The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Conductor-violist Mikko Utevsky discusses his first year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the lessons he brings to the concert Friday night by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra. Plus, please leave word if you are going to play the piano at Friday’s “Make Music Madison” festival.

June 20, 2013

REMINDER: This Friday is the Summer Solstice and the first-ever Make Music Madison citywide festival. If you plan to play on one of the four acoustic pianos being provided at fire stations around the city (no previous sign-up is required), or do other performances, please leave word in the COMMENT section with your name, the piece you will play, the place and the time. Here are links to previous posts about the event: Make Music Madison logo square By Jacob Stockinger

Friday is the Summer Solstice.

And that means there will be a lot of music performances in the Madison area since it is also the date of the inaugural Make Music Madison festival.

But once of the stand-out events is a performance by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which was founded a couple of years ago by Mikko Utevsky (below), a violist who at that time was a student at Madison East High School and a violist in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

The MAYCO concert is at 7:30 in Old Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus. The program features Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, with soloists violinist Eugene Purdue and violist Deidre Buckley; Aaron Copland’s “Our Town” and Serge Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” with narrator Lori Skelton.

Admission to the concert, called “A Tribute to Educators,” is at the door and costs $5 for adults and donations for students.

Conductor Mikko Utevsky, who wrote posts for this blog from the WYSO tour last summer to Vienna, Prague and Budapest, and who just completed his freshman year the UW-Madison School of Music, recently gave an email interview to The Ear.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

You just completed your first year at the UW-Madison School of Music. How did it go? What lessons do you bring to the upcoming concert by MAYCO?

I had an excellent first year – the faculty is superb, and it’s an exciting, collaborative environment. During the school year, I try to focus as much as possible on the viola. I am, after all, a performance major, and while I hope to make a career of conducting, right now I am first and foremost a violist. MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

When I first spoke with Professor Smith about studying conducting, his advice was to become the best violist I could. That’s what I’m doing. Prof. Sally Chisholm (below) is a wonderful teacher, and I am learning a great deal from her. The viola studio at the UW is great.

Sally Chisholm

Over the summer, I have some more time to work on my conducting: I have been taking lessons with Prof. Smith (below), and spending more time with my scores, library work and much, much more time on the phone finding players.


I think out of the whole year, the greatest influence on my work with MAYCO didn’t come from lessons. In the past, I’ve been wary of the Classical repertoire; it poses particular stylistic problems that can be difficult to address with a youth orchestra. I am coming to it with a new appreciation and understanding founded in my music history class with Professor Charles Dill and Charles Rosen’s book “The Classical Style” (below).

Charless Rosen The Classical Style

I had the fortune to end up reading it during the class, and together it and Prof. Dill (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) opened my ears to a new way of hearing this music, a way that leaves much more room for growth than the way I was used to listening. That’s a large part of why we’re doing three Classical works this summer (one each by the Big Three — Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven).

Charles Dill

Which direction do you want to pursue as a career — violist or conductor– and why?

My hope is to become a conductor, hopefully working with a university orchestra or youth symphony program. I love to teach, and want that to be a part of my work some day. I do not plan to give up the viola, of course; at the very least I will continue to play chamber music for as long as I can still hold my bow.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

What would you like to say about the soloists and narrator?

Diedre Buckley (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) was my first viola teacher, all through middle and high school. She and Gene Purdue (below bottom) both have thriving private teaching studios in Madison, and have several students in the orchestra — about half of the violins and violas are current or former students of theirs. They are both fantastic players and teachers, and bring a lot to the stage in terms of both experience and musicality. It’s been a real pleasure working with them this week, for me and the orchestra.

Deidre Buckley Katrin Talbot

Eugene Purdue 1 Thomas C. Stringfellow

Lori Skelton (below) does a lot of the classical programming on Wisconsin Public Radio. I’ve been listening to her “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” since it was “Live From the The Elvehjem,” and frequently tune in for her Afternoon Classics when I’m not in school. She is a wonderful storyteller with a wonderful voice, and working with her on Peter and the Wolf has been a lot of fun. Lori Skelton

What would you like the audience to know about the pieces on the program?

This isn’t quite your typical Overture/Concerto/Symphony program. For starters, the symphony and the concerto are the same piece: Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K. 364. This is probably the greatest piece in its genre, conceived on a more symphonic scale than most of Mozart’s middle concertos, and runs more than half an hour in length. (You can hear the opening in a YouTube video with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman at bottom.) It has wonderful orchestral writing, more substantial than one would expect from a simple concerto, and it uses double viola sections to match the soloist.

We’re opening the program with music by Aaron Copland (below) to the 1939 film adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” — both the movie and the score got Oscar nominations, though they both lost. It’s a beautiful piece with a very characteristic Copland sound, depicting life in a fictional New England town.

aaron copland

Finally, we are playing the famous orchestral fairy tale, “Peter and the Wolf,” by Serge Prokofiev (below). This work usually gets programmed on children’s concerts, and is seldom appreciated for its musical value, which is considerable (despite the rather silly — if charming — story). Lori Skelton will narrate the work.

