The Well-Tempered Ear

Classic music Q&A: How and why did Madison’s newest chamber music group Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW) – which makes its public debut this Friday night – come into being?

June 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has posted an In Memorium for its former longtime music director Roland Johnson (below), who died at 91 last Wednesday. Here is a link: And here is a link to the post I filed about it with other links to other stories:

This coming Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the Forum of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Madison newest chamber music group — the Sound Ensemble of Wisconsin or SEW — will hold its inaugural concert.

The unusual and intriguingly structured program features the music of Bartok, Ravel, Kodaly and Debussy.

Tickets at the door cost $25 for general admission; $10 for students.

Co-founder and direct Mary Theodore (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) recently gave an e-mail Q&A to The Ear about the group and its upcoming concert:

What is Sound Ensemble Wisconsin?

Sound Ensemble Wisconsin is a new chamber music organization based in Madison and serving Wisconsin. SEW presents original performances of diverse repertoire for a variety of ensembles and utilizes local and regional performers with occasional guest artists.

Why did you decide to start another chamber music group in a city that has so much already? Do you have a special goal or mission?

While we aim to serve an existent classical music audience with engaging performances of the highest artistic standard, our major mission is to support and promote the culture of classical music and the arts in all of Wisconsin by sharing music with more people.

We do this by offering thoughtful, theme-based programming, collaborating with other artists in the creative process, and performing in a non-traditional stage-audience relationship in varying venues. (See the distinctive poster below)

We find and SEW what we call “the common thread” to create connections between people and the arts, between art forms through collaboration, between generations, between audience and musician, between musical culture and underserved populations, and between diverse communities throughout Wisconsin.

Our musical community is already so wonderfully supportive and intertwined. We hope to help strengthen this community and offer it more longevity by increasing audience and perpetuating a collegial relationship between organizations.

I’m a proud member of both the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and each colleague who is playing on our upcoming concert, as well as every member of our board, has ties to these and other local and regional musical organizations.

We hope that our listeners will buy tickets to hear another ensemble because we have helped encourage them to take this step.

How did the group come about and get started, and what are its plans for the future?

The idea for SEW came to me in the fall of 2011 after having a discussion with Chris Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) about how to bring more people to music by way of chamber music.  Together, Chris and I founded SEW as a Wisconsin non-stock corporation in mid-October (our federal 501-c3 status is currently pending).

Since February, we’ve held several free preview concerts for our June 8 inaugural concert.  We also have a full season planned for 2012-2013 that can be perused on our website at and which includes participation in the Science Festival at Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below) with a performance/sound installation, a collaboration with Underground Food Collective, and several other events.

For each of our major concerts, we also provide a free preview concert at a distinctive venue.  Details can be found at the bottom of the events page of our website.

Our events for next season will be held mostly in Madison, though we have one performance scheduled for Oct. 20 at the Hillside Theatre (below) at Taliesin in Spring Green to coincide with the Fall Art Tour.  However, we plan to serve all of Wisconsin once our first season has allowed us some solid footing.

Can you comment briefly on the upcoming debut concert and its program?

We’re holding our inaugural concert on Friday, June 8, in the Forum at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.  This concert, as our listeners should come to expect, will offer something original and provocative.

We will be featuring Bartok (below) as our “narrator” and pairing excerpts from his prolific writings with three sets of his Duets for Two Violins, interspersed between the major pieces of the program. Bartok will be the “common thread” that weaves this program together as he comments on each composer on the program.

The major pieces will include Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, Kodaly’s “Serenade” and Debussy’s String Quartet.  “Participants,” as we like to call our audience, can also be prepared to feel part of the music as they will be surrounding the musicians and at times will even hear music from behind them.

Our friend and special guest, Anders Yocom (below), will act as Bartok.  Participants will be treated to musicians Michael Allen, Christopher Dozoryst, Naha Greenholtz, Leanne League, Maggie Townsend, and Mary Theodore.  There will also be an extra musical surprise.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

We’re thrilled to see the beginning of our ideas’ coming into fruition and very much look forward to serving up the best we can offer to Wisconsin.  Please see our website and FACEBOOK pages for more information, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments through the website at, or at, or at (646) 872-5155. If you’d like to be included on SEW’s e-mail notification list for upcoming performances, please send an e-mail.

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