The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The bigger concert hall doesn’t necessarily have the better music. | November 2, 2012

ALERT: On Saturday night ay 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, UW bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill, with modern and baroque bassoons) will perform a FREE concert on the University of Wisconsin School of Music Faculty Concert Series. The program will feature a variety of works by Georg Philipp Telemann; “Récit et Allegro “by Noël-Gallon; “Stick” by UW composer by Stephen Dembski; “Chamber Concerto for Bassoon and Strings” by David Dies and a selection of John Coltrane songs.

By Jacob Stockinger

This is A Tale of Two Concert Halls.

One is Mills Hall (below), the largest concert hall at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. It has a capacity of about 700.

The second is the smaller Morphy Recital Hall, which is right across from Mills. It has a capacity of about 170.

Mills is usually where the Faculty Concert Series takes place; where the UW Symphony Orchestra and Chamber orchestra take place; where the Choral Union and other large groups take place.

I know Mills mostly from smaller events such as student recitals, master classes and the annual concert by the winners of Beethoven Sonata Competition.

But last Thursday night, Oct. 25, provided a wonderful example of how you cannot and should not use the size of the hall to judge the quality of the music.

Most people in line were waiting to get into a flute recital that featured Stephanie Jutt with acclaimed pianist Christopher Taylor and cellist Trace Johnson. That was in Mills Hall and turned out to be, I have no doubt, a memorable concert.

But The Ear was going to the warm and woody Morphy Hall to hear a concert that was advertised simply as an appearance by the soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine and keyboardist-composer Scott Gendel.

That concert turned out to be so much more than was advertised.

Despite the comparatively small, though enthusiastic, attendance (below) and empty seats, the concert proved to be a perfect Homecoming event.

In addition to Guarrine and Gendel, who were classmates and graduated from the UW School of Music in 2005, we heard Guarrine’s husband Karl Knapp (below, who studied with UW professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp)

These two distinguished and talented alumni, who have gone on to big careers as singer and composer, were also joined in Baroque music by UW oboist Marc Fink, Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and UW trumpeter John Aley (see the three below).

In perhaps the most touching moment, her teacher of 12 years, UW tenor James Doing, joined Guarrine on stage for a warm and touching Nocturne by Donizetti.

So it was indeed a reunion in so many ways. As I said: A perfect event for Homecoming.

Other things only added to the concert.

The Baroque arias by Handel, Bach and Alessandro Scarlatti were wonderful – light, transparent, lyrical and soulful. Guarrine’s singing of bel canto from Donizetti and Bellini was admirable. And she sang two lovely songs by Gendel, who talked a bit about his music.

Imagine: A voice concert with no Mozart, no Schumann or Brahms, no Puccini or Verdi. But I did hear two beautiful songs (one is at the bottom) by the neo-Romantic Italian composer Stefano Donaudy (1880-1941, incorrectly identified on the program as his poet brother Alberto, whom I had never even heard of. I’ll have to check him out, and so should you. (See the YouTube video at bottom.)

As for Guarrine, who has sung locally with the University Opera and the Madison Opera as well as the Santa Fe Opera, the Minnesota Opera and many others, she is a voice to continue to watch as her career will no doubt continue to blossom. Her pitch is impeccable, her tone is beautiful and her diction is excellent. She has stage presence.

And she has power to spare. Gendel, who not only an award-winning composer but also a professional opera rehearsal pianist and vocal coach played difficult piano parts powerfully. His playing is not shy or timid. But Guarrine was never drowned out. She easily held her own and then some in great balance.

And as an encore for the standing ovation she received, she  delighted the audience with one of Harvard math professor Tom Lehrer’s old but enduringly naughty ditty “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”

As I recently wrote, the UW School of Music really is attracting more and more talented students with better and better performances as a result:

Here are links to individual websites that will convince you.

First, through her agent, for Jamie-Rose Guarrine:

Then for Scott Gendel:

No doubt I will see and you will see me many more time this semester in Mills Hall.

