The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why can’t I like the piano playing of J.S. Bach by Simone Dinnerstein? Plus the UW and Sun Prairie High School Wind Ensembles team up tonight for a FREE concert of music by Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty.

November 30, 2012

ALERT: At 8 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble with the Wind Ensemble from Sun Prairie High School, and conductors Scott Teeple of the UW and Steve Sveum of Sun Prairie High School, will perform a FREE concert featuring several compositions by Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty (below), composer-in-residence, who will be attending the concert. A free pre-concert discussion will be held at 7:15 . The program features “Motown Metal” by Daugherty (Madison Premiere); “Bells for Stokowski” by Michael Daugherty (Madison Premiere); the combined UW Wind Ensemble and Sun Prairie High School Wind Ensemble in “Country Gardens” by Percy Grainger/Rogers; “Blithe Bells” by Percy Grainger; and the Sun Prairie High School performance in “On the Air” by Michael Daugherty (Madison premiere).

By Jacob Stockinger

Then there is pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below) – pronounced “Simona Dinnersteen.”

I really want to like her playing.

Mostly because I really like her story.

She beat the odds and she beat the system.

I like that Dinnerstein attended Juilliard, where she studied with Peter Serkin; that she graduated, start teaching piano lessons privately while she began her family; and that she herself then established her own busy international career in these days when most soloists need to win a competitions or generate controversy to get a big name agent and big money contracts.

Dinnerstein did it by financing a her own recording of J.S. Bach’s monumental “Goldberg” Variations. It was received well by critics – though not by me — and sold well. So she got a regular contract, first with Telarc and now with Sony Classical. Her datebook of tour bookings is now filled years in advance.

She became an in-demand star with a following far and wide.

We have already heard her twice in Madison, once in a solo recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, when she played Bach, Schubert and Phillip Lasser; then with the Madison Symphony Orchestra when she played Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. Both appearances disappointed me overall, thought hey had some high points.

But Dinnerstein sure sells a lot of recordings and plays a lot of concerts. She is a certified phenomenon.

So what is wrong? Is it me? Or is it her?

Here is a link to a fine profile with lots of background on Simone Dinnerstein:

It’s just her playing, not her, I can’t stand.

And I have tried.

But it is just too ponderous, too self-indulgent for my taste. I am especially turned off by her Bach, which is supposed to be her specialty.

The very qualities I don’t like were well perceived by the New York Times reviewer Vivien Schweitzer, who heard phrases extended to the breaking point with self-consciously expressive mannerisms and senselessly slow tempi. Look at her take on Dinnerstein, which is the second review in the group:

Decide for yourself. Here is a link to recent live performance in an NPR studio (below).

The NPR mini-concert features Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, which is also included on her latest CD:

See if you can make it all the way through the performance of “Bach Between the Notes.” The Ear, who would just prefer better notes without so much in-betweenness, could not.

What do you think of Simone Dinnerstein and her Bach?

Leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: As the semester ends, concerts are stacking up at the UW School of Music. Just look at all the concerts on this Sunday.

November 29, 2012

ALERT: A reminder that the UW Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in the Chazen Museum of Art) will perform this Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s live broadcast “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The program includes works by Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert (“Death and the Maiden”).

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems to happen every year.

As we reach the end of the semester, concerts stack up and get scheduled for the same day as time runs out.

(I think UW-Madison rules require all concerts to take place a week before the end of classes and the beginning of the study period for final exams. That’s why the last big concerts are the two performances in Mills hall on Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. of Brahms’ “German” Requiem by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra. I will have more on that in a few days.)

In any case, this Sunday is a good example for choral and brass music.

Take a look at the events, all of which are FREE. (And they don’t include several more student recitals, which are listened on the Events Calendar at There you can also find links to biographies and information about conductors and members of the faculty and staff.

Sorry, no programs of repertoire have been provided.


At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. The UW Concert Band under director Scott Teeple (below).

At 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave., there will be the Winter Choral Concerts with Chorale under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot); the Concert Choir under conductor Beverly Taylor (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot); the Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone; the University Chorus under Adam Kluck; and the Women’s Chorus under Brian Gurley.

