The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “Grace Presents” an all-Brahms program — with two violin sonatas plus the “FAE” Scherzo — in a FREE concert this Saturday at noon at Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square.

January 31, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Grace Presents” – a FREE and PUBLIC alternative concert series at downtown Grace Episcopal Church (below is the exterior) — started its spring season a couple of weeks ago. Here is a link to that post with background and information about that first concert:

grace episcopal church ext

This Saturday, Feb. 2, at noon will see the second concert of the “Grace Presents” spring series.

“All About Brahms” features two (Nos. 1 and 2)  of the three sonatas for violin and piano composed by Johannes Brahms (below). The sonatas are nothing short of sublime to me, as you can judge for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy in my favorite classic recording of the three Brahms sonatas.

Plus, the Grace Presents concert concludes with a separate Scherzo movement with opus number (WoO) Brahms composed for the same instruments as part of a collaborative “FAE” Sonata done with Robert Schumann and a Schumann student as a gift for the violinist Joseph Joachim.


The local performers are violinist Laura Burns and pianist Jess Salek.

All concerts in the “Grace Presents” series are open to all ages. 

Plus The Ear find the acoustics of the historic church, a church that also is acclaimed for its helping the homeless, are very good indeed (below in a photo of Grace’s interior).

grace episcopal church inter

In fact, the Spring Series of concerts o “Grace Presents” is dedicated to the memory of Steve Smith (below), who was a musician, educator and “passionate advocate” for those served by the Grace Church Food Pantry and the residents of Haiti.

Steve Smith

Saturday’s all-Brahms program is:

Sonata No. 1 for Piano and Violin in G Major, Op. 78: I: Vivace ma non troppo; II: Adagio; III: Allegro molto moderato

Sonata No. 2 for Piano and Violin in A Major, op. 100: I: Allegro amabile; II: Andante tranquillo; III: Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante)

Scherzo in c minor WoO  (Work without Opus) 2


Laura Burns (below), violin, is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, where she also performs with the Rhapsodie String Quartet.  This is part of the Madison Symphony’s Heartstrings initiative that brings live music to individuals with disabilities.

Burns performs regularly with the Fresco Opera Theater, Oakwood Chamber Players, Oshkosh Symphony and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. This past summer included performances at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. In addition to performing, Laura teaches violin at Edgewood College and maintains a private violin studio in Oregon, Wisconsin. She serves as president of the Independent String Teachers of Madison and was recently elected president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American String Teachers Association.

Burns holds a master of music degree in violin performance (2007) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied with the Pro Ate String Quartet’s first violinist David Perry.

laura burns color face shot

Jess Salek (below), a Wisconsin native, holds degrees in piano performance from Lawrence University and State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he studied with Catherine Kautsky and Christina Dahl. He is completing Doctoral Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, at Madison where studied with Howard Karp and Christopher Taylor.

Jess Salek has served on the teaching faculty of Interlochen Arts Academy and Prairie Music Academy. He also has served as adjudicator at music festivals and concerto competitions throughout Wisconsin.
He is theowner of Salek Piano Studio, Inc., a diverse studio of over 30 piano and music theory students.

An active and passionate performer, Salek has been featured in solo recital at Viroqua’s Syttende Mai festival and at Farley’s House of Pianos in Madison.
He works as substitute keyboardist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for Concerts on the Square. He also is accompanist for Madison Youth Choir.
He also is Music Director of Madison’s Fresco Opera Theatre, helping to create a whole new generation of opera lovers.

Jess Salek most recently founded the Mosaic Chamber Players, a group of local professional musicians dedicated to bringing chamber music to Madison.

Jess Salek  big BW

Classical music: Classical music host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM community radio in Madison wants to record and then broadcast recordings by local performers to mark J.S. Bach’s birthday on March 21, 2013.

January 30, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention professional and amateur musicians! Attention teachers and students, both private and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College!

Here is some news that The Ear thinks is so good and so welcome, you will probably want to forward it, link to it, Facebook and Twitter it.

You might remember that this year there will be no “Bach Around the Clock” from Wisconsin Public Radio, as The Ear announced in an earlier blog post:

But here is something of a substitute, or at least an addendum or supplement, to that event to celebrate the great Johann Sebastian (below).


