The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the Summer Solstice, and nobody wrote better summer music than Francis Poulenc. Can you name someone who did?

June 20, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Summer Solstice (below) – the beginning of the summer and the longest day and shortest night of the year. It happens at 6:09 p.m. CST.

For weeks, various critics on radio, TV and the interview have been offering their suggestions for summertime reading, summertime movies, summertime food, summertime trips.

But you hear very little about summertime music.

Oh, there are certain well-known pieces, from Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto in The Four Seasons to Ralph Vaughan Williams and “The Lark Ascending” and all those early 20th century British composers who do pastoral music so evocatively and beautifully.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Summer” from his oratorio “The Seasons” does the job nicely, as do his “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night” Symphonies Nos. 6, 7 and 8 as well as his “Sunrise” String Quartet.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 6 (“Pastorale”) his Piano Sonata In D Major, Op. 28 – also subtitled “Pastoral” — also capture the mood of the season. And you can find Franz Schubert songs that do the same very evocatively. And a lot of the music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is unbeatably sunny, lyrical and cheerful.

Mendelssohn’s “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” certainly captures the right mood, as does Shakespeare’s original play. And his sunny, upbeat “Italian” Symphony is also a pretty good bet.

Then there are also wonderfully warm and moody pieces by Debussy and Ravel that are full of water and sun and breezy wind, all with a kind of seasonal torpor and lassitude.

But for my money, no one has ever done a body of work that better expresses summer than the French composer Francis Poulenc (below). For me, his music goes down as easily as a dry French rose wine with a Salade Nicoise.

Although he could also be very serious and dark, Poulenc (1899-1963) has the great French gift of lightness – beautiful melodies, poignant harmonies, all tempered with the informality and good time quality of the music hall. His music is always graceful and kind.

I also love that the same Poulenc who was a devout Roman Catholic was also an unapologetic gay man who said, “If I wasn’t homosexual, I couldn’t compose music” or words to that effect.

We just don’t hear enough Poulenc during the usual concert season – so summer is an especially good time to revisit his work, which early on, during his days as the clown of Les Six composers in France, was grossly underestimated and underperformed. Listen for yourself:

Make no mistake: Poulenc is a modern master.

So here is my offering for the summer to mark the solstice. I hope you will look at some of the wonderful collection of Poulenc’s solo piano and chamber music that are out there and agree that when the weather s warm and the light is long, that’s the perfect time to take out something by Poulenc and put it on the CD player and listen to it – to bask it during the sunny days of summer, maybe even with some great summer food in front of you. He would like that.

But if you have other pieces or other composers who you think better capture summer, just let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: When you go to one concert by Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you always end up wanting to hear more.

June 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It never fails to happen.

Every summer, I hear my first concert by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and I am so impressed and enthralled that I want to hear many more than I originally planned on.

For over two decades, BDDS has been a summertime fixture on Madison’s ever-expanding classical music scene. So I don’t know why that happens. I think it  has something to do with memory and interference, with so many other things and other concerts that take place over the intervening fall, winter and spring before BDDS revs up again.

I am not alone. After the final standing ovation (below) was over  at Saturday night’s concert in The Playhouse of the Overture Center, I heard a lot of other people saying the same thing.

Gotta go to more.

The theme of this concert was “Corpse Reviver” —  a New Orleans mixed drink designed to help cure a hangover that fits it with this summer’s overall theme of Mixology to mark BDDS’ coming of legal age and turning 21.

It might sound too cute. But it works, as BDDS themes usually do. On posters and programs is a great graphic of the Old Lutheran himself as  Bartender Bach (below) that was created by the Distillery Design Studio.

And there was music that also fit the description of the cocktail, works that started dark and hung over, so to speak, and ended up light and revived. It had to do with finishing a minor key work by Mozart in a major key, or adding a famous hymn-like chorale with the theme of redemption to the finale of a work by Mendelssohn.

And much of the usual show business transpired.

True, the crowd unfortunately seemed a bit smaller than in past years, perhaps because the free Cello Choir concert was going on down on the UW-Madison campus.

