The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music breaking news: Madison Opera’s Allan Naplan to head the Minnesota Opera starting March 1.

November 11, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as no surprise to The Ear that Allan Naplan (below), the general director of the Madison Opera, has been recruited and named to head the Minnesota Opera, beginning this winter. After all, I named him a Musician of the Year in 2007, when I was still working at The Capital Times and he has since proven to be very successful  here. Little wonder, then, that he will go from directing a budget of $2 million to $9 million.

Here is the press release, just minutes after it was released:

Madison, Wis. – Madison Opera’s Board President announced today that current General Director Allan Naplan has been tapped to be the new President and General Director of Minnesota Opera, the 15th largest opera company in the US. Naplan will continue his duties with Madison Opera through performances of The Threepenny Opera in Feb. 2011, and the company is beginning a nationwide search to fill his position.

“We are thrilled for Allan, as this is an amazing opportunity for one of the youngest leaders of an opera company in this country,” said Fran Klos, Board President. Klos continued, “Allan has provided wonderful creativity and energy to our company, and he has helped us reach the highest levels of artistic excellence. It is an honor to Madison Opera that Allan has been offered this prestigious position. Meanwhile, with a strong board of trustees and a multi-year artistic and financial plan, the company’s continued success in ensured. Because of Allan’s leadership, our wonderful audiences, and our generous donors, Madison Opera has finished in the black for each of the last five seasons.”

In reflecting on his five years with Madison Opera, Naplan commented, “Madison has been a wonderful city for my family and me, and we leave it with regret. I truly appreciate the opportunities that Madison Opera has given me and the support we have received from the entire community. I have full confidence in the company and am convinced that Madison Opera has a bright future.”

Naplan will assume duties in the Twin Cities on Mar. 1, 2011. Madison Opera has organized search committee and is beginning a nationwide search for a new general director. Klos stated, “We are already interviewing national search firms and we have put a transition team into place to assure the continuation of our business of producing outstanding opera for our Madison and regional audiences.” Continuing, she stated, “Allan will be deeply missed, but we are confident that with our organizational strength, our talented staff, artistic guidance from Maestro John DeMain, and a wide base of support, we will continue to grow and be a significant force in the Madison community for years to come.”

In September 2010, Madison Opera announced a budget surplus for the closing of the 2009-2010 season and increased subscription sales for the 2010-2011 season. The company opened its 50th anniversary season on Nov. 5 with a sold-out and critically acclaimed production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” and will continue its year-long celebration with performances of “The Threepenny Opera,” “La Traviata” and the Madison summer tradition, Opera in the Park (below), which most last summer drew a record audience of over 14,000 people to Garner Park.

For more information on Madison Opera, visit

Do you have any words to leave for Naplan, who he has been good for Madison and Madion’s music scene?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Uncategorized

Classical music: Take a Veterans Day poll and Conductor James Smith discusses music education and performance with young people

November 11, 2010

A poll: Today, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day. What is the best piece — and why — of classical music to honor veterans? The Ear wants to hear — and see if anyone also loves Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (especially in the original piano version) in which each movement is an homage dedicated to a friend who died in World War I.

By Jacob Stockinger

A former professional clarinetist who will play Carl Maria von Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet with the UW Band Concert on Nov. 23 (at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall), James Smith (below, in a photo by Jack Burns) teaches conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he conducts the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra.

Smith, who is the music director of University Opera, also serves as the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, seen below conducting a Dvorak symphony during WYSO’s last Winterfest concerts.

This weekend will see more than 300 talented young musicians kick off WYSO’s 45th season with the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concert — three concerts honoring southern Wisconsin’s private music instructors and school music teachers.

WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta, conducted by Mark Leiser, will open the concert series at 1:30 p.m. with selections including Britten’s “Salley Gardens,” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” followed by the Concert Orchestra, under Christine Mata Eckel (below), playing Curnow’s “Phoenix Overture” and Stephens’s “Danse de Espana.”

At 4 p.m., the Percussion Ensemble, led by Vicki Peterson Jenks in her 30th year with WYSO, will enliven the crowd with a spirited rendition of Jared Spears’s Windstone Suite. The Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Tom Buchhauser, will follow, performing “Hoe Down,” and “Saturday Night Waltz,” from Aaron Copland‘s Rodeo, an audience favorite.

On Sunday, Nov. 14 at 2 p.m., WYSO’s top level performing group, the Youth Orchestra, under conductor James Smith, will perform John Harbison’s “Mary Lou,” in honor of the centennial year of Mary Lou Williams, the “First Lady of Jazz.” Youth Orchestra will also play Massenet’s “Le Cid,” and two movements of Kalinnikov’s Symphony No. 1.

The WYSO press release adds: “Each of the concerts honors music teachers in the southern Wisconsin region, recognizing their incredible educational work and thanking them for their partnership with WYSO. What they do everyday is irreplaceable in the lives of students.”

The Steenbock Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. in Madison. WYSO concerts are generally about an hour to an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.

WYSO was founded in 1966 and has served nearly 5,000 young musicians from more than 100 communities in southern Wisconsin.

Smith (below) recently took time from his many duties to talk to The Ear for the following Q&A:

How would you compare the music education of young people – middle school, high school and college – now compared to, say, 10 or 20 years ago? Why is music education important? How do the skill levels or achievements of students then and now compare?

I hesitate to offer an opinion. I have not walked in their shoes. After leaving orchestral performance, I have only taught in college. I can write that it thrills me when a bright, eager and talented student from WYSO chooses music education as their career-path.

I  can write that there are some outstanding programs that are surviving in spite of the budget cuts in arts education.  This is because there are some great teachers working for the students.

The UW students are indeed better, particularly in the string area.  The talent pool auditioning for the orchestras fluctuates a bit from year to year, but we have a great team of studio teachers who attract very well trained young musicians.

When you put together concert programs, do you make concessions to the skill level of students? How do you decide what pieces they will study and eventually perform?

Of course, one must understand the performance level of the students, and offer them challenges that are appropriate to their skills and patiently structure a realistic learning curve.

I have a formula that goes something like this: 75% of the orchestra can play 80% of a specific composition with confidence, and the remaining 25% can significantly close the gap.

Some compositions are not appropriate. For example, Shostakovich’s Symphonies No. 6 and No. 9 work for WYSO when we have the appropriate solo voices, but Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 would not be a wise choice.

How does performing inform teaching and vice-versa?

If you are an active performer, you have a better understanding of the musical and technical challenges faced by the students with whom you work. Therefore, you can more easily relate to their successes and their failures – rejoice in the former, forgive the latter. You face the same challenges everyday. You know how hard it is to get a phrase honed to near perfection.

Was there a turning point in your life – a performer or a piece of music or a teacher – who changed your life and made you aware that you wanted to become a professional musician and then a music educator?

I have had a wonderful life in music, so there have been several turning points, almost all because of demanding, insightful, caring teachers.

At the tender age of 14, I my clarinet teacher recommended that I continue my studies with Oakley Pittman, the professor at the local college.  If I had not studied with Mr. Pittman, “Chief” as he was call by his students, I am certain I would not have chosen music as a career.  After Chief, each mentor came along at just the right time to set my head straight.  That took real talent and immeasurable patience.

Are there special projects for WYSO or UW that you have planned that people should know about?

Each concert and opera is a special project.  There are some exciting ideas in the wind, but it is too soon to mention them.  The weather may change.

Are there other things you would like to say?

I am not sure what your readers would find interesting. Besides, I need to go study scores for next week’s rehearsals.

Do you have a message for Smith or about his devotion to music education?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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