It is an urgent but polite request, a direct solicitation from radio host Rich Samuels (below), who writes:

Rich Samuels

I’m preparing a special Bach’s Birthday edition of the Thursday 5-8 a.m. classical music program I host on WORT 89.9 FM, which will air, of course, on March 21. (WORT’s headquarters at 118 South Bedford Street in Madison is pictured below.)

WORT FM 89.9

“I’m hoping to include pre-recorded segments featuring performances by local Bach lovers. (I have the capability to make broadcast-quality recordings in the field).

“If you know of anyone who would like to participate in this joint effort, please let me know.”

Rich Samuels, WORT, 118 South Bedford Street, Madison WI 53703

WORT logo

Here is more contact information:

By way of details, Samuels adds:

“You can mention my effort whenever you wish. I’d like to get the recordings made in February. Of course, I have no idea how many people want to participate in this effort.

Participants will have to provide their own instruments, page-turners and performances spaces (but they are probably clever enough, in the case of keyboard artists, to have access, somewhere, to a well-tuned piano or harpsichord).

It’s probably best for people to contact me via this email address, so we can work out times and places.

My goal since I began hosting this show a couple of years ago is to feature local performers as much as possible.

rich samuels 2

And here is a link to an interesting story about Rich Samuels, who used to be a TV reporter in Chicago, and his new life in Madison:

Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players explores “The Americas” – with music by Dvorak, Morten Lauridsen, Amy Beach, Ignacio Cervantes and Paquito D’Rivera — this coming Saturday and Sunday.

January 29, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Say the phrase “American” music, and it sounds confining or restricting, at least stylistically

But that is certainly not the case, as the deeply talented and always reliable Oakwood Chamber Players (below) – many of whom play with other well-known concert groups in the area – will demonstrate in two performances of an eclectic concert of chamber music.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2012 1

The Oakwood Chamber Players of Madison, Wisconsin will present two concerts with works from North, Central and South America this coming weekend.

The concerts are at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at the Oakwood Village University Woods Auditorium (below top), 6209 Mineral Point Road; and at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum Visitors Center.

Tickets are available at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Visit for more information.

Oakwood wheelchair

UW Arboretum Visitor Center

The Americas concerts will showcase composers, eras and combinations of instrumentation ranging from jazz to string quartets to Latin American dances.

Six works by six different composers will be featured during the concerts including:

• “Tropical Airs” for Woodwind Quintet by Paquito D’Rivera (below), a Grammy award winner with works ranging from jazz to bebop to large-scale symphonic works.

Paquito D'Rivera 1

• “Contre Qui, Rose” for string quartet by Morten Lauridsen (below), a contemporary composer known for his evocative and close harmonies in choral works.

morton lauridsen

• “Pastorale” for woodwind quintet by Amy Beach (below), the US’s first successful female composer who was influenced by the Romantic era.

Amy Beach BW 1

• The famous “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak (below), which was created shortly after a trip to the Midwest, where the composer had a summer home in Spillville, Iowa, and was likely influenced by American folk music.


• “Six Cuban Dances” for wind quartet by Ignacio Cervantes.

Ignacio Cervantes

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

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.

Classical music: Are you listening, Richard Simmons? Classical music is great for exercising and improves our health. It lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, lowers stress and makes us more relaxed. And guess which piece by which composer does all that best? Plus, there is a FREE trombone recital, with two U.S. premieres, at the UW-Madison tonight.

January 28, 2013
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ALERT: TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, guest trombonist Dylan Chmura-Moore (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, will perform a FREE recital fetauring “Subadobe” by Frederik Högberg; “Last Judgment” by Frederic Rzewski; “Saturniana” by Miguel Basim Chuaqui; the U.S. premiere of “BaKaTaKaBaKa” by Daniel Moreira; and the U.S. premiere of “Rouse” by Neal Farwell.

Dylan Chmura-Moore

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about Sweatin’ to the Oldies!!!!

Campy fitness guru Richard Simmons (below) has nothing on Longhairs! And Golden Oldie Hits from the Sixties have nothing on Romantic-era composers from 200 years ago.


Can listening to classical music improve your health? And which part of which piece by which composer might do that the best? Check this out.

According to researchers and experts, it seems that classical music can indeed reduce your blood pressure and heart rate (or pulse).


