The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Let’s support the atheist Turkish pianist Fazil Say in his fight against the religious intolerance of Islam. Leave a comment of protest and support.

June 30, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Offhand, I can’t think of many Turkish pianists who have stood out in their interpretations of Western classical music.

But the young keyboard wizard Fazil Say (below), 42, is one of the exceptions.

Maybe the only one.

Say, who is also a composer and who plays and performs jazz, has the impressive technique — the chops if you will — plus the interpretive ability and artistic affinity to leave you deeply impressed with his reading of, say, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel among others.

Just look at all the 5-star User Ratings his CDs get on

Here is a link to his official fan website:

But now it looks as if Say, who admits to being secular and to supporting a secular government in his native Turkey, will have to take up a home in exile (probably in Japan, he says) because he has been charged with the equivalent of heresy or blasphemy by Turkey’s government and threatened with arrest, trial and prison. (Below is the famed Blue Mosque in Turkey.)

Specifically, he is accuse of, and investigated for, insulting Islam, and other religions, because he Tweeted that he is an atheist. He was indicted and a trial is set for Oct. 18.

It all sounds very similar to what happened to the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk (below) who was charging with libeling or insulting the Turkish government because he referred to the Armenian genocide by Turkey in 1915 — which Turkey officially denies ever took place, despite the testimony and evidence provided by many experts and historians.

After worldwide protest, Turkey dropped those charges,

Maybe the same outcome could happen for Fazil Say (below and at bottom, playing ironically Mozart’s “Turkish” Rondo).

Here are links to stories and other blogs about Say’s unfortunate predicament:

No matter what the right-wing here says about the need for more state-sponsored religion, now you can see why the Founders wisely wanted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to establish a wall of separation between church and state. In their own lifetimes, they had seen what the mix of religion and government or politics did in Europe and elsewhere.

So: Looks like it’s time to speak up for free speech, artistic freedom and freedom of religious in Turkey.

What do you say about Say and his plight?

Leave a note of protest and support in the COMMENTS section. Maybe it will persuade Turkish authorities to relent – although I wouldn’t count on it.

Shame on Turkey!

Shame on Islam, Christianity, Judaism and all other forms of religious intolerance and oppression!

Shame on religious zealots of all kinds in all places and at all times!

Classical music education news: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra will tour in Europe from July 7 to July 17. A FREE preview concert is at Olbrich Gardens on Tuesday night and you can follow the tour with blogger Mikko Utevsky right here.

June 29, 2012

NEWS FLASH: Violist Mikko Utensky of Madison, who also founded and conducts the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), has agreed to blog about the WYSO tour to Europe — which he is going on —  for The Well-Tempered Ear. Are we not lucky?

By Jacob Stockinger

July is a big month for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

The young musicians of WYSO’s premier performing group, the Youth Orchestra (below), are preparing for a fantastic opportunity this July, when they will travel to Prague, Vienna and Budapest on WYSO’s first international tour since 2005.

Youth Orchestra members will have a chance to visit some of the most significant locations in the history of classical music and will perform in world-class venues.

The tour will be led by WYSO Music Director James Smith (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller for U-Madison), who has served as conductor of the Youth Orchestra for 27 years and who also serves as Director of Orchestras for UW-Madison’s School of Music.

In 2010, Smith was named Musician of the Year by The Well-Tempered Ear blog. Here is a link to that posting:“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

More recently, he was also profiled in the “Know Your Madisonian” feature in The Wisconsin State Journal. Here is a link to that story:

The 69 WYSO musicians who will attend the tour range in age from 14-18 years old and hail from 19 communities across southern Wisconsin.

The tour, which will run from July 7-17, will include concerts at Glasenersaal of the Musikverein in Vienna, the Czech Museum of Music in Prague (below), and the Military Museum in Budapest.

Repertoire for the tour will include Vaughan Williams’s “London” Symphony, “Le Roi d’Ys” Overture by Lalo, Slavonic Dance No. 8 by Dvorak, and The Courtly Dances from “Gloriana” by Britten.

