The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Trust The Ear — you will be pleased and perhaps even astonished by the annual Winterfest concerts of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on this Saturday and Sunday on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. | March 11, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings the annual Winterfest concerts given by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

WYSO Winterfest logo 2014

Once again, The Ear predicts, audiences will see and hear some of the city’s biggest, most enthusiastic and youngest audiences (below) greet equally young, enthusiastic and talented young players who turn in performances of astounding and often unexpected high quality.

The Ear knows that from personal experience. I will never ever forget a remarkable performance of the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak that I heard at a spring WYSO performance several years ago. It was serious music-making, not just student music-making.

WYSO young audience

In retrospect, all that should be no surprise. Young people from all around southcentral Wisconsin become members of WYSO only through a rigorous audition process, and the training is hard and long. But WYSO’s young performers end up making great music greatly, so that when they are invited to go on tour to Europe (two summers ago) and South America (this coming summer) it seems a natural outcome.

wyso violas

The concerts on this Saturday and Sunday are the primary concert fundraisers for the group that holds the most promise of insuring the future of classical music and music education among young people, especially at a  time when arts funding is being taken away from many public schools.

The concerts also serve as the run-up to the all-important Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. at CUNA Mutual. The concerts are guaranteed to whet your appetite for the Art of Note, which will feature fine food, wine, live music by student groups, auctions of items from sports matches and restaurants to vacations and entertainment, and old violins (below bottom) recycled as art.

Art of Note 2014 logo

Art of Note violins 2014

(In the interest of full disclosure, The Ear has to say that he is a member of the Board of Directors of WYSO — precisely because he considers it such a vital investment in the future of the performing arts and arts education. You should attend the concerts if you can, and also donate what you can to WYSO because I can’t think of a better or more deserving investment you can make.)

On this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and March 16, more than 350 talented young musicians will perform both classical and contemporary works.

The Winterfest Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison George L. Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts generally last about 1-1/2 hours, and provide a great orchestral concert opportunity for families. Dress is casual and the atmosphere is respectful, but informal. These concerts are, in a word, fun. 

Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.

WYSO was founded in 1966 and has served nearly 5,000 young musicians from more than 100 communities in southern Wisconsin.

The concert series kicks off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. with Sinfonietta (below) performing works by Aaron Copland, Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, Bedrich Smetana, Gazda, and Leyden.

WYSO Sinfonietta

Then on Saturday at 4 p.m. the Concert Orchestra (below) will perform numerous works, including “Three Songs of Chopin” by Frederic Chopin, “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst, “Band of Brothers” by Michael Kamen, and “The Great Gate of Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modeste Mussorgsky.

wyso concert orchestra brass

On Sunday at 1:30, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below, rehearsing) will perform the irresistible final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the fourth movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s searing Symphony No. 5, “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” by Edvard Grieg, “March and Procession to Bacchus” by Leo Delibes, and finally “Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

Then also on Sunday at 4 p.m., the Youth Orchestra (below, in performance under WYSO’s music director and UW-Madison conducting professor James Smith) will close the concert series with Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat by the 19th-century Romantic Russian composer Peter Illich Tchaikovsky (it is The Ear’s favorite of Tchaikovsky’s six wonderful  symphonies); “Liturgical Scenes” by the 20th-century American composer Ellsworth Milburn; and “El sombrero de tres picos” (The Three-Cornered Hat) by the 20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the finale to Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 as performed at last year’s WYSO Winterfest.)

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

For more information about the Winterfest concerts and the Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, as well as for information about auditioning to join WYSO and ways to support WYSO, visit:

WYSO extends special thanks to Diane Endres Ballweg for her generous multi-year support of the Winterfest Concerts. The concerts are also generously supported by Dane Arts, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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