The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: The Ear thanks the many University of Wisconsin-Madison students who warmed him with their music during last weekend’s “Carnival” marathon. | March 9, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

You know how it is. Sometimes it just takes too long to get off a Thank You note.

There’s no good reason for the delay. It just happens and you feel bad.

And that is what this posting is.

So I just want to apologize and say I am sorry and send an overdue Thank You to the several dozen UW students – most of them in music and most of them pianists, but not all – who staged the four-hour “Carnival” marathon concert last Saturday afternoon from noon to 4 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Below, UW piano professor Martha Fischer kicks off the event with a welcome).

Space won’t allow me to mention all of them, or even most of them, or even just all the highlights, of which there were many, so many.

But it was an enjoyable and informative event I will remember for a very long time, one that impressed me the same way that the Mozart Piano Sonata marathon and the Chopin Mazurka Marathon did. It is great to see students, teachers and the public pulling together and cooperating to make an unusual event successful. We need more of them. (All the Chopin waltzes and nocturnes, or Bach preludes and fugues, anyone?)

Last Saturday was a very cold day and I found my way through ice and wind and slush on the streets. But once inside the concert hall, what greeted me was the warm music from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Catalonia and Portugal) and Latin America.

I heard wonderful music by some well-known names including Granados, Albeniz, Piazzolla, Lecuona, Ponce, Golijov, Ginastera, DeFalla, Villa Lobos, Mompou and even Debussy, the French composer who was influenced by Spanish music.

But I also heard some composers and music new to me, including works by Aute, Guerra-Peixa, Terzian, Montsalvatge, Novarro, Toro, Leon, Infante and Alarcon as well as British composer Mike Mower. And I heard a two-piano, eight-hand fantasy on themes from Bizet‘s “Carmen.” What a finale! And then was UW salsa band (below top) playing during Latin food and refreshments at the free reception where you could meet and congratulate the performers.

The crowd was enthusiastic, if small. People came and went, but no more than perhaps three dozen listeners filled the hall at any one time. Too bad! The event deserved better exposure and attendance.

But the small audience didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm or energy of the performers, who gave it their all and played with joy and soul, without hesitation or memory lapses.

So let me give some shout-outs to a few stand-outs:

Modern Argentinean literature graduate student Vicente Lopez Abad (below) played his guitar and sang soulful solo songs three different times during the concert. They were beautiful, and as you watched his closed and clenched eyes, you felt the intense intimacy and emotion he brought to his performances and took from the songs.

Jenny Jones (below) played a slow sonata by the Baroque composer Antonio Soler. Slow music sounds easy to play, but it is really very hard. And this performance was a marvel of control and quiet intensity.

Another standout was pianist Sung Ho Yang (below), who mastered the fiercely difficult, knuckle-busting and finger-twisting virtuosity of “Triana” by Albeniz and took listeners beyond technique to the music.

I am also a sucker for the music of Astor Piazzolla, whose “new tangos” invariably tear at my heart with their lyrical bittersweetness and make me weep. So I have to thank Wiiliam Mueller (below) who played his “Ausencias.”

I also have to thank duo-pianists Melody Ng and Hazim Suhadi (below) who played a great and stirring two-piano arrangement of “Adios Nonino,” Piazzolla’s farewell to his father. (Another two-piano version is at the bottom.)

Other duo-pianists, Melody Ng and Evan Engelstad played a piano, four-hand version of Piazzolla’s “Libertango” during which they slapped the piano case and twice changed places while playing.

I also have to thank the trio of violinist Maria Schultz, cellist Mark Bridges and pianist Monica Schultz (all below) in their playing of two of Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.” (Through them, I found I like the chamber version more than the orchestral version.)

Close behind Piazzolla to my taste is Granados, who wrote great lyrical tunes and who died too young during the sinking of the Lusitania. Ciaoyin Cal (below) played his music with beautiful clarity and subtlety.

I also loved the singing of mezzo-soprano Jennifer Sams, accompanied by pianist Kirstin Ihde (below) in five songs by Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge. So much of this piano and string music in general seemed very vocal and dance-like in nature.

And there was more, believe me, much more.

Was there any to criticize, any missteps?

A few minor ones.

The formal talk about Salsa and then the actual Salsa dancing (below) by members of Madtown Rueda Salsa just didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the concert, as enjoyable as the well–intended events were.

I would have preferred to hear someone talk about why so much Spanish and Latin Americana music seems to have an undercurrent of sadness that you don’t usually find in the music of other Romance cultures, including France and Italy. (Is it the dark power of the church and Inquisition? The long suppression of democracy? The paradoxically austere sensuality? The “tragic sense of life” as defined by a famous Spanish philosopher?)

There also seemed to be an assumption that the audience read and understood Spanish. So there were no translations on the programs. Too bad! Titles can tell you a lot.

And there was no Scarlatti! No Domenico Scarlatti, who was a great keyboard master and composer, and whose shot and colorful sonatas are so famous for imitating castanets, dancing steps and guitar strumming. And also no Ravel, who also Spanish color and used it in his piano and chamber music.

But those are minor points, given how much there was to praise.

So though it is late, I say to all of you, named and unnamed, pictured and invisible, a hearty and sincere THANK YOU.

Or, should I say, GRACIAS. 


  1. Wish I’d seen it… I’m curious now – are you familiar with Kim Kashkashian’s recording of Spanish and Argentine songs on her CD Asturiana? It’s a great listen, especially if you enjoy melancholy music.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — March 10, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    • Hi Mikko,
      You would had enjoyed it a lot, I think.
      Yes, I know and have that recording and named it as a Best of the Year when it came out. You are right: It is fantastic.
      I also recommend especially the first volume of Gidon Kremer’s chamber version of Piazzolla works on Nonesuch. It’s stupendous!
      If you like the one , you will ;one the other.
      As always, thanks for writing and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 10, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

  2. Hello,

    Thank you, once again, for including me in your review! I was going to comment on the Montsalvatge but I see someone has beat me to it! I noticed that in the program alongside another error… I am actually a mezzo-soprano! It was lovely to sing a set actually written for medium voice like the “Cinco canciones negras”!

    Comment by Jennifer Sams — March 9, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thank you for reading and replying as well as making beautiful music.
      I appreciate your comment about the composer and have corrected that mistake.
      Thanks to you, I will also now correct the description of you in the post.
      I apologize for the inaccuracy and error, but had only the program to go by.
      To my ear, the range sounded a bit low. But you wouldn’t be the first soprano who has that kind of versatility, so who was I to question the notes, which could have been corrected form the stage.
      Anyway, good luck to you and I i look forward to future performances by you and the others.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 10, 2012 @ 9:18 am

  3. Xavier Montsalvatge is emphatically NOT Portuguese, but one of the leading Catalan composers.

    Comment by rogerevans — March 9, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

    • Hi Roger,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I used what the program said about him.
      But I will check into it when I return (I am heading out now) and change the post accordingly.
      If it turns out you are right, I apologize for the inaccuracy.
      PS: I checked and you are right — as I suspected.
      So I will change the post’s text accordingly.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 9, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

  4. OOh– I wish I’d heard that concert! We’re not familiar enough with the wealth of Spanish composers, and their variety. Can they publicize it more next year? I hope so.

    Comment by westmelrose — March 9, 2012 @ 4:21 am

    • Thanks for reading and replying.
      You are right — it was a wonderfully enjoyable eye-opener and ear-opener.
      It wasn’t well publicized in advance, though I had listened it in my Wednesday datebooks roundup.
      I think the UW School of Music knows that and feels bad, but says out will give more notice next time.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 9, 2012 @ 8:07 am

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