Prior to their international tour performances, the Youth Orchestra members will give a bon voyage concert at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (below) on Tuesday, July 3, at 7 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public, with a $1 suggested admission donation to support the gardens. These young cutural ambassadors deserve a great send-off.

For more information about the tour and about WYSO in general, visit:

Leave the young musicians a farewell message in the COMMENTS section. The Ear will try to keep you current with the tour and the reception these young artists receive.



Classical music: You don’t have to be a drinker to savor the musical cocktails that the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will serve up this weekend to close its 21st summer season.

June 28, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s closing time!

At least it is for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and for its many fans and friends who this weekend will see the summer chamber music ensemble bring the curtain down on its 21st season.

The playful Mixology theme will take the group to the restored Stoughton Opera House (below) – where it will be taped by Wisconsin Public Television on Friday night; The Playhouse in the Overture Center on Saturday night, and the Hillside Theatre at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green on Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening. (Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the BDDS will also perform in Thresher Hall at the Green Lake Music Festival in Rip0n.)

Most appealing of all is the repertoire. The two programs offer wonderful contrasts. The “Kir Royale” program (champagne with a touch of black currant liqueur) features “noble” and “aristocratic” works: a Baroque dance suite by Couperin; a chamber version of Haydn’s Classical-era Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” (The Queen, written for Marie-Antoinette, below); and Schubert’s sublime and other-worldly Cello Quintet, perhaps the greatest single piece of chamber music ever composed.

The second program features the “Old Fashioned,” that is – composers who were thought staid or backward looking in their day but are now seen as forward-looking and original. Those works include Igor Stravsinky’s 20th-century Neo-Classical dance suite “Suite Italienne”; Francois Couperin’s “The Apotheosis of Lully” written in 1725; and the titan of Romantic traditionalism by the successor of Bach and Beethoven, Brahms (below) as expressed through his masterpiece the Piano Quintet in F minor.

Add in the guest artists, including harpsichordist Layton James (below), Minnesota Orchestra cellist Anthony Ross and New York violinist Carmit Zori, and The Ear thinks unforgettable treats are waiting.

These are all wonderful works, sure to be given energetic performances and not to be missed.

Of course the whole BDDS season, done in six program and three venues over three weeks, have been that way.

Last weekend, for example, was the nearly sold-out “Manhattan” program, which served up delicious Big Apple concoctions by Leonard Bernstein (“Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” arranged for two pianos and percussion); Ned Rorem (his Flute Trio); Samuel Barber (his gorgeous neo-Romantic Cello Sonata, below); and Astor Piazzolla (three tangos), who learned much of about jazz from his time in Manhattan clubs before returning to his native Argentina.

The superlative guest artists included two percussionists (Lawrence University’s Dane Richeson and UW-Madison’s Tony Di Sanza, both unfortunately concealed from much of the Playhouse audience by the piano lids) plus a local cellist (UW’s Parry Karp) and a guest pianist (Randall Hodgkinson from the New England Conservatory of Music) joined BDDS’s co-founders and co-directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes. And the hilarious Mystery Guests were two comical bartenders – one for torso and head, the other for hands – who concocted an actual Manhattan (below) to loud applause and riotous laughter.

I am not alone in my praise for it. Here is a link to Greg Hettmansberger’s review of the “Manhattan” program for Madison Magazine and his blog Classical Speaking;

I suppose I should wait until after the coming weekend before speculating about the next season. But you can’t help but wonder: What will be the theme for BDDS’ 22nd season – maybe duets and quartets, maybe animals (as in Noah’s Ark and two-by-twos).

Whatever it is, you have to believe it will be yet another remarkable summer season.

For more information about this weekend, including program notes, ticket prices and reservations, and player biographies, visit:

In the meantime:

Bottoms up and cheers!

To your health, BDDS!

A Toast and a Thank You!

You make it an intoxicating summer, no matter what theme and music you choose.

Classical music Q&A: Meet Kartik Papatla, the 16-year-old cellist and concerto competition winner who will open tonight’s first Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

June 27, 2012
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ALERT: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Green Lake Music Festival in the Thrasher Opera House (below) near the campus of Ripon College. Here is a link for details:

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight – June 27, 2012  — marks the opening of what for 29 years has been billed, without exaggeration, as The Biggest Picnic of the Summer: The annual Concerts on the Square held by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. They will be held on the next six consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7 to about 9 p.m. (The rain date is Thursday.)