Serge Prokofiev

Can you tell us any news about MAYCO and its plans, and about the same for yourself?

We have another concert coming up on August 9, also at 7:30 in Music Hall, for which we are still accepting players. The program is “New Horizons,” and includes Beethoven’s First Symphony; Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with Madison native and two-time National Trumpet Competition winner Ansel Norris (below top); and a new work by the local composer, singer and conductor Jerry Hui (below bottom).

Ansel Norris

Jerry Hui

We will be back next summer, of course. And while I have a pretty good idea of what we’ll be playing, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. As usual, I can promise variety of programming, some solid Classical works, and a spotlight on local artists.

As for me, I’ll be performing some solo Bach at the Madison Area Music Awards this weekend, taking a bike trip in July, camping, and preparing for our August concert.

Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera conductor John DeMain talks about the role of the piano in his career and his upcoming performances this weekend with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck Schumann songs and romances, and of Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” for piano, four-hands.

June 19, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison and the rest of the world know John DeMain (below, in a  photo by Prasad) primarily as a symphony and opera conductor who is also the longtime music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

But this acclaimed conductor, who won a Grammy Award for his recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and who conducted the world premiere of John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China” at the Houston Grand Opera, started his career as a promising pianist, as did many other conductors including Leonard Bernstein (with whom DeMain studied conducting), Sir Georg Solti, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim and Christoph Eschenbach. Aside from the pipe organ, the piano is generally considered to be the most orchestral of instruments — so it really comes as no surprise that so many conductors started out as pianists. (To be fair, still other well-known conductors began as string or wind players.)

DeMain will return to the piano this weekend when he splits accompanying duties with pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below), the co-founder and co-director of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. DeMain and Jeffrey Sykes will perform jointly in Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann,” Op. 23, and will take turns accompanying other performers in songs and romances for flute. (BDDS is also performing  a second program of  songs and chamber music by Ferdinand Ries, Ned Rorem, Frank Martin and Gabriel Faure.) 

Performances are on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Playhouse (below top) and on Sunday evening, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater (below bottom) at the landmark and historic Frank Lloyd Wright compound Taliesin in Spring Green.

BDDS Playhouse audience


The rest of the “love triangle” program of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann (both below) and Johannes Brahms includes many songs by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann and Brahms; Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano, Op. 94; Clara Wieck Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano Op. 22. For more information about the program, performers and tickets, visit


DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) graciously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:


Most of us know you as a conductor, even though you have played continuo and conducted smaller operas from the keyboard for the Madison Opera. You started out as a pianist. Can you tell about your time as a pianist from starting lessons through competitions and Juilliard and the decision to go into conducting?

I started studying piano at the age of six. I was a pretty good sight-reader and loved to accompany myself singing. When I was a senior in high school, I won the Youngstown Symphony Society’s piano competition, competing with college-level students.

After making my debut playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the symphony, I decided to audition for Juilliard. I was accepted and studied for six years with Adele Marcus (below, as a demanding young teacher and performer). I played chamber music with the concertmaster of the Juilliard orchestra, and I won a competition in New York for young artists.

Adele Marcus

Why did you want to change from being a pianist to being a conductor, especially an opera conductor? (What are the comparative pleasures and pains of each, the piano and conducting?)

Conducting sort of coexisted side by side with playing the piano. I was conducting the grade school band in fourth-grade when the teacher didn’t show up. It came to me naturally.

While at Juilliard I took some elective conducting courses with Jorge Mester (below). I earned my tuition for Juilliard by conducting musicals for big summer stock theaters in the summer.


After graduating from Juilliard, I continued to play chamber music in New York and played a few recitals. I always had a big love for the theater, opera and singing as well as the symphony orchestra.

Certain opportunities were presented to me in the field of conducting, starting with the Norwalk Connecticut Symphony, followed by a lengthy stint with opera for public television.

That, in turn, led to a summer studying conducting at Tanglewood, and to beginning my professional career at the New York City Opera as the second winner of the Julius Rudel award. (Below is a photo of Julius Rudel, the Austrian native who led the New York City Opera for many years and also guest conducted at the Met and elsewhere .) My duties included 35 hours a week of coaching and playing rehearsals. So the piano was always part of my professional life.

julius rudel

My next position was with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (below) as associate conductor. In addition to conducting the orchestra on tour and having my own subscription concerts, I was playing chamber music with members of the orchestra on our chamber music series.

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

How did the piano affect your conducting and what did you bring to conducting from the piano? And inversely, what does conducting now bring to your playing the piano?

