The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why are most artist bios and program notes such snoozers? | September 26, 2015

ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, writes:

Dear Friends: The Madison Bach Musicians begins its 12th season next weekend on Saturday night (8 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church on the near east side) and Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m., at Holy Wisdom Monastery on the far west side on County M) with a marvelous program of four Baroque concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Biber, Leonardo Leo and Antonio Vivaldi! Soloists will be MBM concertmaster violinist Kangwon Kim, and guest artist Steuart Pincombe baroque cellist. I’ll give pre-concert lectures at both events (at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively).

I’ll be discussing these upcoming concerts on two radio programs here in the next couple of days. This Sunday morning, Sept. 27, from 10:30 to 11 a.m. on WORT FM radio (89.9), I’ll be Alan Muirhead’s guest on the Musica Antiqua program. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Kangwon Kim, Steuart Pincombe and I will all be Norman Gilliland’s guests on the Midday program noon-12:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM). I hope you can tune in. Tickets are available online at (, at our ticket outlets, and at the door. I look forward to seeing you at the concerts!!

By Jacob Stockinger

The new concert season is here.

That means many of us will spend too many minutes reading second-rate program notes and inferior artist biographies as we wait for a concert to take place — even though I think many local groups and local program note writers do quite well.

But why do so many of those predictable and formulaic artist bios seem such surefire ways to bore an audience or put it to sleep? (Below is a photo from istock.)

sleeping audience istock

That is the question raised by reporter and critic Anastasia Tsioulcas (below) for the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio or NPR.

anastasia tsioulcas

It’s a good piece and raises a lot of questions as well as provides some suggestions. It has been long overdue.

Here is a link:

Leave your own reactions, criticism and suggestions about program notes and artist bios in the COMMENTS area.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. At least usually there ARE program notes, no matter how boring they might appear at first glance. They are better than no no notes at all which seems to be the norm for some arts organizations these days, Formulaic program notes can serve as a quick review for those “in the know” and helpful information for audience members less familiar with the artist(s).

    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — September 28, 2015 @ 10:46 am

  2. Maybe I’m just a born contrarian, but I find this question regarding program notes to be more a tempest in a teapot than anything else.

    Moreover, I actually enjoy the kind of typical programs that the writer debunks: those that tell where the artist went to school, whom they studied with, whom they have performed with, list of recordings etc. And who cares if that information oftentimes comes from the artists web sites (isn’t it logical that it should?)?

    I do agree that the section that often deals with positive critical reviews is unnecessary (i.e. The Boston Globe recently called X’s playing “exquisite and sensitive”). Many times, these critics do not know what they are talking about and one can also cherry pick such reviews. It’s amazing how often “eminent critics” simply got wrong various artists talents.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 26, 2015 @ 4:29 am

  3. Dates and location would be nice to know.

    Craig Gjerde, Madison Sent sometimes before I have finished writing!

    Comment by Craig Gjerde — September 26, 2015 @ 4:15 am

    • Craig,
      Thank you for reading and replying,
      Point taken and corrections made.
      Best wishes,
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 26, 2015 @ 7:50 am

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