So you might just want think about bringing some sweatpants, a tank top and workouts shoes to the upcoming concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) on Feb. 8-10 when the MSO will perform the less frequently heard Fourth Symphony (the annotated fourth and final movement is in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Beethoven as well as Ravel’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and Prokofiev’s rarely heard “Sinfonia Concertante” with cello soloist Alban Gerhardt.


Beethoven big

Putting the salutary effects of musical beauty aside – and The Ear doesn’t think that any beauty should ever be put aside — you just might ask: Why and how does classical I music improve health?

Go to this link and see what the latest scientific research has to say about classical music and human health – including which pieces by which composers seem the ideal choice, and what criteria you  should use to personalize your choices of classical music to listen to reap health benefits:

Music education: Today is Mozart’s 257th birthday – a good time to plan on attending next Sunday’s two benefits and performances for local student music groups: Music con Brio from Madison and the Middleton High School Choral Boosters Country breakfast.

January 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  (below) who lived 1756-1791. I will celebrate it by listening to my favorite Mozart piece, the Piano Concerto No. 22 (out of 27) in E-flat Major, K. 482 (on an EMI CD with pianist Jonathan Biss and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (an excerpt from  the CD that also features the popular Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major “Elvira Madigan,” K. 467, is at bottom on a YouTube video). Of course Mozart wrote so much sublime music., my favorite changes from year to year, or even sooner. What piece by Mozart do you like best and would celebrate his birthday with? Undecided? You might get an idea from the all-Mozart birthday programming on Wisconsin Public Radio today from 10 a.m. to noon during the new “Sunday Brunch” program with the excellent and discerning host Anders Yocom.

mozart big

Not all the music that students make is classical. But without any music education there would be precious little classical music heard form young students.

So get out your datebooks and check books.

Today’s post – appropriate for the birthday of classical music most amazing child prodigy — is devoted to suggesting that serious supporters should consider supporting the two following groups. I will let them speak for themselves, since they asked for space on the blog. Both groups  sound extremely worthy of support because of their contributions to local music education and to the community at a time when many public schools are cutting back on the arts::


My name is Carol Carlson, and I am co-founder and co-director of Music con Brio, Inc.

We are a local nonprofit organization housed at Emerson Elementary School, where we provide low-cost music lessons and equipment to Madison students.

Musc con Brio

For 2012-13, Music con Brio received funding from Dane Arts and the Madison Community Foundation to present our first Community Concert Series, a set of three concerts at three different Madison locations featuring our students performing in collaboration with three different groups of Madison musicians.

The second concert in the series will take place on Sunday, Feb. 3 at 1 p.m. in the Lobby of the Madison Museum of contemporary Art (below) in the Overture Center, and will feature our students performing with funk band The Big Payback. 

The concert is FREE and open to the public.

We would greatly appreciate any publicity that you might be able to give the concert.

Also check out our website ( and Facebook page (

MMOCA icon 3


The 19th Annual Country Breakfast will be held Sunday, February 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Middleton High School Student Center at 2100 Bristol Street in Middleton.

The highlight of the breakfast will be individual and group performances from students participating in the Middleton High School Concert Choir (below), Cantus, Cardinal Choir, Chamber Singers, Broadway Bound and the Middletones throughout the entire day.  Check out the schedule at to find out when your favorite Middleton High School singer is performing. 

Middleton HS Mixed Concert Choir

Come enjoy the broad variety of music along with all you can eat pancakes plus ham, eggs, oranges and beverages.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children (10 and under), and will be available at the door on the day of the event.

Don’t miss the silent auction featuring sports memorabilia, handcrafted items, jewelry, restaurant packages, event tickets and much, much more.

This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Middleton High School choral program.  The funds generated are used to provide guest conductors and clinicians, solo and ensemble accompanists, music and supplies, field trips and scholarship assistance to students throughout the year.  

Sponsors who have signed up so far this year include:  Pohlkamp & Associates and Tom & Mary Beth Haunty (Print Sponsors);  Sofra/Villa Dolce, Huntington Learning Center, Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub, Willy Street Co-op, Modern TV & Electronics Service, Inga & Woody Hagge, State Bank of Cross Plains, Baird Foundation and James Lord, DDS (Event Sponsors);  and the Ashley, Boyle, Couser/Middleton, Murphy and Pohlkamp families (Family sponsors).