Playing the piano is a great aid in learning orchestral scores. One can study both the melodic content of a work, but even more importantly the harmonic structure of the music.

Conducting makes me aware of pulse when I’m playing the piano. And, of course, there is the imagining the piano part as though it would be orchestrated, much the same way we imagine the human voice singing an orchestral melody.

I think the life of a pianist can be more isolated, considering the many hours of practicing that is required. While studying orchestral and operatic scores is also isolated and private, there are so many rehearsals with the cast or the orchestra that makes for a more social experience. That seems to suit me better.

John DeMain conducting 2

I suppose the trite answer is we do something because we can. I love the big playground of opera and symphony, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But making music at the piano with fellow musicians is such an important part of a complete musical life.

In the orchestra world, we like to say that all music is chamber music. Listening to each other and responding accordingly is a great part of great orchestral playing. One develops this playing chamber music. Playing one-on one with your fellow musicians where everyone is equal. I feel blessed that I can participate in all of this from time to time.

Do have any comment about Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” for piano, four-hands, and other works you will be performing this weekend with Jeffrey Sykes for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society?

I certainly don’t play the piano publicly that frequently anymore, and I haven’t for years. But I thought this would be a rewarding experience, which is turning out to be just that. I have big respect for what Stephanie Jutt (who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and Jeffrey Sykes (below) have created. And I love Jeffrey’s pianism.

jeffrey sykes

The Brahms theme-and-variations (played by the Kontarsky brothers in a YouTube video at bottom) are rather extraordinary, and we are enjoying ourselves immense putting them together. They are harmonically quite daring at times, and of course deal in the finality of life as well. It should be an interesting concert.

Classical music: Madison likes it maestros. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra renews music director and conductor Andrew Sewell for another five years.

June 18, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Just two weeks away from the start of the 30th annual Concerts on the Square concerts, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has renewed the contract of its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) for another five years.


(The FREE and outdoors Concerts on the Square — below — will  run this summer on six consecutive Wednesdays at 7 p.m. from June 26 through July 31 on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. Here is a link with more information, including specific artists and programs:

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

Madison sure likes its maestros. And with good reason.

This fall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (below) marks his 20th season with the MSO. During his tenure he has reshaped and refined the orchestra, and led it to “triple” performances.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Sewell arrived on the local scene in 2000. That is a long and solid tenure for the New Zealand-born Sewell, who is now a naturalized American citizen.

Little wonder that the WCO wants to retain him. Sewell revitalized his organization and helped bring the WCO back from the brink of ruin after the unexpected and premature death of David Lewis Crosby. He helped it secure a permanent home in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater.

Sewell (below) is a friendly, informal and congenial man plus an excellent conductor, especially in the Classical-era repertoire of Mozart and Haydn, who especially excels at eclectic programming. Under Sewell, the WCO is taken much more seriously for its winter “Masterworks” season than it ever has been. He finds and books outstanding yet affordable soloists, and he has recorded several noteworthy CDs with the WCO. Plus, he is in demand as a guest conductor around the world.

Madison is very lucky to have him and to hold him.

So, The Ear says “Congratulations, Maestro Sewell” and offers a shout-out with wishes for many more seasons with the WCO in Madison.

Andrew Sewell very casual Diane Seldick

Here is the official press release from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

MADISON, WI  – The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in the hallway to the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater) is pleased to announce the renewal of Maestro Andrew Sewell’s contract for another five-year term.

“Maestro Sewell was appointed music director on February 1, 2000, and since then has grown the orchestra’s repertoire, profile and stature in the Madison community and around the state.

WCO lobby

“I am delighted to continue my work here in Madison, my home, and am excited for what the next five years will bring” says Sewell.  “I feel privileged to live in a community that embraces the arts, and the opportunity to work with such extraordinary musicians.  I am pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish, with exciting guest artists and expanding repertoire, and look forward to performing many more seasons of beautiful music.” (At bottom, is the first of a two-part YouTube video in which Andrew Sewell reflects on music.)

“Doug Gerhart, executive director of the orchestra, remarks: “Andrew’s impressive artistic leadership has placed the WCO solidly among the top chamber orchestras in the United States.  He has an uncanny ability to create widely popular programs that link timeless masterpieces with contemporary, fresh compositions.”

“Gordon Ridley, chair of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra board of directors, adds: “Maestro Sewell has a knack of finding and bringing in extraordinary talent that we then see rise to new heights in the orchestral world.  We are very lucky to have him in Madison, Wisconsin.”

“Sewell is a sought after guest conductor, with recent guest engagements including the Illinois Symphony, the Eugene Symphony, the Green Bay Symphony, the Salem Chamber Orchestra, the OK Mozart Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival.  In June 2012 he made his opera debut with Hong Kong City Opera, and last November conducted the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera production of “Medea” by Luigi Cherubini. (Below, Sewell is seen with Robert Bracey in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater, which is the WCO’s winter home.)

