he was first a music critic who had learned the lessons of Bach and Mozart — jumped back and forth, from calm to agitation, lyricism to drama, without transitions, I wondered: Did Schumann also yearn for or long for sanity, for normality? After all, he died a suicide at 46. Some say it was end-stage syphilis, other’s say it was bi-polar illness (also known by the more descriptive, at least artistically, as manic-depression.)

I don’t know the answer. I doubt anyone does. Maybe, or even probably, both are true.

But I know music that is pained when I hear it — and Schumann’s music is beautifully, convincingly pained in the way it transforms suffering rather than shows it off.

Take a listen to that music for yourself:

Once again, the subtleties were all there, captured by the Pro Arte, which rehearses three hours every weekday morning to sharpen their playing and deepen their interpretations. I don’t expect ever to hear this performance of Schumann bettered, and I will very happy to hear it equaled. Little wonder it earned wild applause and a standing ovation.

I have to admit that the Dvorak (the Quartet in D Minor, Op. 34 from 1877), as fine a work as it is – arguably the first of the composer’s mature quartets, though the Emerson Quartet’s 3-CD set starts with Op. 51 – proved a bit of a let down after the Schumann. This is very good music, but to my mind not as great as either later Dvorak or the last of Schumann’s three string quartets.

Yet once again, the Pro Arte proved professionals to their core, and bit into the music. I like they way they especially captured the lyricism and especially the dance rhythms without sloppiness but with high energy. During the Polka scherzo, violist Sally Chisholm, who is always fun to watch play, had both feet off the floor.

But that’s OK.

After all, several times during the Schumann, I felt both my own feet were off the ground, so elevated did both the music and performance strike me.

But you don’t have trust me or take my word for it.

Here is a link to a review by my distinguished colleague, John W. Barker of Isthmus:

Were you there?

Did you hear it on the radio?

What did you think of the Pro Arte concert?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: UW book sale will feature music score and music books

September 26, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following announcement.

And I’m glad to do so since it will benefit both the UW and classical music fans.

Here it is:

“The Friends Semi-annual Book Sale Will Offer Music Books and Scores Galore!

The Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries 30th Semi-annual Book Sale will feature many music books and scores, in addition to the usual vast array of materials offered at unbelievably low prices.

Staff at the Mills Music Library (below) devoted much of the past summer to sorting through donations and duplicate copies, so this sale will have many more musical options than usual. So, come early, and come often!

Location: 116 Memorial Library (First floor study hall), 728 State St. in Madison, Wisconsin (below)

Preview Sale: Wednesday, September 29, 5–9 p.m.

($5 admission fee for Wednesday only)

Regular Sale: Thursday, September 30–Friday, October 1, 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

(No entry fee)

Saturday Sale: Saturday, October 2, 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m.

$3-a-Bag Sale (Bring your own grocery bag, or buy one for $1)

For more information on the sales, including how to donate books or volunteer for the spring book sale, call 608-265-2505 or e-mail the Friends

Or visit the Friends book sale page:

If you go, let us know what you found and what you thought.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: Metropolitan Opera to start a new Wagner “Ring” cycle on Monday; it will be broadcast Oct. 9

September 25, 2010

A reminder: The UW’s Pro Arte String Quartet opens its new season tonight at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features quartets by Mozart, Schumann and Dvorak. Admission is free and open to the public.

By Jacob Stockinger

Monday marks the start of the Metropolitan Opera’s new “Ring” cycle by Richard Wagner done by Canadian director Robert Lepage (who has worked with Cirque de Soleil) and featuring Bryn Terfel as Wotan along with Stephanie Blythe and Deborah Voigt.

It will be conducted by James Levine, who has returned to the Met and to the boston Symphony Orchestra after a lengthy recuperation from surgery.

The production sounds promising musically, dramatically and in terms of stagecraft.

The New York Times ran an insider’s preview of the new production of “Das Rheingold,” which opens Monday to a sold-out house.

If you can’t be there, my guess is the next best thing will be the live 3-hour high-definition broadcast. In Madison that will be at Point and Eastgate cinemas on Saturday, Oct. 9, at noon.

