The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Violinist Tasmin Little discusses her latest projects and extols the virtues of music by Gerald Finzi and Sergei Prokofiev, which she will perform this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

February 20, 2013

ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the duo Sole Nero (below) of pianist Jessica Johnson and percussionist Anthony Di Sanza, will perform on the UW-Madison Faculty Concert Series. The duo will perform works by John Luther Adams, Philippe Hurel, UW composers Joseph Koykkar, Evan Hause and UW composer Les Thimmig. Guest artists will include video artist Daniel Zajicek and clarinetist Les Thimmig.

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

By Jacob Stockinger

The concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater is pure Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below).

WCO lobby

Which is to say that it is pure Andrew Sewell.

Sewell (below) is the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He has become known over the past 12 seasons for his uncanny ability to mix tried-and-true classics with relatively obscure works and composers.


This Friday’s night’s Masterworks concert is no exception. The theme is “Pastoral Gems” and it spotlights the young, critically acclaimed British violinist Tasmin Little (below in a photo by Melanie Winning).

Tasmin Little 3 Melanie Winning 

Tickets are $15-$65. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit the orchestra’s website at for more information and purchasing tickets on-line.

The program features two well-known works: J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, with the familiar Air on a G String movement; and Sergei Prokofiev’s sublime Violin Concerto No. 2.

But wedged in between come rarely performed works: “Introit” for violin and orchestra, Op. 6, by Gerald Finzi, a mid-20th century British composer for whom Sewell has such an affinity; and the rarely heard Symphony No. 2, by the French 19th-century composer of the very well-known opera “Faust.”

Tasmin Little (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Tasmin Little

What are your current and future plans in terms of concertizing, recordings and other major projects, especially for the English and contemporary works that seem to be a specialty of yours?

This year will be a lovely year for projects – two new CDs will be released imminently, one with Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita and Chain 2 for violin and orchestra, and later in the spring, my recording of the Violin Concerto by Benjamin Britten – his centennial is this year — will be released, both on Chandos Records.

I am also releasing a CD of British chamber music repertoire with Piers Lane later in the year – beautiful works by Britten (his early Suite), William Walton’s Sonata and the wonderful but totally unknown second violin sonata of Howard Ferguson (below bottom).

Benjamin Britten

Howard Ferguson 1

What can you tell us about the rarely heard  “Introit” by Gerald Finzi (below) and what you would like audiences to listen for?

It is a very beautiful and peaceful work, in some ways it feels similar to Ralph Vaughan Williams “The Lark Ascending” in that it is a work which follows a pastoral line and exudes heavenly tranquility. There isn’t anything in particular that I would suggest an audience to listen for – more, that I hope they will enjoy approximately 10 minutes of beautiful calm and bliss!

Gerald Finzi 1

What would you like to say about the more well–known Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2? Are there certain things you would like listeners especially to listen for? Are there other works by Prokofiev (below) or other composers you would compare it to?

Regarding Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, I am sure that this will be familiar to many members of the audience, so I will talk about what I enjoy about the piece.

The first movement is a capricious mix of darkness and light – one moment, the music is dark and sinister and then, without warning, the mood can lighten to frothy bubbliness!

The second movement has such a glorious and romantic theme and yet the music is quite quirky, with the pizzicato accompaniment and an occasional woodwind interjection.  The middle section feels almost lighthearted but it isn’t long before the first idea returns, more embellished and fulsome.

The final movement is hilarious!  I love the wit and the rustic earthiness.  Prokofiev must have had a wonderful sense of humor.

Serge Prokofiev

How do you think the two violin words fit into the theme of “Pastoral Gems” with Bach’s Suite No. 3 and Gounod’s Symphony No. 2?

I must confess to being unfamiliar with the symphony by Gounod (below) – I’ll look forward to getting to know it during my visit!  Obviously the “Pastoral Gems” bit refers to the Finzi, and I look forward to being educated in the similarities between the Gounod and Prokofiev.

Charles Gounod

Do you have an impression of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison audiences and the classical music scene in Madison, and what are they?

As this will be my very first visit to Madison, it’s hard to form an impression. I also like to keep an open mind about things, rather than try to build up an expectation or opinion that might be wrong.  However, I can see that the artistic planning of the orchestra is wonderfully rich and varied – so I’m guessing that this means that the audiences are not frightened of experiencing something new.  I like that!

When you were young, was there for you an Aha! Moment – perhaps a certain piece or performer – when you knew you wanted to become a professional musician and a violinist?

I remember vividly dancing to a recording of Itzhak Perlman playing Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy” and thinking how brilliant it would be, to be able to play such a piece of music. I also liked Locatelli’s violin concertos, so those are probably the moments when I realized I would like to learn the violin. (You can hear her most popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

tasmin little by melanie winning

Do you have your ideas about how music education should be done today and about how to attract younger audiences?

Through my “Naked Violin” project (which still exists as a free download of music on my website), I have attracted a great deal of audiences of all ages and I feel quite proud about that.  The project also takes music into the community, into hospitals, schools, prisons and other areas of the community where live music is not regularly available.

I feel that, if you can touch just one or two people by doing this, it is hugely worthwhile.  The joy, and sometimes the tears, of emotional release are what music is all about.

For more information visit my website at:

Classical music Q&A: American composer Steven Bryant explains why wind and brass bands don’t get more respect as serious music ensembles, even as he prepares for a residency and a premiere this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

February 19, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Wednesday, American composer Steven Bryant (below, b. 1972) will be in residence at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

Steven Bryant 2

His residency, which organizers say should help attract the public’s attention to band music at the UW, will culminate in a FREE concert on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Bryant will be present.

That is also when the UW Wind Ensemble (below top, rehearsing) will be joined by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet  to perform several works by contemporary composers. They include “Firefly” by Ryan George (b. 1978); “Concerto 2010” for Wind Ensemble and Brass Quintet by Anthony Plog (b. 1947); “Hymn to a Blue Hour by John Mackey (b. 1973) ;” and the Wisconsin premiere of Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble (2010), conducted by Scott Teeple. The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below bottom), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season as artists-in-residence at the UW, will join the UW Wind Ensemble.

UW Wind Ensemble rehearsal

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2013

Even while Bryant (below) was doing another residency in Indianapolis, he agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear about his upcoming residency at the UW-Madison:

steven bryant

Could you briefly introduce yourself to the public?

I’m a freelance composer and occasional conductor, living in Durham, North Carolina, where my wife is on the faculty at Duke University. I am still in awe at my good fortune to be able to make my living doing exactly what I want to do.

Why do you think much of the classical music public doesn’t take bands – that is winds and brass – as seriously as say strings, piano, voice, etc.? What can be done about that and to heighten the profile of bands?

Historically, bands have been either military (playing only marches and ceremonial music) or community ensembles, with no set instrumentation or symphonic repertoire. Today, the most visible manifestation of bands, at least in the US, is marching bands at football games. (For information about the UW-Madison band program, visit:

Part of the problem is the lack of repertoire of music created expressly for the ensemble, and a lack of professional ensembles to present the music to the public.

However, the number of serious composers writing for band (or wind ensemble, or wind symphony, or wind orchestra -– whatever you want to call it!) has increased dramatically in the last 20 or 30 years, and the performance level of the top university ensembles now rivals professional playing, so I hope this view is changing. (Below is a photo of the UW Wind Ensemble performing.)

I view the band (and encourage composers who have never considered it as a potential medium to do the same) as a large new music ensemble with infrastructure behind it. The sheer number of ensembles in the US and around the world, and their eager interest in new music, means you have a much better chance at receiving multiple performances.

UW Wind Ensemble performance

What would you like to say about your new Concerto for Wind Ensemble that received its world premiere in 2010 by the Wind Ensemble at the University of Texas-Austin (below is a photo of rehearsals for that Texas performance, and at bottom Bryant introduces his YouTube videos about composing the concerto) and which will receive its Wisconsin premiere Saturday night ? What special things should the public listen for or pay attention to?

In my Concerto for Wind Ensemble I set out to create a lot of music from a very small amount of source material. Most of the music you’ll hear throughout all five movements is presented in the first half of Movement I.

The other material is introduced in Movement III, which is built entirely from a Trumpet solo my father played years ago, and which I transcribed from an old cassette tape a couple of years after he passed away. At one point, the Trumpet and the Sax (my instrument) play the nearly intact solo together.

If you want to know more about the work and its performance history, you can go to my website:

Steve Bryant Conceto for Wind Ensemble at UT-Austin

What there an Aha! Moment – perhaps a piece or performer or composer – when you knew you wanted to become a professional composer and musician?

Music was always around the house, since my father was a gigging musician as well as a band director and music educator. I was fascinated from an early age with the act of writing music on a staff, even before I quite knew what the notes were.

One specific catalyst that pushed me into writing was Bruce Hornsby’s single, “The Way It Is.” I was in middle school, and decided I wanted to learn to play it, so I sat at the piano and figured it out. From there, I started writing my own (truly awful) pop songs, followed by pep band arrangements of early Chicago tunes, cheesy “new age” synth pieces in high school, and then a brass quartet and ultimately a piece for my high school band.

I made no distinction in my mind among these – they were all simply the fascinating act of creating and writing down music.

Want would you like to say about the UW-Madison and Madison – ties you have, things you have heard or know about?

I’ve never been on the campus of UW-Madison, and have only been in the city of Madison one time for about eight hours, so I’m very much looking forward to my visit!

Classical music: Oboist Marc Fink retires after 40 years of teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and announces his local “Farewell Tour” this spring.

February 18, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Tuesday, with a FREE 45-minute concert at 12:15 p.m. in Seminar Room 1315 at the Chemistry Building, University of Wisconsin-Madison retiring oboist Professor Marc Fink (below) will be playing a series of local “farewell” concerts that includes performances with double reed students and faculty colleagues.

marc fink big

Specifically, Fink is being honored by UW-Madison  chemistry professor Bassam Shakashiri for their collaborations over the years. Shakashiri has been a champion on the UW campus for integrating the sciences with the arts, and Fink says he has “very much enjoyed working with him.”

Possessing a beautiful tone, consummate technique and a congenial personality, Fink, who is much loved by his students, colleagues and the public, has taught at the UW-Madison School of Music for 40 years. He is a member of the Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below) and is principal oboe of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which is a post he says he will continue after his retirement.

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2012

For a biography of Fink, visit the UW School of Music website. Here is a link:

Take out your calendar or datebook.  Here are Marc Fink’s other  stops on his local “farewell tour” this semester:

Wednesday, March 20, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Mozart’s Oboe Concerto with the UW Chamber Orchestra.

Sunday, April 14, 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. Faculty Recital (these are a few of my favorite things) with music of J.S. Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Francis Poulenc, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bela Bartok and Benjamin Britten.