WCO Sewel Bracey B-9

“Entering its 54th year, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, led by Maestro Andrew Sewell, is a vibrant and thriving professional orchestra dedicated to connecting its audiences to the power of music.

“Annually, the WCO performs a five-concert Masterworks series in its permanent home at the Overture Center for the Arts magnificent Capitol Theater, two Holiday Pops, “Messiah” and Youth Concerts, and Madison’s premier six-concert outdoor summer event, Concerts on the Square®, celebrating its 30th year this summer.

“With a core orchestra of 34 musicians and an established endowment, WCO is one of the finest chamber orchestras in the country.  For more information, visit”

Classical music: The Ear falls in love with the clarinet as, once again, Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society surprises fans and inspires audiences to standing ovations with great music, great performers and great fun. Don’t miss the rest of the BDDS season.

June 17, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Every summer it happens.

Just when I think I can’t be pleasantly surprised anymore, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society once again manages to surprise me – and with the greatest of pleasure.

This summer’s series — three weekends of six programs in June — opened with two programs this past weekend. And this time, the BDDS made me fall in love with the clarinet.

Now, I have always liked the clarinet. But after hearing clarinetist Burt Hara in his first BDDS appearances, I am absolutely in love with the instrument.

Burt Hara

Hara performed beautifully in Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, but the pieces that really enraptured me were Brahms’ sublimely beautiful and intimate Clarinet Quintet (below) and Olivier Messiaen’s dramatic “Quartet for the End of Time,” which to me is more remarkable for the playing than for the music. (Retired Wisconsin Public Radio host and now narrator Linda Clauder expressively read poems by Shelley, Yeats and other works chosen by pianist Sykes in between movements.)

BDDS 2-13 Brahms Clarinet Quintet

In all cases, Hara showed a complete mastery. (See and listen to his YouTube video at the bottom.) He is the model of a quiet virtuoso who avoids flash. He blends rather than stands out. He can play softly, almost inaudibly, without losing the incredible richness and depth of tone. His pitch is wonderful, and his ability in the Messiaen quartet (below) to hold a tone from almost silence to a very loud sound with gradual but absolute steadiness was nothing short of miraculous.

BDDS 2013 2 Messiaen

Not for nothing has Hara been the principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Orchestra for 25 years, although due to that orchestra’s unfortunate lockout and labor strife, he has apparently decided to take a position as assistant principal clarinet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its white-hot young, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Wherever Hara makes his home, I hope he returns to Madison in future summers to perform some of the great clarinet repertoire – Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Brahms’ two clarinet sonatas, Debussy’s Rhapsody and Poulenc’s sonata among others.

But Hara is not alone in attracting my attention and admiration.

Also impressive in the first two concerts was guest violist Yura Lee (below), whose lyricism and expressive face matched her impeccable intonation and tone.

Yura Lee 2

Among the more regular BDDS members were co-founders and co-directors pianist Jeffrey Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt (below top) as well as Anthony Ross (below top), principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and violinist Carmit Zori (below bottom), from the Brooklyn Chamber Music Festival.


Anthony Ross cello

Carmit Zori

I don’t think a wrong note, an off-rhythm or a false interpretative move happened among all of them. In short, chamber music and ensemble playing just don’t get any better.

Then there is the repertoire.

I may be never again hear such rarely performed works as Felix Mendelssohn’s early Sonata for Viola or Maurice Emmanuel’s Trio Sonata from 1907, but I am very happy I got to hear them once and I doubt I will ever hear them performed better.

Then there was the American contemporary composer Kenji Bunch (below) and his “New Moon and Morning” (2008) for flute and string quartet. It was a lovely and accessible work that goes down easily. It struck me as very post-Ravel, a sort of meticulously Minimalist French-like work that was terrifically evocative and convincingly atmospheric. As far as I know it is a Madison or even a Midwest premiere, and the work’s colorful transparency worked perfectly as a counterpart complement to Mozart’s trio.

kenji bunch composing

As always there are the creative and very ingenious sets, this year designed by artists Brenda Baker and Burt Ross. This summer’s theme is “Deuces Are Wild” to mark BDDS’ 22nd season, so art of thre “set” uses playing cards around the stage and projected onto the backdrop (below top and bottom) as well as a card trick by a local magician.

BDDS 2013 playing cards on stage

BDDS 2013 playing cards screen 2

The Ear was told that ticket sales are ahead of last summer, and that even subscription tickets are moving faster. That pleases me since I named the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society as Musicians of the Year for 2012.

But there are still seats to be filled at the Overture Center’s Playhouse, the Stoughton Opera House and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

Over the next two weekends, the performers include Madison  Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain as pianist and MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz as well as the always reliable singers of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Emily Birsan and bass-baritone Timothy Jones plus Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp and the always reliable violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau of the San Francisco Trio.

