The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music datebook: Rarely heard percussion, piano and chamber music, as well as a community orchestra, are featured in a week packed full with performances by smaller, less well-known ensembles plus a public opening reception for the Pro Arte Quartet exhibit at Dane County Airport.

February 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It isn’t just the larger performing music groups (the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Opera) and the larger presenters (the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Union Theater) that demonstrate what a vibrant classical music scene Madison has for a city its size.

Just take a look below at the long and varied list of lower-profile groups that will be making some memorable music. They include a Czech choir next Wednesday as well as a UW-Madison piano student marathon on Saturday (it sounds similar to the great Chopin Mazurkathon of 2010) as well as several others smaller chamber music groups.


At 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School, The Middleton Community Orchestra performs its Winter Concert, conducted by Steve Kurr.

The concert features a performance of “Schelomo,” by Ernest Bloch with cellist Jordan Allen (below) as soloist. The orchestra will also play “John Henry” by Aaron Copland and “The Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

Tickets are $10 for general admission. Students and retirement home residents are free. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West.

Call (608 -212-8690 for more information.


From 5 to 7 p.m., the UW Pro Arte String (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform live at at the FREE and PUBLIC opening reception at the Dane County Airport Exhibit about the history of the quartet and its centennial season this year as well as the centennial of The Wisconsin Idea.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below) will perform under composer and artistic director Laura Schwendinger.

This program, sub-titled “The Young and the Experimental,” is the first in a new series called “The Living Composers Project,” a three-year initiative designed to present concerts of works by living composers. The program begins with a panel discussion with student composers and Laura Schwendinger, followed by performances of works by Michael Finnissy and Tamar Diesendruck; “String Quartet” by student composer Dara Tennikova; and “Kaläämang” (“Fish Game”) by student composer Jerry Hui.  Pianist Christopher Taylor is the special guest.

Free admission.


Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features Catherine Schweitzer, soprano (below)  and Jeff Gibbens, piano, in music by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and other composers. For information, call 608.233-9774 or visit

At 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the  UW’s Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below) performs.  The program — “Around the World in 80 minutes with the Wingra Quintet” features works by Bach, Skalkottas, Debussy, Zemlinsky, Bartok, Gershwin, Piazzolla and Rodriguez.

Free admission.


Starting at noon in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW-Madison School of Music’s piano department, in association with the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies program, will present “Carnival: Celebrating Music from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula.”

The concert is free and a Latin American-themed reception for musicians and audience will follow the event. The concert is expected to last three hours, and audience members are invited to drop in at any time.

Carnival’s mission is to celebrate the diversity of musical cultures too often neglected in concert programming and academic study in the United States. More than 30 student performers will present music by 20 different composers from Argentina, Brazil, Catalonia, Cuba, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela and more. (It sounds a lot like the great Chopin Mazurkathon in 2010, below.)

Composers featured range from well-known figures like Astor Piazzolla (below) and Enrique Granados to lesser-known names like Xavier Montsalvatge, Tania Leon and Alicia Terzian.

Pieces for solo piano will be featured along with music for voice and piano, flute and piano, piano-4 hands and piano-8 hands.  An international roster of undergraduate and graduate students of the school’s acclaimed piano faculty will perform.

Piano faculty members represented are Martha Fischer, Jessica Johnson, Christopher Taylor and Todd Welbourne. In addition, Christina Baker, a scholar on salsa dance forms from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, will give a brief presentation on salsa in Mexico City at approximately 1 p.m.

Also at noon, until 1 p.m., at Grace Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, a FREE concert will feature soprano Rachel Holmes (below) in a program of Mozart arias.

At 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Percussion Ensemble (below) will present its 11th annual Percussion Extravaganza.  The event serves as a showcase of the talents of the local young musicians age 12-17 who perform with the Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Vicki Jenks.

Entitled “Pan-tastic,” this year’s Percussion Extravaganza will feature Liam Teague (below), known in the percussion world as Paganini of the Steelpan.”  Teague currently serves as the Head of Steelpan Studies, co-directs the NIU Steelband and is Associate Professor of Music at Northern Illinois University.

Teague has distinguished himself as the recipient of many awards in his homeland, Trinidad and Tobago.  He has performed across the world with such groups as the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Taiwan National Symphony, Czech National Symphony, Panama National Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and recently, the UW-Madison Marching Band.

A strong advocate for original steelpan compositions, Teague has commissioned a number of significant composers to write for the instrument.  On Saturday, he will perform some of his own compositions plus several selections with the WYSO Percussion Ensemble.  He is currently the musical arranger for the Starlift Steel Orchestra, one of the most celebrated steelbands in the world. For more information,  visit

Admission to Percussion Extravaganza is $8 for adults and $5 for students 18 and under.  Tickets can be purchased in the lobby of Mills Hall beginning one hour prior to the concert. A portion of ticket sales will be donated to Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. A voluntary food and/or monetary donation for Second Harvest would also be greatly appreciated. The Humanities Building is located at 455 N. Park St., Madison. Parking is available at State Street Campus Ramp, Helen C. White, and Grainger Hall.  For more directions and information, contact the WYSO office, (608) 263-3320 x 11.

At 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Friday and then at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at the UW Arboretum Visitors Center the Oakwood Chamber Players (below, in a photo by Bill Arthur) will perform a program of rarely heard lyrical music.

Tickets can be purchased at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

The theme for this concert is “Aubade,” or poems about the dawn, and the concert appropriately begins with “Aubade” by Paul de Wailly for flute, oboe, clarinet.

The ensemble will present three pieces original to the piano arranged for woodwinds including two of the “Fleeting Moments” by Sergei Prokofiev – Dolente and Ridicolosamente (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon); “The Diary of a Fly” by Bela Bartok for woodwind quintet); and “Petite Suite” by Debussy (ww quintet). The program will also include “Threesome” (for woodwind trio) by New England composer Gwynneth Walker and the romantic Quintet, op. 43 (piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn) by Heinrich von Herzogenberg.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Faculty Concert Series presents the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below). Works on the program are by Lutoslawski, Monteverdi, Villa-Lobos and by quintet members Douglas Lindsey, Daniel Grabois and John Stevens.  Free admission.


This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” offers faculty members from the Wausau Conservatory of Music 12:30-2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art. It will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio. Performers include Karen Juliano, soprano (below); Scott S. Hunsberger, baritone; and Ann Applegate, pianist.

The program features works of some of the most beloved composers from the 19th and 20th centuries, including selections from “Images” Book II for solo piano by Claude Debussy; solos for soprano by Francesco P. Tosti; “In quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini; Etudes for piano by Frédéric Chopin, and “An die Ferne Geliebte” (To the Distant Beloved) for baritone by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The musicians have each performed throughout Wisconsin and have toured the major musical epicenters of Europe before joining the faculty of the Wausau Conservatory to pursue teaching.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at 608.263.2246.

NOTE: Due to the 2012 UW Art Department Faculty Exhibition, the post-concert reception will not be held again until the April 15th concert. We would like to thank our generous donors, Fresh Madison Market, Steep & Brew, and Coffee Bytes. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber players perform “Aubade” at the UW Arboretum Visitors Center (below). See Saturday’s listings.

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Faculty Concert Series presents the Thimmig-Johnson Duo, with Les Thimmig (below), clarinets and saxophone and Jessica Johnson, piano.  The program includes works by Mozart, Janacek, Monk and Bernstein.  Free admission.

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel of Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College presents the Edgewood College Women’s Choir and Chamber Singers. They will perform under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below) and Albert Pinsonneault. Included on the program are works of Salieri, Purcell, Tallis, Byrd and Bruckner, as well as arrangements of traditional Irish folk songs.

Admission is free.


At 7 p.m.  Jitro, a Czech Girls’ Choir (below) will perform in concert at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Middleton at 7337 Hubbard Avenue.  The concert is open to the public; a freewill offering will be taken at the door.

Jitro (“The Daybreak” in Czech) is co-sponsored by the Madison Youth Choirs and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, with additional support from The Edgewater. Jitro is presented by Joanne Rile Artists Management.

“This internationally acclaimed touring choir is selected from over 350 children in six preparatory ensembles. In the span of 38 years, they have performed 2,500 concerts and have toured 700,000 miles around the globe. In the Fourth World Choir Games in Xiamen, China (2006) they received three gold medals. Among its many tours, Jitro has performed 12 tours in the US, six in Japan, and over 200 throughout Europe. Their discography includes 30 recordings.

Since 1997, Jiri Skopal has led the choir as Artistic Director, winning high praise for his brilliant leadership. Pianist Michael Chrobak’s superb playing adds luster to the choir’s remarkable performances.”

The concert will feature an opening performance by Madison Youth Choirs Cantabile choir and Jitro’s performance will include works by Britten, Gallus, Dvorák, Smetena, Macha, Badings and more.

Classical music news: Madison’s downtown Grace Episcopal Church announces its free Saturday noontime concerts for Spring 2012

February 28, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Grace Presents,” the outreach concert series of Grace Episcopal Church (below) offers classical and folk concerts Saturdays at noon.

The performances are all free and casual, taking place in Grace’s beautiful, historic nave.  All concerts are at Grace Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

So far, specific works and programs have not been announced. But stay tuned for details.

Even from the outline, however, the concert look like a good place to grab a bite and have a respite downtown, especially on busy Farmers Market Saturdays.

Here is the line-up:

March 3, 2012. Noon-1 p.m. Rachel Holmes (below), soprano, presents a lively and enchanting program of Mozart arias.

March 24, 2012. Noon-1 p.m. Members of UW-Platteville‘s Rountree Ensemble (below) offer spring serenades for flute, clarinet, and piano.

April 28, 2012. Noon-1 p.m. The Mifflin String Quartet (below) perform a dynamic and exotic program of Beethoven and Dohnanyi.

May 12, 2012. Noon-1 p.m. In a return engagement, Navan, the visionary quartet of traditional Celtic singers, offers everything from shimmering Irish lullabies to spine-chilling Breton laments, performing exclusively in the native tongues of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man.

Grace Presents is sponsored by a grant from the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Overture Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and through generous donations from music lovers.

Classical music news: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Andrew Sewell — who scored big with Beethoven and Britten this past weekend — is one of five finalists to lead the Illinois Symphony and Chamber Orchestras in Springfield and Bloomington.

February 27, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Andrew Sewell (below), the music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra since 2000, is among five finalists to lead the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and its Chamber Orchestra that perform nine concerts a season in Springfield and Bloomington.

Sewell, fresh off two acclaimed performances of Beethoven and Britten in Madison and Baraboo this past weekend, told The Ear that the would continue to live in Madison and head the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) plus commute by car for the 4-1/2 hour drive to Springfield.

“Madison is a great place to live and has treated us very well,” said Sewell, who lives her with his wife Mary. Sewell, a native of New Zealand, is a naturalized American citizen. He recently left the Wichita Symphony in Kansas after 10 years at its helm and he has guest conducted in Green Bay as well as Hong Kong and many other places.

Sewell said that, should he get the post with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra (below), the need for guest conductors to occasionally fill in for him Madison will depend on the concert schedule.

While he doesn’t intend to do that very often, he added, should it happen it would benefit both musicians and audiences to hear guest conductors.

Sewell was among 30 original names invited to apply for the Illinois post. Then 27 applied and they were narrowed down through interviews about a dozen and then five finalists were chosen to conduct performances. Sewell will return to Springfield at the end of March to conduct a program of Berlioz’ “Le Corsaire” Overture, Brahms’ Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1. In late January, he conducted Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” and contemporary composer Michael Daughtery’s “Strut.”

The final choice will probably be announced sometime in late May, Sewell speculated, after all the finalists have conducted performances.

Started by the WPA during FDR’s “New Deal,” the Illinois Symphony Orchestra, is the second largest symphony in Illinois, coming in after the famed world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which snagged Riccardo Muti as its current music director, based in Chicago and Ravinia. But the Illinois Symphony also performs at Grant Park concert shell (below), designed by Frank Gehry, in downtown Centennial Park.

According to Sewell, the Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s season has nine regular concerts – five symphony concerts and four chamber orchestra concerts plus a holiday concert and an educational outreach concert — but nothing comparable to the six weekly Concerts on the Square that Sewell programs and conducts each summer in Madison.

Here is a link to the home site of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra:

Will Sewell get the post?

Well, of course The Ear is rooting for The Home Boy.

But I also think that Sewell would be a shoo-in if the board of directors of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra heard how much the WCO has improved in tightness and accuracy under his tenure; if they knew how well he puts together original programs of tried-and-true classics with overlooked or lesser known works; and if they understood what great up-and-coming and affordable but supremely talented soloists he manages to find and book.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the WCO concert this past weekend, but a colleague whose judgment I trust did. Here is the review by Mike Muckian for Brava magazine and his blog “Culturosity”:

Here is a link to a rave review by Bill Wineke for Channel and WISC-TV:

Here is a link to a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times and  77 Square:

And here is a link to background story about Sewell and the plans and process to find a conductor for the Illinois ensemble.

Do you have any comments to leave for Andrew Sewell or for the directors of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra to read?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: To celebrate Black History Month, let us now praise the influence of African-American composers on European classical music and learn about “Afric-classical” music more often than one month out of 12.

February 26, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

What is the best way to celebrate Black History Month, which ends on Wednesday?

One way is to recall some uncovered or previously neglected black or African-American composers of art music or concert hall music. Ever hear of Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier des Saint Georges? I hadn’t either. Maybe someday someone will program his music in concert. In the meantime, here is a clip:

Here is a link to a deeply informative website with several helpful pages about him and lists of all sorts of other neglected black composers of classical music, or so-called “Afri-classical” music:

And here is a link to a daly blog that has helpful information more than one month out of 12:

Another approach is to recall that the influence that black music has had on American music and composers such as Aaron Copland. That may help to explain the burst of programs, local and national, featuring George Gershwin (below), who incorporated blues, jazz and spirituals into his early “crossover” music.

After all, incorporating black music in America was not unlike the way that Brahms incorporated Gypsy tunes and dance rhythms or the way that Haydn and Beethoven used peasant dances like the landler into European music or the way Chopin used Polish idioms such as the mazurka and polonaise.

But this year I decided I wanted to highlight the way that African-American music has influenced very well-known European composers of classical music.

