The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. FUS music director Dan Broner discusses how the programs come together. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner on Tuesday night.

September 30, 2013
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REMINDER: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs a FREE concert tomorrow, on Tuesday night, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall. The program, under conductor James Smith, features Robert Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo and Finale,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and Richard Wagner‘s “Siegfried Idyll.” 

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has so much fine free music to offer listeners, especially at the University of Wisconsin School of Music through the Faculty Concert Series and various student groups.

But one of the most enjoyable events is also one of the most low-profile.

I am speaking about the weekly Friday Noon Musicales (below) that take place in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society’s historic Meeting House, near University Hospital, at 900 University Bay Drive off, just University Avenue on the city’s near west side. 

FUS1jake

It is not surprising that the Friday Musicales exist because the Unitarians in Madison — which has the highest concentration of Unitarians in the U.S. —  always place a major emphasis on music, as did its famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (An excerpt from an All-Mozart Sunday is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

You can bring lunch, drink coffee or tea, or, as I do, eat before and take along a small dessert.

But so often the midday music concert is itself the dessert, the real treat. Imagine the fun of hearing live music for a daytime break. It is like a parenthesis, a time-out or an oasis in the day. Often I have walked into the concert with less enthusiasm and energy than I left with. The music recharges me and provides a spark to get through the rest of the day.

The setting and presentation are informal. But I have found the audiences very appreciative and generally quiet and well-behaved, though sometimes the knitters and readers, especially if they are in the front rows, strike me as rude and disrespectful to the performers.

I have heard singers and solo pianists, string trios and string quartets, all kinds of soloists and ensembles and music.

The Musicale series starts again this week, this Friday Oct. 4. So The Ear asked the First Unitarian Society’s music director Dan Broner to provide some background.

The many-talented Broner (below) not only plans the concerts and performers, he also plays the pianist himself as an accompanist in many of the concerts.

Here is Dan Broner’s email Q&A with The Ear:

Dan Broner BIG mug

How long have the Free Friday Noon musicales been held? Are they expensive to put on and how are they funded?

They have been held since 1987. They are an outreach program to the community and funded by the First Unitarian Society’s operating budget. The costs are that portion of my salary for administering and performing in the series, plus piano tuning and minimal utility expenses.

The musicians donate their services, and the 45-minute concerts (they run 12:15 to 1 p.m.) are free and open to the public.

How successful have they been? What is the typical attendance and how it is trended in recent years? Do certain kinds of concerts (instrument, voice, program, performer) attract a bigger or smaller audience?

The Musicales attract listeners of all ages, but are particularly attractive to seniors, and workers who can attend during their lunch break.

They regularly attract between 50 and 75, numbers, which have been consistent for the past 11 years of my tenure.

Attendance would most likely be higher if it we had more parking. But we share the lot with the Meeting House Nursery School, which limits availability.

Generally instrumental performances attract a larger audience, and more well-known artists will generate a larger crowd as well.

What do you hear from the public as a reaction to the concerts?

Almost every week I will receive favorable comments from attendees who enjoy the Musicales. Some have stated that they are their favorite musical events.

The Musicales are scheduled between October and May and many folks have said that they are eager for the season to begin.

How do you line up artists and programs? Do they come to you or you come to them?

Many artists contact me. They are attracted by the historic Frank Lloyd Wright landmark venue (below): the architecture, acoustics and the fully restored 1889 Steinway Model A grand piano.

Often they are students and teachers from the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other area universities who would like a trial run of recitals they are preparing.

Every summer I send out an email to every artist who has performed in the series and many elect to perform again.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

Are there special programs you would like to point out for the current season?

There are many intriguing musicales this season, but a few do stand out for me personally. I’m eager to hear the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (below top), who is playing on Dec. 6. I always enjoy hearing the fine violinist, Kangwon Kim (below middle), and I look forward to collaborating with her on the Johannes Brahms’ Sonata in G for Violin and PIano on Friday, Jan. 10.

The fine Chicago area virtuoso pianist Mark Valenti will be performing at the Musicales for the first time on Jan. 31. Madison native pianist Kathy Ananda-Owens, from the St. Olaf College music faculty, plays on Feb. 7 and the Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet (below bottom), which is always fun, performs on March 14.

Garrick Olsen 2

Kangwon Kim

Black Marigold

Is there anything else you would like or add or say?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this unique series. We welcome new listeners and musicians interested in performing.

Please join us for the first Musicale on this Friday, October 4, at 12:15 p.m. Violist Shannon Farley (below), with guitarist Christopher Allen and pianist Greg Punswick, will be performing music of J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Cesar Franck.

Shannon Farley viola FUS


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