Sunday, April 21, 2 p.m. Mills Hall, with UW Wind Ensemble in James Stephenson’s “Duels and Dances” a concerto for oboe and wind ensemble)

Sunday May 5, 12:30 p.m., Chazen Museum of Art, Recital (Fink and Friends), to be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” (below) from 12:30 to 2 p.m.


In addition to Fink, the players for Tuesday’s concert include: Marc Vallon, Professor of Music (bassoon), Wingra Quintet; Richard Lottridge, Professor Emeritus (bassoon); 
Linda Bartley, Professor of Music (clarinet), Wingra Quintet, MSO; James Smith, Professor of Music (clarinet), 
WYSO and University Orchestras Music Director; 
Daniel Grabois, Professor of Music (horn), Wisconsin Brass Quintet; Douglas Hill, Professor Emeritus (horn). 
And members of the UW-Madison oboe and bassoon studios.

The program includes “Ole Guapa” by Arie Malando (1908-1980), as arranged for double reed band by Jan Joris Nieuwenhuis; the Marche Militaire No. 1 by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) as arranged for double reed band by Marc Vallon; the Serenade No 11 in E-flat Majorm KV 375 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, and 2 horns: Allegro maestoso, 
Menuetto (Tempo moderato)
, Adagio
, Menuetto (Allegro) 
Allegro; “Etudes for Oboe” by Gilles Silvstrini (b. 1961) 
III. Boulevard des Capucines (Monet, 1873): Allegro tragico IV. Sentier dan les Bois (Renoir, 1874): Très doux, calme VI. Le Ballet Espagnol  (Manet, 1862): Prelude/seguedille; and the  “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) arranged by Marc Vallon (below, with baroque and modern bassoons in a photo by James Gill).

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Fink has had a close association with Professor Bassam Shakhashiri and the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literary, and was appointed a WISL Fellow in 2005. Fink’s career has taken him around the world, including tours of the North Slope of Alaska with the Arctic Chamber Orchestra; the South Bohemian Music Festival in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic; the Colon Theatre in Buenos Aires; and the Kremlin Kazan International Festival in Kazan, Russia.

He has recorded with the Pro Arte Quartet, the University of Wisconsin Russian Folk Orchestra, and with the Wingra Quartet.

His former students are active in the professional world, in both orchestral and teaching positions, and he served as former president of the International Double Reed Society, an organization of more than 4,000 double reed enthusiasts all over the world.

Marc Fink (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and his wife Marcia have three daughters, Leah, Anna and Eleanor, and two pugs, Yoda and Jimi. After retiring from the UW, Marc Fink will continue to reside n Madison where he enjoys tennis, golf, rooting for the Chicago Cubs and international cuisine.

Marc Fink Talbot

Here is a statement by Fink about his collaboration with the sciences:

“I am deeply honored to be featured in the Concert at Chemistry. My association with Bassam Shakhashiri and Rodney Schreiner goes back many years to Professor Shakhashiri’s “Science is Fun” presentation to our high school students at our Summer Music Clinic, and it has continued with many collaborations in his Christmas lectures and many other outreach projects.

“I am very proud to be a Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy Fellow, which has brought together the science and arts communities on this campus in projects that demonstrate the close relationship between our disciplines. In one such memorable example, the Madison Children’s Choir performed a beautiful arrangement of the periodic table, arranged for young voices.

Bassam Shakhashiri use

“Many great composers and performers have distinguished backgrounds in science, and some of our most outstanding music students have also been outstanding double majors in chemistry, physics, and many other disciplines. If I have, in any small way, contributed to this collaboration, I am especially proud of this.

“I have also enjoyed teaching a Music in Performance class which has been very popular with non-music majors and allows them to experience the great joy of hearing and learning about music through live performance. I would like to thank all of my faculty colleagues and students for participating in today’s performance. I have been so fortunate for the past 40 years to be surrounded by wonderful colleagues and students at this university.”

For more information about the science literacy program, visit:

Here is a YouTube video with a performance by Marc Fink:

Classical music: iTunes lists its Top 30 classical albums. See if you agree and tell us what changes you would make.

February 17, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is something of interest I just happened to stumble across: iTunes has chosen and published its list of the Top 30 – or Essential 30 – classical recordings of all time.

Mind you: These are not the most popular recordings or the bestsellers.

Apple’s opinion  might not matter so much. But right now, digital downloads outsell real CDs, and the trend looks to continue for a very long time. So that gives the list even more relevance and force. (Below is the iTunes logo.)

iTunes logo

Here is a link, and be sure to read the comments as well as the link to the other Top 50 list that is provided:

See what you think of their list.

What criticism would you make? (Does anyone detect a bias towards British music? Towards Romantic and early modern music)

What would you change? Delete or add to the list?

And what do you think of iTunes musical judgment?

The Ear wants to hear.

And just maybe Apple does too. (Its logo is below.)

apple logo

Classical music: Here are the Classical Music WINNERS of this year’s Grammy Awards, complete with the nominees they beat.

February 16, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time to catch up.

It has been a busy week for local music and other events. So some things inevitably got put off, especially reviews.

Sorry, but The Ear can hear more and faster than he can write and post. My apologies.