Some obvious ones come to mind, including Antonin Dvorak (the “New World” Symphony), Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel (below) and Francis Poulenc. It’s curious how the French seem especially open to new and foreign cultural influences.

Anyway, the piece that has grabbed my attention this year is the captivating “Blues” movement from Ravel’s Violin Sonata, especially in a stunningly beautiful performance on the outstanding new Sony CD “French Impressions” by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk. It is in the YouTube video below and starts at the 11-minute mark.

So as a salute to Black History Month, here is that performance, not from the actual CD but from the CD release party at the famous night club “Le Poisson Rouge” in New York City:

What pieces would you play to do the same?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music enters controversial politics in some unexpected ways through Republican blowhard Newt Gingrich, leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

February 25, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it is just a few weeks or more before a lot of some major political events, all of them quite polarizing, contentious and controversial, get decided.

And curiously enough, classical music – which is normally left out of such major social events and political discussions – seems to be playing an important role right now.

In the US, for example, the Republican presidential primary (see the candidates, below, in a CNN South Carolina debate) turns this week to Arizona and Michigan, then moves on to Super Tuesday.

Then of course there is the reelection campaign of populist but controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (below).

And then there is the upcoming election in Russia where Vladimir Putin (below, riding brazenly beefcake and defiantly  bare-chested) – often accused making his opponents “disappear” — hopes to return as President.

Of course music creeps into politics now and then. Recently, President Obama made headlines and videos that went viral when he crooned a few bars of Al Green and then later some blues with B.B. King and Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

But classical music and opera?

How do they figure all of a sudden in politics?

Could it be because so many of these extremist-type candidates turn to something more artistically traditional for validation and mainstream cultural acceptance?

Here are some stories to consider:

Mr. Blowhard Speaker Newt Gingrich isn’t doing very well in the polls and primaries. But his former aide, mistress and now third wife, Callista (below), is using music education as the theme she says she would champion as First Lady the same way that Michelle Obama is promoting healthy food and fighting childhood obesity:

Hugo Chavez is so anxious to have good press to retain almost dictatorial power that he is willing to co-opt the superb music education program in Venezuela – the same “el sistema” that brought us superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (seen below with Chavez) and the system’s famous founder Juan Antonio Abreu – and thereby to neutralize opposition from all the grateful young performers and audiences who benefit from the system he didn’t even start.

Here is a great New York Times story about him and them:

And here is a backgrounder about the success of El Sistema and the loyalty it inspire among its participants:

And then there are the mass demonstrations against former Russian president and KGB secret police agent Vladimir Putin, who seems about to pull off a shady return to power. But that doesn’t seem to prevent him from getting endorsements from some pretty big classical music stars including conductor Valery Gergiev (below top, shaking Putin hand at the recent Tchaikovsky competition) and sexy opera diva soprano Anna Netrebko (below bottom with Putin), who denies rumors that she had an affair with Putin (how operatic that would be!):

For background, try this:

I’ll bet there is more as elections draw closer and the American Presidential Election draws closer.

Do you have any more tips or ideas, suggestions or comments about music and current politics here or elsewhere?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: A FREE concert of Latin American piano music is on tap in Verona on Saturday night and a concert last week in Door County recreated the piano music that classic writer and popular novelist Jane Austen and her characters played.

February 24, 2012
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ALERT:  This Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Rhapsody Arts Center in Verona, at 1031 North Edge Trail, there is a FREE concert of solo piano and four-hand piano works by Latin American composers Ginastera, Leon, Piazzolla and Soler along with Bach. A free reception will follow the concert. Performers are members of Music Teachers National Association Collegiate Chapter at UW – Madison.

By Jacob Stockinger

Few novelists have proven as durable or popular as the great British writer Jane Austen (below), famous for her novels “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma,” Sense and Sensibility” and “Persuasion.”

All those titles have stayed in print since they were first published. All have also been made into popular and prize-winning TV series and movies, several times in most cases.

So people who know those works by either reading or viewing also know that music plays a big role in Austen’s work. Indeed, women of the class she writes about were expected to be proficient on the piano and to play music, especially dance tunes, of the day.

One of the best scenes for me is in “Pride and Prejudice” when the father, Mr. Bennet, says to a less proficient Bennet sister (Mary, perhaps) after her after-dinner performance full of wrong notes something to the effect “You have entertained us quite enough. It is time to give someone else a chance.”

Talk about a classy, witty and understated put-down!

Anyway, if you want some history about Austen’s literary work and her world and the role that music played in them, here is a background story:

And more to the point, here is a link to a story in the Wisconsin Gazette by a fine Madison arts writer, Mike Muckian, about a concert that was sponsored this month by the Peninsula Music Festival in Door County. The concert recreated a typical evening’s fare of Jane Austen’s piano music:

Sounds like it was an entertaining evening, no?

