The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear praises UW student recitals but offers four suggestions to help them reach the public. | October 30, 2015

ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will perform a FREE and PUBLIC concert under the baton of UW-Madison professor James Smith. The program features the Chamber Symphony for Strings, arranged by Rudolf Barshai from a string quartet, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Serenade for Strings by Antonin Dvorak.

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to a terrific piano recital by Sara Giusti (below), a graduate student who is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who studies with UW virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Sara Giusti bowing

It took place, as most student recitals do, in Morphy Recital Hall (at bottom), and was a fine performance that both she and her teacher can be proud of.

The Partita No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach was articulated well and was pedaled beautifully and very judiciously. The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Joseph Haydn had the right touch of lightness and humor to its minor-key pathos. The later sonata, Op. 78, by Ludwig van Beethoven was lyrical where it needed to be and structural where it needed to be. And the rarely heard Sonata No. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev had the requisite bite, at the same time melding both Romanticism and Modernism.

Sara Giusti playing

But the event got The Ear thinking, as did the relatively small audience of two to three dozen listeners.

We are lucky there are so many good student recitals at the UW. They are usually high in quality, plus they are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Ear is especially pleased that they are now being listed on the School of Music website and Calendar of Events, which allows listeners to choose and plan. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

BUT:

Too many of the student programs say the performances will feature music by such-and-such composers. They don’t give you the actual pieces.

The Ear finds that frustrating. The actual program would help him, and he presumes others, to decide about which concerts to attend. For example, he ended up going to Sara Giusti’s recital as a leap of faith since the advance notice listed only works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Prokofiev –- and all were prolific composers. Luckily, someone else recommended her.

Take the examples of two upcoming student recitals.

Pianist Jason Kutz (below), who performs on Friday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m., gets it right. His advance notice says he will perform the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the “Davidbundlertanze” by Robert Schumann. What a terrific and unusual program of contrasting styles. The Ear will be going.

jason kutz at piano

Chan Mi Jean, who will perform on Monday, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m., gets it wrong. Her notice says she will “perform chamber pieces by Brahms, Ravel, Bernstein and Previn.” That offers some help but, without specifics, not enough. What pieces? What are the other instruments — cello, violin viola, voice? The Ear needs to know more to decide about attending, though he is leaning towards going.

So here are four suggestions for students -– and even for faculty members — offered in a spirit of enthusiasm and helpfulness, from The Ear:

PLEASE GET YOUR RECITAL LISTED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE ON THE SCHOOL OF MUSIC WEB SITE CALENDAR. THE SOONER, THE BETTER.

PLEASE DO NOT BE VAGUE, BUT INSTEAD LIST SPECIFIC COMPOSERS AND SPECIFIC PIECES ON YOUR PROGRAM.

PLEASE THINK ABOUT THE PUBLIC AND, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, CHOOSE BETTER, MORE CONVENIENT TIMES FOR YOUR RECITAL. 8:30 SEEMS LATE. 6:30 IS DINNER HOUR. SOMEHOW 7 OR 7:30 OR 8 SEEMS PREFERABLE. I’M SURE LOGISTICS AND COMPETING EVENTS ARE INVOLVED. BUT BETTER TIMES, ESPECIALLY ON WORK DAYS, WILL BRING A BETTER PUBLIC TURNOUT.

ALONG SIMILAR LINES, PLEASE DO NOT KEEP THE PUBLIC WAITING TO GET INTO THE HALL UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. IF YOU ARE NOT WARMED UP OR REHEARSED ENOUGH BY A HALF-HOUR OR 15 MINUTES BEFORE SHOW TIME, ANOTHER 5 OR 10 MINUTES WON’T HELP. AND IT IS RUDE TO LEAVE THE PUBLIC WAITING OUT IN THE HALLWAY, WHICH GETS COLD IN WINTER AND ONLY HAS A FEW BENCHES TO SIT ON.

That said, The Ear wishes the best to the gifted students at the UW. They give successful recitals and he hopes that they want to share their talent and hard work, as well as the music, with the largest public possible.

Morphy Hall 2

 

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15 Comments »

  1. Dear Jacob,

    Thank you for your excitement in my program (and others). With hopes that I don’t diminish it, I’d like to correct you in that I will be playing all 24 of Shostakovich’s Preludes, Op. 34, but none of the Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. Not yet, at least. 🙂

    Also, the concert is FRIDAY, Dec. 4 at 6:30, not Wednesday.

    Cheers!