The repertoire includes major instrumental works and songs by Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mozart and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

But curiously, despite the group’s name, there was and is NO Bach.

Maybe pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a masterful chameleon of a pianist who can blend into any period or style and who played solo Haydn last summer, could open each concert with a brief overture of sorts — some solo Bach, perhaps a short Prelude and Fugue from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” or a Two-Part or Three-Part Invention, or a movement from a suite or partita. Or maybe a guest violinist or cellist could play a movement from a Bach s0lo suite or, with Sykes, a movement from a Bach sonata. It would set the tone, so to speak, and become a unifying motif.

BDDS Jeffrey Sykes Haydn sonata

Anyway, if you love music and are not attending the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you are cheating yourself out of a wondrous experience.

For a complete listing of dates, place, times, tickets, performers and pieces, go to:

Classical music: It’s Father’s Day. Who is tops as a musical father figure? The Ear says Johann Sebastian Bach is the Father of All Fathers – literally and figuratively — when it comes to classical music.

June 16, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Sunday, June 16, is Father’s Day in the U.S.

The holiday just isn’t as important as Mother’s Day, as lower retail sales figures show. But it is well worth noting and is widely celebrated.

So The Ear has to ask: What is the best music to play on Father’s Day, and who qualifies as the most important father figure in classical music?

Of course there are many father figures in opera, with Verdi’s Rigoletto protecting his daughter Gilda as a prime example. (Below is a photo from a production by the San Francisco Opera.)

Rigoletto SF Opera

Then there is Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s dour, tyrannical and demanding father who played such a pivotal and not always good role in his son’s career.

leopold mozart 1

Same for Beethoven’s father, a drunk who forced and abused his son Ludwig into practicing in the middle of the night.

The talented Alessandro Scarlatti (below top) gave us the prolific composer of wonderful keyboard sonatas Domenico Scarlatti (below bottom).

Alessandro Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti muted

But I think the honors for today’s holiday must go to the Father of All Fathers: Johann Sebastian Bach.

Not only did he father a lot of children– 20 with two wives. He also fathered some pretty important composers in their own right who followed him and at times even disavowed or repudiated their own father’s style as old-fashi0ned and outdated: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Johann Christoph Bach.

More importantly, Johann Sebastian (below) was — at least to my ears – the father of all Western classical music, if any single figure can be said to be that.

He was, in short, The Big Bang of classical music.

In that sense J.S. Bach was a father to all classical composers who followed him, whether they emulated him or rebelled against him.


So here is a favorite work of mine by J.S. Bach to celebrate Father’s Day and the towering influence of Bach as a literal and figurative father:

If you can think of others father figures, please let The Ear know by leaving a remark in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: A new chamber version of Daron Hagen’s “Shining Brow,” an opera about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, gets successfully staged at — and somewhat upstaged by — by Wright’s masterpiece home Fallingwater.

June 15, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s posting is by guest blogger Ron McCrea (below). McCrea, a longtime Madison journalist, is the author of “Building Taliesin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home of Love and Loss,” published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in 2012. McCrea traveled to Pittsburgh last weekend to see a chamber adaptation of American composer Daron Hagen’s opera “Shining Brow” performed on the decks of Fallingwater, Wright’s famous 1937 summer home, built beside a stream and over a waterfall deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania. Here is a report by McCrea (below), including photos mostly  taken by him.

ron McCrea headshot

By Ron McCrea

Do you go to the opera to see the opera, or to admire the opera house? Do you go to see the action onstage, or to see who has shown up in the boxes? For opera fans, the answer is probably a bit of both, though if the opera is truly grand the setting quickly recedes when the house lights dim.

The setting never receded at Fallingwater on Saturday night. The competition posed by this stupendous woodland summer palace, with the sound of its rushing waterfall (below bottom) constantly playing in the background and the light changing on its ivory decks as the sun set, was too much for six singers and seven instrumentalists to overcome, as cleverly and effectively as the opera “Shining Brow” was staged.

Fallingwater 1

Fallingwater's waterfall

June 8 was Wright’s 146th birthday. It was also another visit by composer Daron Hagen to Fallingwater. He snapped photos from the terraces before the performance, while the 120 ticket-holders, who paid $350, were allowed to roam the Edgar Kaufmann House with drinks and hors d’oeuvres (below), as though they were regular guests of the Pittsburgh department store magnate who commissioned Wright to build a summer place that would make them both immortal.

It worked for Wright: His face appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 with his color rendering of Fallingwater in the background. (For a full account, see “Fallingwater Rising” by Franklin Toker, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.)