And it is curious how obscure some, or even most of the names sound today – like Charles Dibdin. (Austen’s own score of his “Soldier’s Adieu” is below.)

That says something about how musical taste changes through the years – and about how so-called first-tier and second-tier composers are different with history’s hindsight. (Below is a version of a period tune in duet form from “Emma” played on modern pianos.)

Maybe a similar concert can be recreated again here in Madison. What do you think or say?

Classical music Q&A: Chinese-American composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long talks about blending Western and Eastern music in “The Future of Fire, which the UW Wind Ensemble and Concert Choir will perform Saturday night in a FREE concert.

February 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Circa Now,” a FREE concert of works by living composers, three of whom will be present at the performance.

The program includes “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man” by UW composer John Stevens (below), who was commissioned to honor Marvin Rabin, the founder of WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras) and who will conduct the work. 

Also on the program are “Concerto for percussion” by Michael Udow, with percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza; “The Future of Fire” by Zhou Long (below), the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in music for his opera “Madame White Snake,” with the UW Concert Choir; and “Cosmosis” by Susan Botti, with soprano soloist Mimmi Fulmer and the women of the Concert Choir.  Scott Teeple is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble.

A pre-concert discussion with Stevens, Udow and Zhou will take place at 7:15 p.m.

Zhou Long recently gave an emailed Q&A to The Ear:

Can you introduce yourself briefly to readers?

I am Zhou Long and currently a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). I was born into an artistic family and began piano lessons at an early age. During the Cultural Revolution , I was sent to a rural state farm, where the bleak landscape with roaring winds and ferocious wild fires made a profound and lasting impression.

I resumed my musical training in 1973, studying composition, music theory, and conducting, as well as Chinese traditional music. In 1977, I enrolled in the first composition class at the reopened Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Following graduation in 1983, I was appointed composer-in-residence with the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra of China.

I travelled to the United States in 1985 under a fellowship to attend Columbia University, where I studied with Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky, and George Edwards, receiving a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1993.

My creative vision has resulted in a new music that stretches Western instruments eastward and Chinese instruments westward, achieving an exciting and fertile common ground.

Briefly, what should listeners pay attention to and know about “The Future of Fire” and about the meaning of the title?

Memories of my years in the countryside surface again in “The Future of Fire” (2001, rev. 2003). With melodic material taken from a Shaanxi love song, it is a brief symphonic anthem vibrantly depicts my memories of farmers burning off dried grass to prepare the land for planting, but losing control of the flame to the passing wind — a vivid, if charitable, metaphor for the Cultural Revolution (below).

Although a mixed chorus is featured in the recording singing the piece’s text-less vocalise, I have also suggested using a children’s chorus to emphasize the piece’s dedication to “the powerful energy of the younger generation and the passionate hope for peace in the new millennium.”

How has winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 changed your life? Has it helped get your music performed more often?

The prize might have been a sign of things to come, but mostly I feel my works finally have been accepted. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years, and have been entirely working to blend the cultures. I think that I carefully combined Western and Eastern cultures, and that I did it well. I don’t want the opera “Madame White Snake” (at bottom) that won the Pulitzer Prize to taste like wine and beer mixed together. You can’t ever say that you have the right or perfect result, but I believe in what I did.

The Pulitzer gave me more confidence. It’s a quintessentially American award. That it could be offered not only to American-born composers, but also to a composer who immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen, really means something to me. I would say, for a composer’s career there’s no ending, you have no ceiling. You don’t talk about everything when you reach the top.

So far, I feel honored by this recognition. But it doesn’t guarantee you will continue to write good music and it doesn’t guarantee you will get more opportunities. The prize does not provide opportunities. That is provided by pure recognition and the recognition is respect.

What are your current and future projects and plans?

Recently, I have just completed The New York New Music Ensemble (below) commissioned work “Cloud Earth,” for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet in B-flat, percussion, piano, violin and cello, to be premiered on April 16, 2012 for its 35th Anniversary Celebration, at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.

I will also start a Portland State University commission, a solo piano piece for Prof. Susan Chan to be premiered at UMKC Musica Nova Concert in April 2012. My new projects, including a major work “Beijing Wind,” a 40-minute symphonic suite, commissioned by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, to be premiered in 2013.

A lot of Chinese, and other Asian, composers such as Bright Sheng and Tan Dun are working within the tradition of Western classical music. What do you see as the effects of such an ethnic mixing or blending, and what do you see happening in the future of classical music both here and in Asia?

I think that makes sense for me as a composer who works here in the States. It’s international and metropolitan, and inviting to the multicultural society here. For the quarter century I’ve been living in the States, I think that’s my goal — to meld the Western and Eastern cultures together.

Classical music datebook: Great chamber music by Mendelssohn and by living composers plus some Big Beethoven mark a rich week for music in Madison.

