The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is Musician of the Year for 2012.

December 31, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Right now we are in the midst of the chilly and snowy month-long, mid-season intermission that comes during the regular fall-winter schedule for classical music.

So the memories of last summer’s concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society are all the more welcome and warming.

There are so many things to single out. I especially love their advocacy of little-known chamber versions of Haydn’s symphonies; I always look forward to their premiering of new music; and I treasure their high-octane readings of such beloved masterworks as Brahms’ Piano Quintet and Schubert’s Cello Quintet.

BDDS Stravinsky

Let us recall that last year marked BDDS’ 21st anniversary, the Coming of Age of the eclectic and reliable chamber music group that boasts of providing “Chamber Music With a Bang!”

It is not an idle boast. BDDS makes good on its promises – in every way you can think of and in quite a few ways you probably wouldn’t think of.

Even as so many other newer and younger groups are trying to innovate in untraditional ways and untraditional venues in the hopes of drumming up new and younger audiences for classical music -– groups like Classical Music Revolution and NEW MUSE (New Music Everywhere) – BDDS has been trying to achieve the very same goal for 21 years now. And they do it successfully — selling well, as the crowd below in the Overture Center’s Playhouse clearly shows.

BDDS Playhouse audience

This June 14-30 they will do it again, for the 22nd season. The theme is “Deuces Are Wild!” — no doubt because of the two two’s. That probably means we will get to hear many duets, quartets and other multiples of two. Trust me, you can expect to like whatever they decide to do.

Here is a link to the BDDS site where you can find more information, profiles, reviews, biographies and background as well as recordings:

Still young at heart and rebellious, BDDS nonetheless has a history, a long and distinguished record, that the principals can be very proud of.

Co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt (below left, who teaches at the UW-Madison) and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below right, who trained at the UW-Madison and now teaches in San Francisco) have consistently put together memorable seasons.


And it even seems to The Ear that BDDS has only gotten better with age. It is now a local musical resource every bit as valuable and important as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet and the Madison Early Music Festival, to take just a few prominent examples.

BDDS concerts have always been fun. But I find them even more fun now, especially since there is more music and less shtick. And all the ambition in the world wouldn’t help if they couldn’t deliver the musical goods – which they do in unfailing abundance and quality.

The typical BDDS concert series includes an umbrella theme that leads to both standard classics and neglected works, all done in first-rate performances.

It has programs and publicity filled with puns.

It has photo exhibits by Dick Ainsworth.

It has entertaining Mystery Guests. (Below is retired UW-Madison opera professor Karlos Moser as J.S. Bach.)

BDDS Karlos Moser as Bach

It has wonderfully creative and appropriate stage installations (below), done on a shoestring budget by local artists.

BDDS set white

It has door prizes, some of them quite inventive and original, and to audience participation.

It has readings of poetry, letters and novels.

It takes chamber music to such diverse places as the Overture Center in downtown Madison; to the historical and restored Stoughton Opera House; and to the landmark Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below).


It offers to audiences the chance to hear great musicians from the Madison area, but also important performing artists from New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities.

Last summer’s season even led to a BDDS appearance on Wisconsin Public Television when it performed Couperin, Haydn and Schubert in the renovated Stoughton Opera House (below) as was part of WPT’s “Jewel Box: concert series that took place in historic theaters. As far as I know it, it was a first for WPT, for BDDS and for classical music in the area. (Check out the preview at the bottom.)

BDDS Schubert Quintet

And because BDDS turned 21, they offered patrons a chance to have cocktails, chosen with a theme to match the musical program of the night, at intermission.

It all takes a lot of planning, practicing and plain old hard work from Jutt and Sykes and other performers, as well as executive directive director Samantha Crownover and the many support staffers and financial backers.

But all of BDDS’ efforts have paid off consistently, with first-rate chamber music that offers the whole integrated arts package, as Richard Wagner’s famous cooperative opera aesthetic put it.

That is why you should hear and know and support, BDDS if you haven’t already done so.

And that is also why Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is this year’s Musician of the Year.

Classical music: Are you ready for the “New Year’s Day From Vienna” concert on radio and TV on Tuesday. Waltz meister Andre Rieu discusses the allure of the dance that made him famous –- and the dance we greet the New Year with.