As always, the FREE concerts– complete with food and beverages you bring or buy — are held on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. Each concert is expected to draw an average 10,000 or more listeners who picnic as they listen, with the biggest crowd usually coming to the Fourth of July concert.

The format includes classical music, pops music, all kinds of music, performed under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell with guest soloists.

For more information about Concerts on the Square, including dates and times, music program, vendor menus and guidelines, visit:

Tonight’s opening concert will include Kartik Papatla, a 16–year-old cellist who won the WCO concerto competition for young artists. He will perform the first movement from the popular and beautiful  Cello Concerto in B Minor by Antonin Dvorak (at bottom, with Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philhamronic Orchestra under conductor Kurt Masur).  Also on the program are Edward Elgar’s “Three Bavarian Dances,” Johann Strauss’ waltz “Tales From the Vienna Woods” and Hardiman’s “Lord of the Dance” with the Trinity Irish Dancers (below).

Papatla (below) — whose name reflects his Indian heritage — recently granted The Ear an e-mail interview in which he introduced himself and discussed the role of music in his life:

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

My name is Kartik Papatla and I am 16 years old.  I started studying the cello when I was six years old.

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

I will be a junior at Homestead High School (below) in Mequon starting this fall.

What are your favorite subjects? Do you have other areas of interest?

I enjoy all subjects in school, but my favorites are mathematics and chemistry.  I am also part of the forensics team at my school and I love to travel.

What are your plans for higher education and a career? 

I plan to attend a university to study engineering. However, I will continue to pursue music throughout my lifetime.

Who is your music teacher? 

I study with Scott Cook at the String Academy of Wisconsin.

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

If I had to choose one composer as my favorite, I would choose Tchaikovsky (below).  What I enjoy about his music is that there is so much organization to it, yet it has a great deal of musicality and emotion.  However, I cannot say that I have certain favorite pieces to listen to and play because it is impossible for me to narrow all classical music down to a select few.

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

Playing music has been an integral part of my life for close to 10 years.  I immensely enjoy the process of understanding the nuances of a piece, working on incorporating them into my hours practice, and performing the piece. I feel that the many years of researching and understanding the finer points of different compositions and trying to master them has taught me patience, diligence and the rewards of perseverance.

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

Although I mostly listen to classical music, I do enjoy other types of music.  For example, I listen to popular music on the radio and to instrumental and world music.

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?   

Let me begin by saying that I am very fortunate to have had many great musical opportunities over the last couple of years.  Perhaps the closest thing to a turning point in my music education was when I had the opportunity to perform at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops Concerts at the age of 12.

I played a duet with another young violinist, accompanied by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) under guest conductor Jeff Tyzik (below).  This was the first time that I played with a professional orchestra and in front of a full concert hall.  It was an exhilarating and rewarding experience.

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

Practice with the intention of improving your playing and not with the intention of just getting something done. This will make all of the difference in the long run. Also, listen to as many recordings as you can of the piece you are working on, and from each one extract certain things that you would like to incorporate into your own interpretation of the piece.

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

I believe that music education is extremely important to other areas of education because it teaches valuable skills that, when applied to other non-music education, will allow one to excel. For instance, it teaches discipline and concentration, and encourages one to strive for perfection.

What does getting the chance to perform a concerto with an orchestra mean to you and why? 

To perform a concerto with a professional orchestra is every classical musician’s dream.  Having this opportunity is not only a great honor but evidence to me that all of the hard work over the last 10 years has gone toward something that I can be proud of.

Classical music: Ambitious two-piano concerts on Friday night and Sunday afternoon celebrate the restoration of the historic Steinway 1879 rosewood concert grand piano at the Wisconsin landmark Villa Louis.

June 26, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend will see two special concerts — with somewhat different programs — at Farley’s House of Pianos, located at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The concerts celebrate the restoration of a historical 133-year old piano (below, in a photo by Jess Anderson)) to a famous Wisconsin landmark: Villa Louis.

