The Well-Tempered Ear

At year’s end, let us remember and praise the many anonymous staffers and loyal audiences who make Madison a great town for classical music

December 30, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

Many people forget the obvious: It takes a lot more than just the performers to put on a good performance.

The typical thing for music critics to do at the end of the year is to review their notes and reviews and then name the best or the Top 10 concerts of the past year. Just Google “Best of 2010 classical music in XXX ” and you will see and find plenty for your area and for major cities.

I suppose I could do that too – although the list would be very long. I had so many wonderful moments of listening to great music.

I remember the sublime slow movement of Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” Piano Concerto, K. 271 with Jonathan Biss and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below). I remember a poignant Haydn slow movement of a Haydn string quartet played by the Jerusalem String Quartet in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

I remember a glorious Schumann Piano Quintet with Jeffrey Sykes and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society at the Overture Center. I remember the Schubert Symphony No. 9 “The Great” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell (below). I remember an unforgettable performance of Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle by baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer on the Winter Solstice at the First Unitarian Society.

I remember pianist Robert Levin rocking out in a stunning chamber version of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival (below). I remember the UW Chamber Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the UW Choral Union doing Handel’s “Israel in Egypt.” And I remember the Madison Bach Musicians performing a great reading of a Haydn symphony, and WYSO playing a Dvorak symphony.

I remember the Pro Arte Quartet (below) playing Schuman. I remember the Forgiveness aria from Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” I remember Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino performing the slow movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Iberia String Quartet at Farley’s House of Pianos. I remember the Ancora String Quartet in Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet. I remember the first half of the JACK Quartet’s concert of contemporary string quartets at the UW.

The list could go on and on, if only my memory could.

But art is NOT about winners and losers.

Of course it takes great musicians to make for a great and healthy classical music scene.

But it also takes the behind-the-scenes people to make it all work.

And when I read the headlines about the labor strife at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, about the symphonies in Honolulu and Louisville and Opera Pacific going bankrupt, I am reminded about how hard so many people to make Madison a classical music capital with more offerings and better quality offering than a city this size deserves to have.

I also remember the loyal audiences that make it work.

So as the year winds down, I want to recognize two groups besides the musicians: the presenters and the audiences.

Take some of the former, for example. The local music scene might be quite different without the tireless efforts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s marketing director Ann Miller and education coordinator Michelle Kaebisch, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s public relations director Sue Ellen McGuire, the UW School of Music’s concert manager Rick Mumford, the Madison Opera’s director of communications Brian Hinrichs, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s manager Samantha Crownover and the Wisconsin Union Theater’s director Ralph Russo, to name but a few.

They work hard to book the artists, choose the programs, select the dates, provide programs and notes, book pre-concert lectures, do the promoting and marketing, plan outreach and educational events and turn a musical concert into a commercial, popular and artistic  success.

That kind of hard work — and beauty requires hard work — is what allowed so many major groups in Madison to finish the fiscal year in the black while so many of their counterparts around the country – also besieged by bad economic times and blessed with fine musicians – ended up in the red or going of business.

Of course we’re not out of the woods yet.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra, and some other groups, would like to restore the length of their pre-Great Recession seasons.

And I worry that all the local competition will shut down the Wisconsin Union Theater (below). That would be a shame, for the WUT is the Carnegie Hall of Madison. It was there long before there was the Overture Center or the Civic Center or Mills Hall or the First Unitarian Society. But audiences there have been small enough that you do have to wonder about its jeopardy and precarious classical series.

But overall I remain optimistic. This is a great town for classical music – and I mean a GREAT town.

The variety and the quality are something many larger urban areas would and should envy.

We may have too small a population base to give each event a full house. And I know we can do better.

Still, we have done well, very well. And so I want to thank all the people — the anonymous and unacknowledged staffers who work in the administrative offices and the box offices.

And I want to thank my fellow audience members for their loyalty.

Thank you, all, for a great 2010. And cheers to a great 2011.

With your help, it will be another banner year.

Let’s make it happen again.

What do you think?

Is this kind of recognition as welcome as naming the best concerts of the year?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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