December 30, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear suspects that many of this blog’s readers don’t take Waltz Meister Andre Rieu (below) very seriously as a classical musician. And you can understand why, given all the shmalz, schlock and PBS fundraisers he is known for.

Andre Rieu

Yet the indisputable fact remains that Andre Rieu — a violinist, conductor and audience-friendly, Lawrence Welk-like showman extraordinaire — is an extremely popular and gifted musician, one of today’s heirs of Johann Strauss.

And there is no denying the classical status of the waltz, a dance that was often used by Carl Maria von Weber, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and so many other major classical composers. And the list grows enormously if you add other dance forms that are close to the waltz in its peasant origins and then in its morphing into an aristocratic dance form, probably perfected in Vienna (below).

Waltzing in Vienna 1

And let’s not forget the news peg.

This week, on Tuesday, we celebrate the New Year – the coming of 2013.

That means another audience favorite, that compilation of classical pop hits known as “New Year’s Day From Vienna: 2013” that will air again on National Public Radio (and Wisconsin Public Radio) on Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. CST; and then again on PBS TV (and Wisconsin Public Television) on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

This year’s version of the famous concert celebration that started in 1939 once again features the Vienna Philharmonic playing in its home, the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna (below).

Golden Hall in Vienna

The guest conductor this year is Austrian-born Franz Welser-Most (below top), the controversial maestro who heads the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. The TV host again is Julie Andrews (below bottom).

Franz Welser Most

Julie Andrews 3

Here is a link with more information including a play list that includes not only the Strauss family (Josef, Johann Sr. and Johann Jr.) but also von Suppe, Verdi and Wagner. 2013 marks the bicentennials of Verdi and Wagner.

Here is a link to the radio broadcast notes:

And here is a link to the TV broadcast notes:’s-celebration-2013/about-the-concert/1478/

And here is Andre Rieu on the power of the many waltzes that will once again captivate a huge worldwide audience:

Classical music: The Ear says goodbye and “Rest in Peace” to 22 prominent classical musicians who died in 2012.

December 29, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the sad duties of ushering in the New Year is saying goodbye to the old year and especially to the people we loved or respected who died last year. (A couple of days remain in 2012, but we can hope no other prominent clasiscal musicians pass away.)

When it comes to classical music, I can’t think of better round up of the classical musicians we lost than the one that was posted this past week by the famed New York City-based all-classical radio station WQXR. (Much of its programming can be streamed live in real time, including its annual end-of-the-year Classical Countdown through this weekend until midnight on New Year’s Eve that includes 105 audience favorites. Check its home page

Not only does the WQXR obituaries offer fine portraits of the musicians, they also give their ages as well as a capsule summary of their careers with particular points of distinction.

Some of the names, from all genres, are all too familiar: baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below); composers Elliott Carter and Dave Brubeck; pianist Alexis Weissenberg and pianist-writer Charles Rosen, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (at bottom, singing Villa-Lobos). But there are many more who were also distinguished and who will be missed.

dietrich fischer-dieskau at height

Here is a link:!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2012/dec/26/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2012-slideshow/slideshow/

Let us keep them in our memory and be thankful for the music and beauty they brought into this world, which so sorely needs that beauty.

If you know of someone who was left our,  please leave some remark or remembrance in the COMMENT section.

May the departed rest is peace as we greet 2013.

Classical music: Here is New Yorker magazine critic Alex Ross’ list of the Top 10 classical recordings, books and movie scores of 2012.

December 28, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker magazine is perhaps the best-known and most highly respected classical music critic in the US, rivaled only by Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times.

Ross, who has won major awards for his books “The Rest Is Noise” and “Listen to This,” writes a great blog and is regularly featured in the New Yorker magazine.

Alex Ross 2

Here is a link to his enjoyable and informative blog:

In the New Yorker, as he usually does, Ross recently listed his top 10 recordings – along with a top book and a top video – of 2012 along with his Top 10 Live Performances. Although he is a strong advocate for new music, Ross also lists a generous share of new recordings of Josqjin, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, SchubertWagner  and other “standard” classical composers. And perhaps even more surprisingly, his choice of Bach is a “Saint Matthew Passion” performed NOT by an early music group but by the venerable Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle and bad-boy avant-garde director Peter Sellars (a clip is at the at bottom).

Ross’ list also includes some audio sampling or excerpts of his various selections, including royal queenly arias sung by Joyce DiDonato.

As we come into another post-holiday weekend, when you might want to use the gift cards or cash you received for the holidays, it seemed like a good list to add Ross’ list to my other holiday gift guides.

So here is a link to Ross choices:

jeremy denk ligeti-beethoven CD

The First Four Notes coverAnd here are the other gift guides I have listed on this blog in the past month. They range from the Classical music nominations for the Grammys to best pick by critics of the New York Times.

Here are links to those postings:


(Below is a collage by photographer Tony Cenicola of the New York Times of favorite recordings of 2012 as picked by critics for The New York Times.)

NY Tmes best of 2012 1 Tony Cenicola

Please leave your own suggestions n the COMMENTS section, especially by genre (chamber music, opera, symphony, solo piano) and by artist plus composer and work. It would also be good to know to know why you like it and why you recommend it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: You must hear this — Ernest Chausson’s “Piece,” Op. 39, for cello and piano, which is both beautiful and unknown.

December 27, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Whew! Except for New Year’s and Kwanzaa, which stay lay ahead of us, most of the holidays are behind us. That means a lot of crazed holiday shopping, cooking and entertaining is also behind us.

So how about a Time Out? You know, a brief intermezzo – some kind of respite just for the fun and restorative pleasure of it.

So today what I offer is simply some pleasure for your ears.

Here is a beautiful piece of music I stumbled across, thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio.

It is the Piece for Cello and Piano, Op. 39, written by the French composer Ernest Chausson (below) in 1897. I didn’t know it or recognize it. But I found it lovely, one of those lyrically quiet French works, like so much of Faure’s music, which got largely drowned out or overshadowed by the more dramatic and large-scale late-19th century German and Russian composers, but which nonetheless merits a much wider hearing and more performances. It also sounds like a good piece for cello students performing at an intermediate or perhaps higher level.

Ernest Chausson

Yet it remains a rarity. I even asked a young, well-known touring professional cellist about it. But the cellist had never heard of it. And a lot of Chausson — including his Violin Concerto, his Concerto for Violin and Cello, his chamber Concert for Violin, Piano; and String Quartet (one of more frequently heard works); a piano Trio; a Symphony in B-Flat; and various songs and salon pieces –seems to  fly too far under the radar these days.

But Parry Karp (below), the veteran cellist of the Pro Arte String Quartet for almost 40 years who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and who knows the cello repertoire better than anyone else I know, knew the piece immediately when I mentioned it. In fact, he told me, he had recorded it.

Parry Karp

Should you like to get a hold of that,  you can hear Parry Karp performing it beautifully with Jeffrey Sykes, the UW-trained, San Francisco –based pianist who is the co-founder and co-artistic director of Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The performance is on the second CD, Volume 2, of the “Postcards from Madison” album that you can get either separately as Volume 2 or as part of a 2-CD set.  Below is the appropriate album art, a painting of Madison area landscape by the famous American Regionalist artist John Steuart Curry, who served as the first artist-in-residence at the UW-Madison.  (There are a couple of other recordings of the Chausson I found on , but surprisingly few.)

Postcards From Madison Vol. 2

The recording is available from the UW School of Music’s on-line CD store and also from

Here are links.

First, to the UW School of Music’s on-line store:

Then to the amazon listing (so far with no reviewer comments or ratings, so you can be the first):

Finally, here is the best performance of the piece I found on YouTube, though a good video is sadly lacking.

I hope you too enjoy it and find it restful or even soothing after the hectic days on the Shopping Season between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.

Let me know what you think of it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Got a holiday gift card or Christmas cash to spend? Here are the choice picks of classical music in 2012 by the New York Times – with an emphasis on new artists, niche labels and smaller name performers.

December 26, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

So, did you get a gift card for the holidays?

Perhaps some extra cash to spend?

Earlier, I offered several holiday gift-giving guides, including a list from The New York Times music critics that listed CDs, DVDs and books that represented the Best of 2012.


Here is a link to that posting and to the other gift guides that appeared here:

But it turns out that was only the first installment, a down payment, if you will from The New York Times.

Here are many more recordings by such fine Ne wyork Tikes critics as Anthony Tommasini, Vivien Schweitzer, Zachery Woolfe, Corinna da Fonseca-Wolheim and James Oestreich (whose choices were absent from the previous list, as I recall.)