This summer, BDDS has booked more concerts downtown at The Playhouse. That’s a smart move in the long run, The Ear thinks. It’s the right space for chamber music  — good size (300 or so), good acoustics (bright), good space (for sets and seats).

But one can hope more listeners come. They certainly should.

Most other things about BDDS, happily, have stayed the same — including the ability to deliver chamber music, both well-known and neglected, with energy, conviction and consummate skill.

Hosts pianist Jeffrey Sykes and Stephanie Jutt , who are also the co-directors and co-founders of BDDS, were gracious and humorous, and put the audience at ease right away.

Beautifully ingenious but inexpensive installations (below) were created by UW-Madison artists Carolyn Kallenborn and Michael Villequette. The mood changed back and forth a lot as the color of the lights projected on them changed. Take a look.

There was an unannounced Mystery Guest – in this case the terrific three-woman Madison Hoop Team, which twirled illuminated hula hoops in the dark and brought festiveness to the serious but never sombre occasion.

Door prizes, some quite valuable, got handed out. 

But most of all, there was, as always, great music played greatly.

True, the concert opened with the “Song of Linos” (1944) by the French composer Andre Jolivet. It is a virtuosic piece designed to be a final exam for flute students at the Paris Conservatory.

It featured impressive and clearly difficult playing by both the flute and the piano, by Jutt and Sykes (below). But the music just never caught fire. When people call things “academic” and mean it disparagingly, this is what they are talking about. The work was all technique, with no discernible heart or soul, at least not for this listener. The performance seemed first-rate; better, in fact, than the music merits. And yes, Jutt, who is the principal flutist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and teaches at the UW-Madison, passed the test — with honors.

But then came one of those wonderful old-fashioned house music reductions of orchestral works – symphonies and concertos — that I love chamber music groups to rediscover and revive. Last year I asked for more and this year I got more. Thank you, BDDS.

In this case it was Johann Nepomuk Hummel‘s chamber version of Mozart’s sublimely beautiful Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466. It featured pianist Sykes along with, flutist Jutt, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau –- the last two from San Francisco where they perform with pianist Sykes as the San Francisco Trio.

But the heavy lifting was done by Sykes, who played both orchestra and piano parts, with embellished ornamentation and thematic variations by Hummel, who actually heard Mozart perform these works and knew first-hand how Wolfgang often wrote down just the skeleton and saved his astonishing improvisations for last-minute inspiration.

Have simple arpeggios and scales ever sounded more beautiful or more musical than in Mozart’s hands? And his gift for composing aria-like melodies for the piano and strings remains unparalleled. Plus, the small forces lent the work an intimacy as well as a clarity and transparency. All is all, it was both a revelatory and moving experience.

Then came intermission, when you could buy a genuine Corpse Reviver and brink it back into the Playhouse in an adult sippy cup so as not to spill it.

The program finished with a certified masterpiece that featured no transcriptions, arrangements or substitutions: Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor.

It was a ravishing performance. Sykes – who got no time to rest during this entire program — possesses a wonderfully light and fluid touch, just right for the lambent Mendelssohn. But the entire trio (below) blended together and gave the work an irresistible energy and lyricism, drama and drive.

I missed the opening “White Russian” program on Friday night and Sunday afternoon – but here is a glowing review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

This summer BDDS is playing six programs in three locations – The Playhouse, the Hillside Theatre at Frank  Lloyd Wright’s home and studio Taliesin in Spring Green, and at the Stoughton Opera House – plus a concert at the Green Lake Festival on Thursday, June 28. Four  programs over the next two weeks remain. This coming weekend features the “cocktail” concerts “B&B” (music by Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms and Kenji Bunch) and “Manhattan” (music by Bernstein, Barber, Rorem and Piazzolla).

So, yes, The Ear will be going to more BDDS concerts than he planned on.

You should too. 

Here is a link to the BDDS homepage and a complete schedule of works and performances with biographies of performers and ticket information:

Classical music: Two Madison teenage pianists don’t win the International Piano Arts Competition, but they do well and receive special prizes. Go inside the competition with a detailed blog account of every event.