In Mills Hall at 4 p.m., University Bands will perform under conductors Justin Stolarik (below top) and Matthew Mireles (below bottom).

At 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave., there will be the Winter Choral Concerts with Chorale under conductor Bruce Gladstone ; the Concert Choir under conductor Beverly Taylor; the Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone; the University Chorus under Adam Kluck (below top); and the Women’s Chorus under Brian Gurley (below bottom).

Classical music: How do various venues or performing spaces affect the music? Consider three examples of the same early vocal music sung by Eliza’s Toyes.

November 28, 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 MadisonEarly Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

Through the month of November, I have been tracking the efforts of the same group in the same program, but in three different presentation spaces and situations. I have always found much illumination in attending rehearsals as against performances, but comparative performance study can also be quite stimulating.

First, let’s consider the performers and their program. The musicians (below and at bottom) call themselves Eliza’s Toyes (after an image in an Elizabethan madrigal text), as founded and lead by the formidably versatile Jerry Hui. Their program is a collection of sacred and secular works from the first half of the 17th century, by three composers who were pioneers in the transition from Renaissance to early Baroque styles in Germany — from the old vocal polyphonic style to the new idiom of singers with instruments, over the new basso continuo.

These three are Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672, below top), Johann Schein (1586-1630, below middle), and Samuel Scheidt (1587-1672, below bottom), good friends and comrades in a common enterprise. We’ve all heard of “the Three B’s” (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms), and it has become frequent to describe our early German masters as “the Three S’s”–or, as Jerry and his crew would have it, “the Three Sch’s”.

Their program took shape as far back as last spring, when they first performed it on May 12, at The Gates of Heaven (below). I reviewed that for Isthmus (May 18). At that time, the program consisted of a first part containing sacred works: three by Scheidt (one in Latin, otherwise German) and two by Schein. Two of these were in eight vocal parts, and varied in textures to very simplified motet style to the newer and more complex concertato idiom of combining voices with instruments; two of these even for eight parts.

The second half offered secular music, partly by Schein: two five-voice vocal works, an Italian love-madrigal and a comic German song about monks making whoopee while the abbot was away, plus a suite of four dances from his instrumental collection, Banchetto musicale. But Schütz was predominant, with two five-voice Italian madrigals from his Venetian publication in 1611, and a splendid eight-voice dedicatory piece for double choir from the same collection. As an encore, a late neo-polyphonic German motet of 1648 was added. The performers consisted then of seven singers (two of whom also played instruments) and five instrumentalists.

This was the program that was used, in revised form, for three performances this November.

To begin with, the group was diminished by one singer, so that his vacated vocal parts had to be filled in by instrumental substitution–a not unusual practice at that period. Also in the second half, one of the Schütz madrigals from the 1611 publication was replaced by a longer, two-part example from that source.

The first of the November performances was held at the downtown Grace Episcopal Church (below, the exterior) on Saturday evening, Nov. 3, with reduced forces, eliminating instrumentalists, and specifically the Schein dance suite. Also eliminated was one Scheidt sacred piece, Schein’s merry-monks song, and Schütz’s eight-voice double-choir madrigal of 1611; and there was no intermission. Full forces (less the departed tenor) were on display at the second concert, at Luther Memorial Church at 4 p.m. on the afternoon of Nov. 17, in the full revised program. And this same revised program was then presented at 12:30 p.m. last Sunday as one of the “Live from the Chazen” concerts broadcast live statewide by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Through these three performances, circumstances dictated certain obvious adjustments in the program and performer placements. But what particularly interested me is how the music, and the performers’ responses to it, varied through no less than four different venues.

All of the music in the program represented moves away from the old, grandly architectural styles of vocal polyphony that had been the glory of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and into the newer, more intimately textured complexities of writing for essentially modest (not to say, greatly enclosed) spaces, where clarity of part writing was crucial.

The setting last spring at Gates of Heaven, a small and tight public space (below, interior at the Gates of Heaven), was quite ideal for this newer German idiom, and close audience involvement was guaranteed. The first two locations in November were, however, quite different: spacious churches with the problems of projection and reverberation. Grace Episcopal on the Square is large, but not overwhelming, whereas Luther Memorial on University Avenue is comparatively huge, a large space of echoes and extended sonic decay. Finally, Brittingham Gallery III at the Chazen, though a generously sized room, suggests a rather tight and confined ambience, especially when full of audience.

