The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Shai Wosner (substituting for Anne-Marie McDermott) offer a MUST-HEAR concert of Mozart and Bruckner this Friday night. Plus, guitarist Joseph Spoelstra and singer Alyssa Anderson perform the “Dream Songs Project” this Friday night.

March 21, 2013
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REMINDER: Today is the 328th birthday of J.S. Bach (below) and between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. this morning WORT 89.9 FM will mark the occasion by airing local performers playing Bach works. I posted about this yesterday. Here is a link:


ALERT: Guitarist Joseph Spoelstra and mezzo-soprano Alyssa Anderson (below) will perform the acclaimed “Dream Songs Project” this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive. The “We the People” program includes Benjamin Britten’s inventive arrangements of British Folksongs for voice and guitar; three of Brahms’ German Folksongs; Four French Folksongs by Hungarian Matyas Seiber; the very popular arrangements of Brazilian Folksongs by Laurindo Almeida; and as new arrangements of Swedish, and American folksongs.  Tickets: $10-$15 at the door or at For more information about the project, visit:

Dream Song Project Jospeh Spoelstra and Alyssa Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has been waiting a long time to hear the late Romanticism of Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (below in a photo from 1894).

Anton Bruckner in 1894

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and its maestro John DeMain have repeatedly promised that it would soon do one of the big symphonies, especially now that the playing of the ensemble has reached a high enough level to surmount the technical challenges of Bruckner’s scores and do justice to the music.

But just this past week, the MSO announced its next season – and Bruckner was once again nowhere to be found.

Well, if you need consolation perhaps you should consider attending the concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater. The WCO and music director-conductor Andrew Sewell, it seems, believe they are up to the challenge.

Tickets are $15-$65. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. Here is a link to WCO website where you can more out more information about the program, the performers and tickets:

WCO lobby

Only two works make up the program “Viennese Virtuosi.” But both works promise to be memorable.

The concert’s first half is made up of Mozart’s dramatic and stirring Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491. It is one of the two great piano concertos (the other, more popular one is in D minor, K. 466) that Mozart composed in darker minor keys.

It is also the piano concerto that the young piano virtuoso and composer Ludwig van Beethoven heard and sop impressed him that he remarked something to effect, “We shall not hear its like again.”

And indeed, we probably didn’t until Beethoven’s own Piano Concerto in C minor, OP. 37, the third of his five published piano concertos, appeared.

The soloist in the Mozart WAS to be Anne-Marie McDermott (below), an extremely talented, distinguished and much honored pianist as well as an Artist Member of the famed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. (McDermott, who made her debut at 12, has received, among many honors, an Avery Fisher Career grant and the prestigious Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award.)

But McDermott had to cancel at the last minute because of a family emergency. She will be replaced by the Israeli-born, New York-based pianist Shai Wosner (below), who performed the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 beautifully with the WCO two years ago — that time also as a substitute for McDermott who then had a scheduling conflict. 

This time Wosner will play the same great Mozart concerto that was originally programmed. It will be interesting to hear his Mozart.  Wosner has made terrific recordings of Brahms and Schoenberg along with an all-Schubert CD.

Here is a link to his website:

And here is a link to a previous post about his last appearance with the WCO:

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

The second half will be devoted to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 0 (called “Die Nullte”) in D minor. (Apparently there are major problems with the numbering and publishing and composing chronologies of Bruckner’s symphonies, which is how we end up a ZERO.)

But his ZERO is definitely NOT the same as nothing. It is really more of Symphony 1-1/2, coming between No.1 and No. 2, but retracted for revisions and never performed in the composer’s lifetime.

For more information about Bruckner (below), his life and his problematical work, here is a link to the Wikipedia entry:

Anton Bruckner 2

However the symphony is labeled, one thing is clear. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director Andrew Swell have beaten the older, larger and bigger Madison Symphony Orchestra to offering orchestral music by Bruckner (below). True, the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra did the deeply religious Bruckner’s “Te Deum” for chorus and orchestra many years ago.


Bruckner’s combining of modernism and polyphony, his radically long and repetitious and, yes, sometimes ponderous and pompous aesthetic that used unorthodox pre-modern harmonies, is not to everyone’s liking. But when it works, I have found, it works wonderfully -– which may be why his now popular contemporary Gustav Mahler (below), who shared a propensity for length and complex inventiveness, called Bruckner “half-simpleton and half-God.”

Gustav Mahler big

I love the Symphony No. 4 “Romantic” with its great brass work:

The rousing and almost scary Scherzo from the incomplete Symphony No. 9 (also in D minor) was used to terrific effect in the soundtrack to “Saraband,” the last movie by the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

In any case, this strikes The Ear as close to perfect programming, much the way that recently John DeMain and the MSO mixed a Mozart violin concerto with a Shostakovich symphony. The two minor key works should, across the centuries, resonate and echo with each other.

Plus, increasingly, Bruckner’s earlier symphonies — more Schubert-like in texture and orchestration than the bigger and bolder later works — than are being played by chamber orchestras and not only full-blown symphony orchestras. (Hear the first movement of the Bruckner Symphony No. 0 in D minor, with Sir George Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in the YouTube video at bottom. Nice and not so intimidating, nicht wahr?)


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