The first concert is Friday, June 29, at 7:30 p.m. (with a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m.); the second is Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. and features the same artists plus a pre-concert lecture by restorer Tim Farley (below, working on the piano’s action, in a photo courtesy of Farley’s).

Both will mark the restoration of the historical piano to a Wisconsin Historical Society landmark, the mansion of  Villa Louis (below) in Prairie du Chien.

It is turning out to be  popular event.

Explains Renee Farley: “The June 29 concert sold out early last week. There was an overwhelming response from the public to be part of witnessing the send-off concert of Wisconsin’s greatest historic piano.  This caused a ticket stampede. (The Villa Louis piano belongs to everyone in the state of Wisconsin, being part of the Wisconsin Historical Society.)

Knowing this was a rare opportunity to share some of their favorite pieces with the public on this piano, the artists offered a Sunday afternoon soiree on July 1 at 4 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for the Sunday afternoon concert by calling Farley’s at 608-271-2626.  General admission is $30.

Two different historic restored pianos will be used: the 1879 Steinway concert grand that was used in Villa Louis; and an 1877 Steinway “Centennial” Grand (below) that was also restored by Farley’s and that resides in the company’s main showroom and concert hall, where it is often used for concerts.

The Villa Louis restoration — pictures below were provided by Farley’s — was paid for by donors, with no tax dollars used, according to Farley’s, which is very pleased with how the restoration turned out. In fact, Wisconsin Public Television is documenting the restoration and the concert for broadcast.

The artists performing are duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro (below), who both received doctorates from the UW-Madison where they studied with Martha Fischer.

The ambitious program is: Stravinsky’s suite from his ballet “Petrouchka” as transcribed by Varshavski-Shapiro and played on the Villa Louis piano; Rachmaninoff’s  Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos (at bottom); Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” (arranged by Varshavski-Shapiro) performed on the Villa Louis piano; and Rachmaninoff’s  Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos.

Tickets include a pre-concert lecture and a post-concert reception.

For more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626 or visit:

For more about Villa Saint Louis, including many color and black-and-white photographs, visit:

Retired State Historian Jack Holzhueter (below) wrote the following fascinating essay and historical account, which also discusses the historical role of the piano, for the concert:


By Jack Holzhueter

No grand house in America lacked an equally grand piano in the late 19th century, and the stunning 1870 Italianate mansion built by the Dousman family in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, was no exception.

It was built to replace an earlier, but still large, red brick house made in 1843. The architect in 1872 was Edward Townsend Mix of Milwaukee. And the client was the son of one of Wisconsin’s earliest millionaires (before a billionaire was even thought possible), Hercules Dousman — a fur trader and speculator in lands in Wisconsin beginning in 1826.

He died in his brick house in 1868, opening the door for his 21-year-old son and namesake, Hercules Louis Dousman II, to do what rich men’s sons often do: spend money on themselves. Louis, as he was called, also acquired a wife with a lineage suitable for a fine, new house, Nina Linn Sturgis of St. Paul, the daughter of a general. After their 1873 marriage, children arrived quickly, five in all by 1883.

Their principal home was in St. Louis, but they spent summers in Prairie du Chien (supposedly a cooler place) and never stinted on their house. In 1876 they visited the centennial exposition in Philadelphia and went on a buying trip to New York, acquiring Tiffany silver and jewelry and probably making arrangements to buy the Steinway Centennial Grand.

Steinway already had become the leading piano manufacturer in America as well as Europe, having employed American ingenuity and bravado to improve upon shortcomings in European pianos that had previously dominated the upper market.

Steinway turned to rosewood for its most elegant models because of its density, nearly black color, and rich, contrasting grain. (A rosewood craze in the late 19th century nearly wiped out the now-rare species. Below is a rosewood tree that has been just felled.)

The Dousmans wanted the best, and they got it. But Prairie du Chien did not.

The piano first went, from 1879 to 1884, to the new art gallery in their St. Louis home. Then in 1883-84, the Dousmans redecorated Villa Louis in the English Arts and Crafts style, into which the Centennial Grand slid nicely.

So from 1885 to the present, with a notable 15-year gap, the piano has dominated the Villa Louis parlor, more than 130 years in the same family, and mostly in the same room.

