The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Can you pass NPR’s Bach Puzzler? Also Wednesday night is the FREE concert and live broadcasts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte concert of high school students in the teenage concerto competition. | March 23, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger


For The Ear, Sunday morning is always Bach Time.

True, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) is good to listen to anytime of the day or night. And indeed on Friday, which as Bach’s actual birthday in 1685, the commercial station Sirius XM radio played all-Bach while Wisconsin Public Radio played generous helping of Bach.


But something about the Baroque style and about Bach’s music in particular, beyond its religious or theological aspects, seems especially suited to morning and especially to Sunday morning. (Am I alone in that feeling?)

That is when I especially love to listen to a cantata, a violin or keyboard concerto, some of the solo suites for violin, cello and piano. It just feels right for Sunday morning.

So, go ahead: Celebrate Bach’s birthday today, even if it is a bit belated. What piece of Bach do you most love to listen to? Tell The Ear in the COMMENT section.

And while you are at it, try taking the Bach Puzzler quiz that appeared on NPR. It asks 10 questions about Bach’s music and life, and teaches you things you might not know. The Ear scored 9 out of 10. He’s betting many of you can do better.

Here is a link:

johann sebastian bach puzzler


This coming Wednesday night, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will hold the 2014 edition of the annual Final Forte in Overture Hall at the Overture Center.

The FREE concert, under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music guest conductor James Smith (below), who is filling in for John DeMain, features performances by the four finalists (two other rounds have already been completed)  for the Bolz Young Artist Competition -– in other words, a teenage concerto competition.

It will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast LIVE over Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.


To add to the excitement, right after the performances are over, and while the orchestra plays on its own, the judges will caucus and vote, and the winners and prize placements will then be determined and announced.

PLEASE NOTE: Those attending the performance in person must be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. And they must make reservations by calling the MSO at (608) 257-3734.

The four young artists competing are (below, from left to right, in photo by James Gill):

mso final forte 2014 David Cao, Elizabeth Moss, Bobby Levinger, Ephraim Sutherland CR James Gill

Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison and who will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will perform the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in LaCrosse. He will play the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He will perform the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne.  (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

In case you have to miss the Final Forte this Wednesday night, you can always record it. But there will also be encore broadcasts of the competition.

For more about these impressive sounding performers, including more complete biographies of them, and for broadcast dates and times, visit these two sites:

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  1. I love all of Bach’s works, but, like the Susan, I have to say that my favorite are the Goldbergs. Like you, I first heard them on Glenn Gould’s first recording of them and couldn’t believe they weren’t being played on two pianos since Gould’s performance was so 3-dimensional. It changed the way I studied Bach. I also like Simone Dinnerstein’s interpretation, though it’s not as texturally defined as Gould’s. Garrick Ohlsson also gives the Variations a sensitive reading.

    Comment by Sandy — March 23, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

  2. The Goldbergs. The first time I heard them, almost fifty years ago, I didn’t get them at all, but I loved Bach and stayed with them. They kept taking me deeper and deeper, and they still do.

    Comment by slfiore — March 23, 2014 @ 7:13 am

    • Hi Susan
      And that is the very definition of a masterpiece.
      Thank you.
      I agree with your assessment, although Bach’s “Goldberg” Vaiations cast their spell on me when I heard them for the first time in the first recording by Glenn Gould, and that spell only deepened with his second, very different recording that he did 25 years later.
      Let me also just add that to my ears the Goldbergs make more sense of the piano than the harpsichord because the voices and textures are clearer.
      So these days I listen to versions by Andras Schiff (preferably his second recording for ECM), Murray Perahia and lately Jeremy Denk — extraordinary performances, all, though very different.
      As Artur Schnabel once said, great music is always greater than any one performance.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 23, 2014 @ 8:17 am

      • Gould I & II remain the “Gould Standard,” and Tureck.

        I have recordings of two transcriptions, which I like: Sitkovetsky’s for string trio (Rachlin, Imai and Maisky):

        and Sylvain Blassel on harp:

        No matter what you do with Bach’s music, you just can’t ruin it!

        I agree re piano vs. harpsichord (which I’ve never cottoned on to): “skeletons copulating on a tin roof.”

        Comment by slfiore — March 23, 2014 @ 4:55 pm

      • Thanks for the links, even though I am not a harp fan.
        One wit I know said Junebugs on a screen door!

        Comment by welltemperedear — March 23, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

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