June 18, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

So, how did they do?

All weekend long, people have been asking me how the two teenage pianists from Madison – Ariela Bohrod and Garrick Olsen – fared in last week’s International Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee? (The contest is held every two years and gets high marks for its educational value as well as its performances.)

Well, it took me a whole to find out. The biennial competition didn’t post results immediately on its website – despite the reputation for immediacy that the electronic media and the Internet enjoy. And I wasn’t aware of the blog that I link to below, thanks to UW pianist Martha Fischer.

A drumroll, please!

Three other contestants won the top spots.

But the results are in: Ariela Bohrod (below), who studies at Interlochen, won a special prize as a Wisconsin pianist.

Olsen, who studies with Madison teacher Bill Lutes, won a prize for the best performance of post-1940 American music, which was two etudes by the well-known “super-virtuoso” pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, who was born in Canada but now resides and teaches in the U.S., at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

For more information about the Top Three prize winners, here is a link to the competition’s web page, which also has a link to videos of performances, profiles of the competitors with their solo and concerto repertoire, and a Facebook posting:

Finally, here is a terrific and comprehensive blog, complete with videos and lots of photos plus detailed accounts and criticism of each performance, by Andrew Tisdel, that covers not only the results for the Madison contestants but also the entire competition and master classes:

Please be sure to leave any Comments for the contestants or blogger in the COMMENT sections of this blog. I am sure both Ariela and Garrick as well as their friends, family and many fans, would appreciate reading them.

And stay tuned. The Madison contestants may have some personal remarks to share about being in the competition.

Classical music: Celebrate Father’s Day with stories about the fathers of famous composers and musicians.

June 17, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Father’s Day.

Successful composers and performers have been influenced by all kinds of fathers — and father figures.

Mozart’s father Leopold (below, in 1765) was exploitative, if well meaning and knowledgeable about music. He helped the young Wolfgang who nonetheless resisted later advice once he was a mature artist and man.

Then there is the Bach family where many fathers, including Johann Ambrosius Bach (below), the father of Johann Sebastian Bach, passed down the musical trade to their sons, just as Johann Sebastian passed the trade or art down to Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph.

Clara Wieck’s father Friedrich, couldn’t accept that his talented pianist daughter Clara would fall for a young critic and upstart composer named Robert Schumann (below with Clara).

And Richard Strauss’ composer and performer father Franz Joseph (below, son on the left and father on the right) also proved an influence on the late Romantic composer.

What better way, then, is there  for classical music fans to mark Father’s Day than to explore some of the ways that fathers have influenced the field throughout history.

And I have found no better way than a recent story that Miles Hoffman, a professional violist, told last week on NPR.

Even the childless “Papa” Haydn came in for some remarks as being the “father” of the string quartet, the piano trio and the symphony.

But Hoffman left out one famous, or infamous, case: Johann Beethoven (below), on the other hand, was a drunk who was abusive and who would wake the young Ludwig and make him practice in the middle of the night, hoping that his son would become a profitable prodigy like Mozart. It is amazing Ludwig turned out as creative and productive as he was.

Here is a link. Enjoy! And Happy Father’s Day.

And there other famous father stories about classical music that classical fans should know about?

Classical music news: Should concert halls be noisier and livelier or quieter and more attentive to attract bigger and younger audiences to classical music? The argument grows.

June 16, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

One urgent question continues to loom at the center of the classical music world: How do performers and presenters attract more audiences and young audiences to live music?

One answer is to emphasize new music.

Another and opposing answer is to emphasize tried-and-true old masterpieces.

One answer is to use more non-traditional venues such as coffee houses (below), bars, churches, open-air markets, the street, parks and workplaces — much like the local groups Classical Revolution (bel0w) and New Muse (New Music Everywhere) do.

But there are still people who are unabashed in their love of the concert hall as the appropriate place to hear classical music.

However, even those partisans can’t agree on what makes for a great concert hall experience.

Recently, one observer wrote that concert halls need to be noisier and more raucous, more filled with cheers and yells, with life and excitement – much like I have written about what I find when I go to concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (photo below):

Here is a link to the nationally distributed and controversial  story  — which drew a lot of comments – by Richard Dare on The Huffington Post:

But recently a story in the New York Times took issue with that approach and argued, though several sources, that a focused and attentive silence is the more appropriate response inside the concert hall.

The Ear tends to think that no matter what side you take, it all depends on the circumstances and the music. It is similar to how some music, say a concerto, lends itself to applause between movements – and many soloist especially would like to see more of that – while applause could ruin the mood of other works, say a Mahler symphony or a Requiem.

Which side do you take – noisier or quieter concert halls?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Madison-area piano students explain why, despite nerves and hard work, they like to play music for others and perform in public

June 15, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

A little over a month ago,  I attended a student recital that my piano teacher in Madison, Bill Lutes (below), holds every spring for his non-adult students, usually in the auditorium at Oakwood Village West retirement community.

It is always an enjoyable and illuminating event. But this time proved especially so. Lutes had asked his students to provide personal commentaries about playing the piano in general and playing in public in specific.

So in addition to hearing wonderful music by Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Grieg, Debussy, Bartok and Rachmaninoff and others, I also got to ponder the thoughts of young people and the meaning that classical music and performing that music hold for them.

I thought others might like to see and hear their comments. So I asked Lutes if the students (below) and their parents would agree to a public posting, with pictures I took. They did.

So here they are.

I realize there are many, many Madison-area recitals and student concerts that merit a similar recognition. The problem is that I just don’t know of them. But if you or a music student you know, adult or non-adult, would like to leave a short and similar commentary, please do so in the Comments section of this blog.

I also think asking music students who participate in a recital to give a brief “artist’s statement” is a wonderful idea. It gets students thinking about the role of music in their lives. It helps parents to appreciate their child’s achievement and to understand what paying for their children’s music lessons really means. And it fosters learning by listeners from performers.

I want to thank the students for both the music and their thoughts about the music. Their individual recital pictures follow their statement.

Maya Nitschke Alonso/Cherokee Middle School

I love playing piano because I really enjoy all of the different sounds it can make and the variety of dynamics that it can produce. I also really like all of the action and the movements that can be added to the sounds while you are playing.


Maylynn Hu/Elm Lawn Elementary School

I love playing piano. It is really fun. I especially like Beethoven and Mozart‘s music. I find playing their fast pieces very enjoyable.

Hallie Turnbull/Graduated, Memorial High School

My piano is my most dependable and necessary creative outlet. This staple of my daily diet uses Bach for stability, Mendelssohn for tranquility, and composing for passion. I am definitely one to believe all problems are alleviated with a little piano time.

Allen Chang/ Kromrey Middle School

Playing the piano takes the mind off of real things in life. On the piano you are the controller of the mood, by making these things happy, sad, angry, or anything you want it to sound. There are many different sounds you can express.

R. J. Leiferman /Graduating, Middleton High School

Although I have never been a fan of practicing, playing the piano, especially for other people, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done.  I’m not quite sure why I like it so much, but I do.  There is something about playing music for other people, giving them the gift of music, that I really enjoy.


Andrew Brettin/West High School

I enjoy playing the piano because I like making music. Sometimes I try playing songs that I hear on the radio because I like playing songs that everybody knows.


Adrian Binkley/Waunakee Middle School

I love playing the piano for many reasons. One is the freedom it can give the performer, which is not found often in other things. Another reason is that it can create and/or share ideas much more “colorfully” than words. Also, this art form is more of a language than most people think, which creates a connection between pianists.

Sam Averill/Graduating, Waunakee High School

I love playing piano because it is such a versatile instrument that allows for so much musical expression. It will also help me in my future endeavors in college and beyond.

Leslie Huang/West High School

Playing the piano offers an escape from the outside world. It’s a constant challenge, but when you get it just right, the music expresses what can’t be put into words and creates an entirely new world unique to the player, as well as everyone who experiences it.

 Hannah Lou/ West High School

Playing the piano is like you are transformed into your own magical world, full of sorrow, happiness and unimaginable stories. It is a special way to enjoy music and a great way for relaxation. I have always loved the sound of the piano ever since I was a little child.