The choices cover virtually all genres of music – symphony orchestra, opera, solo piano and solo violin, vocal and choral, chamber music. (All photos below are by Tony Cenicola for The New York Times.)

NY Tmes best of 2012 1 Tony Cenicola

I myself haven’t heard all of them. But I have heard many of them –- recordings by pianist David Greilsammer, violinist Jennifer Koh, pianist Inon Barnatan, pianist Andras Schiff, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan — and I heartily concur with the choices. I don’t think you can go wrong.

NY Tmes Best of 2012  2 Tony Cenicola

And if you want to sample some of the, you can always go to and see the website offers samplings from certain tracks. Plus, you can see the number of stars form buyers as well as comments or mini-reviews from others who bought the recordings and listened to it.

NY TImes Best of 2012 3 Tony Cenicola

Here is a link to round-up by the critics of The New York Times:

Classical music: Merry Christmas from a garbage dump in Paraguay! It’s a gift from The Ear. Look, listen and enjoy – then realize how good we have it, and how saving and redeeming making music can be.

December 25, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day.

Over the past several weeks, I have offered many postings about possible holiday gifts.

Now it is my turn to give you a gift.

Merry Christmas 1

It comes by way of one of The Ear’s oldest and most loyal friends and fellow music-maker.

It is also a very moving short video that shows us al how much we all have to be grateful for, and how redemptive and how saving making music can be.

I hope it adds as much to your holiday season as it did to mine.

If so, let me know what you think in the COMMENT section.

And please pass it along as a gift to others. No one I know who has received has been disappointed.

In fact, I already know that one professor will be using it for an Environmental Studies class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

So, Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And Happy Holidays to you all.

May peace, joy and beauty reign in the coming year and years.

And thank you for coming to The Well-Tempered Ear.


The Ear

Here is a lead-in story or backgrounder, as they say, from NPR:

And here is the actual gift:

Classical music: Hallelujah for Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” So, what makes it great? Why and how does it work its magic? NPR answers those questions and more. Plus, you can listen to two versions — both Andre Rieu and a flash mob — of the great chorus.

December 24, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger


It is just about impossible to imagine the holiday season without the “Hallelujah Chorus” by Handel (below), which has been a powerful and popular hit since it was first composed and performed.

handel big 2

This year will be no different.

The ‘Hallelujah Chorus” will be sung and listened to countless times in the coming day in private  homes, in houses of worship, in social institutions, even as a joyous food court flash mob proves (below), a video that has had over 40 million hits — so pass it on as a holiday gift!

But what is its hold on us and where does the hold come from?

NPR’s excellent classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” re-posts a “Performance Today” talk from 2008 in which Rob Kapilow answers those questions as part of an ongoing occasional series, “What Makes It Great?”

Now, some families observe the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve, and other open the presents on Christmas Day.

The Ear will do both for you.

So here is my Christmas Eve present – a close look at and listen to Georg Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” perhaps the most popular piece of classical music ever written for the holidays. (There will be another present to open on Christmas Day.)

Here it is:

What do you think makes the “Hallelujah Chorus” so great to sing and to listen to?

Happy singing! Happy listening (to the up tempo version below led by Andre Rieu that has had over 2 million hits)! And Merry Christmas!

Classical music: Is it a Christmas miracle? Monastic chant outsells “Fifty Shades of Grey” music compilation as well as Taylor Swift and Alicia Keyes as Benedictine nuns from Kentucky top Billboard’s Classical Traditional chart for one whole month with “Advent at Ephesus.” Hear the NPR interview with the head sister Mother Cecilia and selections on public radio stations on Christmas Day. Plus, listen to different version;s of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” this afternoon on Wisconsin Public Radio.

December 23, 2012

ALERT: Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt, an accomplished professional violist who plays both baroque and modern viola, will do something The Ear loves to hear; a comparative listening session that samples different interpretations of a great work. Today from 2 to 4 p.m. on WPR (88.7 FM in the Madison area), Fisher Hoyt will sample six different versions of J.S Bach‘s magnificent “Christmas Oratorio” — The Ear’s favorite holiday choral work that too often gets overlooked in favor of Handel’s “Messiah.” I say: Thank You, Marika, and Tune in, listeners, as part of a Happy Holiday!