Tickets are $24 for adults, $22 for seniors and $18 for children under 12, and are now on sale at the cinema box offices and on-line.

This fifth season is expanded from last season and will feature 12 different operas with 12 encore or repeat presentations, one for each.

For more dates, times, productions and casts, you can check here:

And for information about the Marcus Theatre schedules, check here:

and here:

The second of the four Ring opera, “Die Walkure” (5-1/2 hours) will be broadcast in mid-May.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: The Pope plays piano – guess what composer

September 24, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The Pope plays piano.

Can you dig it?

I didn’t know it, so it’s news to me. How about you?

Here are 20 seconds of Pope Benedict XVI playing the main melody from Schubert’s lovely and lyrical Impromptu No. 2 in A flat Major from Op, 142 or, if you prefer,  D. (for Deutsche) 935. It’s a great choice.  I wish there were more.

The Pope plays OK, especially for such a busy guy, don’t you think. But as you can hear, there are some rhythm issues. Then again, rhythm and timing have always been an issues in the Catholic Church. Still, it is brave of the Pope to go public with his playing, no?

And here is a recent post from the delightful blog by English piano virtuoso and MacArthur Foundation “genius” Stephen Hough (below), an openly gay convert to Catholicism, recently talking about what duets he would play if he had a chance to play piano with the Holy Father.

So there it is: More proof that high achievers often study classical music.

But to be fair, you can also go YouTube to hear the Pope, when he was still Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, playing what sounds like boogie-woogie.

Rock out, Pope!

And just where is Father Guido Sarducci when we really need him and his commentary?

All right, I’ll do it, on behalf of Father Guido. I’ll ask the question on so many people’s mind:

Does The Pope play anything from Schumann’s “Scenes of Childhood” or, to be more literal and accurate in the translation, “Scenes of Children”?

If so, what sections of that wonderful cycle of miniature works would he play? The famous “Dreams” (“Traumerei”)? “Catch me”? “Hide and Seek”? “A Curious Story”? “Perfect Happiness”?

Or maybe ”An Important Event” or ”Frightening”?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

What is your favorite classical music to listen to when Fall arrives?

September 23, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, Wednesday, Sept. 22, marked the first day of fall or autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.

It happened, specifically, at 10:09 p.m. Central Daylight Time, according to the US government.

Here is some music — beyond the usual candidates such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” — that seems to evoke fall too me: some autumnal Brahms, whose music often — especially the late piano works and the chamber music — seems to evoke autumn for me. Specifically, I offer you the first movement of the Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano.

I often like to put on the old Izthak Perlman recording in the CD player in the car as I drive around and look at the tree leaves changing color.

I hope you enjoy this other reading:

But here is what I want to know.

What music do you think is best for fall?

Is there music you always like to listen to when fall arrives?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical Music Best Bets for Sept. 22-28: Chamber music and choral music stand out as the season begins. The Pro Arte Quartet is a MUST-HEAR

September 22, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The classical music season is barely getting under way. But already there are some fine concerts to be heard this week.


“Live From Center” celebrates the beginning of its 35th anniversary season when it airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

The New York Philharmonic, under its new director Alan Gilbert, will perform the U.S. premiere of Symphony No. 3 “Swing Symphony” by trumpeter and jazz great Wynton Marsalis (below).

Marsalis, who has won a classical Grammy for trumpet concertos, is associated with Jazz at Lincoln Center,

Also on the program is Paul Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphoses on a Theme by Carl Maria von Weber.”

Here is a link to the website:

Also tonight, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW campus, is an appealing recital by violinist Suzanne Beia (below).

Beia is one of Madison’s hardest working musicians. She performs with the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and coaches young people and students for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

A two-part Q&A with Beia was featured on this blog this Monday and Tuesday. You might want to check it out. She is impressive.

The program is all modern music It includes Stravinsky’s Duo Concertante for Violin and Piano, Ravel’s Piano Trio, Bright Sheng’s “Four Movements” for piano trio and Roger Sessions’ Duo for Violin and Cello.

Other performers include pianist Karen Boe and cellist Karl Lavine.

Admission is free and open to the public.


On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave., the Choir of Clare College (below) from Cambridge, England, will perform.

Tickets for open and unreserved seating are $15 and are available at or at the door.