Loren McMahon/ Jefferson Middle School

I love playing the piano because you can express your feelings in what you play, and especially how you play. When you play a song on piano you make it your own, even if you’ve never even heard it before. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment when you finish performing something with as close to perfection as to your ability!

Ethan Seidenberg/Hamilton Middle School

I like to play the piano because it gives me a sense of an accomplishment to learn a piece.  I like that the two hands can have different melodies.

Vivian Wilhelms/Waunakee Middle School

I love playing the piano because it allows me to express my deepest thoughts and feelings.  It is so relaxing because it allows me to think inwardly about myself, yet at the same time, I am reaching for things beyond myself.  Whenever I play, it is as if I become part of a different world — a world in which everything I imagine becomes real.  It is such a magical feeling that I can only find in my music. 

Garrick Olsen/Waukesha Virtual High School

I love to play the piano for others as well as for my own enjoyment. Music is definitely a huge part of who I am, and I can’t really imagine life without it.

Max Butler/Graduating,  Memorial High School

I like to play piano because the more I put into it, the more I get out of it. When I have puzzled over each technical and musical detail of a piece, I play the piano in a deeper and almost completely different way. And that is one of the most rewarding I have ever had.


Classical music news: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Madison comes of age this weekend – and opens its 21st summer season on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

June 14, 2012

Three Alerts: Just a reminder that three FREE classical music events will take place this Saturday in Madison.

From 10.a.m. to 3 p.m., the Henry Vilas Zoo will host the annual event for children and young people by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Events includes performances, an instrument petting zoo and ice cream. Here is a link:

At 11 a.m., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will again start its FREE summer organ concerts in Overture Hall. For details visit:

At 8:30 p.m. in Mills Hall is a FREE concert with music by Bach, Villa-Lobos and others by the Cello Choir from the biennial summer cello institute being held at the UW-Madison through Saturday. Here is a link to details and the program:

By Jacob Stockinger

Though its members and guests artists have long played with the maturity, sensitivity and spontaneity of adults, this weekend – with concerts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society really grows up and comes of age.

That is because the chamber music ensemble turns 21 years old.

Boy, those years went fast! Just ask co-founders flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (bel0w).

So what is an appropriate theme for this group that likes fun and puns?

MIXOLOGY, of course — that is, the art of mixed drinks. BDDS is legal now – though when it comes to classical music, they have long been intoxicated and intoxicating. So programs have been given names like “White Russian,” “B&B,” “Manhattan,” “Old-Fashioned” and “Kir Royale.” All to serve “Bartender Bach,” as you can see on the home page of BDDS, which is given below.


Tune into WORT (89.9 FM) this morning 5 – 8 a.m., to hear an interview with Stephanie Jutt during the classical music show. 

Then, listen to WERN (88.7 FM) today at noon, to hear Norman Gilliland host BDDS live.   

The overall theme of this new summer season may have changed. But from what The Ear sees on the schedule of composers, works and performers, between this weekend and July 1 BDDS will offer the same first-rate chamber music — WITH A BANG, as BDDS says about its penchant for surprises and informal fun — that its loyal fans have become accustomed to over two decades.

As in recent years, BDDS will be performing in three venues, plus at the Green Lake Festival; The Playhouse in the Overture Center; the Hillside Theatre (below) at Taliesin in Spring Green; and at the charmingly and handsomely restored Stoughton Opera House. All draw big crowds and enthusiastic audiences.

Of course co-founders and co-directors pianist Jeffrey Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt will be playing.  For my piece on the talented Sykes, a pianist for all seasons and styles, visit:“let-us-now-praise-pianist-jef/

I am especially pleased that local and imported guest artists such as pianist Randall Hodgkinson, harpsichordist Layton James, cellists Jean-Michel Fonteneau  and Parry Karp, percussionist Dane Richeson, and violinists Carmit Zori and Axel Strauss (below) are returning.