One the highlights last week was the announcement on last Sunday night of the 55th annual Grammy Awards for 2013. Of course, on the CBS-TV broadcast just about all the attention went to the more popular genres – rock, pop, rap, gospel, R&B, country and so forth.

grammy award BIG

But I thought you might like to see how the industry is leaning more towards recognizing contemporary music. Not a lot of the really GREAT composers seem to have scored big.

Here are some stories (with photos — dual winner chamber music group eighth blackbird is below in a photo by Allen J. Scherben for the Los Angles Times) and analyses, including one from NPR’s exceptional blog “Deceptive Cadence”:,0,4652838.story

eighth blackbird Allen J. Schaben for the Los Angeles Times

Similarly, the Grammys seem to be focusing on smaller and less well-known labels. Many of which are the in-house labels of the performing organizations. Of course, that is also a trend in the recording industry, and the Grammys exist to promote the recording industry.

In any case, the horse race aspect interest me less than offering you what could be a good check list of new recording to acquire for your library – and your listening pleasure:

You can also find the complete list of nominations and, later, winners in ALL genres at

Any comments or advice to others you can provide about the nominees would be appreciated. Just use the COMMENT section.

So, maestro, a drum roll, please!

70. Best Engineered Album, Classical

Americana: Daniel Shores, engineer; Daniel Shores, mastering engineer (Modern Mandolin Quartet); [Sono Luminus]

Beethoven: The Late String Quartets, Op. 127 & 131: Bruce Egre, engineer (Brentano String Quartet); [Aeon]

WINNER: Life & Breath – Choral Works By René Clausen: Tom Caulfield & John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer; (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale); [Chandos]

Music For A Time Of War: Jesse Lewis & John Newton, engineers; Jesse Brayman, mastering engineer (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony); [PentaTone Classics]

Souvenir: Morten Lindberg, engineer; Morten Lindberg, mastering engineer; (TrondheimSolistene); [2L (Lindberg Lyd)]

Rene Clausen Life and Breath

71. Producer Of The Year, Classical

WINNER: Blanton Alspaugh (below)

  • Chamber Symphonies (Gregory Wolynec & Gateway Chamber Orchestra)
  • Davis: Río De Sangre (Joseph Rescigno, Vale Rideout, Ava Pine, John Duykers, Kerry Walsh, Guido LeBron, The Florentine Opera Company & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
  • Gjeilo: Northern Lights (Charles Bruffy & Phoenix Chorale)
  • In Paradisum (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale)
  • Life & Breath – Choral Works By René Clausen (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale)
  • Music For A Time Of War (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony)
  • Musto: The Inspector (Glen Cortese & Wolf Trap Opera Company)

Tim Handley

  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique (Leonard Slatkin & Orchestre National De Lyon)
  • Debussy: Orchestral Works, Vol. 7 (Jun Märkl & Orchestre National De Lyon)
  • Debussy: 24 Préludes (Jun Märkl & Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
  • Fuchs, K.: Atlantic Riband; American Rhapsody; Divinium Mysterium (JoAnn Falletta, Paul Silverthorne, Michael Ludwig & London Symphony Orchestra)
  • Gershwin: Piano Concerto In F; Rhapsody No. 2; I Got Rhythm Variations (Orion Weiss, JoAnn Falletta & Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • Hailstork: An American Port Of Call (JoAnn Falletta, Virginia Symphony Chorus & Virginia Symphony Orchestra)
  • Holst: Cotswolds Symphony; Walt Whitman Overture (JoAnn Falletta & Ulster Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (Marin Alsop & Baltimore Symphony Orchestra)
  • Roussel: Le Festin De L’Araignée (Stéphane Denève & Royal Scottish National Orchestra)
  • Still: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 (John Jeter & Fort Smith Symphony)

Marina Ledin, Victor Ledin

  • Americana (Modern Mandolin Quartet)
  • Brubeck & American Poets (Lynne Morrow & Pacific Mozart Ensemble)
  • Delibes: Sylvia; Coppélia (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)
  • Mind Meld (ZOFO Duet)
  • Rupa-Khandha (Los Angeles Percussion Quartet)
  • Weigl: Isle Of The Dead; Six Fantasies; Pictures & Tales; Night Fantasies (Joseph Banowetz)

James Mallinson

  • Britten: War Requiem (Gianandrea Noseda, Joseph Cullen, Alastair Tighe, Choir Of Eltham College, London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 (Bernard Haitink & London Symphony Orchestra)
  • The Greatest Film Scores Of Dimitri Tiomkin (Richard Kaufman, Whitney Claire Kaufman, Andrew Playfoot, London Voices & London Symphony Orchestra)
  • Massenet: Don Quichotte (Valery Gergiev, Andrei Serov, Anna Kiknadze, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Soloists’ Ensemble Of The Mariinsky Academy Of Young Singers & Mariinsky Orchestra)
  • Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances (Valery Gergiev & London Symphony Orchestra)

Dan Merceruio

  • Arensky: Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Piano Quintet, Op. 51 (Ying Quartet)
  • Brasileiro – Works Of Francisco Mignone (Cuarteto Latinoamericano)
  • Change Of Worlds (Ensemble Galilei)
  • The Complete Harpsichord Works Of Rameau (Jory Vinikour)
  • Critical Models – Chamber Works Of Mohammed Fairouz (Various Artists)
  • The Kernis Project: Schubert (Jasper String Quartet)
  • Le Bestiaire (Celine Ricci)
  • Scarlatti: La Dirindina & Pur Nel Sonno (Matthew Dirst & Ars Lyrica Houston)
  • Two Lutes – Lute Duets From England’s Golden Age (Ronn McFarlane & William Simms)
  • Weill-Ibert-Berg (Timothy Muffitt & Baton Rouge Symphony Chamber Players)

