The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The annual FREE Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday night features new music, unknown works and neglected composers | August 30, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is not alone in viewing the official opening of the new fall season as being the annual FREE Karp Family Labor Day concert, which takes place on the holiday Monday night before classes begin at the UW-Madison. (Below and from left, in the 2011 photo, are pianist and violinist son Christopher Karp; violist Katrin Talbot; the late pianist Howard Karp; cellist son Parry Karp (who is married to Katrin Talbot); and pianist wife Frances Karp.)

This year, that means the concert is on this coming Monday night, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Karp Family in color

In the decades-long history of the event, pieces never get repeated.

That may help to explain why this year’s program features the new and the neglected rather than the tried-and-true.

Here is how cellist and patriarch of the Karp family Parry Karp (below) explains it:

Parry Karp

“The program includes a world premiere performance of a brand new piece for Cello and Piano by Joel Hoffman (below), to be performed by my brother Christopher Karp and myself. It is entitled “Riffs on a Great Life.”

Joel Hoffman

“The great life he is writing about is our Dad’s, longtime UW-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died two years ago at 84.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Robert Kahn (below) was a wonderful composer of chamber music and lieder whom Johannes Brahms admired very much. They initially met in 1885 when Kahn was only 20 years old. Brahms was impressed both by his compositions and his piano playing. We are greatly enjoying learning his Piano Quartet No. 2, which will feature my mother Frances Karp.

Robert Kahn

Pro Arte Quartet second violinist Suzanne Beia and my wife, violist Katrin Talbot, will join in the performance.

“The “Rhapsody” by Rebecca Clarke (below) is an unjustly neglected masterpiece that unfortunately has never been published. Frances and I are playing it from a copy of the manuscript. It was commissioned by Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge in 1923, and is a very romantic and expressive piece.

rebecca clarke

Also on the program is “Fratres” for cello and piano by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (below), who turns 82 on Sept. 11. According to one source, he has been the most performed living composer in the world for five consecutive years.

Arvo Part

The dramatic and insistent piece was used as part of the soundtrack or film score for the movie “There Will Be Blood” with Daniel Day-Lewis. Here is a link to a performance with over one million hits on YouTube:


  1. Jake, Everything says Monday but your text gives the date as Sept. 4 — that is Sunday. Monday is September 5. I hope the concert is Monday night. That is when I intend to go to Mills Hall with a guest from Brazil on tow. Mary Rathbun

    Sent from my iPhone


    Comment by Mary Rathbun — August 30, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

    • Yes. I corrected the text to the 5th. Sorry for the error

      Sent from my iPhone


      Comment by welltemperedear — August 30, 2016 @ 8:48 pm

  2. From Cincinnati based composer Joel Hoffman:

    “In 2003, I was commissioned by Christopher Karp to write a trio for violin, cello and piano. The piece, called Piano Trio 2: “Lost Traces,” was performed later that year on the Karp Family Labor Day concert in Madison with Christopher playing violin, Parry playing cello and Howard playing the piano part. On top of the wonderful performance of the trio by all three musicians, this was my introduction to the warmth, beauty and elegance of Howard’s piano playing as well as to a man of breathtaking generosity and humanity.

    Last year, some time after Christopher commissioned this new cello and piano piece, I realized that the new work would have to be about Howard in some way. I am not normally a composer of program music (music in which there are explicit references to extra-musical elements), but this was a project that made its demands very clear to me. I asked Christopher and Parry, separately, to tell me which piano pieces they thought Howard was especially close to, and two works emerged in particular: the Schubert Sonata in B flat, D960 and the Schumann Fantasy in C major op. 17. After I listened to Howard’s gorgeous recordings of these two pieces, I was sure I would have to incorporate bits and pieces of them as little windows into Howard’s musical world. I also knew that these musical references would have to allude to Howard’s sense of humor as well as to his encyclopedic knowledge of music repertoire. Therefore, some of these references will be clear to the listener while others are buried under the surface of the music.

    Riffs on a Great Life is just that: a musical story told in semi-rhyming phrases about the rich, long and wonderful life of a beloved musician and friend.

    –Joel Hoffman, August 2016”


    Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2016 @ 5:21 am

    • Thank for posting these comments. They weren’t available when I prepared my post.

      Comment by welltemperedear — August 30, 2016 @ 8:26 am

  3. I am delighted to see the piece by Arvo Pärt on the program.

    In some prior posts with, I think Steven Kerr (spelling?), he mentioned, as I remember, that this modern composer’s sheet music was expensive and that was one reason such modern music is not played as frequently as it should be.

    Is this true? Not true?
    I’m curious as to why some groups perform it, not others. Is it because in this instance, there are so few parts this is written for and thus it is relatively inexpensive?

    Kudos to the Karp family for continuing these wonderful concerts.

    Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2016 @ 4:46 am

  4. Labour Day is Monday, September FIFTH, not the 4th, as stated above.

    Comment by bratschespeilerin — August 30, 2016 @ 1:00 am

    • My apologies for the error. Thank you for the correction. It has been fixed.

      Comment by welltemperedear — August 30, 2016 @ 8:26 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,261 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,343,974 hits
%d bloggers like this: