The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin opens its return season this Sunday night with an event that combines music, food and poetry. | September 8, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW) write:

After Sound Ensemble Wisconsin’s 2014-2015 hiatus, which allowed director Mary Theodore to care for her new baby, SEW is pleased to announce its return for the 2015-16 season. Please stay tuned for news on the rest of the season.

What does food sound like? What does music taste like? This coning Sunday night, participants can enjoy a lovely evening out as they explore their senses as the pathway to their souls through the performing arts of food and music, accompanied by poetry.

The 2015 realization of 2014’s highly successful “SEWing Taste and Sound, Bite by Byte” is a collaboration between Sound Ensemble Wisconsin’s Mary Theodore (below left in a photo by Katrin Talbot); Chef Dan Bonanno (below right) of Madison’s celebrated restaurant Pig in a Fur Coat; and poet-violist Katrin Talbot (center).

SEW dinner poetry photon2

The event centers around the aesthetic similarities of food and music, both of which Mary Theodore, SEW’s director and violinist, considers performing arts.

This year, SEW has based the evening on a set of six Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok. (You can hear many of them performed by Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Each duo, or byte of music, will inspire Chef Bonnano and be paired with one course, or bite, of food — and performed/served as such to create a six-course meal, including a beverage pairing for each course. Talbot will also read her original poems, composed for each variation.

At the end of the meal, SEW musicians will perform the music from beginning to end with the aim of offering participants a new experience of the music, a new journey of taste and sound.

Please see the Wisconsin State Journal interview and the Madison Magazine review based on the highly successful 2014 “SEWing Taste and Sound, Bite by Byte” at SEW’s website:

This performance will take place on Sunday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m. at Pig in a Fur Coat, 940 Williamson Street. Tickets are currently on sale at and are $105 per person or $100 per person by check (with guests’ names) to: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin, 716 Edgewood Avenue, Madison, WI 53711.

Performing musicians are Mary Theodore and Eleanor Bartsch (below), a prize-winning graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music.

Eleanor Bartsch

“SEW will certainly bring a new dimension to Madison’s cultural scene,” veteran music critic John W. Barker has written.



  1. I agree with Mr. Utevsky’s comment.

    It is too costly and effectively prices lots of people out of the event.

    The idea to combine great food with great music is an excellent one, but how about a pared-down version that would allow most people of ordinary means to take part? Otherwise, in a way, the event is just affirming classical music as an elitist activity.

    Maybe 3 courses instead of 6 and at less than half the $100 cost? Each course would get 2 pieces of music, not one. And how about some tables reserved for students at even lower rates, or heaven forbid, for free, with the tab picked up, perhaps in part, by other patrons? Pasta can be quite filling and need not necessarily be super expensive. The beverage pairing could also be either cut out entirely or cut back. This too would be a worthy challenge to the super chef.

    It may be too late to make these changes this year but why not try it next year?

    Comment by fflambeau — September 8, 2015 @ 10:06 pm

  2. Pricing out all but the very rich is hardly a “new dimension” in the classical music scene. Mostly a disappointing retreading of the central problem of our industry, really, dressed up as a novelty. The event really does sound interesting, though; it’s a shame neither I nor anyone my age can afford to go to it.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — September 8, 2015 @ 12:10 am

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