I also like that we will hear our share of certified masterworks, including Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C Minor, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A Minor, Brahms’ Piano Quintet, Schubert’s Cello Quintet (at bottom), Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne.” There are also great works by American masters Leonard Bernstein (below), Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.

In addition, some of the unusual transcriptions and arrangements I always look forward to are making reappearances. That includes a chamber version by Hummel of Mozart’s sublimely beautiful Piano Concerto in D Minor and another chamber version of Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” (The Queen). (Below is a chamber version of a Haydn symphony they did last year at the Stoughton Opera House.)

And of course BDDS will once expose us to some otherwise neglected composers and works including those by Marcelle de Manziarly, Andre Jolivet and Kenji Bunch (below).

There will be more stunning stage installations (below, one from last year in the Overture Center’s Playhouse), fun door prizes and surprise guests.

Adds BDDS’ s Executive Director and chief problem-solver Samantha Crownover: “We’ve got drink special tie-ins with a few places around Madison: Tornado Room, Tempest Oyster Bar, Fresco and Merchant.  Of course we’ll have a bar at The Playhouse, too, and audience members can actually bring their cocktails into the theater (in those adult sippy cups).  We’ll see how that goes!”

BDDS will have another FREE Family Concert at Overture on June 23. It will feature lots of percussion and two pianos!  Then in Stoughton, at the Stoughton Opera House (below), on June 29, we’ll be filmed for Wisconsin Public Television’s Jewel Box Theater Series.

The venues, programs and list of artists are really too extensive for me to list here separately. But trust The Ear, you are sure to find a MUST-HEAR concert on the list – and probably more than one. BDDS is THAT good. So for more information about concert, programs and tickets, visit the BDDS website:

You will have fun just contemplating what difficult choice you’ll make – but nowhere near the fun of actually attending a BDDS concert. Their audiences invariably love them and reward the players with a standing ovation.

I’ll drink to that! Cheers!

Classical music news: Three FREE Farmers Market organ concerts plus a bonus August mid-week concert, featuring the organ, singers and brass, start this Saturday morning in Overture Hall.

June 13, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The Dane County Farmer’s Market has developed a national reputation as one of the biggest and oldest and finest such markets in the entire country. Over more than 25 years, it has become a focal point for the city’s and area’s community life in summer.

But you can get a lot more than food there.

Of course, you can see politicians and judges running for election and all sorts of other groups and community organizations on the Capitol Square recruiting members during the market on summer Saturday mornings.

But classical music fans have also started in recent years to bring their own “wares” to the Farmer’s Market.

Grace Episcopal Presents offered a free noontime concert last week.

Classical Revolution and New Muse (New Music Everywhere) also do events centered on the Farmer’s Market, sometimes with individual recitals or chamber concerts, sometimes even with a mass “flash mob” including a moving performance of Samuel Barber‘s “Adagio for Strings” (below).

And this summer, once again the Madison Symphony Orchestra is again presenting its FREE organ concert series in Overture Hall, in the nearby Overture Center, at 11 p.m. on the third Saturdays on June, July and August during the summer.

This summer will also feature a midweek FREE bonus concert in early August, a girls choir from Freiburg, Madison’s sister city in Germany, and a brass group.

One of the purposes, of course, is to showcase the colossal and impressive custom-built Klais concert organ (below) in Overture Hall:

Here is a schedule – so far no individual programs have been provided — for this summer’s Farmer’s Market organ concerts by the MSO. They are at 11 a.m.-noon in Overture Hall, if it is not stated otherwise:

THIS SATURDAY, JUNE 16: Mark Brampton Smith (below) is the organist at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, in Middleton.

SATURDAY, JULY 21: JARED STELLMACHER (below top) and the GARGOYLE BRASS QUINTET (below bottom). The Director of Music and Organist at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hinsdale, Illinois, returns to Madison with a finalist group at the Chicago Brass Festival.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 18: KATHRINE HANFORD. Hear the organist and Director of Music at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a faculty member at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin.

You can also hear a FREE bonus concert by the FREIBURG CATHEDRAL GIRLS CHOIR on WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, AT 7:30 P.M. Madison’s sister city of Freiburg, Germany, sends its Cathedral Girls Choir to perform accompanied by the Colossal Klais Organ.