Blanton Alspaugh

72. Best Orchestral Performance

WINNER: Adams: Harmonielehre & Short Ride In A Fast Machine: Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony); [SFS Media] (below)

Mahler: Symphony No. 1: Iván Fischer, conductor (Budapest Festival Orchestra); [Channel Classics]

Music For A Time Of War: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony); [PentaTone Classics]

Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances: Valery Gergiev, conductor (London Symphony Orchestra); [LSO Live]

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5: Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra); [BIS]

John Adams Michael Tilson Thomas

73. Best Opera Recording

Berg: Lulu: Michael Boder, conductor; Paul Groves, Ashley Holland, Julia Juon & Patricia; Petibon; Johannes Müller, producer (Symphony Orchestra Of The Gran Teatre Del Liceu); [Deutsche Grammophon]

Handel: Agrippina; René Jacobs, conductor; Marcos Fink, Sunhae Im, Bejun Mehta, Alexandrina; Pendatchanska & Jennifer Rivera (Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin); [Harmonia Mundi]

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor; Topi Lehtipuu, Miah Persson & Matthew Rose; Johannes Müller, producer (London Philharmonic Orchestra; Glyndebourne Chorus); [Opus Arte]

Vivaldi: Teuzzone: Jordi Savall, conductor; Delphine Galou, Paolo Lopez, Roberta Mameli, Raffaella; Milanesi & Furio Zanasi (Le Concert Des Nations); [Naïve Classique]

WINNER: Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen: James Levine & Fabio Luisi, conductors; Hans-Peter König, Jay Hunter Morris, Bryn Terfel & Deborah Voigt; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus); [Deutsche Grammophon]

Wagner Ring Cycle Grammy

74. Best Choral Performance

Handel: Israel In Egypt: Julian Wachner, conductor (Trinity Baroque Orchestra; Trinity Choir Wall Street); [Musica Omnia]

WINNER: Life & Breath – Choral Works By René Clausen; Charles Bruffy, conductor (Matthew Gladden, Lindsey Lang, Rebecca Lloyd, Sarah Tannehill & Pamela Williamson; Kansas City Chorale); [Chandos]

Ligeti: Requiem; Apparitions; San Francisco Polyphony. Peter Eötvös, conductor (Barbara Hannigan & Susan Parry; WDR Sinfonieorchester; Köln; SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart & WDR Rundfunkchor Köln); [BMC]

The Nightingale. Stephen Layton, conductor (Michala Petri; Danish National Vocal Ensemble); [OUR Recordings]

Striggio: Mass For 40 & 60 Voices. Hervé Niquet, conductor (Le Concert Spirituel); [Glossa]

Rene Clausen Life and Breath

75. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Americana. Modern Mandolin Quartet; [Sono Luminus]

WINNER: Meanwhile. Eighth Blackbird. [Cedille Records] (below)

Mind Meld. ZOFO Duet; [Sono Luminus]

Profanes Et Sacrées. Boston Symphony Chamber Players; BSO Classics]

Rupa-Khandha. Los Angeles Percussion Quartet; [Sono Luminus].

Meanwhile eighth blackbird

76. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier. András Schiff; [ECM New Series]

The Complete Harpsichord Works Of Rameau. Jory Vinikour; [Sono Luminus]

Gál & Elgar: Cello Concertos. Claudio Cruz, conductor; Antonio Meneses (Northern Sinfonia); [AVIE Records]

Holst: The Planets. Hansjörg Albrecht; [Oehms Classics]

WINNER: Kurtág & Ligeti: Music For Viola. Kim Kashkashian; [ECM New Series] (bel0w)

kim kashkashian kurtag ligeti

77. Best Classical Vocal Solo

Debussy: Clair De Lune. Natalie Dessay (Henri Chalet; Philippe Cassard, Karine Deshayes & Catherine Michel; Le Jeune Coeur De Paris); [Virgin Classics]

Homecoming – Kansas City Symphony Presents Joyce DiDonato. Joyce DiDonato (Michael Stern; Kansas City Symphony); [Kansas City Symphony]

Paris Days, Berlin Nights. Ute Lemper (Stefan Malzew & Vogler Quartet); [Steinway & Sons]

WINNER Poèmes. Renée Fleming (Alan Gilbert & Seiji Ozawa; Orchestre National De France & Orchestre Philharmonique De Radio France); [Decca Records] (below)

Sogno Barocco. Anne Sofie Von Otter (Leonardo García Alarcón; Sandrine Piau & Susanna Sundberg; Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea); [Naïve Classique]

renee fleming poemes

78. Best Classical Compendium

Partch: Bitter Music. Partch, ensemble; John Schneider, producer. [Bridge Records, Inc.]

WINNER: Penderecki: Fonogrammi; Horn Concerto; Partita; The Awakening Of Jacob; Anaklasis. Antoni Wit, conductor; Aleksandra Nagórko & Andrzej Sasin, producers; [Naxos] (below)

Une Fête Baroque. Emmanuelle Haïm, conductor; Daniel Zalay, producer; [Virgin Classics]

Penderecki Wit Naxos

79. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

WINNER: Hartke, Stephen: Meanwhile – Incidental Music To Imaginary Puppet Plays. Stephen Hartke, composer (Eighth Blackbird); Track from: Meanwhile; [Cedille Records]

León, Tania: Inura For Voices, Strings & Percussion. Tania León, composer (Tania León, Son Sonora Voices, DanceBrazil Percussion & Son Sonora Ensemble); Track from: In Motion; [Albany Records].