Questions can be directed to Event Coordinator Amy Sandy at (608) 831-0116

Your support is most appreciated!

Classical music: New York Times classical music editor – and University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus – James Oestreich takes a buyout and will leave the Times.

January 26, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

I guess the same web-inspired blood-letting that drove The Ear out of the Madison-based print media continues.

In yet another round of buyouts, The New York Times, is seeking to have 30 employees retire.

Among those accepting a buyout this time is someone of local interest: Classical Music Editor James Oestreich (below). He is of local interest because he was born and raised in Wisconsin (I think the Appleton area) and graduated Phi Beta Kappa (sorry, I don’t know his major) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1965.

james oestreich

In fact, one of his professors was John W. Barker, the emeritus professor of medieval history who now also reviews music for Isthmus and for this blog.


Here are several links to stories relating to James Oestreich:

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry about James Oestreich with a good summary of his career, which includes stints with other organizations and being a concert notes writer:

Here is a link to the New York Observer with some facts and context surrounding the overall picture, including how many buyouts are needed before layoffs begin:

And here is a link to a blog that includes both high praise from colleagues and competitors as well as sharp criticism (for ignoring current or new trends) of James Oestreich’s tenure at The New York Times:

And here is a link to some harsh words from famous and snarky critic Norman Lebrecht (below) along with the farewell letter that Oestreich himself wrote:


Classical music: Meet Jennifer Koh – a native Midwesterner and one of the best, most interesting and most accomplished violinists on the scene today.

January 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, this seems a particularly promising time for young violinists, and especially for young women violinists such as Julia Fischer, Lelia Josefowicz, Lisa Batiashvili, Janine Jansen and Hilary Hahn.

But among all those violinists and their prodigious amounts of talent, one in particular stands out as unique: Jennifer Koh (below, in a photo by Christopher Berkey for The New York Times).

Jennifer Koh 2 Christopher Berkey for NY Times

An American of Korean heritage who was born in Chicago, Kho is an international competition winner who also came into a career in professional music somewhat via the back door, which has only deepened her music-making and her interpretations. Koh is anything but predictable and mainstream or traditional. A master of the old classics, she is also devoted to new music.

Her breadth of interests and her open personality show in her intense and exciting playing. We in Madison are lucky that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director-conductor Andrew Sewell booked her to perform the Beethoven Violin Concerto early on, in 2004 before word got out and she became so in demand. (Below, a photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times.)

Jennifer Koh, Karsten Moran for NY Times

Kohn has made many acclaimed recordings. But the first CD (below) in her three-volume series of “Bach and Beyond” (for the non-profit, Chicago-based label Cedille Records) made many critics’ lists of The Best Classical Recordings of 2012” – including mine. (At bottom, she discusses the project.)

Jennifer Koh Bach and Beyond CD1 cover

I had been a waiting for a Q&A from Jennifer Koh. But she is obviously busy with more important things like playing the violin and, one suspects, reading serious English literature (you have to know her background to understand the reference!).

Jennifer Koh Christopher Berkey for NY TImes

All the more reason, then, to read the excellent profile that appeared recently in The New York Times.

Here is a link to that detailed but readable and very accessible profile that leaves you wondering: How can you not like Jennifer Koh?:

Classical music: “Grace Presents” announces and begins its spring series of FREE classical music concerts at noon this Saturday with Sound Ensemble Wisconsin.

January 24, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison is lucky indeed to have quite a few organizations and presenters that seek to present live classical music in non-traditional venues, and often do so for free. Groups like New MUSE (New Music Everywhere), Classical Revolution and Sound Health (an outreach group to hospitals run out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music) come immediately to mind.

Grace Episcopal Church (below is a photo of its exterior with the state Capitol in the background to the right) belongs in that group that seeks to bring great music to the people. It has its own special series, which has just announced the spring schedule that will start on this coming Saturday at noon.

grace episcopal church ext

All concerts for “Grace Presents” on SATURDAYS AT NOON — especially nice when the Dane County Farmers Market starts up in April — and are FREE and open to the public. All concerts are held at Grace Episcopal Church (below is the attractive and acoustically fine interior) the on Capitol Square, at 116 West Washington Avenue in Madison.

grace episcopal church inter

Here is the spring 2013 “Grace Presents” Recital Series:

Jan. 26, 2013: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin — Works to be performed include Charles Ives Violin/Piano Sonata No. 3, Morton Gould‘s Rag-Blues-Rag for solo piano, and 6 Gershwin songs for voice and piano. Mary Theodore, violin (below); Vincent Fuh, piano; Rachel Eve Holmes, soprano.