The Free Farmers Market Concerts are generously sponsored by Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Additional support for all Overture Concert Organ performances is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

Classical music news: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) is expanding its second season to two summer concerts and performs Copland, Faure and Haydn plus opera arias this Friday night.

June 12, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison may already be saturated and have more classical music that any city its size has a right to expect. But the classical scene here just keeps expanding.

Friday night marked the debut of the Sound Ensemble Wisconsin, a new chamber music group.

This Friday night will mark the opening of the expanded two-concert second summer season by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), pictured rehearsing below in a photo by Steve Rankin.

I asked the founder and conductor of MAYCO, Mikko Utevsky (below), an East High School graduating senior, to tell us about it. Here are his notes:

“The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra is a student-directed summer festival ensemble dedicated to providing an intensive small orchestra experience for high school and college students. The orchestra prepares a full program over the course of each one-week summer session.

“The first concert is “Bombast and Beauty” and takes place next Friday night at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Admission is $5; students get in for free or by donation.

“MAYCO’s second season opens with a bang, with Aaron Copland‘s heroic “Fanfare for the Common Man” (featuring our brass section). After a delightful potpourri of salon music by the grandfather of the Impressionist movement, Gabriel Fauré in his suite “Masques et Bergamasques,” we are joined by critically acclaimed soprano Shannon Prickett for a selection of bel canto opera arias. We conclude with “Papa” Haydn‘s final symphony, the vivacious and riotously fun “London” Symphony in D major.

Here are some personal notes by conductor Utevsky on the repertoire:

“We will be presenting two concerts this season, on two Fridays — June 15 and August 18 – at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall. It is a tradition I hope to continue in future years.

“As I will be attending the UW-Madison this fall, the orchestra will remain, and I hope to be able to bring a few more undergraduate players into our sections to give them opportunities to lead, and to give the younger musicians the experience of working closer to a collegiate level — something that has been incredible for me to experience, having joined the UW Symphony a year early.

“I’m perhaps most excited to work with another outstanding soloist this season (continuing last year’s tradition), soprano Shannon Prickett (below).

“Readers here will be familiar with Shannon, who played Mimi in the University Opera’s production of “La Boheme” this season, as well as receiving critical acclaim on this blog and elsewhere for her singing in Verdi’s Requiem with the UW Choral Union. She’ll be singing works by both of those composers with us this concert, including excerpts from “La Boheme.”

“I also look forward to performing Haydn’s “London” Symphony at this concert, one of the master’s most-played works for good reason. So many young musicians have this idea that Haydn (below) is easy – or worse, boring! – and I’m hoping that we can correct that perception and discover as an orchestra how exciting and intricate his music is.

“For that, I think, the 104th symphony is perfect – he’s writing for Salomon’s orchestra in London, so it uses the full wind section, and in this particular symphony he really does make full use of the clarinets and the brass, which is more fun for the whole orchestra when nobody has to stay silent or stop playing  for half the piece.

“The “Masques et Bergamasques” Suite by Gabriel Faure (below) is a lovely little work, very much neglected in the repertoire, although Madison audiences may remember that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra recorded it (beautifully, I might add) back in 2005.

“Rounding out the program we have famous “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland (below), which seemed a fitting piece for the times. We all need to be reminded to celebrate the Common Man, for all the power and credence given to the rich and famous today. Whatever your political leanings, occupation, or income level, music is for everyone.

MAYCO’s second concert will be “A Celebration of Youth” on August 18 at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

“We have an unusual program for our second concert this season (our first time presenting two in a summer!), beginning with a world premiere by local composer Nate Levy.

“In memory of the late children’s author Maurice Sendak (below), we delve into the fairy-tale realm of Maurice Ravel‘s “Mother Goose” Suite next, a shimmering, gossamer sound-world bursting with color and beauty.

“To cap the evening, we offer Schubert‘s delicate, Mozartian Symphony No. 5, written when Schubert (below) was only 19! A charmingly witty work, the Fifth lacks none of the young composer’s famed lyricism. We hope you enjoy it.”