I had my own reactions to the differing results of these differing settings, but it was instructive to compare notes with some of the performers. The two church locations (below, the interior of Grace Episcopal) added a wondrous glow to their singing, in which they could luxuriate. But such spacious conditions are more sympathetic to sonically expansive polyphony, whereas the smaller, closer forms of their program are less at home, and the singers found problems in hearing each other as they sang.

On the other hand, they surprised me by their enthusiasm for the Chazen situation. It had less tightness and more warmth than they expected: they could hear each other clearly, and they plainly took particular pleasure in doing their work. I, too, found unexpected advantages in this room—madrigal-like pieces worked especially well, and the climactic eight-voice Schütz madrigal came off with particular lucidity and beauty, it seemed to me.

The greater confidence in their repertoire that the performers seemed (to me) to display may partly have resulted from the value of repeated presentations.  But I think that also a factor was the extent of rehearsal opportunities at each site.  At the churches, there were preliminary warm-up opportunities, but not much chance to work fully into the differing acoustical situations. At the Chazen, apparently there were a few hours in the morning allowed for rehearsal, so that a little fuller adjustment to acoustics there gave the performers a greater sense of comfort with them.

Obviously, the Chazen folks can take pride in this further endorsement of their concert setting. It might be added that the performance/broadcast format, with gracious commentary interspersed by Wisconsin Public Radio announcer Lori Skelton, added a more leisurely and less formal quality to the event.

For me, this adventure also brought home how very important performance setting is to performance results–the more so when the same music and same performers shift among different places. This is a point of concern not only for musicians themselves, but also for the public, which would benefit from developing sensitivity to the effects of venue and acoustics — especially when varied — upon musical achievements as one listens, experiences and enjoys.

Classical music education: Madison Community Foundation grant helps Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to put the spotlight on “endangered” instruments — horns, violas and bassoons — with horns to be featured in a free concert with the UW Horn Choir this Thursday night.

November 27, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras received a generous grant from the Madison Community Foundation to begin addressing an increasingly significant issue for youth and school orchestras: How to bring attention to three “endangered” instruments – the horn (below top), the viola (below middle) and the bassoon (below bottom).

Students and teachers cite the high cost of purchasing and maintaining the instruments as one of the main reasons that schools are often unable to introduce or teach the instruments in music classes.

Music educators have seen shrinking numbers of students in these sections each year. Hoping to restore the full, rich sound of a complete orchestra (below, Thomas Buchhauser conducting in a photo by Cheng-Wei Wu), WYSO began implementing the Endangered Instrument Workshop Series in September 2012.

Three prominent local music educators lead the individual instrument programs, supported by additional assistance from students of the UW School of Music.

Matt Beecher leads the “enCore” horn program.

University of Wisconsin School of Music Professor Marc Vallon (below with Baroque and modern bassoons, in a photo by James Gill) leads the “Begin the Bassoon” program.

Diedre Buckley leads the “Viola Explorers” program.

Each program provides students with access to an instrument, group lessons, individual attention, and the opportunity to continue their study through private lesson scholarships. The programs are open to both WYSO and non-WYSO members.

The enCORe horn program will hold a recital this Thursday, Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall to showcase the work of its young participants, ages 11-16. The UW Horn Choir will also perform at the recital, playing their own set of pieces and joining the young musicians to play works by John Williams and Danny Elfman.

The enCORe program will begin a new session in early 2013.

For more information about the Endangered Instrument Workshop Series, including opportunities for participation, contact WYSO by e-mail at or by phone (608) 263-3320.

For more information about WYSO, including its impressive history of public service, education and performance, visit

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra rings in the holidays with its annual Christmas concerts and a Free Community Carol Sing this weekend.

November 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Make a Joyful Noise, the Bible tells us.

This weekend, Music Director John DeMain (below top) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will again follow that advice and ring in the holiday season with what has become a favorite Madison tradition that typically draws up to 6,000 people to Overture Hall and includes Santa hats, which will be available for purchase in the lobby.