The extensive and eclectic program includes: Kyrie (from the Mass in G minor) by Vaughan Williams; Gloria (from the “Missa Euge bone”) by Christopher Tye; “Te lucis ante terminum” and “O nata lux” by Thomas Tallis: “Ave verum” by William Byrd; “O Lord, in thy wrath” and Fantasia in A minor by Orlando Gibbons with Nicolas Haigh on the organ; “Sicut cervus” by Palestrina; “Like as the Hart” by         Herbert Howells; “Magnificat” (New College Service) by Drayton.

After INTERMISSION  comes “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Fauré; “Pater noster” by Guiseppe Verdi; “Cortège et Litanie” by Marcel Dupré with Ashok Gupta on the organ; “Take him, earth, for cherishing” by Herbert Herbert Howells; “Abendlied” by Josef Rheinberger; “Ehtoohymni by Einojuhani Rautavaara; “Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Regale)” by Herbert Howells; and the “Agnus Dei” (from the Mass in G minor) by Vaughan Williams.

Under the direction of Timothy Brown, the choir of Clare College has become world-renowned for the range and flexibility of its choral sound, and for its broad repertoire.

Here is a link to the choir’s home page:

The choir frequently performs in Britain’s major concert halls with many of the UK’s leading period instrument orchestras and conductors, and contributes regularly to BBC radio broadcasts.

This concert will be one of the last opportunities to hear the unique sound of Clare Choir under Timothy Brown, before he retires after 31 years as Director of Music.


This Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall; the UW’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will start the season what will lead up to its 100th anniversary and the performing of six newly commissioned quartets by the Pro Arte.

That anniversary, by the way, makes the Pro Arte the oldest quartet ever in the history of the world, so far as anyone can tell. (You always have to hedge these things and allow for something unknown.)

If you want to know more about this outstanding group, which has toured the world, played the White House and performed to fine reviews in Carnegie Hall last spring, here is a link t o its website:

This concert gets a MUST-HEAR rating for the quality of the performers and the program.

The PAQ (as it is abbreviated) will performs Mozart’s Quartet in E-Flat Major, K. 428; Dvorak’s Quartet in D Minor, Op. 34; and Schumann’s Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3). 2010 marks the Schumann bicentennial, by the way.

If you miss the Saturday night performance, don’t forget that you have two ways to hear it or part of it later:

You can go to the UW School of Music homepage and stream it under Events Calendar (it usually gets set up within a day or two); or you can attend (for free) or listen to this week’s “Sunday Live From the Chazen” broadcast, which will feature a live performance of two of the works: The Dvorak and the Schumann. It airs Sunday on Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: UW’s Suzanne Beia, violinist for all seasons, speaks with The Ear, Part 2

September 21, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Though she doesn’t get a lot of publicity, Suzanne Beia – recognizable as the blond woman with the magenta-dyed horsehair on her bow — really is a violinist for all seasons.

In Madison, the hard-working Beia (below) performs as a soloist, a chamber musician and orchestral player, all in addition to teaching. She is legendary for learning music quickly and playing chamber music from memory.

This Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, several colleagues will join Beia for her UW-Madison faculty recital. It features a program of 20th and 21st century music – some classics and some rarely heard. The works are Ravel’s Piano Trio, Stravinsky’s “Duo Concertante” for violin and piano, Roger Sessions’ “Duo for Violin and Cello” and Bright Sheng’s “Four Movements” for piano trio.

Then on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Beia will perform with Pro Arte Quartet in a program of Mozart (Quartet in E-Flat Major, K. 428), Dvorak’s Quartet in D Minor, Op. 34) and Schumann (Quartet No. 3 in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3).

Admission to both concerts is free and open to the public.

Today is the second of the two-part e-mail interview that Beia provided:

How would you compare the various posts you described yesterday in terms of demands and enjoyment?

I love all of the facets of my musical life in Madison.  I try very hard to balance all of these obligations, so that each gets an equal share of my preparation and energy.

The Pro Arte Quartet – which turns 100 next season — is the reason I moved to Madison 15 years ago.  As a young musician, I dreamed of a career in chamber music and pursued this vision relentlessly.