By Jacob Stockinger

Still looking for a last-minute music gift for the holidays? You might consider the following unusual item, which comes to The Ear thanks to the publicist at Decca Records and which seems to mark a renewed interest in medieval chant that also swept the US in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dec. 19, 2012 – (New York, NY) — The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Missouri continue their reign at the top of Billboard magazine’s Classical Traditional Chart for the fourth straight week in a row, holding the No. 1 position heading into the Christmas holiday with their recording, “Advent at Ephesus.”

Advent At Ephesus CD cover

American Public Media’s “Performance Today” calls “Advent at Ephesus” “remarkable,” and has featured the recording twice on their program in December, with additional music airing on Christmas Day.  Hailed as one of America’s most popular classical music radio programs, the show has more than 1.3 million weekly listeners, and is heard on more than 260 stations around the country. To find stations carrying the program click here:

People Magazine recently featured the Nuns on their “People Pinboard” page which highlights “celebrity news, photos and trends” in their Dec. 17th issue, noting that “Advent for Ephesus” “outsells the “Fifty Shades of Grey” classical anthology (below) that author EL James listened to while writing the bestselling trilogy. Can it really be true that God outsells sex — at least at Christmas?

Fifty Shades of Grey CD

The Salt Lake Tribune says the disc is “divinely beautiful,” while The St. Louis Post-Dispatch aptly notes the album is “quietly cutting through the blare and noise of commercial Christmas” and “an ideal remedy for jingle-itis.”

Mother Cecilia of the Benedictines of Mary was also recently featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” following their No 1 debut, making waves across the Internet and resulting in their record shooting to the Top 5 of both Barnes & and rankings, ahead of such superstars as Taylor Swift, One Direction, Katy Perry and Alicia Keys.

To hear the “All Things Considered” story, click here:

nuns CD benedictined

“ADVENT AT EPHESUS” features 16 tracks including traditional English and Latin hymns, polyphony, Gregorian chants, medieval harmonies, and one original work from the sisters themselves.  The record represents a rare and often forgotten approach — one that focuses on music celebrating the quiet, introspective anticipation of the Nativity that is the foundation of the Advent season, celebrating the four preceding Sundays leading up to Christmas.

nuns singing ephsus

Founded in 1995 and hailing from Missouri, the sisters are young, contemplative and extremely musical.  They do not set foot beyond their Northwest rolling farmland, focusing solely on living an austere, yet joyful life set apart from the world.  Working on their farm and mostly living off the land, they sing together eight times a day as part of their daily monastic schedule, lifting their hearts to God through music.

Classical music: New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini revisits favorite moments in music for him – and the moments by Puccini, Debussy and Brahms submitted by readers.

December 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that several weeks ago, The New York Times‘ senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) wrote at length about some of his favorite moments in music. They are small moments from Chopin and other composers that he sometime heard as a child or young man, moments that have lasted him a lifetime. They still move him.


(You might remember that the articulate and droll Tommasini also came to speak in Madison last season at the Wisconsin Union Theater and in Mills Hall –- a photo is below with Tommasini on the right, composer William Bolcom on the left and UW pianist Todd Welbourne in the middle as a moderator — as part of the Pro Arte Quartet Centennial celebration at the University of Wisconsin.)

William Bolcom, Todd Welbourne, Anthony Tommasini

You may also recall that, in addition to the story about musical moments, Tommasini, a composer and Yale-trained pianist, posted four short videos explaining how and why those favorite moments work.  

Here is the original story, which I posted on Thanksgiving Day, and also links to the four videos:

Then just a few days ago, Tommasini answered reader responses and wrote a follow-up story, after his first story and the first four short videos he did. He used reader responses to speak of other favorite moments and post some other clips about the pieces:

Part 5: “La Boheme” by Puccini (below);

puccini at piano

Part 6: “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy (below, the slow movement from his “Suite Bergamasque”:

Claude Debussy 1

Part 7: “Intermezzzo” for solo piano in E-flat Major, Op. 117, No. 1, by Brahms:


Are there special moments in music that resonate with you? Please leave their titles and composers in the COMMENT section here and maybe also on Tommasini’s blog posting.

Who knows? He might use your suggestions for the next installment.


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