The Well-Tempered Ear

Be a ‘locovore’ of classical music: For the holidays, give tickets to live performances plus your companionship and a recording. Support local musicians and they will sustain you.

December 20, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past several weeks, I have published – OK, posted — several well-respected holiday gift guides for classical music.

All of them focused on recordings.

I find that understandable, but in some ways unfortunate.

The essence of making music is a live performance. Sure, you will probably hear wrong notes. But you will also hear an emotional and intellectual engagement and experience a sense of immediacy and community that recordings lack.

I also think that, especially in a virtual age of computer relationships, the best gift you can give is real live companionship. Buy some tickets for the recipient and yourself, and go with them to take in some live music.

The same way that so-called “locovores” proudly support area agriculture, we should be proud, loyal and hungry consumers of local culture and classical music.

This is especially true in an arts-rich area like Madison where an enthusiastic public has helped major groups survive while similar organizations – like the Honolulu Symphony  or Opera Pacific – in bigger cities have not.

The cost of tickets can run the gamut from free to quite expensive. But there is a such a big range that you can find a lot of outstanding choices, no matter what route you go.

All of the events at the University of Wisconsin School of Music – Faculty Concerts Series and Guest Artist Series included — are free except for the Choral Union and the University Opera. That includes the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), pianist Christopher Taylor, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and two groups I think deserve a lot more attendance: the UW Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra. (Many of the groups and individuals have made recordings available through the UW School of Music and local stores.)

Just look them up, write out a card and go – taking along someone special, maybe a young music student or an elderly person who needs help. At its heart, making music is a social event that relies on personal communication.

You can also match live performances with recordings.

Here a few examples:

The Wisconsin Union Theater will present pianist Jeremy Denk and violinist Hilary Hahn (below) in recital concerts this winter and spring. Both have out distinguished recordings that made some Top 10 lists.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) )have made their own recordings, if you want local performers. (Most local record and bookstores have them.) But you can an also find recordings by various soloists the MSO will be featuring, including pianist Simone Dinnerstein, violinists Henning Kraggerud and Robert MacDuffie and the vocalists in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection.” The MSO also offers bargain prices for tickets at the holidays. Add a CD or two of the performer or the piece or, if you are lucky, of both, and you have a great gift.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under Andrew Sewell (below), will perform works by American composer Jennifer Higdon, whose Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn became a bestseller this fall; it will also play  Mozart’s C Minor piano concerto and Beethoven’s fabulous Symphony No., 7 on the same final program of the season. Both are great works, and would make ideal and memorable gifts to people, along with a set of tickets and the promise of a listening companion – plus the added pleasure of anticipation.

You could also combine recordings of an opera with tickets to a production by the Madison Opera (Weill’s “Three-Penny Opera” and Verdi’s beloved “La Traviata”), the University Opera (Menotti’s “The Consul”) or the live hi-def broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera at the Eastgate and Point cinemas. (Below is a scene from the Madison Opera’s outstanding produciton of “The Marriage of Figaro this fall.)

The same strategies apply to so many other groups and players in town who can use and will appreciate your support as much as you will appreciate their music-making: the Ancora String Quartet, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians (below), the Festival Choir, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, the Madison Youth Choirs, the Madison Early Music Festival, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival to name only a few.

And if you or the recipient looks more to the past than the future, why not give a recording by a special artist or piece they still remember – perhaps the pianists Jonathan Biss and Olga Kern (MSO), the Jerusalem String Quartet (below, Wisconsin Union Theater), Stuart Goodyear (WCO) or “Carmen” (Madison Opera).

On-line search engines like Google are so good these days. Go to the home website of a local music group or presenter, find a good concert with a program or artist you like, and then let the rest follow from that.

I’ve have done it often, and I can tell you it makes a great holiday gift that is remembered and cherished long after the holiday has ended.

Have you did something similar?

How did it work out?

Do you have specific suggestions for this year?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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