Performances this weekend are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.50-$78.50 with student rush tickets selling  for $10. Visit or call (608) 258-4141.

This year’s “Madison Symphony Christmas” features guest soloists mezzo-soprano Emily Fons (below top) and tenor David Portillo (below bottom).

Also included are return appearances by some favorite local guests: the Madison Symphony Chorus; the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below top) under Leotha Stanley; and the Madison Youth Choirs (below bottom).

The concert will feature of classical and popular music including familiar and well known carols as well as music by Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Gounod, Tchaikovsky and John Rutter. The caroling in the lobby (below), led from the balcony by the MSO Chorus prior to the performance, has become one of this concert’s most popular aspects.

For more information visit:

For program notes, with much more about repertoire, by J. Michael Allsen, visit:

Season Subscriptions are still available, at 50% off and including the Christmas concert, at and through the MSO offices at (608) 257.3734.

Single concert tickets are available at and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, (608) 258-4141.

Seniors and Students save 20% and the MSO’s $10 Student Rush is good for best available seats on the day of the concert. Groups of 15 or more save 25%.


On this Saturday morning, Dec. 1, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer its 
FREE Community Christmas Carol Sing this year at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall. It is an old-fashioned sing-along with MSO organist Samuel Hutchison (below top) and the MSO’s Overture Concert Organ (below bottom).

The Free Community Hymn Sings and Christmas Carol Sing are FREE and open to the public. All ages are welcome. No tickets or reservations are needed. Each event lasts 45 minutes to an hour.

A growing Madison tradition, the Hymn Sings and Christmas Carol Sing are part of the MSO’s Overture Concert Organ season and are presented in partnership with the Overture Center.

For more information,  call the Madison Symphony at (608) 257-3734 or visit


Classical music quiz: Which classical composer “flies” on Air France? Can you tell. Here’s another short chapter in “Can Advertising Help Save Classical Music.”

November 25, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Just a quickie today.

I was watching TV the other night and saw this eye-catching and ear-catching commercial for Air France.

It features a male and a female ballet dancer doing some, shall we say, airborne swings and moves that are so graceful, as lovely and balanced as the music. Plus, it is very understated with no pushy words. Very classy — both elegant and sensual. So also very French.

And the music sounded so familiar.

It took me a couple of seconds to pin it down. But I finally did.

Can you?

First listen to the ad. Here it is:

Did you get it?

It is the middle movement to Mozart’s sublime Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.

And here is a link to another posting I did about classical music that is used in advertising, including Ravel‘s String Quartet in an ad for

I have also seen some similar classic music-theme ads for cars (a Mozart piano sonata)  and others.

Can you name some ads and classical music excerpts that I haven’t seen or listed?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Looking for a great holiday music gift? Look to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a new book and recording that show how revolutionary and radical the work is.

November 24, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it started with Gray Thursday and yesterday proceeded to Black Friday. Today is Small Business/Shop Local Saturday and then we move on to Cyber-Monday.

Yes, the holiday gift-giving season– and especially gift-BUYING season — is upon us. And how!!!

The Ear has long proposed combining a book, a CD and a ticket to a live performance.

And this year offers a perfect chance.

Take no doubt the most famous four notes –- made up of just two tones, a minor third – in all of classical music.


Say it out loud and you will recognize at once the “fate knocking on the door” motif opening of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a work of unparalleled forcefulness for its time – of any time really. It was the “Rite of Spring” of its day.

Half a century ago, Leonard Bernstein (below) discussed Beethoven’s Fifth in a wonderfully lucid talk. He particularly emphasized the inevitability of all the repetitions at the end. I can still see Lenny on TV standing on a floor that was covered with the score that he was discussing.
Well, lo these many years later come two other Great Explainers. 

The first is Boston Globe writer and critic come Matthew Guerrieri (below top) in his book “The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination” (below bottom), which is available as both a regular book and an e-book/Kindle.

The second is the award-winning Sir John Eliot Gardiner (below), who conducts and records with the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, (the ORR, or Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra) and who gives his take on the opening of the famous symphony, which he has just released a new recording from live performances of the Fifth and the Seventh Symphonies at Carnegie Hall.