Those five Dousman children included Judith and Virginia who played — a common story in modest houses as well as mansions. Nina, too, played, and she and Virginia also composed.

In houses large and small, pianos were more than decorative. They provided “live” music before recordings existed; they were an adjunct for parties — which the Dousmans excelled at giving; they were a gathering spot akin to the hearth.

By 1900, the piano was ubiquitous around the country. Somehow, the Dousman Centennial Grand survived upheavals in the family (Louis’s death in 1886; Nina’s disastrous remarriage; the house’s use only as a summer home), occupancy of the house by a boys’ school after 1913, and removal to Campion academy (a Roman Catholic boys schools in Prairie du Chien) from 1920 to 1935. That arrangement lasted until the Depression.

Then in 1934 the house became a museum and the piano was restored to its place of prominence. First the city owned the house, and since 1952 the Wisconsin Historical Society has owned it.

Despite lack of maintenance, the instrument remained playable. Guides in the 1950s invited qualified performers to play; others in the tour groups would sing along—not unlike the situation during the Dousmans’ house parties of the late 1800s. Hands off the antiques! But hands on the piano, which brought the Villa’s rooms and tours to life. Soon that deferred maintenance took its toll and the piano fell silent; only words accompanied tours.

But now, miraculously, the piano has had its voice restored. Now it can be heard in something even more beautiful than its original glory, courtesy of modern materials and restoration techniques. And its dingy finish has been restored to its original luster—dark chocolate with caramel streaks (below).

May the Villa Louis Steinway Centennial Grand continue to make the mansion a home.

Classical music news: Holy Wisdom’s “Prairie Rhapsody” environmental benefit concert is this Thursday evening and features an all-Baroque program.

June 25, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every summer, the Holy Wisdom Monastery (below) in Middleton (4200 County Road M) puts on “Prairie Rhapsody.” It is a benefit event designed to raise money for environmental restoration and preservation, and features light snacks and refreshments as well as terrific live music.

This year, the event will be held on this Thursday, June 28, with refreshments at 5:30 p.m. and the concert – featuring keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below) and the Madison Bach Musicians plus special guests – at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $50 with $25 being tax-deductible. To sign up just follow the link below or call Mike Sweitzer-Beckman at (608) 836-1631 x124.

The Ear attended last summer’s concert and found it a restorative event. The grounds, full of wild flowers, and the handsome building are beautiful; the refreshments are tasty and plentiful; the socializing and conviviality are easy and welcome; and the music is first-rate and lovely.

Here is a link to the glowing review I wrote and posted last year:

For more information and reservations, visit:

Here is the more information about the event and program from Trevor Stephenson himself, who has performed at Holy Wisdom’s “Prairie Rhapsody” several times:

“Holy Wisdom Monastery is a wonderful space — spiritually and acoustically — and a great cause! On the program I’ll be joined by outstanding Canadian-American soprano Erin Cooper Gay from Toronto (who is making her Madison debut!) and the stellar Anna Steinhoff (below, in 2011) on viola da gamba.

“We’ll perform music by Bach, Handel, Scarlatti (both Alessandro and Domenico, father and son), Purcell, Marais and Monteverdi.

“Also, I’ll give a talk about the composers and the repertoire.”

The program features four harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (in D minor, “Pastorale,” K. 9, E major, K. 380, F minor, K. 238, and  F minor. K. 239); Three Spiritual Songs by Johann Sebastian Bach
(“Gib dich zufrieden,” “Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist 
Dir,” and “Dir, Jehovah, will Ich singen”) as well as his Sonata in G major for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1027; “If music be the food of love, play on (third version) by Henry Purcell; “Quel Sguardo Sdegnosetto” by Claudio Monteverdi; the Air and Variations (“The Harmonious Blacksmith”) plus three opera arias by Handel; the Chaconne for solo viola da gamba by Marin Marais; and a song by Alessandro Scarlatti.

The double-manual harpsichord played in the concert was made in 2010 by Norman Sheppard of Madison. It is modeled on an early 18th-century German instrument made by Mietke of Berlin.