Here are some biographical notes about Mikko Utevsky:

Mikko Utevsky (below, shown conducting MATCO in a photo by Rosebud) is a violist and conductor starting his undergraduate studies on a full-tuition scholarship at the UW-Madison, having performed in the UW Symphony Orchestra and in the viola studio of Prof. Sally Chisholm for his senior year of high school.

He was also named the first-ever Assistant Conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra at his high school, where he was also a perennial featured soloist, and has performed for several years as principal viola in the top ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), under the baton of UW-Madison director of orchestras, James Smith.

He currently serves as the music director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, a summer festival orchestra for high school and undergraduate musicians, which he founded in 2010.

The orchestra has been joined in the past by UW-Madison Artist-in-Residence Suzanne Beia, with whom Mr. Utevsky has studied chamber music for four years. His other mentors in conducting include Prof. David Becker, Thomas Buchhauser, Prof. James Smith, Prof. Tonu Kalam, and Kenneth Woods; on the viola, Diedre Buckley.

Classical music review: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW) stitches together an impressive debut with the early modernism of Bartok and Kodaly, Debussy and Ravel.

June 11, 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

A new musical organization made its debut on Friday evening, June 8, in the high-tech, richly  wooded in-the-round Forum Room (below) at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on the UW-Madison campus.

The organization is Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW), directed by violinist Mary Theodore (below). Its founding principle is “to bring more people to music by way of chamber music,” and it has already blocked out an ambitious program of some seven events over the 2012-13 season.

For its inaugural concert, a very impressive musical program was mounted. It had as an overall theme the movement in the 20th-century to build new music out of principles embedded in neglected folk traditions.

At the center of such a movement was Béla Bartók, and he became a recurrent presence in the program. Quotations from his writings were read by Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom, while three sets of pieces, drawn from his 44 Duets for Two Violins (so rooted in Hungarian folk music), were sprinkled through the program–five of them in the original scoring, four each in arrangements for viola and cello or two cellos. (Below, cellist Michael Allen and violist Chris Dozoryst perform four of the transcribed violin duos.)

Of substantial works presented, the first was Ravel’s highly charged four-movement Sonata for Violin and Cello, drawing on harmonic language with folk backgrounds, while incorporated in some very imaginative contrapuntal duetting. The other was the extended three-movement Serenade for Two Violins and Viola by Bartók’s compatriot Zoltán Kodály, a score that draws heavily upon Hungarian and Balkan folk rhythms and instrumental coloring.

The final major piece was Claude Debussy‘s great and unique String Quartet (below). For all of Debussy’s importance as a true pioneer of “modern” musical experimentation, this relatively early work of his still had strong foundations in classical traditions and structure.

The performances were all splendid. Oh, I could have wanted just a tad more intensity in the Debussy Quartet’s slow movement. But these are very challenging works, and the command of technique and the precision of ensemble throughout was of the highest artistic standards.

Six instrumentalists were involved in varied assignments: three violinists, Mary Theodore herself, Naha Greenholtz (below), and Leanne Kelso League; violist Chris Dozoryst; and cellists Michael Allen and Maggie Townsend. All are seasoned chamber music players, and all but one of them is active in our local orchestras, notably the Madison Symphony Orchestra (where Greenholtz is, in fact, the concertmaster). These are formidable musicians, suggesting the kind of top-quality talent that SEW can draw upon.

In all, this was a most impressive debut concert. The events planned for the season ahead exhibit another principle to which SEW is committed. That is, the integration of chamber music into larger themes. Thus, future concerts will explore links with sonics, with textiles, with food, with popular music and dance, and with jazz. There is even a “24-Hour Chamber Music Marathon” projected for early December.

It remains to be seen, of course, how well SEW can pursue these extra-musical associations while still offering attractive program of high-quality chamber music-making. But it will certainly bring a new dimension to Madison’s cultural scene. The organization is eager to encourage financial contributions, and general information — including its ambitiously eclectic next season — can be had from its web site:

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