The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Madison offers a lot of local holiday gifts for lovers of classical music.

December 18, 2011
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, here we are with only one week to go before Christmas.

And The Ear got a big Christmas gift today – a generous and well written endorsement from Dave Zweifel, my former editor at The Capital Times:

Anyway, I suspect some of you are starting become a bit frantic about what to get as a gift.

Perhaps I can offer some reassurance and help for those of you who are still shopping for classical music lovers. In the past weeks, I have offered holiday gift guides from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine, NPR and others.

Rest assured, there is still time to buy from local vendors and also on-line sellers.

But start with choosing a really nice holiday card and writing a heart-felt message on it.

As in past years, I highly recommend packaging a CD with tickets to a live performance. Both can generate long-lasting memories, but the essence of making music and listening to music happens at a live event.

You can focus on either the performer or the repertoire. Most of all, I recommend the gift of time and companionship, which I find increasingly matter to people,especially older and younger people who might have mobility issues.

I offer some specific examples:

Pianist Peter Serkin (below) is returning to Madison — specifically to the Wisconsin Union Theater — to perform a solo recital featuring Beethoven’s epic Diabelli Variations. You can get a CD of the Diabelli’s or Serkin and then add tickets plus a promise to go with and talk about.

Also at the WUT, on Friday, Feb. 24, is an all-Mendelssohn evening with the piano trio of David Finckel, Phillip Setzer and Wu Han.

For more information, visit:

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will host cellist Amid Peled  in a Boccherini concerto and also perform Haydn’s late Symphony No. 100 on Jan. 13. On Feb. 24, the WCO will host violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky  (below) in the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Beethoven’s famed Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”) also on the program. Those works offer great chances for match-ups.

For details, visit:

The Madison Opera will mark the 75th birthday of composer of Philip Glass (below) with a production of his “Galileo Galilei” on Jan. 26-29, and then performs Rossini’s “Cinderella” on April 27 and 29. Tickets and a recording of that or some other opera or other music by Glass or Rossini would make a great pairing.

For more information, visit:

You could do the same kind of CD-ticket pairing with Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, which Augustin Hadelich (below) will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 20-22, or with pianist Philippe Bianconi in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on March 30-April 1. (The last performances coincide, unfortunately, with the UW spring break.) You also have the advantage of the MSO offering reduced price holiday tickets for $15 and $40.

For details, go to:

And don’t forget the affordable, enjoyable and increasingly popular Live in HD satellite broadcasts at Point and Eastgate cinemas by the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustav Dudamel.

The UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (below), under Beverly Taylor, will perform Verdi’s operatically dramatic Requiem in Overture Hall on Friday, April 20.

But it is still a bad economy. Are some of those events listed above still too expensive?

There are a lot of “cheap thrills” to be found in the Madison classical scene. That is thanks in large part to the University of Wisconsin’s School of Music, which offers some 300 concerts a year – almost all FREE of charge. And that doesn’t even count free events at Edgewood College or WYSO (the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras) concerts.

The UW offers something for everyone: piano music, string music, wind music, percussion, early music, orchestral music, choral music.

I would single out two history-making events that will be fun to be participate in and that are part of the centennial of the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). They feature world premieres of two works commissioned from well-known composers by the Pro Arte: a new piano quintet by William Bolcom on March 24 and a string quartet by John Harbison on April 21.

Those concerts, by the way, are bookended by free lectures given by New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini in March and British critic Tully Potter in April.

For a listing of UW School of Music events go to and click on the Events Calendar.

The weekly First Unitarian Society Friday Musicales and “Sunday Live From the Chazen” series (below) also offers constant sources of live and regional chamber music combined with visual and fine art, especially in the Chazen’s stunning new building which has increased exhibit space by double and has brought great works of art out of storage. Of course, if you can’t get there in person, the concerts are broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio.

For a schedule, soon to be updated for the second semester, go to:

It is traditional to also recommend some local CDs. But what exactly is local?

Well, you can find some great overtures and several Mozart piano concerts on recordings by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, respectively. You can also find many CDs by UW faculty at the UW School of Music:

I also highly recommend a new CD of holiday music from the much acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below), which usually performs in the summer.

You can also find recorded music from many other local groups – the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians, early musician Trevor Stephenson and many UW groups  – and a ticket to a live concert would go well with one of them.

But then there are CDs from national and international labels (Naxos is a big one) that feature local artists, especially faculty members such as soprano Julia Faulkner, trombonist Mark Hetzler, pianist Martha Fischer, violinist David Perry (below is his CD of concertos by Ignaz Pleyel) and composer Laura Schwendinger and others. Just go to’s classical music section and plug in a name.

This list is very far from exhausting the possibilities for gift ideas. In fact, I hope readers will leave their own ideas in the COMMENTS section.

The more, the merrier – and the more helpful to both giver and recipient.

Posted in Classical music

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