Gardiner and Guerrieri also talked to NPR host Robert Siegel on “All Things Considered” about how period-instrument playing has evolved from historical accuracy to more expressive and visceral playing and the role the Romanticism, the French Revolution and the role that the newly invented metronome played in helping Beethoven decide how fast the symphony should be played.

You can find the story on NPR’s always outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link. Take a listen and tell me it isn’t like hearing this iconic work with new ears – and makes you want to share the news and beauty by giving them as a gift.

Do you have a favorite recording of Beethoven’s Fifth that you recommend? (I personally like Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon).

Leave a COMMENT with your pick.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: The period-instrument, early music ensemble Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will give two performances of 17th and 18th century chamber music this weekend.

November 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The period-instrument, early music ensemble Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) will give two performances of 17th and 18th century chamber music this weekend.

The program includes music by Vivaldi, Bon, Telemann, Schenck, Monteverdi and Strozzi.

Performances are this Saturday, November 24, at 8 p.m. with repeat performance on Sunday, November 25, at 3 p.m. at the historic landmark Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), 300 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.

Tickets at the door only: $15 for the public, $10 for students.

Feel free to bring your own chair or pillow.

Performers (below) are Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger, traverse flute; Eric Miller, viola da gamba and cello; Anton TenWolde, cello and viola da gamba; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

For more information, call (608) 238-5126 or email  or visit

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer, or piece of music, or performer, do you most give thanks for?

November 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

I give thanks for all kinds of music and don’t know how I would live without music. I think of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below) and his observation in “The Twilight of the Gods”: “Life without music would be a mistake.”

But is there a special reason for or object of my gratitude?

It can and does change from year to year, from age to age, from mood to mood, and from event to event.

But at any given moment there is usually a piece of music for which I give special thanks, music that seems to embody and enhance and grace my existence. Bach and Mozart have done it. So have Chopin and Schumann. Beethoven does it, but to a lesser degree generally.

These days the composer that I, as a devoted amateur pianist, most give thanks for is Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and the pieces by Schubert I most give thanks for are two.

First comes the big last Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960, which I can’t play, but the poignant and haunting beginning of which – to say nothing of the rest of the sonata  — is especially moving and memorable as performed by Alfred Brendel in his “Farewell Concert” for Decca recording and by Murray Perahia in a Sony Classical set of the last three piano sonatas.

Second comes the miniature “Allegretto” in C Minor, D. 915, also a very late and intimately bittersweet work, which I can play, and which I enjoy as performed by Paul Lewis (on Harmonium Mundi, below) and Maurizio Pollini (on Deutsche Grammophon).

I find Schubert’s warmth and sense of empathy so very touching. His sublime melodies, his sudden major-minor harmony shifts, his sense of accessible counterpoint, his blending of joy and tragedy -– they all are irresistible. Schubert’s music contains worlds, and reassuring worlds at a time when I need to be reassured, and at a time when I also think the world needs to be reassured.

And there is so much music to choose from: the hundreds of fabulous songs and song cycles; the late string quartets, the otherworldly String Quintet, the Octet and the “Trout” Quintet; the Sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for solo piano.


In a similar way, famed New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) touched on this same theme in a “Musical Moments” column that he published last week and in which he talked about longtime favorite passages or moments in music by Chopin, Wagner, Puccini and Stravinsky. He even coupled his thoughts to short audio-visual clips he made especially to accompany the column.

You should read and listen to the column, plus pay attention to the more than 600 reader comments:

And here are links to the short videos that he did to go with his column:

And just as Anthony Tommasini asked you for your favorite moments, I am also asking you to leave something in the COMMENT section with the name of the composer or piece of music for which you are most giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

Let me know what they are.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Classical music: Live music-making for the holidays starts this Thursday and this weekend with the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

November 21, 2012
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AN APOLOGY to My Readers and Subscribers: My Internet service was down more than a day, and so many of you downloaded a repeat of Tuesday’s blog post because I could not launch this one. And there should be another post up as of midnight tonight for Thanksgiving Day.

By Jacob Stockinger

After Thanksgiving, we start the headlong rush into the holidays – which inevitably and happily includes music.

As in past years, The Ear will restrict himself to offering detailed stories about classical music – says, Handel’s “Messiah” or J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or concerti grossi by Corelli and Vivaldi, or Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Hodie” or choral works by any number of composers, classical and contemporary.