    Jason

    Comment by Jason Kutz — November 3, 2015 @ 8:54 pm

    • Dear Jason,
      I am sorry and apologize for the inaccuracy.
      Thank you for fixing the mistake.
      I have corrected the original post, and will try to list it elsewhere in its corrected form.
      Thank you for your kind words and your understanding.
      Best wishes,
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 3, 2015 @ 9:36 pm

  2. I will pass along Mikko Utevsky’s comments about Capitol Lakes not allowing concerts to begin a few minutes late, because that does not seem to be the practice, at least In my experience as an audience member and occasional host at Capitol Lakes. If there was a mix-up on one evening, that is not the norm. Many people in recital and other concert audiences at CL are from the wider community, and they are always welcome. One of the musicians who has performed at CL told me that CL has the best pianos in town, and that most of the area musicians know this. Comments about performing at CL can be made directly to Community Relations Manager Jessica Graba,

    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — October 31, 2015 @ 3:31 pm

    • Ginny, as a performer who has played at Capitol Lakes several times each season for the past six or seven years, the experience has been very uneven, though it remains my favorite recital venue in town. Since the practice of having residents introduce the performers began (last year, I think), neither I nor any of my colleagues have been permitted to delay starting to accommodate audience members, and when we try, we get passive-aggressive comments from our hosts. (Again, speaking from personal experience here.) And the scheduling problems are not entirely anomalous: a friend’s graduation recital was moved down to the basement on five minutes’ notice because the person who booked the hall neglected to mention that she had booked something else in there simultaneously. Add to that the uncomfortable warmth of the hall, something every performer I’ve known has commented on after playing there (Morphy’s freezing, by contrast), and unreliable tuning of the lovely Kawai in the hall. No venue is perfect.

      All that said (since it’s apparently complaint hour this morning), I want to reiterate that it remains my go-to venue for recitals: the audiences are friendly and appreciative, the hall is attractive and acoustically pleasant (better than Morphy, certainly, on both counts), and most importantly, with the small exception of being harrassed for delaying start times, my colleagues and I have all felt welcome there. Plus, unlike Morphy, there’s no booking fee, and everyone loves the little hall off to the side, which is perfect for a reception afterwards. Certainly my great experiences there have outweighed the occasional inconvenience. (And Morphy gets double-booked once in a while too.)

      Ron – the Institutes for Discovery have (or had, anyway) a lovely Steinway, but the booking fee for the hall there is much higher than Morphy. I can recall concerts in that space by Eliza’s Toyes and Clocks In Motion.

      The wider issue regarding venues and audiences, I think, is that certain halls come prepackaged with a crowd, and other don’t. Capitol Lakes always draws residents, who, as I said above, tend to be appreciative, attentive, and often fairly knowledgeable about what they’re hearing. (Other retirement facility audiences are often less engaged, or have less inviting halls – Oakwood West is not bad, though.) Morphy brings in a handful of students, who are already in the building every day. An apartment building might draw residents, but the new high-rises are all Epic dorms, essentially, so I’m not sure how much of an audience is there to be reached. Union South has a mediocre piano upstairs, but the rooms are generally a little too large (conference-sized, not chamber-recital-sized), and the students who are hanging out there, by and large, aren’t going to drift in to hear a concert.

      I realize that I’ve practically written my own column here in response to a lot of people, for which I beg your pardon. I find that I’m often the only student voice here, and one of only a small handful of performers, so I want to make sure those perspectives are heard and understood on this rather thorny issue. Thanks for hearing me out.

      Mikko

      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — November 1, 2015 @ 11:37 am

  3. Coming at this cold, it seems to me that more recital venues need to be identified or developed than Morphy and Capitol Lakes. In all the new buildings in the campus area, there must be some good rooms with good acoustics and seating where the University could place a good piano from its collection. Even private buildings might like to host classical music recitals. The Centers for Discovery? Union South? The Edgewater? Monona Terrace? Epic Systems? Olbrich Gardens? The fancy new apartment towers? A little initiative and outreach might produce interesting results and draw new concertgoers.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — October 31, 2015 @ 8:19 am

  4. An even better bit of advice would be to take a page from Friedrich Gulda and not offer a program at all! Instead, promise the audience that they will have a good time, hear some exciting music, and that you will wear an interesting hat.

    Comment by Shad — October 30, 2015 @ 3:32 pm

    • I wouldn’t go to that concert. At this school, there are probably three others on the same date; if I’m going, I want to know what I’m hearing. (For me, composers are sometimes enough, and I can always ask the performers. But I understand the desire for a more complete listing.)