However, I never could have imagined that I would one day find myself in a position of getting to work on a daily basis with musicians at the level of my colleagues David Perry, Sally Chisholm, and Parry Karp.  It is not an exaggeration to say that every day I learn from them, find myself inspired by them, and grow as a musician through my exposure to them.

I always look forward to the Madison Symphony!  The Symphony has undergone unbelievable growth in the time I have been here, both fiscally and artistically. But what I love most about the Symphony is the orchestra‘s incredible spirit. In it, I find a very rare combination of extremely skilled, intelligent and dedicated musicians coming together with nothing but a profound love of music and a shared commitment to achieving the very highest level performance possible.

Never does anybody’s ego get in the way. We seem to be immune from that intangible cloud of negativity and resentment that hovers insidiously over so many professional ensembles. The musicians of the Madison Symphony truly love what they do, and this love is evident in their support of one another, musically and spiritually.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) combines the “best of both worlds”- the intimacy of playing in a string quartet or small ensemble, with some of the richness of sound found in a symphony orchestra.

My colleagues in the Chamber Orchestra are all highly accomplished instrumentalists, but also share a sensitivity that allows the group virtuosity, for lack of a better word.  It’s a sort of musical flexibility that I rarely find in musical ensembles of more than, say, eight members.

For me, the sensation is similar to driving a car that handles unusually well, navigating intricate twists and turns with ease. I have absolute confidence that if one of us, acting on a moment of inspiration, were to spontaneously linger just a moment before a new phrase, or play with a new and special tone color, the others would instantly perceive the change of plan and adjust accordingly.

For me, this kind of almost psychic connection that develops between musicians is one of the most exciting aspects about playing.

Sometimes, in my reflective moments, I wonder whether I should have chosen a more “useful” career- one in which I could more readily see the tangible results of my labors, one in which my work served to fill a basic need in those around me.

But the Rhapsodie Quartet reminds me, on a daily basis, of the difference that music can make in people’s lives.   The opportunity to bring a woman with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease the joy of hearing a familiar song from her childhood in Vienna; or the attempt to reach inside the mind of an autistic boy, forging a connection between the outside world and the beautiful spirit locked within. Or the reward of seeing a visibly agitated man relax and grow quiet as he listens to the beautiful Largo movement from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony – these experiences feed my spirit in a way that is almost too deep and personal for me to put into words.

Do you have any advice for violin students?

Learn everything you can when you are young!!  It becomes much more difficult when you become older.  As an adult, I find that I need to allow about twice as much time to learn new music as I did when I was a teenager.  The pieces that I learned when I was young always come back relatively easily (although I sometimes find myself thinking “Hmmm, I don’t remember this passage being so difficult for me before!”)

I would also say that you should consider music as a career only if you cannot possibly imagine yourself doing anything else.  That’s how it was for me. From the age of about 11, there was never even one doubt in my mind that music was what I would be doing for the rest of my life.

I doubt that there is much that one can do in life that can reap emotional and spiritual rewards comparable to those I experience every day as a violinist, but it’s definitely not an easy path.

What do you like to do other than play the violin?

In addition to playing the violin, I like to draw, paint, and create cards and the like for my friends.  I love to study and explore the opera repertoire.  I am also passionate about birds, and in the last few years, I have begun to keep some parakeets whose friendly little chirps and cute antics amuse and delight me every morning.

What can you tell us about your program of modern music?

That’s it’s hard.  Seriously, though, I have long been fascinated by how many divergent paths classical music has taken over the last century.  Two pieces, both written in 1960, can sound so very different in a way that two pieces written in 1820 do not.

My program, featuring works of Igor Stravinsky (neo-classical, with a touch of pointillism), Bright Sheng (below top, who wrote exotic music that utilizes sounds and flavors of the Far East), Roger Sessions (below bottom, who wrote very dense music; incredible rhythmic energy interspersed with sections of great lyricism) and Maurice Ravel (French Impressionism) will hopefully offer something for all musical tastes.

Learning this program with my inspiring colleagues pianist Karen Boe and cellist Karl Lavine, both of whom have an immense depth of experience with new music, has been a wonderful experience that I will treasure for years into the future.

Posted in Classical music
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