But even many of the classical groups in the area mix classics with pops and other holiday-appropriate music. And even when the music is not strictly classical, the quality of the music making is usually very high.

If you doubt that, just look at the names of some of the groups, which include the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (now playing as the Wisconsin Pops), the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among many others.

Plus, one shouldn’t forget that popular holiday concerts help offset the costs of the more classical fare during the rest of the season.

Also as I do every year, I will offer the observation that for the next month or six weeks, music-making will shift for the most part from the concert hall to places of worship, to private homes and to other social institutions such as hospitals, retirement centers and the like.

Although I won’t go into details about holiday music except when it is classical music, that doesn’t mean I can’t be helpful. So I will provide some general details and offer links.

So if your idea of holiday cheer goes beyond the commercialism, hoopla and shopping frenzies of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday, consider the following:


At 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on this Friday at Oakwood Village West auditorium, 6201 Mineral Point road, the very talented and under-appreciated, low profile Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will be joined by the acclaimed Celtic music vocal quartet, Navan.

These concerts are same popular “Christmas Lights” concert that the Oakwood Chamber Players, who offer some of the most interesting chamber music programs in the area, offer every year and which usually sell out.

“A Celtic Christmas: Christmas Lights” will feature a mix of vocal and instrumental music as the groups perform creative interpretations of familiar music that is spirited and expressive of the holiday season.

Navan singers Amy Curl, Sheila Shigley, Paul Gorman and Elizabeth Simcock have studied the Celtic language, traditions and culture and will intersperse colorful stories throughout the performance.

The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform instrumental arrangements drawn from both traditional and Celtic holiday music.

Navan is a nationally recognized vocal ensemble that has recorded several CDs and has been featured on Boston Public Television WGBH’s “A Celtic Christmas Sojourn” singing seasonal music.(Hear Navan at bottom.)

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.

Tickets are available at the door. General admission is $20; $15 for seniors; and $5 for students. Visit and for more information and for an audio/visual clip of Navan (below).

Here are some program notes by flute player Marilyn Chohaney:

“They members of Navan are scholarly in their research of the origins of their songs and sing in the native Celtic languages.  I had no idea of the diversity of the languages of the British Isles!  For example, the Noel Nouvelet that we’ve “sound-smithed” for our sample, is sung in Breton (Ni Ho Salud, The Greeting).

“Our arrangement was created for us by John Stevens, of UW-Madison. Navan will be also singing in Welsh (Ar Hyd y Nos: All Through the Night), Irish (Airdi Chuain: traditional Irish lament), and Scottish (“Mouth Music” songs for dancing), some songs a Capella and some with us.

The concert will open with “Amhran Oiche’ Mhaith,” “The Night Song,” a traditional Manx Christmas Eve Carol in our own arrangement with Navan.

There will be purely instrumental music played by the Oakwood Chamber Players, such as woodwind trios by Turlough O’Carolan the famous blind Irish harpist and our arrangement for chamber group of Ralph Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on Greensleeves.”

There will be stories told about the music heard to help us all engage in songs sung in foreign languages.  We feel the concert will be a true celebration of winter and the Christmas Holiday.”

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation, in collaboration with Friends of the Arboretum, Inc.


At the Madison Marriott West, near the West Beltline, on this Saturday at 8 p.m. and then on Sunday at 1 p.m., the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, playing as the Wisconsin Pops under conductor Andrew Sewell (below top) will team up with guest singer Aaron Thompson (below middle), who recently moved from Gilbert, Arizona, to Madison to become the Director of Music Ministries for St. Thomas Aquinas Church, and the Middleton High School Choir (below bottom) for its annual Middleton Holiday Pops concerts.

General admission for adults is $19-$25; for seniors $16-$22; and for students and young people $10-$15. Call 608 258-4141 or visit for more information, including group reservations for entire tables and meal options.

Audiences will hear some old favorites and new favorites in “A Christmas Sampler” that includes selections from “The Nutcracker,” “Christmas on Broadway,” “Wassail Dances” and a medley of well-known carols. And listeners can clap to the traditional encore, “Sleigh Ride!”

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