Mary Theodore violin

Feb. 2, 2013: Laura Burns, violin (below, second from left in in a photo by Greg Anderson of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Rhapsodie String Quartet) and Jess Salek, piano, perform Johannes Brahms’ three violin sonatas (more details concerning programming will be sent at a later date)

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

 March 2, 2013: Rachel Eve Holmes, soprano, Kathy Otterson, mezzo-soprano, Jesse Hoffmeister, tenor and John Bohman, baritone perform an Art Song Recital and the Brahms “Liebeslieder” Waltzes with pianists Kirstin Ihde and Michael Roemer.

rachel holmes

April 13, 2013: Black Marigold, a new Madison-based, female woodwind quintet, performs various repertoire (TBA, to be announced)

Black Marigold 2

May 18, 2013: Yana Groves, Ukrainian pianist, performs Bach’s French Suite #3 in B minor BWV 814; Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A minor D. 845, and Debussy’s “Estampes.” (Below is a YouTube video of her rehearsing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488, for her senior recital.)

Classical music: Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino returns this Friday night to Farley’s to play music by Granados, De Falla, Albeniz, Mompou and Liszt.

January 23, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Farley’s House of Pianos will welcome back internationally recognized Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino on this Friday night, January 25, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. for a salon concert of mostly Spanish music, followed by a reception for the artist.

Born in Lebanon of Spanish parents, del Pino draws influences from his piano studies in Spain, as well as the United States where he earned a Master’s degree in piano performance from Yale.  He has also spent time teaching piano in Austria, Jordan, Palestine and Spain.

An accomplished soloist, he has performed with orchestras around the world, including the Bucharest Philharmonic and at festivals such as Chamber Music International in Dallas.

A recipient of multiple awards in national and international  piano competitions, del Pino has performed in some of the finest concert halls in the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Daniel del Pino

Dance is a common theme throughout del Pino’s upcoming performance, which features pieces such as the “Spanish Dances” by Enrique Granados (below top) and the “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla (below bottom).

Enrique Granados

manuel de falla

The program also features works by several other Spanish composers, including Isaac Albéniz (below top, in 1901) and Federico Mompou (below bottom).

Isaac Albéniz 1901

federico mompou color

To close the concert, del Pino will perform Franz Liszt’s dramatic and virtuosic “Totentanz,” or Dance of the Dead. (You can see and hear him in a similar Liszt work in a YouTube video from 2011 at the bottom.)

To see the complete program, visit Events at

Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 the day of the concert. A reception will follow the concert. Tickets can be purchased at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street, or by calling 271-2626 to reserve tickets by credit or debit card. 

Farley’s House of Pianos is located at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison’s west side near the Beltline and West Towne.  Plenty of free parking is available at Farley’s House of Pianos, and it is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro

Other upcoming concerts at Farley’s include:

Solo pianist Martin Kasik  in works by Claude Debussy, Franz Liszt and Modeste Mussorgsky; March 23 at 7:30 p.m.

University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pro Arte String Quartet cellist Parry Karp and UW-Oshkosh pianist Eli Kalman in a complete cycle of Beethoven’s cello works: April 19at 7:30 p.m. and April 21 at 4:30 p.m.

Classical music: Pianist Gabriela Montero and the Madison Symphony Orchestra show that a gift for improvisation also serves the printed score of old masterpieces well.

January 22, 2013

A REQUEST: Apparently the Overture Center and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don’t recognize that we are currently in the middle of a serious flu epidemic as measured by cases, hospitalizations and deaths. At the concert I attended Sunday afternoon, there were NO dispensers of hand sanitizers, not even in the restroom, and an usher I asked didn’t recall seeing any all weekend long. I seem to recall that the Madison Opera used them. And it makes good sense when you are sitting so close and shaking hands, touching handrails, seat armrests etc. I hope that the situation can be remedied soon. Hand sanitizer is a good, well proven public health measure.

hand sanitizer stand

By Jacob Stockinger

Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriela Montero has a very special talent, even a extraordinary gift: She can improvise in a structured, classical manner and in a variety of styles. And she does so without appearing nervous or unsure of herself, so complete is her relaxation and command of herself on-stage. She simply does not stumble.