Fallingwater Al fresco buffet

Hagen, who graduated from UW-Madison in 1982, stood rapt as he watched the floating performance on the terraces. “Shining Brow,” an early work originally commissioned by the Madison Opera, received its world premiere in Madison in 1993. For the performances by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Hagen cut down his work from two hours to 70 minutes, eliminating choruses, scenes and an amusing barbershop quartet sung by Chicago journalists who have come to Wisconsin to cover the scandal at Taliesin, Wright’s “love bungalow.”

Hagen also reduced his instrumental forces from a full orchestra to a chamber ensemble consisting of a violin, viola, cello, oboe/English horn, three kinds of clarinets with one player, and keyboard (below).

The re-orchestration had a good, full sound, and everything was well amplified and lighted for the outdoor stage. The action, directed by Jonathan Eaton and conducted by Robert Frankenberry, moved among four levels of terraces and used the approaches to the house.

Musicians at Fallingwater

The opera tells the story of Wright (baritone Kevin Kees, below); his mentor, Louis Sullivan (tenor James Flora); his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney (soprano Lara Lynn Cottrill); her husband, Edwin Cheney (bass-baritone Dimitrie Lazich); and Wright’s wife Catherine (soprano Kara Cornell).

It spans the years 1903-1914, which cover Wright’s commission to build a home for the Cheneys, his break with Sullivan, his liaison and elopement to Europe with Mamah, his breakup with Catherine, and the murder and fire at Taliesin that leave Mamah dead and Wright bereft.  The role of a maid who brings the angry, disillusioned Sullivan his drinks is sung by soprano Anna McTiernan.

Fallingwtaer Kevin Kees sings Wright

Librettist Paul Muldoon, now the poetry editor for The New Yorker magazine, plays fast and loose with history while having fun making double-entendres out of Sullivan’s description of the skyscraper as “every inch a proud and soaring thing.”

The opera really is less about history than about the competing claims of love and ambition, the jealousies between mentor and pupil, and the passion to create a new American art not tied to Europe.

Hagen, in a 40-minute talk on the bus (below) to Fallingwater, said the argument between Sullivan and Wright over whether Wright had “borrowed” his ideas or “purloined” them was much like the dispute that caused a rift between Arnold Schoenberg and his protégé Marc Blitzstein.

Daron Hagen lectures on fallingwater bus

Hagen recalled with affection the commission for “Shining Brow,” which came by phone from Madison while he and Muldoon were both young unknowns at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. He remembered playing and singing the first act of “Shining Brow” for Leonard Bernstein at his Manhattan apartment, and playing through the entire opera in the same apartment (without Lenny) for a Madison delegation that included the Madison Opera’s General Director Ann Stanke (below top) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Music Director and the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director Roland Johnson (below bottom) both recently deceased.

ann stanke

Roland Johnson

The premiere in 1993 was well reviewed by The New York Times (the review was a first for the Madison Opera, Hagen said) and a Chicago Tribune critic in 1997 called the opera “one of the most universally praised new American works of the decade.” Madison music critic and this blog’s host, Jacob Stockinger, also wrote in The Capital Times that the opera deserved the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Nevertheless, Hagen said he had to wait a full decade before the opera was revived. After thinking he would become an overnight sensation, he came to realize that “Shining Brow” was “a home run in a Triple-A league.” Madison was too regional to win the attention of the Coasts -– a problem Wright himself had until he created Fallingwater.

A recording of the full opera by the Buffalo Philharmonic is available on Naxos. Pittsburgh Opera General Manager Scott Timm said a video of the Fallingwater performance might be issued if the unions agree to it.

SummerFest in Pittsburgh, whose theme this year is “Up Close and Passionate,” will run from July 6-21 at the historic Beaux-Arts Twentieth Century Club. “Shining Brow” will be performed on July 11 and July 19, with tickets priced between $20 and $40 and a pre-theater dinner available. For full information, visit

Fallingwater program

Classical music: Tonight is the FREE opening preview concert of cello and piano music for the 18 concerts in this summer’s Green Lake Festival.

June 14, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Word has reached The Ear:

“Celebrating its 34 year, the Green Lake Festival of Music will present a Free Season Preview Concert at 7:30 p.m. this Friday night, June 14, at the Thrasher Opera House (below), 506 Mill Street, in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

thrasher opera house

The concert will feature pianist Sahun Hong (in a photo below top), winner of the 2012 Milwaukee Piano Arts Competition, and cellist Alison Rowe (below bottom), a winner of the 2013 Wisconsin Public Radio Neale-Silva Competition.

Sahun Hong

Alison Rowe with cello

The duo will be performing works of Benjamin Britten, Beethoven, Kirchner and Robert Schumann.

The concert is open to the public, tickets are free for all and no reservations are required. A pre-concert conversation with the artists will begin at 6:45 p.m.

In addition to hearing the musical performances, the audience will be introduced to the 18 events of the 2013 Concert Season by Festival Director Jeffrey Harkins.  (At bottom, in a YouTube video, is a movement from a Haydn piano trio performed at the festival’s chamber music camp.)