      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — October 30, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

  5. The Ear received this response to Mikko’s remarks from the UW School of Music and concert manager Kathy Esposito:

    “From the School of Music: We now have an online signup that requires students,as they request a hall, to give program information. The info is listed exactly as received; nothing of value is omitted. When we receive names of works, they are listed. Otherwise they are not. I agree that names of works should always be listed. “

    Comment by welltemperedear — October 30, 2015 @ 8:50 am

    • Wouldn’t it be easy for UW, then, to simply find inadequate those programs which leave out this information, and make it mandatory for that information?

      Comment by fflambeau — October 30, 2015 @ 8:47 pm

      • And reject listing student recitals entirely if they don’t provide a significantly comprehensive program listing? Let’s not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good here. Besides, it is not unusual to book the hall for a recital before knowing the exact program (or to have that program change after booking). No system is perfect. This one is pretty good, considering.

        Comment by Mikko Utevsky — October 31, 2015 @ 1:18 am

  6. Hi Mikko,
    As always, thank you for your concert tips. I take them seriously and urge others to do so. But I would still like to know the works on Chan-Mi’s program.
    We will see what the School of Music has to say about leaving out the specific works by composers. Why would they leave some in and cut out others? Doesn’t make sense. But complete and detailed programs should be the norm.
    And it is unfortunate about the restrictions of times for students recitals in Morphy Hall. There must be some way to make the times more convenient, at least some of the time. The night I was there, I arrived early and best I could tell is that it was the only event and could easily have started earlier.
    Another possibility is that the doctoral students would get the prime times while master’s and undergraduate students would get the less desirable or popular times.
    Best,
    Jake

    Comment by welltemperedear — October 30, 2015 @ 8:44 am

    • Chan-Mi’s program: Previn’s four songs, Ravel’s Chanson Madacasse, Bernstein’s Dream with Me, R. Strauss’s Alphorn, and Brahms’s Op.91

      On the time restrictions, I can only reiterate that (speaking as a former SoM stage manager) Morphy is booked twice an evenings most nights, especially in peak season, and that moving those times is currently not possible. Capitol Lakes offers a 7 PM slot, but is equally inflexible with any other evening times. (My last recital there was booked at 7:30, and they printed 7:00 in their calendar and told the audience that I was late. They also don’t permit performers to start Madison’s customary 3-4 minutes behind schedule to accommodate the inevitable latecomers, which I find obnoxious.)

      Would I rather give 7:30 recitals? Sure I would. But that would mean forcing others to give 9:30 recitals, which isn’t happening, or halving the number of events that can be booked in Morphy, which is already nigh-impossible to reserve on a convenient night (and costly – students pay for the privilege of playing there!).

      And finally, I know we’ve discussed door-times before on this blog, but sometimes the extra fifteen minutes actually will make or break a recital. We can’t get into Morphy to rehearse without paying an additional fee (and trying to find a slot in the aforementioned overbooked schedule), so the 30 minutes right before the curtain time are our only sound check in the hall, which has its share of acoustic quirks (it’s hard to hear your colleagues in chamber playing in there…). Please – I know it’s chilly and the benches are hard; I spend ten or twelve hours a day in that building. But trust us to make the call that you’ll hear a better concert with those extra ten minutes. We know what we’re doing.

      Comment by Mikko Utevsky — October 30, 2015 @ 7:04 pm

  7. This is very true, I have often been frustrated by this exact same issue. It is not enough to just list the composer only. Thanks for bringing this up!

    Comment by Clay Ruby — October 30, 2015 @ 6:21 am

    • Hi Clay,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      Let’s hope this leads to more detail.
      I appreciate your support.
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 30, 2015 @ 8:37 am

  8. On timing: 6:30 and 8:30 are the only evening times at which students are permitted to book Morphy Hall. It allows for the booking of two events per night, rather than 7 or 7:30, which can only accommodate one. During peak recital seasons, the hall is typically booked twice per evening every night of the week, so this is really non-negotiable.

    The listing of composer names only is not necessarily the students’ fault either: the SoM head of PR compiles the calendar and writes the listings, some of which are condensed, I think. (Kathy, correct me if I’m wrong!)

    Do go hear Jason and Chan-Mi: they are superb players, the both of them. And finally, come hear Thalia Coombs’ doctoral chamber recital on November 7 and 8 (1:30 at Morphy, and 3:30 at Capitol Lakes, respectively). The eclectic program consists of Martinu’s “Three Madrigals” for violin and viola (with yours truly), Ravel’s Sonata for violin and cello, with guest artist Ruth Wenger from Arizona State University, and the Brahms C minor piano quartet with DMA pianist Kangwoo Jin, a student of Prof. Taylor. Thalia is a student of David Perry, and did her MM with Felicia Moye.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — October 30, 2015 @ 12:12 am


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