The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Madison Opera founder Ann Stanke is dead at 76

May 19, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ann Stanke (below), one of the titans of classical music and the arts in Madison, has died at 76.

A funeral service will be held at CRESS FUNERAL HOME, 3610 Speedway Road, on Tuesday, May 24, 2011, at 1 p.m. Visitation will be held on Tuesday from 11 a.m. until the time of service.

Below is the news release from the Madison Opera. In coming days, I will write my own appreciation of this remarkable woman who not only led the Madison Opera but also played the piano and viola with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus. In the mean time, here are links to fine appreciations by Doug Moe of the Wisconsin State Journal:

Madison, Wis. – Ann Stanke, the general director of Madison Opera from 1984 to 2005, has passed away at the age of 76. She was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in July 2009.

Stanke has been associated with Madison Opera throughout its 50 year history. A graduate of Madison West High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she was listed as “prompter and accompanist” in the Madison Civic Opera program for “La Boheme” in 1963, the company’s first fully staged production.  Stanke continued as a coach and accompanist even after she assumed the position of general director in 1984, following two decades of dedication to the company.

Under Stanke’s tenure, Madison Opera’s reputation as a dynamic regional company flourished. As general director, she was known for her ability to blend the company’s visiting artists with regional talent as well as her passion for using the art form as a means of community building. Among the many projects that will shape Stanke’s legacy are the world premiere of Daron Aric Hagen’s “Shining Brow” in 1993, the founding of Opera in the Park in 2002, and the Mid-West premiere of Jake Heggie’s “The End of the Affair” in 2005. Her final season with Madison Opera in 2004-2005 was also the company’s first in the Overture Center for the Arts.

Marc A. Scorca, the president of OPERA America, released this tribute upon learning of Stanke’s passing: “Ann Stanke made a lasting contribution to the opera world from a small company in Madison, Wisconsin, that grew beyond even her wildest dreams.  In
the early 1990s, when many of the country’s largest opera companies were commissioning new works, Ann led Madison Opera dynamically into the premiere of “Shining Brown” by Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon.  The entire project was a model of artistic integrity and community engagement – and quickly became a reference point for the entire field.  Ann left Madison Opera after boldly
ushering in a new era at the Overture Center for the Arts, where it has reached new heights of achievement as an important American opera company.”

Stanke was elected to the OPERA America Board of Directors in 1993, and was honored by the organization in 1995 for her contributions to the field. Other honors include the Madison Community Foundation Leadership Award in 1994, the Downtown Rotary Club’s Senior Service Award in 2000, and Madison Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award in 2005. In April, OPERA America informed Stanke that she will be recognized with a plaque in the National Opera Center, scheduled to open in 2012 in New York City.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music Q&A: Student pianist Christie Cheng talks about music education and performing a Mozart concerto with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras this Sunday afternoon

May 19, 2011
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Editor’s note: This year, I am featuring music education as a spotlighted topic. Starting yesterday and continuing today and tomorrow, student performers, concerto competition winners, answer questions about themselves and music education.

By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday, May 22, 2011, more than 300 talented young musicians will celebrate the arrival of the new season with the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the UW Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison.

At 1:30 p.m., WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will open the concert series with performances of Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite” and Dvorak‘s “Bagatelle.” The Concert Orchestra will follow with a popular film score favorite, “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles.”

At 4 p.m., WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra (below) will showcase the talents of Concerto Competition winner Christie Cheng, who will perform the third movement — with her own cadenzas — of Mozart‘s Piano Concerto No. 13 in C Major, K. 415, accompanied by her fellow orchestra members. Philharmonia will also bring a few audience favorites to life, including Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, and Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story.”

The Youth Orchestra — WYSO’s premier performing group — will take the stage following the Harp Ensemble at 7 p.m. and will also highlight the Concerto Competition winners.

Maggie Schenk, 18, will perform the first movement from Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1Paul Sekulski, 17, will perform the first movement of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto; and Megan Whip, 16, will play the first movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. All three soloists will be accompanied by the Youth Orchestra.

The evening concert will also feature the world premiere of a special piece, “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man,” composed by UW School of Music professor John Stevens to honor WYSO’s 94-year-old founder, Marvin Rabin, who will receive the third Lifetime Achievement award from the Wisconsin School Music Foundation on Saturday night.

For a profile about Marvin Rabin (below), visit:

For information about WYSO, visit:

To see my interview with composer John Stevens (below) about the Rabin piece, visit:

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, $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.

These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, the Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times, and the Overture Foundation.

This project is also funded in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Today’s interview is with Christie Cheng (below, in a photo by Lloyd Schultz):

What is your name? How old are you and when did you start studying music?

I am Christie Cheng and I am 16 years old. I started playing piano when I was about 6 years old.

What grade are you in now and what school do you go to?

I am a sophomore at Middleton High School.

What are your favorites subjects?

I pretty much like all my classes, I play tennis and like to sing and dance. I’m in the drama club and am also student council sophomore class president.

What are your plans for higher education and a career?

I want to go to medical school after college, but we’ll see how it goes.

Who is your music teacher?

My piano teacher is Irmgard Bittar. My cello teacher is Janet Grieve.

Do you have a favorite composer and favorite pieces to listen to or to play?

I quite like Chopin (below) and Mozart, but I’m not really picky when it comes to what I play.

Why is playing music important to you and what does playing music teach you?

Music has taught me patience and persistence. I now understand that if I want to achieve something, I need to be willing to put a lot of time and effort in as well as never give up.

What different kinds of music do you listen to and like?

I like various kinds of music. I’ll pretty much listen to anything on the radio. I also really like a cappella singing, my friends and I have an a cappella group and we arrange songs just for fun.

Was there an Aha! Moment or turning point – perhaps a certain performer or piece — when you knew you wanted to be very serious about pursuing classical music?

Well, I don’t really know. I guess my aha moment was when I realized that I could potentially go very far with music at my first piano competition when I was 12.

What advice would you give others, students and adults, about studying music?

I would tell other people that to play music well isn’t just to prefect all the technique. Music needs to be felt and when people let it flow, then they really are creating art.

It’s important to remember, for those who have just begun, that learning music isn’t to please someone else, but to serve as an outlet for emotion. (When I was about six I thought I was practicing to make my parents happy, years later I figured out that my music is really for myself and I can share it with others.)

How important do you think music education is in relation to other areas of education?

Music education is so important in schools because it serves as a way for students to express themselves. People don’t have to be good at playing an instrument; they can sing, compose, conduct, or just enjoy music. There are so many different types of music that each person will most likely be able to find one style that suits them.

Posted in Classical music

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