Praulins, Ugis: The Nightingale. Ugis Praulins, composer (Stephen Layton, Michala Petri & Danish National Vocal Ensemble); Track from: The Nightingale; [OUR Recordings]

Rautavaara, Einojuhani: Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’. Einojuhani Rautavaara, composer (Truls Mørk, John Storgårds & Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra); Track from: Rautavaara: Modificata; Percussion Concerto ‘Incantations’; Cello Concerto No. 2 ‘Towards The Horizon’; [Ondine]

Stucky, Steven: August 4, 1964. Steven Stucky, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Jaap Van Zweden, Dallas; Symphony Chorus & Orchestra); [DSO Live]

Meanwhile eighth blackbird

Classical music: In this Saturday night’s concert, Sound Ensemble Wisconsin features music by Paul Schoenfield, Morton Gould and George Gershwin as well as the art of sampling music through “turntableism.” Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra and Winds of Wisconsin perform this Sunday.

February 15, 2013

ALERT: In Sunday, there are two concerts worth noting and attending at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. On Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under guest conductor and UW alumnus Kevin McMahon (below). McMahon is the music director of the Sheboygan and Wheaton (Illinois) Symphony Orchestras  and was a Collins Fellow while studying at the UW. His program includes Vaughan Williams Overture to “The Wasps”; UW soprano Mimmi Fulmer in Joseph Cantaloube’s popular “Songs of the Auvergne“; and Mozart’s dramatic Symphony No. 40 G minor. Then at 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Winds of Wisconsin of Wisconsin perform a FREE concert (the program includes: “Lux Arumque” by Eric Whitacre; “La Fiesta Mexicana” by H. Owen Reed; and “Fanfare for the Third Planet” by Richard Saucedo ) under director Scott Teeple.

Kevin McMahon

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most inventive and interesting chamber music groups in the area is the recently formed Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (below). It uses fine performers at different venues and offers different thematic programs, always with some unusual angle or logic in mind, and always with top quality performances.

SEW Sound Ensmble of Wisocnsin 2012

This Saturday is a prime example.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in the new, crisply designed Atrium auditorium (below) of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Sound Ensemble Wisconsin will present “American Patchwork” as its next concert, honoring the art
 of musical sampling of American genres.

Tickets are $15 general admission and can be purchased in advance on SEW‘s website or by cash or
 check at the door.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

SEW will perform the classic and popular piano trio “Cafe
 Music” by American composer and University of Michigan-Ann Arbor teacher Paul Schoenfield, who was in Madison last spring when the Pro Arte String Quartet gave the world premiere of his “Three Rhapsodies for Piano Quintet” with pianist Christopher Taylor that the quartet had commissioned for its centennial celebration. In the often performed piano trio work (in a YouTube video at the bottom), the composer pays tribute to ragtime and Broadway, among other styles. Also on the program are 
Morton Gould‘s “Rag-Blues-Rag” for piano as well as several Gershwin songs.

Paul Schoenfield BW klezmerish

The stage will then be
turned over to SEW’s special guest turntablist, DJ Moppy (below, aka Christopher Thomopoulos), who will be joining them from Chicago to 
represent the craft of sampling, using Gershwin among other samples on his turntables.

Moppy for SEW Chris Thomopoulos

If you want to sample the sampler, DJ Moppy 
demonstrates turntablism in a short video which can be found on the “Events” page of SEW’s website:

Musicians for the concert include Vince Fuh, Mary Theodore, Maggie Townsend, Rachel
 Eve Holmes, and Chris Thomopoulos (DJ Moppy).

In keeping with the concert’s theme, SEW will be accepting fabric at the performance for their community quilt, sponsored by Stitcher’s 
Crossing and fabricated by volunteers, to be presented and auctioned at the last concert to benefit 
SEW’s future programming. All are welcome to bring 5″ square to 1/4 yard, 100% cotton fabric they’d
 like to share.

This event is sponsored in part by WORT 89.9 FM.

According to SEW’s founder and director, violinist Mary Theodore (below), SEW’s mission is to share great chamber music with more people through theme-based programming,
 collaboration, and education while encouraging participation in an authentic performance experience.

Mary Theodore violin

Theodore wanted to remind readers of the following: “As many are aware, ticket proceeds do not begin to cover the cost of expenses necessary to present concerts and sustain an organization.  SEW is actively seeking contributions to fund this event.  If you’re interested in hearing more about this SEW and their upcoming project, please visit 50 cents to every contributed dollar is matched.”

SEW has received excellent reviews: “SEW will certainly bring a new dimension to Madison’s cultural scene,” said John W. Barker on The Well-Tempered Ear about the group’s inaugural concert last season. “The performances were all splendid … and the command of technique and the precision of ensemble
throughout was of the highest artistic standards.”

For more information, visit the group’s website:


Classical music: The Request Line is Open! Here is beautiful love music by Schumann and Schubert for my Valentine. What music would you dedicate to your Someone Special for Valentine’s Day?

February 14, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day.

Music and love are inextricably linked for me. In fact, I am quite sure that much of the very best music in all genres is some kind of love song – expressing love of another person, an idea, a landscape or a flower, an art object, an idea or even a God.