For more information, contact the Festival Office at (800) 662-7097 or visit

ALSO WORTH NOTING: This Sunday afternoon, June 16, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom will be featuring music on her show that will be performed during the 34th Festival Season. You can tune in to your favorite Wisconsin Public Radio station — or stream it online here — to listen to Lori’s Broadcast previewing some of the musical highlights you will hear live in concert halls this year.  

Classical music: Madison’s summer classical music season kicks off this Friday night with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opening its 22nd season this Friday night at the Overture Center’s Playhouse.

June 13, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly, it seems, classical music in Madison never takes a break or at least an extended vacation.

The regular seasons are barely over for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the many University of Wisconsin School of Music groups including orchestras and opera, the Edgewood College music program, and many other small and large ensembles.

Nonetheless, the rich summer classical music season is about to begin.

Here is a round-up, hardly all-inclusive since I am sure I have overlooked something, of various local Madison-area events. (If some event has been left out, please forgive me and leave information in the COMMENTS section.)

JUNE 14-JUNE 30: This Friday night the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will kick off its 22nd season, entitled in numerically fitting way, “Deuces Are Wild.” It will perform in three venues: the Playhouse in the Overture Center, the Hillside Theater at the Frank Lloyd Wright landmark compound Taliesin in Spring Green; and the Opera House in Stoughton.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

There is so much to recommend this thoroughly professional and thoroughly enjoyable group, which The Ear named Musician of the Year for 2012.

For starters, there will be the usual door prizes, original art as stage backdrops and mystery guests.

There is some unusual repertoire such as works by Kenji Bunch, Ferdinand Ries, Frank Martin, Ned Rorem, Dick Kattenburg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold mixed in with such famous masterpieces as Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio, Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet and G Major String Sextet, Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio for piano, viola and clarinet and Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” with former Wisconsin Public Radio host Linda Clauder as narrator, and others. One especially intriguing program explores the romantic three-way among Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck Schumann.

Curiously, however, there will be NO BACH – no Johann Sebastian or Carl Philipp Emanuel or Wilhelm Friedemann or Johann Christoph –- despite the group’s name.

BDDS Brahms Quintet

The usual mix of local and imported performers will be featured, including the always reliable co-founders and co-directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes. But one noteworthy difference is the appearance of Madison Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor John DeMain (below), who will play the piano (his first instrument before he went into conducting and then specialized in opera) in two-piano works with Jeffrey Sykes.

Here is a link to the BDDS home webpage with lots of links to the programs, the venues, tickets and background:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a roundup of other dates and events you might want to put into your datebook.

JUNE 21: The first MAKE MUSIC MADISON outdoor festival will be held citywide to celebrate the summer solstice. Four acoustic pianos, with no advance sign-up, will be located at fire stations around the city. Here is a link:

Make Music Madison logo square

JUNE 21:  The Madison Youth Area Chamber Music Orchestra (below in Mills Hall) will perform Aaron Copland’s “Our Town,” Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” with Wisconsin Public Radio narrator Lori Skelton and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with violinist Eugene Purdue and violist Deidre Buckley.

MAYCO playing

JUNE 21: In a “Real Men Sing” Concert, Kantorei (below), The Singing Boys of Rockford, Illinois, will perform a collaborative choral concert with choirs from the Madison Youth Choirs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 7337 Hubbard Ave., in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Kantorei Tour 2013

JUNE 22: First of three free Farmers Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ and organ soloist Jared Stellmacher (below) and The Gargoyle Brass. Here is a link with another link to the program:

Jared Stellmacher 2

JUNE 26-JULY 31: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will hold the 30th annual summer of the hugely popular Concerts on the Square. While most of the repertoire will be folk, rock, jazz and pop music, the opening concert, featuring concerto competition winner violinist David Cao (below) will be all-classical, and other concerts will have some classical works. Here is a link:

David Cao older

JUNE 29: The Madison Summer Choir (below) will perform Charles Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass and other works at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Here is a link:

Madison Summer Choir orchestra

JULY 6-JULY 12: The 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival will celebrate “A Festive Celebration of the German Renaissance.” (The logo is below.) It will feature the Calmus Ensemble of Leipzig, the Dark Horse Consort, the viol consort Parthenia and the Renaissance band Piffaro. The usual pre-concert lectures, workshops and outstanding performances as well as the All-Festival Concert (“Stuttgart 1616) will be featured. New this year is a Handel Aria competition, sponsored by early music fans Orange and Dean Schroeder of Orange Tree Imports, on Monday July 8, at 7 p.m.  Here is a link:

memf 14 logo

JULY 13: Madison Opera’s “Opera in the Park”: This FREE outdoors event usually tracts more than 10,000 people to Garner Park on the west side and offers a preview of the next season and other repertoire. Here is a link:

Opera in Park Stage

JULY 20: The second of three free Farmer’s Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ and organist Wyatt Smith (below). Here is a link with a link to the program:

Wyatt Smith

AUGUST 9: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, under founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 and the premiere of a new work from Madison composer Jerry Hui:

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

AUGUST 14: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform a FREE concert in Old Sauk Trails Business Park.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

AUGUST 17: Last of three free FREE Farmers Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ with guest organist Adrian Binkley (below) and MSO organist Samuel Hutchison. Here is a link with another to the program:

Adrian Binkley

AUGUST 20-SEPTEMBER 1: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has the theme “Improvisations on a Theme.” Concerts in the refurbished barn (below) will feature unfinished Mozart by Harvard scholar Robert Levin, a new piece (Violin Sonata No. 2) by composer and co-director John Harbison for his violinist wife and co-director Rose Mary Harbison. Also included this year is an emphasis on Shakespeare with music (Haydn and Schubert among others) and readings. Here is a link:

TokenCreekbarn interior

After that, summer will be behind us, and fall ahead of us, and it will be time again for the Karp Family Labor Day concert at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Music–- for more than 30 years the traditional opening of the regular concert season.

Classical music: The UW Choral Union announces its concerts for next season. Music by Vaughan Williams, Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff will be performed. Plus, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens Madison’s summer music season starting this Friday night and is on WORT radio Thursday morning.

June 12, 2013
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ALERT: WORT (88.9 FM)  radio host Rich Samuels, a major friend of Madison’s active classical music scene, writes: “I’ll be acknowledging the beginning of Madison’s summer music season on my show Thursday morning with a 7 a.m. segment (pre-recorded) featuring flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below), co-founders and co-directors of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. They’ll be talking about the 22nd season of BBDS – called, fittingly, “Deuces Are Wild.” It kicks off this Friday night at the Overture Center’s Playhouse, as well as the Prairie Rhapsody benefit concert they’ll be presenting this Thursday evening at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton. I’ll be playing recorded highlights from last year’s BBDS offerings including (at 6:10 a.m.) the chamber transcription of Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 85, which is said to have been a favorite of Marie Antoinette. In the 7 a.m. hour I’ll also have an interview with Jim Latimer, director of the Capitol City Band. Its 45th season kicks off at Rennebohm Park on Thursday. In eight weeks, the band will be presenting its 800th concert. (Here is a link to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society website that includes the full schedule of concerts:

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s Choral director Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) has announced the next season of the UW choral Union.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Here are the dates and the repertoire:

On Nov. 23-24 (Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.) the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (both below in Mills Hall) will perform Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Grant Us Peace) and Relix Mendelssohn’s “Die Erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night). (At bottom is a YouTube video of the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra and UW tenor soloist James Doing performing the Final Chorus from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.”)

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m., the UW Choral Union will have one performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers,” done a cappella with no orchestra.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

The Ear has also heard that the Concert Choir will be presenting J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” on April 12, 2014. If it is anything like the same group’s fabulous performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor several years ago, it should be a memorable event.

For more details about the Choral Union and other choral groups on the UW-Madison campus, use this link to the UW School of Music:

Classical music: Here are the three winners – Ukrainian, Italian and American — of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition that concluded Sunday night in Fort Worth, Texas.

June 11, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

We have a winner!

Actually, we have three of them (below in a photo by Tom Fox) – one Ukrainian (first place, center), one Italian (second place, on left) and one American (third place, on right).

van cliburn 14 3 winners CR Tom Fox Beatrice Rana (silver) of Italy; Vadym Kholodenko (gold) of Urkaine; and Sean Chen (bronze) of the U.S

After two weeks of preliminaries, semi-finals and finals, the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, has come to its conclusion. It ended with concertos and the official announcement Sunday night.

It is the first competition, now in its 52nd year, to be held after the death of its namesake, the world-famous pianist Van Cliburn (at bottom, at the first Tchaikovsky Competition, which he won against all odds, in Moscow in 1958) who died in February at 78 of bone cancer.

Here is a previous posting I did about the competition with many other links:

Other changes, including bigger prizes, were also made with this competition, which is held every four years. But apparently, it was a fine success on many counts.

2013 Van Cliburn competition 2013

Here are several links to stories that include a variety of background and details:

cliburn 14 standing ovation for sean chen Tom Fox

And here is a link to the photo portfolio from the competition with a lot of thankful tweets from fans who follow the various rounds of the competition:

Here is the terrifically designed logo for the competition that turns Van Cliburn’s initials sideways into a piano:

van cliburn 14 cup and logo Tom Fox

And here are some observations by Scott Cantrell, the classical music critic for the Dallas Morning News who clearly dislikes percussive piano playing, about the performances of the three winners plus a photo gallery, with detailed IDs, by staff photographer Tom Fox:

Cliburn's hands

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