Montero (below) demonstrated her gift in abundance during her three performances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra last weekend.

Gabriela Montero

On Friday night, she improvised on the tune “On Wisconsin” and then played a free association that someone described as a Scriabin-like nocturne.

On Sunday afternoon I heard her improvise to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (“I never heard that one before,” she quipped, after someone in the audience shouted it out and before she sounded it out and then improvised) . She also played a kind of lyrical meditation that she said was inspired by the pleasures of her stay in Madison. To my ears, it possessed a Faure-like.

Some of her improvisations – many of which you can find on best-selling recordings (below) — I really like. Some others sound to me like just a cut or two above cocktail lounge or piano-bar fare. But improvising remains a skill that too many classical musicians lack today, one that used to be a prerequisite for classical musicians and composers in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Montero CD

Ironically, however, I found that Montero’s gift for improvisation served her best not in the impressive solo improvisations that she played as popular encores -– they drew standing ovations and cheers from the sizable audiences – but rather in the way she took small but exciting liberties with the printed score to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which dates back to 1798.

Montero brought the kind of zesty and improvisational life to the piano part that one imagines the young and rebellious Beethoven himself brought to his own impressive appearances in the usually staid city of Haydn and Mozart.

Her first movement was all high-energy. It emphasized counterpoint, dialogue with the orchestra and glittering and dramatic passage work, but also featured big contrasts and a particular attention to  soft-and-loud. The most glaring weakness to me was her own cadenza, which may have been intended to sound Beethoven-like but which can’t compare to the third and longest cadenza that Beethoven, himself a keyboard virtuoso, wrote for his concerto.

In Montero’s hands, the slow movement provided a beautiful foretaste of dreamy and lyrical Romanticism in its extreme slowness – almost a stasis that barely seemed to move or advance, said one keen and correct observer.

And the third and final movement, by contrast, turned into exactly the kind of fast and free-wheeling rondo that a young virtuoso like the young Beethoven (below) –- who was often known for his fast metronome markings as well as his ability to improvise –- would have appreciated. It was the fastest I ever heard that movement played, but it worked. And The Improviser also played right to the end along with the orchestra, even though the printed score calls for the orchestra to finish alone.

young beethoven etching in 1804

The concerto was bookended by two solid performances of contemporary and classical works.

The first was the opening 13-minute tone poem “blue cathedral” by Jennifer Higdon (below), an American composer who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award. She is accessible and popular, but also serious. This piece from 2000 — composed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and to memorialize the composer’s brother, who died of cancer – has already been played by over 400 orchestras. Not many new pieces or contemporary classical composers can make that claim.

Higdon-and-Beau-Candace DiCarlo

That is impressive for so-called new music. And the brother-clarinet, sister-flute dialogue in the piece was performed superbly by the MSO. The whole work has a kind of Copland-like harmonic spaciousness or mood to it, a Gothic-like grandeur of innerness that reminded me of Monet’s Impressionist paintings of the “blue cathedral” at Rouen (below):

monet rouen cathedral in blue

The concerto finished with perfect winter fare: the Symphony No. 6 in D Major by Antonin Dvorak (below. Music by Dvorak is invariably tuneful, melodic and toe-tapping. Conductor John DeMain proved especially adept at bringing out lines and at whipping the orchestra up to a controlled frenzy in the folk dance Scherzo-Furiant (at bottom) and the brassy finale.

The MSO should play, and we should hear, more Dvorak. After all, this was the MSO’ premiere performance of a work composed back in 1880.


Of course, The Ear wasn’t alone in making sense of this infectious and ear-grabbing concert, which I found to be one of the best and most memorable of the season.

Here are links to other reviews and of course you have every right to your own your judgment or critique, which you can leave in the COMMENT section:

Here is a link to John W. Barker’s review in Isthmus:

Here is a link to Lindsay Christians review for 77 Square, The Capital Times and The Wisconsin State Journal:

Here is a link to Greg Hettmansberger’s review for the “Classically Speaking” blog he wrotes for Madison Magazine:

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