February 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a rich week for great classical music in Madison. Some might even say it is too rich, since Friday is another one of those inevitable train wrecks.

That’s when two great and very appealing concerts take place almost at the same time: an all-Mendelssohn concert by the David Finckel, Wu Han and Philip Setzer piano trio (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and a largely Beethoven concert, with the Violin Concerto and the Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at the Overture Center.

My colleague Greg Hettmansberger even wrote in detail about the conflict for his “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine:

But I guess that is the price one pays for living in such a culturally rich city. Still, for the sake of audiences, performers and the financial stability of the organizations, The Ear just wishes that the two organizations would cooperate more closely to eliminate such heart-breaking conflicts when they are not absolutely necessary.

Anyway, there is a lot of other notable musical concerts to console us for that one disheartening dilemma.


At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Western Percussion Ensemble (below) and UW percussionist Anthony Di Sanza will give a FREE concert. No program is available yet.

The recital by UW soprano Julia Faulkner and pianist Martha Fischer has been CANCELLED.


Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpist Linda Warren, violinist Leyla Sanyer and cellist Philip Delaquessi in music of Naderman and Respighi. For information, call (608) 233-9774 or visit

From 2:30 to 4 p.m., a TRIPLE-HEADER of FREE public master classes, with University of Wisconsin-Madison students, will be held: Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel in Mills Hall; Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer (below) in Morphy Recital Hall; and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center pianist and co-director Wu Han on the stage at the Wisconsin Union Theater, where the same trio will performance an all-Mendelssohn program later Friday night.

At 7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, retiring Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel and his wife Wu Han (below), who also co-direct The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, will team up with Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer to perform both piano trios and a cello sonata in an all-Mendelssohn program.

It is a mark of the prestige these performers are held in that the concert is officially designated the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert. Each season the Wisconsin Union Theater names a concert in honor of Taylor, the pioneering university arts presenter who founded the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series and led it for many decades.

Here is link to more information, including ticket prices, a video and reviews, of Friday night’s concert by the Finckel, Setzer and Wu Han Trio:

At 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below) will perform Benjamin Britten’s “End Sequence” from “Night Mail” as well as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”).

For more information about the concert and tickets, visit:


At 11:55 a.m. CST at the Point and Eastgate cinemas, the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” satellite broadcast will feature Verdi’s “Ernani.” The cast includes (below) acclaimed soprano Angela Meade and Marcello Giordani. (The encore presentation is March 14 at 6:30 p.m.)

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Circa Now,” a FREE concert of works by living composers. The ensemble performs “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man” by UW composer John Stevens, who will conduct the work; “Concerto for percussion” by Michael Udow, with percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza; “The Future of Fire” by Zhou Long (below), the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in music, with the UW Concert Choir; and “Cosmosis” by Susan Botti, with soprano soloist Mimmi Fulmer and the women of the Concert Choir.  Scott Teeple is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble.

A pre-concert discussion with Stevens, Udow and Zhou will take place at 7:15 p.m.


This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” offers violinist Kangwon Lee Kim (below) 12:30-2 p.m. p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art. It will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Kim will be joined by colleagues Eli Kalman, pianist, David Rubin, violinist, Matthew Michelic, violist, and Janet Anthony, cellist, presenting Sonatas for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven and Maurice Ravel, and the Piano Quintet in C minor by Erno Dohnanyi.

Kim received degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oberlin Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, and Temple University, and this year she has been asked to join the faculty at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Steep & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, a FREE concert will be performed by the UW Concert Band, conducted by Michael Leckrone (below).

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel of Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform a concert under the direction of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci).

The program includes Rossini’s “L’Inganno Felice” Overture, Gorecki’s “Kleines Requiem für eine Polka” (Little Requiem for a Polka), and Mozart’s well-known Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.


The Middleton Community Orchestra’s Winter Concert, conducted by Steve Kurr, will be on Wednesday, February 29, 7:30 at the Middleton Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School. The concert features a performance of “Schelomo,” by Ernest Bloch with cellist Jordan Allen (below) as soloist. The orchestra will also play “John Henry” by Aaron Copland and “The Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

Tickets are $10 for general admission. Students and retirement home residents are free. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West.

Call 608-212-8690 for more information.

Classical music Q&A: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is the “godfather” of popular Romantic violin concertos, says violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who will perform it Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

February 21, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m., in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform under music director and conductor Andrew Sewell with violin soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who will be making his Madison debut.

The concert will begin with a shot piece by Benjamin Britten, the “End Sequence” of “Night Mail.” American Players Theatre actor James Ridgeway with speak the narration by famed poet W.H. Auden.

But after that it becomes all-Beethoven.

Big Beethoven.

Specifically, the WCO will be joined by Sitkovetsky in Beethoven’s famous Violin Concerto.

Then comes the equally famous and beloved Symphony No. 6 or “Pastoral” with its peasant dances and storm sequence.