For me, nothing expresses love and deep feelings as much as music. Nothing even comes close, not painting or drawing or sculpture, not the best prose or even the best poetry, which also move me, but just not as much or as deeply.

So today I offer two pieces for my Valentine.


The first is by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the slow third movement from his Piano Quartet in E-flat. It is a piece that we both discovered and first heard together, decades ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, when the great American pianist Emanuel Ax (below) and the Cleveland String Quartet performed it.

Emanuel Ax

Was there ever a composer who captured romantic love and longing better than Robert Schumann? Some come close –- J.S. Bach in many different works, among which I single out the slow movement of the F minor violin sonata; Mozart’s “Forgiveness Quartet” in “The Marriage of Figaro”; Beethoven in many movements of his piano and string sonatas, string quartets, symphonies and concertos; Wagner in the “Love Death” from the opera ‘Tristan and Isolde”; Puccini in the first act of “La Boheme”; Chopin in certain works like the Ballade No. 4 and the Largo from the Sonata No. 3; Brahms in his F minor Piano Sonata, his “German” Requiem, his songs and some of his late piano pieces; Debussy in his “Clair de lune,” the slow movement to his String Quartet and some of his piano preludes; Prokofiev in his ballet score to “Romeo and Juliet.” And there many more.

But no one composed as much love music as movingly and in as many different forms as Robert Schumann, who spent his whole adult life affirming his love for his long sought after and finally obtained beloved virtuoso pianist wife Clara Wieck Schumann. (Both are seen below in a photo.)


So here is the music. See what you think:

The other piece is the song-like last movement of Franz Schubert’s penultimate Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959. Like Schumann, Schubert (1797-1828) returned again and again to love, especially in his art songs, his chamber music and his piano music. Empathy and compassion, humanity and love, are what make me  turn more to Schubert (below) than to Beethoven these days.

Schubert etching

And once again, this is a work I first heard sitting next to my Valentine, when the young Christoph Eschenbach (below in a more recent photo) performed it many years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, before he turned to conducting. It was one of those times your hand instinctively reaches for the other person’s hand and you are joined in love and beauty.

Christophe Eschenbach

Much like love itself, the end of the songful music often seems like it could and will stop, only to go on triumphantly and movingly.

See if you feel the same way about the music in this performance by Alfred Brendel, not Christophe Eschenbach:

I also identify other works with my Valentine, especially Bach, Brahms and Faure. But these two are among the essentials.

Thank you, Valentine, for loving me; for bringing me a better life and making me a better person. I have always loved you, I still love you and I will always love you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Now, readers, it is your turn: THE REQUEST LINE IS OPEN!

What piece of music best expresses Valentine Day for you and for your Valentine?

Which piece would you dedicate to your Valentine? If this blog were yours, what music would you post for your Valentine?

Let us know in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video performance, if possible.

And Happy Valentine’s to you all.

I hope you are all as lucky in love as I have been.

Classical music: Is it an opera or a musical? Verdi’s operatic masterpiece “Rigoletto” travels to Las Vegas in the “Live in Hi-Def” broadcast by the Metropolitan Opera this Saturday afternoon. Plus, cellist Karl Lavine plays a FREE concert of Rachmaninoff on Friday at noon.

February 13, 2013

ALERT: This week’s FREE  Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, features Madison Symphony’s Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below) and pianist Karen Boe in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the all-time great opera masterpieces is Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

In fact, one nationally famous opera expert – who had studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – once told me it was his top choice to see for people who didn’t yet know opera. (The Ear would have surely thought that his choice for a first-timer would be Puccini’s “La Boheme.” But, nooooo.) The inexperienced listener would surely fall in love with the art form of opera after experiencing “Rigoletto,” he claimed.

Well, no one can deny that the 1851 opera by Verdi (below) does have its share of great drama and great tunes, including the famed  “La donna e mobile” and “Questa o quello” (at bottom in a YouTube video).

Verdi Giuseppe

You can see and hear why the work is so great this Saturday afternoon when “Live From the Met in HD” will broadcast the newest production by the Metropolitan Opera of the classic work.

Rigoletto HD poster

The live broadcast – complete with commentary and behind-the-scenes looks – will be at Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side and the Eastgate cinemas on Madison’s east side.

The show will begin at 11:55 CST and run about 3-1/2 hours. But seats often fill up quickly, and many audience members arrive at least one hour early to get the best seats or the ones they like.

The adventurous concept staging (below) updates the opera from 16th-century Italy, complete with a palace, duke and court jester, to mid-20th century Las Vegas, complete with show girls. The production has drawn some interesting and conflicting reviews. Is it really opera or a musical? some have asked.

Rigoletto Met HD

Rigoletto Met HD

Met Rigoletto Sara Krulwich NY TImes

So in preparation for going, you can look at these:

Here is a review by the senior critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini (below), who spoke in Madison during the centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet:


And here is a review by Pulitzer Prize-winner Manuela Hoelterhoff (below), who now works for Bloomberg News but who used to work for the Wall Street Journal:

Manuela Hoelterhoff

Here is some background and context I found particularly interesting at

And here is a link to the actual promos for “Rigoletto” at the website for “Live From the MET in HD.” It features video and audio samples as well as links to a synopsis, a cast list and other information:

What do you think of the new production? The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet will tour Europe in January of 2014. It also gives the world premiere of a quartet by Joel Hoffman this Saturday night along with classic works by Mendelssohn and Mozart. Plus, this Friday night, the UW Symphony Orchestra performs with the student concerto competition winners and plays a student work.