But I also expect you will see me more than usual in Morphy Hall. I hope to see you there.


  1. How about the well-tempered ear providing us with a Video clip every day -of musicians who deserve hearing and are not necessarily familiar to the readers. You have done good thus far. But we like ‘more’.


    Comment by hi2len — November 2, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

    • Hi Len,
      I do try to do that sometimes.
      But since I often do previews or reviews of local events and guest performers, the videos should be more tied to the event. Or so it seems to me.
      But I will try to put in links for more videos of deserving and perhaps unknown composers and performers.
      And feel free to leave suggestions with links, in the comment section.
      Thank you for writing and for expressing your interest.
      I want to to please my readers, and your remarks help.


      Comment by welltemperedear — November 3, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

  2. As I wrote in a previous posting, the UW Music School is trying to turn out players and career performers, not teachers. It seems to be working.


    Comment by Michael BB — November 2, 2012 @ 8:49 am

    • We turn out great teachers as well. It all depends upon what each student’s goals are. We love to teach future music educators, but when a kid has a burning desire to perform we prepare them for that. Jamie-Rose has her undergraduate Music ED degree from Illinois Wesleyan and her MM and DMA in performance from us so she’s a double threat!


      Comment by James Doing — November 3, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

      • Hi James,
        Well said and well done.
        Sounds like the UW School of Music has its priorities exactly right — which is to say, following the individual student’s priorities and talents.
        And thank you too for the lovely Nocturne duet by Donizetti you sang so beautifully with Jamie-Rose your former student.
        Cheers to you both!


        Comment by welltemperedear — November 4, 2012 @ 9:54 am

      • One can get a teaching certificate anywhere in the UW System, as it was founded as a land-grant system to promote agriculture and the teaching profession.
        My point is that the Madison flagship campus is trying to shift their main focus away from training teachers and towards training higher-profile performers, and practising professionals. This makes the teacher training that might happen at UW Madison all the more valuable, and raises the level of students the campus might attract.
        I am sure that all the faculty at UW-Madison Music are aware of this concept, since it has been brewing for some 15 years.
        It will help the fund-raising efforts to build a new building with better performance spaces if there are lots of new and high-quality performance students appearing on the national and international scene from Madison. These remarks are not made as criticism, but as an acknowledgement of the facts on the ground, so to speak.


        Comment by Michael BB — November 4, 2012 @ 10:30 am

      • If U of Wisc. is targeting performance over teaching (Edu. degree), it seems to be one of the few major U’s. with this goal -like Peabody, eastman, ..


        Comment by hi2len — November 4, 2012 @ 11:46 am

      • Indiana, Oberlin, New England, Berklee, of course the NYC schools, major flagship campuses in most state systems, like Berkeley, UCLA, USC, etc. must all have this kind of desire for a higher profile for their graduates. hi2len, my information comes from well-placed former faculty and current faculty and administration that have been instrumental , no pun intended, although I’ll take it, in formulating and executing this shift in focus.
        It surely does not mean that teaching degree candidates will become scarce at UW-Madison. It DOES mean that, for your 3 grand+plus a semester tuition, you might want to be onstage instead of in the classroom when you graduate. It makes donors happy to see their money funding the careers of performers they can actually go to hear. Teaching teahers is not glamourous or high-profile, and the Arts institutions are struggling against each other for funding. The bigger the bubbles, the louder the fizz.


        Comment by Michael BB — November 4, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

      • with that being said, Michael, let’s consider the singularly most important fact; as evidenced by [1] a very large number of talented ……..NO, No, NO…..I mean super-talented graduates from music schools and conservatories, [and with the best agents]…….[2] resulting in earnings lower than Medical, or Science, or 90,00+ Business annual….a QUOTE TO REMEMBER “- It’s better to make your own mistakes than to copy someone else’s.”
        Vladimir Horowitz


        Comment by hi2len — November 4, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

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