For more information about the concert and tickets, visit:

On tour in Italy, Sitkovetsky (below) gave an email Q&A to the Ear:

Could briefly introduce yourself to readers and mention highlights of your personal and professional life?

I am Alexander Sitkovetsky and I am a concert violinist. I was born in Moscow, Russia, but moved to England at the age of 7 to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School. I was invited by Lord Menuhin himself (below), so this was an incredible honor and an amazing opportunity for me.

A definite early highlight was having the chance to perform Bach’s Double Violin Concerto with Menuhin at the age of 8. Although I was very young, I will never forget the amazing experience of having the opportunity to share the stage with one of the greatest musicians and people of the 20th century.

Other career highlights include recording my first CD for the Angel-EMI label; performing in some of the world’s most beautiful concert halls like the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Wigmore Hall and many others. Earlier this year, in January, I made my recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall in New York. I also got married last summer to a fantastic pianist from Shanghai, Wu Qian. We have a fantastic piano trio together with a German Cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich

What are your current and upcoming projects – tours, recordings, special events, whatever?

This is a busy time, after my trip to Madison, which I am greatly looking forward to. I will perform with different orchestras in the UK in March, culminating in a performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto with the Brussels Philharmonic at London’s Cadogan Hall. Later this year, I will have a tour of Switzerland performing the Glazunov Violin Concerto and appear at the Gstaad Festival.

In September, I will be a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I will be doing two programs at Lincoln Center in New York so I am looking forward to coming to the US more often and performing with this fantastic organization. With my trio (below), we will be performing at the Wigmore Hall in May and then Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with the Konzerthaus Orchestra of Berlin in the summer.

In Madison you will be performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. How do you place that work in the context of and compared to other major concertos in the violin repertoire?

I think that in many ways, the Beethoven Violin Concerto is the “godfather” of the big violin concertos that we all know so well, and who knows if Brahms, Tchaikovsky and the others would have written their concertos if it wasn’t for Beethoven (below).

I believe that it is the biggest and most expansive concerto written up to that point. It has beautiful, sweeping melodic lines, and though the violin is the solo instrument, it is constantly in dialogue with the orchestra. There is a very symphonic feel to the work.

What attracts other people but especially you to the music of Beethoven? Are there favorite Beethoven works – for violin or other instruments – that you repeatedly turn to?

Are there violinists in the past whom you especially admire and think of as role models in terms of tone, interpretation, technique, etc.?

I admire all great violinists, both from the past and the present. I grew up with the recordings of Heifetz (below top) and for me he is the greatest violinist that we have ever heard with our own ears. (Paganini we just know about and can imagine). Also, I am a huge admirer of Fritz Kreisler (below bottom), mostly because of his tone and also because it never seemed that he was in a hurry. He always took his time to sing all the notes and I think that this is an amazing quality. His recording of the Beethoven Concerto is actually my favorite of the piece.

What qualities do you look for in the best or finest performances by yourself or others?

It is a difficult question to answer because when you are working on yourself, you are looking for so many things and are never fully satisfied. But I would say that I think that the most important thing is to try and create an interpretation that is wholly convincing and one that will connect with the audience and maybe touch them in some way — whether this is through your sound, through your virtuosity or through the depth of your interpretation. Usually a really successful performance will have all three!

I believe this is your second performance in Madison. In the fall of 2010 you performed Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. What would you like to say about the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell or about Madison and its audiences? 

Unfortunately, I was ill and had to cancel my appearance! So this will be my debut in Madison! But I have worked with Andrew Sewell (below) once before in Monterrey with the Paganini Concerto and that was a lot of fun! I am very excited about seeing and working with him again!

Classical music Q&A: Who will replace the famed Beaux Arts Trio? Cellist David Finckel, violinist Philip Setzer and Pianist Wu Han of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center talk about their all-Mendelssohn concert this Friday at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison.

February 20, 2012
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ALERT: Want to sing through Haydn’s great oratorio “The Creation”? Then consider going to the FREE Madison Symphony Chorus Community Open Sing! this Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9:30 in the Wisconsin Room of the Overture Center. Scores will be provided and all levels are welcome. You’ll join members of the Madison Symphony Chorus and conductor-director Beverly Taylor, along with choristers from all over the community.  Taylor will lead singersl in a brief rehearsal of the main choruses.Then the public will sing them through with arias sung by soloists from the UW-Madison School of Music. (On Tuesday, March 20, the same group will do Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist David Finckel made news last week when he announced that after 36 years he would retire at the end of next season from the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning Emerson String Quartet (below, with Finckel on the far right).By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a link to an NPR story about his retirement:

One of the reasons Finckel gave for the move — he will be replaced in 2013 by British cellist Paul Watkins — was to devote himself to other enterprises, including running the CD label (ArtistLed) and co-directing the famed Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, both of which he does with his wife, pianist Wu Han.