Classical music news: Did opera composer Puccini find inspiration – or even steal melodies – for his famous Asian stories from a Swiss music box?

June 24, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Composers have long been known for finding inspiration in all sorts of places. Sometimes they rework the material; sometimes they just appropriate it outright.

The sources range from folk songs and folk dances to borrowings from their own works, which Bach and Handel did often.

Now research suggests that perhaps the popular Puccini (below), who along with Verdi and Wagner makes up the Holy Trinity of opera – found inspiration for “Madama Butterfly” and even the unfinished ‘Turandot” in a Swiss music box.

The 1877 music box has Chinese tunes that Puccini might have listened to. It is located in the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. Here is a view of one of the tune sheets:

Take a look and read the story from The New York Times:

Classical music education: NPR offers a terrific and helpful primer of how to get children started on music lessons and keep them practicing and playing.

June 23, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

School is out, for the most part, and many families will be looking for a way that children can pursue cultural enrichment activities.

Or maybe parents are looking for a way to replace what many budget-strapped schools districts have been cutting out.

For that case, music lessons might loom large – whether they are started in the summer, or the summer is an interim before music lessons start in the fall.

But parents, especially parents who themselves have no experience in music, can have a lot of hard questions:

When should children start taking music lessons?

What is the best instrument for a particular child?

How can you tell if you have found the right teacher?

How can get your child to practice without being a nag?

And how far should you be encouraging of playing and performing?

These are just some of the tips that were feature all this past week on NPR, derived from the radio show “From the Top,” which highlights and showcases young talent around the country. The series is called, in a reference to a composition by British composer Benjamin Britten, “The Young Person‘s Guide to Making Music.”

The Ear found the series – which has a lot of specifics and a lot of links – a terrific primer. Now he wonder if they will do the same for ADULT MUSIC STUDENTS since they often face difficult and confusing questions, as well as self-doubt and a lack of confidence, about starting late.

Anyway, here are some of the topics covered by the NPR series, which has performed a valuable public service and deserve all our thanks. BE SURE TO READ SOME OF THE COMMENTS AND TIPS ABOUT THE SERIES LEFT ON THE NPY BLOG ‘DECEPTIVE CADENCE.”

And if you have tips from personal or professional experience, please share them in the COMMENTS section of this blog.

Finding the right instrument for your child:

Finding the right teacher for your child:

Getting kids to practice without a fight:

How to be a supportive and encouraging parent without becoming overbearing and overly ambitious:

How to help your child through the anxiety of the nerve-wracking process of auditioning or competing in a competition?

Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will broadcast the “Open Goldberg Variations” of J.S. Bach on this Sunday afternoon. You can listen and follow the score at the same time.

June 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Wisconsin Public Radio, which has historically been deeply devoted to building a broad audience for classical music, has a special mixed media treat in store for listeners this weekend.

The public radio network will broadcast the “Open Goldberg Variations” project this Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m. (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area). It features a piano performance plus a “public domain” score so you can follow along on the Internet as the music is played.

The performance is by Kimiko Ishizaka (below), and has been turned into an app.

It is ironic the mammoth theme-and-variations work by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) has become so popular and iconic. And there is something deeply moving about the aria that opens and closes the work.

Back in 1955, when the legendary and eccentric Canadian pianist Glenn Gould (below top) was 25, he used the Goldbergs for his Columbia Records debut. But many company executives and critics doubted that he would succeed with such an inaccessible and difficult  work.

Yet his energetic and ear-opening version of the Goldbergs, with its dizzying finger work and infectious rhythmic drive, became a big bestselling landmark that launched an unforgettable career. Gould went on to record just about all keyboard works of Bach; and later in life (below bottom) he started a re-recording project of the same works that began in 1981 with, but never got beyond, a second and completely different version of the Goldbergs. Then he died of a stroke at 50 in 1982.

And since then, many pianists have chosen the Goldbergs to make their mark, including Simone Dinnerstein who made a bestselling version of them to launch how now burgeoning concert and recording career.