February 12, 2013

ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW conductor James Smith (below) will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra in the annual FREE concert by the student concerto competition winners and the student composition winner. This year’s program includes: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Capriccio Espagnol”; soprano Shannon Prickett singing the aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino“; percussionist Jacob Wolbert in the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion; cellist Philip Bergman in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Op. 129; violinist Nathaniel Wolkstein in the first movement of Camille Saint-SaensViolin Concerto No. 3; pianist Yusuke Komura is the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; and “Whispering Seraphim” by student Joshua Hintze, conducted by David Grandis.


By Jacob Stockinger

For The Ear, one of the MUST-HEAR concerts will take place this coming Saturday night, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That is when the Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) -– now in its record-breaking 101st season after last year’s commission-filled Centennial -– will perform a very appealing program that is FREE and open to the public.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The first half of the chamber music concert is devoted to quartets based on the theme–and-variations format.

The concert opens with the last unfinished quartet, Op. 81, from 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (below), who died at 36 that same year. The work has two movements that Mendelssohn supposedly wrote in overwhelming grief at the death of his sister-composer Fanny Mendelssohn.


Then comes the world premiere of a string quartet from 2012 with 14 short movements by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below) of Cincinatti, whose work is often featured in Madison by members of the Karp family at their Labor Day concerts.

As The Ear understands the story, Hoffman wrote the work for the Pro Arte on the occasion of its centennial last season. (The Pro Arte Quartet has a long history, right from its founding, of playing and championing new music, starting from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Bartok right through today.)

But the Arte had already commissioned several new works (string quartets and piano quintets) for the centennial — including one quartet by well-known American composer John Harbison, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” that also features many small or short movements. So this “volunteer” commission by Hoffman was not included in the official centennial, but will finally get a hearing.

I have found Hoffman’s work – a couple of piano trios and a cello sonata, I seem to recall – modern but accessible,  interesting and engaging. Se will see how the strong quartet stacks up.

Joel Hoffman

Then the concert will conclude with one of the great all-time masterpieces of chamber music: Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, from 1782, one of the six great “Haydn” quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) composed to honor his older mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, who had basically invented and perfected the string quartet as a genre and whom Mozart admired and loved.

In fact the two geniuses played string quartets together, with Mozart (below right) on viola and Haydn (below left) on violin.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

Old string quartet

In related news, The Ear has also learned that the Pro Arte Quartet has signed on to do a European tour in the first half of January 2014. The exact itinerary, details and length are still being worked out, but the tour will include at least one stop in Belgium.

Belgium is where the Pro Arte was founded at the Brussels Conservatory in 1911-12 and eventually became the royal court quartet before being exiled in Madison by World War II and accepting an artist-in-residence post at the UW-Madison in 1940, where it has remained ever since.

In addition, a quartet by a contemporary Belgian composer, Benoit Mernier (below), whose work has been commissioned as part of the continuing centennial celebration and will be premiered next season.

Benoit Mernier 1

Classical music: For Black History Month, conductor Marin Alsop rediscovers jazz master James P. Johnson as a serious classical musician and composer of symphonies. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet plays a FREE concert of Mozart and Brahms in Stoughton on Tuesday evening.

February 11, 2013

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will play music by Mozart and Brahms in a FREE concert tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. at the Skaalen Retirement Community Chapel , at 400 North Morris Street, in Stoughton. Free-will donations will be welcome at the door. The quartet brings together some of the brightest stars of the MSO: Co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia, Principal Cellist Karl Lavine, Principal Violist Christopher Dozoryst and violinist Laura Burns. The concert will include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s  String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, and Johannes Brahms‘ Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 155, featuring MSO clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie. The Rhapsodie String Quartet is the resident quartet of the MSO’s HeartStrings Community Engagement Program which reaches beyond traditional learning environments to bring live, interactive performances by some of the MSO’s best players into healthcare and residential facilities.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

February is Black History Month.

That makes it a great time to once again ask a question that I posted last month on Martin Luther King Day: Where are African-American classical musicians, and why don’t we see and hear more of them?

Apparently, I’m not the only person with that question on my mind. In fact, if you follow this link back to that posting, you can read reader Comments and see some very fine suggestions for more names of black composers and performers.

Here is a link:

But there is more.

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” with Scott Simon also featured a terrific story about Marin Alsop (below), the conductor and music director of the Baltimore Symphony and the Sao Paul Symphony in Brazil.

Marin Alsop big

It turns out that Alsop uncovered long-lost manuscripts of serious music by the forgotten James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb), best known as an outstanding jazz stride pianist who also taught Fats Waller.

And as a jazz composer, he wrote THE piece that embodied an entire age: “The Charleston.”

But it runs our that there was a classical side to Johnson too. He wrote “Harlem” Symphony (an excerpt in a YouTube video is at the bottom) and several other works that were actually performed in Carnegie Hall during the 1940s.


Moreover, Alsop – a Leonard Bernstein student in spirit as well as name — is trying to bring Johnson back into the mainstream.

Alsop is attempting to restore the lost manuscripts that languished in an attic for decades. And she intends to give performances of the music that will become, one suspects, recordings. The story even includes some excerpts, so stream it and listen to it, don’t just read it.

And more live performances and recordings of a black composer just might also lead to more black students and black audiences.

At least one can hope so.

Here is a link to the story:

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