Another reason Finckel gave for retiring from the Emerson will be to devote himself to other forms of chamber music – which makes this Friday’s concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison all the more timely, notable and even newsworthy.

On Friday night at 7:30 is when celllist Finckel and his wife Wu Han will team up with Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer to perform both piano trios and a cello sonata in an all-Mendelssohn program.

It is a mark of the prestige these performers are held in that the concert is officially designated the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert. Each season the Wisconsin Union Theater names a concert in honor of Taylor, the pioneering university arts presenter who founded the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series and led it for many decades.

Here is link to more information, including ticket prices, a video and reviews, of Friday night’s concert by the Finckel, Setzer and Wu, Han Trio:

Could this trio become the new Beaux Arts Trio? David Finckel and Wu Han (below) took time out from their hectic schedule to answer an email Q&A for The Ear about their upcoming concert:

Speaking as members of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, how healthy would you say the state of chamber music in America is today compared to the past?

DAVID FINCKEL: Chamber music varies, as do all classical music and serious art forms in America, from very healthy to endangered, depending upon the integrity, commitment of the local presenter and the engagement and support of the community.

We are often encouraged or alarmed when we travel to see different results in different communities. However, we always find intelligent, passionate audience in many different corners of the world.

We find if chamber music is presented in the best way – with intimacy and passion — the audience is always inspired. Because of that, we found through our role in the Emerson Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, chamber music continues to be a big part of many people’s lives.

How and why did the three of you start a piano trio?

WU HAN: We all love the same repertoire and have enjoyed making music together for quite a long time. It all started with the two Schubert trios (Note: Those trios are available in an exceptional recording, below bottom,  from Artist Led and you can hear some of them at the bottom.) David and I knew Phil Setzer (below top) would be the perfect partner to record with because we all feel very deeply and similarly about that music.

It was such a success that we continued with the Mendelssohn trios now. We don’t know if this trio will continue, but we are letting the repertoire guide us.

Why did you choose an all-Mendelssohn program? Could you give a short introduction to each piece you will play and what you think its importance is or what the audience should listen for?

DAVID FINCKEL: Mendelssohn (below) was not only one of the most skilled and devoted musicians of all time, but his music appeals to a broad spectrum of the public — from those who are musical experts to new listeners.  His ingenious voice well deserves an entire evening’s attention.

The Trio in D Minor, Mendelssohn’s first, shows him in a stormy mood for its outer movements, and offers both a song without words and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” experience in its middle movements. There’s something for everyone in this trio.

The second Trio in C Minor is a more advanced work in terms of its structure, with a final movement that contains extraordinary innovations. Listen for the quiet introducing of a hymn within a folk-inspired movement, and follow its progress towards the conclusion where both ideas are reconciled. It is one of the most magical creations in all of chamber music.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major is one of Mendelssohn’s most exuberant works. Giving the lion’s share of notes to the piano, the composer nevertheless affords the cello all the main themes and uses the instrument’s signature lyrical strengths to the fullest. It’s an absolute joy to play from start to finish.

Does the piano trio as a musical form or genre lack prestige or popularity compared to the string quartet, and if so why do you think that is?

WU HAN: The piano trio, in our experience, lacks neither prestige nor popularity among classical musicians and certainly among audiences. Not as much literature exists for the piano trio as for the string quartet, though, and as a result not as many professional trios exist as do string quartets.

The challenges of playing trios well are enormous. Ever since the days when Cortot, Thibaud and Casals (below, in that order in 1926)  played trios, the public has expected world-class level of every trio’s members. The standards set by the world’s greatest trios are hard to live up to, but we try.

With the retirement of the incomparable Beaux Arts Trio (below) recently, we have found that chamber music audiences are hungry for trios. We come to Madison to feed them!

What are your plans for the trio in terms of concerts, projects and recordings?

WU HAN: Our trio is not a formally formed ensemble. We don’t even have a name! We have approached our projects simply as musically compatible friends who are eager to perform this repertoire, having always wanted to. We approach our trio’s career, if you can call it that, on a project-by-project basis. After Mendelssohn, there is another in the oven, but we can’t talk about that yet. Stay tuned.

Will you bring new string instruments as well as old ones to the concert?

DAVID FINCKEL: Philip Setzer and I will be playing the violin and cello made for us by Samuel Zygmuntowicz (below, in his workshop photographed by Melissa Hamburg), although I might bring my Guadagnini.

All three of you have performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, two of you quite often in the Emerson Quartet and the other as a solo recitalist. Do you have an impression of Madison and its audience?

WU HAN: We consider the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison one of the most important and distinguished venues in the United States. A visit backstage will reveal, via historic posters, extraordinary seasons of concerts going way back to the Golden Age of instrumental playing in the first half of the 20th century. One is conscious of the tradition of greatness, and, combined with the vibrant, youthful audience, we know it is a place where we have to play our best.

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