Here is a link to a Wisconsin Public Radio website with details of the Sunday afternoon broadcast:

And here is a link to more background about the project:

And if you still aren’t convinced, here is a link to a composer’s very positive review of the Open Goldberg project:

And here are two more links to many – as in thousands — very positive reviews, many of which stress the vicarious quality of the performance, of the iTunes, iPhone and iPad app:

Classical music: Local students form a new chamber orchestra that adds excitement to Madison’s music scene.

June 21, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

I am always amazed at Madison’s musical life–not only for its expanse and richness, but for the new groups that constantly spring up nowadays, and, above all, for the contributions made to them by local students.

Only in its second season is the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). It is very much the creation of its conductor, a remarkably gifted young musician, Mikko Utevsky.

A talented violist, Utevsky has soloed with his high school orchestra and has been section principal in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ leading ensemble. He has already become a member of the UW Symphony Orchestra, a year before his admission to the UW Music School this fall, where he will begin undergraduate studies in conducting, which he intends to make his career.

Last year, Utevsky assembled a group of mostly high school students to form an ad-hoc small orchestra, and gave a concert.

This year, he has assembled a new group, of up to 40 players of high school and college age. He has planned a summer season of no less than two concerts: one given on Friday, June 15; the other to be held on Saturday, August 18, both at 7 p.m.  (NOT 7:30, as erroneously posted at first) in Music Hall (NOT Mills Hall, as previously listed here) on the UW-Madison campus.

Unfortunately, my schedule denies me the pleasure of attending (much less reviewing) either or both of those concerts. I did, however, spend the morning of June 15 at the orchestra’s final rehearsal.

Much as I missed attending the actual concert, I did not feel that the rehearsal was scanty compensation. In their own way, rehearsals can be as rewarding as the concerts themselves–indeed, rehearsals can reveal a great deal about the ensemble and the conductor that the concerts do not.

The student players are a remarkable lot. Utevsky selects them all himself, essentially from personal knowledge of them. He does the administrative as well as musical chores, and he uses the good offices of WYSO to secure performing arrangements at Mills Hall. As long as he is studying at the UW, the orchestra will continue as a summer activity.

His players already combine veterans of last year with newcomers, and he likes the possibilities of continuing such a combination. He sees the group as an opportunity–surely much-needed–for fledgling musicians to have that much more experience in playing orchestrally, and even to have a crack at rotating sectional principal chairs.

It is obviously Utevsky’s blossoming skill as a conductor that gives MAYCO its artistic impetus. He is low-keyed, amiable and quietly self-assured. But he demonstrated at this rehearsal that he knows musical literature, that he can bring well-informed interpretational individuality to his leadership, and that he can use rehearsal time to identify points of difficulty or rough spots and correct them.

Utevsky (below, conducting, in a photo by Steve Rankin) has a string band of about 16 players and already has them sounding like a surprisingly mature group, while the other players can work up to advanced standards, even with only a week’s rehearsal time.

I was able to hear work done on all four of the contrasting pieces prepared for the June 15 concert. With the players spread around spatially, Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” was quite magnificent. Utevsky lavished particular affection on the beguiling but sadly neglected “Masques et Bergamasques” by Gabriel Fauré, while bringing both gusto and insight to Haydn’s beloved Symphony No. 104.

In addition, soprano Shannon Prickett(below) contributed three solo arias: the wonderful aria with which Amelia opens Act I of Verdi’s magnificent opera “Simon Boccanegra; and two of Mimi’s arias from Puccini’s “La Bohème,” in which Prickett sang the role for the UW Opera’s production this past season. She again proved the power and fullness of her fine voice, but it was also interesting to observe Utevsky working with her to resolve performance details. Clearly, Utevsky is already a conductor who can accompany as well as his own interpreter.

The August concert will make an interesting combination of Ravel’s glittering “Mother Goose” Suite, and Schubert’s Haydnesque Fifth Symphony. Madison’s music lovers should watch for that — especially in the year’s thinnest musical time — and for future MAYCO activities. (Below, MAYCO in Mills Hall in photo by Steve Rankin.)

There is no pretense that this is already a polished, professional ensemble, but in it we are allowed to hear talented young players working their way to that level. Its concerts are more than just show-off benefits for proud family and friends. These are true musicians in the making – both players and conductor — and for my part I consider it an honor to listen to what they can do.

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