The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: On Days 8 and 9 of its European tour, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra tours churches in the Czech Republic; performs a great concert in a great hall; and hears Mozart’s Requiem played in Prague’s Smetana Hall. | July 16, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Youth Orchestra, the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, is on a concert tour with conductor James Smith of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

The Youth Orchestra is made up of 69 musicians, age 14-18, from 19 communities in south-central Wisconsin.

 Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO plus a link to his blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s sixth report, with photos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser and George Cao. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


We began the day with a walking tour (the group shot below is by George Cao) of Oloumoc — a welcome change from the unfortunate detachment of bus tours. The city, about half the size of Madison, is full of Baroque fountains and churches, each of which seems to come with its own equally elaborate history. (One holds the torture rack on which a priest was martyred; another building was used to hold captive the French General Lafayette, who fought for the colonists in the American Revolution.)

In one church (below, in a photo by Bridget Fraser), we enjoyed a brief impromptu concert by the church organist on a magnificent old instrument, albeit one of moderate size (2,500 pipes, 28 stops, 2 manuals). It was beautiful to hear the sounds filling the church and resounding from the intricately decorated rafters. Most of us even had the pleasure of observing it from the organ loft, a rare treat.

One famous local landmark we managed to see was the astronomical clock (below, in a photo by George Cao) in the city square. Built in 1420 and repeatedly altered over the years, it was eventually destroyed by Nazi soldiers at the end of the Second World War and rebuilt in the Socialist Realist style under Soviet rule a few years later.

We next visited the Archbishop’s palace in Oloumoc, where we saw the golden chariot seen in the film “Amadeus.” Lunch was in the apartment building where Leopold Mozart took his children when fleeing the Plague in Vienna. (The plaque marking their visit, below, is by George Cao.) Our tour guide, Martin, was beyond helpful with translations, as the staff spoke very little English. After lunch, we boarded the bus to Kroměříž.

Our concert that evening was a true triumph. We performed in yet another Archbishop’s palace, which boasts a sizeable hall (below, in a photo by George Cao) with impressive, if very resonant, acoustics. When filled almost to capacity, as for our concert, it is beautiful to play in: notes float in the air after the release for a few seconds, a delightful effect in Vaughan Williams’ “A London Symphony” in particular. As we began the first movement of it, the clouds outside parted and the room was lit up in burnished gold reflecting off the gilded walls and fixtures.

It was a heavenly atmosphere, and I can say without reservation that it was the best performance the Youth Orchestra has given in the last three years. Maestro Smith (below bottom, right, in photo by George Cao) was beaming by the end, and the mood among the orchestra was positively jubilant as we left the stage. Everyone was grinning.

I remember thinking to myself as we packed up, “This is how it’s supposed to be.” The most beautiful part was realizing as we talked afterward that I was among people who understood that. So did the audience (below applauding, in a photo by George Cao).

After such a miraculous performance, it was a bit sad to leave Oloumoc the next morning, but upon our arriving in Prague the disappointment faded. The city is extraordinarily beautiful, and full of wonderful buildings.

A trip to the old synagogue (in pouring rain) was fruitless – we couldn’t get in, though we’ll try back tomorrow – but we did see the theater in which Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was premiered.

A lucky glance at a sign yielded this evening’s entertainment for about a dozen of us, which consisted of yet more Mozart. I happened to see an advertisement for a performance of his Requiem by a local pick-up orchestra and chorus, which turned out to be very good.

Despite a slight lack of dynamic subtlety and a few distinctly Czech variants on the Latin pronunciation, the singing was surprisingly able, as was the orchestral playing. A very small ensemble rendered the details of Mozart’s intricate score with deftness and clarity in Prague’s magnificent Smetana Hall (below). I was glad to have gone.

Tomorrow holds yet more exploration of the rich history of Prague (below) — and another walking tour, I hope, plus our final concert. Now that we know what it could be, I hope that we rise to the occasion once more.




  1. Jake:
    With the trip winding down, I want to thank you for running this series of dispatches. (It’s almost like a week off for you, eh?) I have enjoyed the vicarious tour of Europe and hearing from my son almost daily, when otherwise I would have heard nothing until he got home. Since the last concert is tonight and they head for home tomorrow, I don’t know if we’ll get another report.


    Comment by Steve Rankin — July 16, 2012 @ 7:50 am

    • Hi Steve,
      Thank you for your very kind words and thoughts. I appreciate them a lot and so will Mikko, Bridget, Gordon and others.
      Editing and formatting the text plus finding and processing the photos takes up ore time than you might think or it might appear, so it isn’t exactly a week off for me.
      But nonetheless it is a lighter week where I don’t have to worry about content and where Mikko and others have done most of the hard work.
      And what a great job they have done, no?
      Yes, I expect to post at least one more report — probably on the last concert and last day, and then perhaps another about returning home.
      I wil post whatever I get, although there are also other major events this week to deal with and post about.
      How refreshing it is to turn the blog over to someone as capable as Mikko and to let them tell their own story.
      The Kids Are All Right!
      In fact, they are terrific.
      And everyone — myself, WYSO and the students in the orchestra — is pleased that you can follow along with your son on tour. That was the purpose, and it sounds as if we have been successful.
      Thanks again for letting us know.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 16, 2012 @ 9:08 am

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