The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Read the reviews. This afternoon is your last chance to hear — and, thanks to NASA, to see — Holst’s “The Planets.” But ARRIVE EARLY! The Madison Symphony Orchestra has alerted its audiences about new security measures at the Overture Center | September 25, 2016


By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has sent out the following note, via email and regular mail, about new security measures at the Overture Center.

They will be in effect for the three MSO concerts this weekend, including the performance today, Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the program, visit this link:

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

“Due to changes in the Overture Center’s security procedures, there will be only THREE main entry points into the building (below) as you come for your concert. When you arrive, please enter at:

 The main Overture Center entrance on State Street

 An entrance on Fairchild Street (one door only)

 The “back” entrance on Henry Street

Security stations will be placed at each entrance where Overture staff will conduct a bag search on bags larger than a small purse, including backpacks.


We anticipate that the process will be smooth and proceed quickly, although we do recommend you come early for peace of mind so you can enjoy the concert from start to finish!

For more information on the Overture Center’s security measures, please visit the website at

The Ear wonders what effect these new security measures will have on attendance at the symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concerts, the Madison Opera, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and other non-musical events.

The Ear would like to know if the new security measures come in response to an actual terrorist threat or are simply a new standard operating procedure. The published explanation leans to the latter and says the Overture Center was to take the same precautions that big presenters in, say New York City and Washington, D.C., do.

But The Ear wonders: Will similar measures now be adopted by the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other major local venues?

Does anyone have more information or an opinion?

What do you think about the necessity or desirability of such measures ?

And what was your experience like with the new procedures?

Stay tuned.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the program that generally gets very positive reviews.

Here is the review that John W. Barker (below) wrote for Isthmus:


And here is the review that Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:


  1. Sigh. Another Barker review and again evidence he simply does not understand art. Here is what he wrote about “The Red Violin”: “It has a virtuosically fluffy solo part in a mismanaged recreation of the Baroque variations form of the chaconne.” His thinking, hence, is based on the erroneous assumption that there is but one way to write a chaconne.

    This simply is not true, and undercuts musical artistry which is not like cutting out forms or patterns for a dress. The composer, John Corigliano, who has won numerous awards, has himself written that with regard to composition, “there are no rules.” Maybe that statement should be carved into brass and put above Barker’s bed.

    And with respect to the piece in question, Corigliano has also written this about the “Red Violin”:

    “Then, during the summer of 1997 while the film was being shot all over the world, I remained at home and composed the 17-minute “The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra,” a concert work based on the existing elements, and given its world premiere in San Francisco with Josh and Robert Spano in the fall of that year. After that, I had only a few weeks to provide the underscoring (the music that is not seen on camera) for the recording dates around Christmas 1997 in London.

    The violin and orchestra “Chaconne” then became a concert work, performed by Josh (and others) around the world. But, as a moderate length single-movement work, it fell into a category of works that must be paired with other works to complete a soloist’s guest appearance with an orchestra. Great works like Ravel’s “Tzigane” or the Chausson “Poem”, or Beethoven romances, have the same problems.

    More importantly for me, the chaconne had given me the opportunity to strip away any inhibitions and write a passionate and romantic essay that I probably would not have written had it not been accompanying a film. It bypassed my “censor button” that made it necessary for me to not only write a piece, but “rediscover” the form in the piece (like my three woodwind concerti.) I liked what I heard, and it came very naturally.

    So, like Schumann, I decided to add some movements to the existing chaconne (he to his piano and orchestra fantasy) and make it a full-length concerto. In my case, that meant composing another three movements to balance the large first one.

    The other movements are connected to the first (and the film) in different ways: the first is a fleet “Pianissimo Scherzo” in which the dynamics are soft, but the action wild and colorful. I wanted to break the romantic mood of the first movement with sonoric and timbral effects that create a sparkling, effervescent energy. A central trio is distantly related to Anna’s theme, but here heard in knuckle-breaking double harmonics by the soloist – high, ethereal, and dance like.

    The third movement (“Andante flautando”) starts with an intense recitativo that is more closely related to the film’s main theme, but soon gives way to a gentle, rocking melody played by the soloist in an unusual manner that results in his sound changing to that of a flute (“flautando’.) He and the alto flute pair up as a complementary duo in this theme.

    The final movement (Accelerando Finale), as the title suggests, is a rollicking race in which the opposed forces of soloist and orchestra vie with each other. They each accelerate at different times and speeds, providing a virtuoso climate befitting a last movement. Some other unusual techniques are used here: the violin (and orchestral strings) are asked to press so hard on their strings that there is no pitch at all, just a crunch. This percussive and unusual sound provides energy, especially during the races. A major theme from the film that was not used in the concert chaconne was that given to Moritz, the contemporary violin expert who discovers the mystery of the Red Violin. It is a sadly romantic theme, and becomes the lyrical counterpoint to the high spirits of this final movement. Near the end of the work, the original chaconne from the first movement comes back to complete the journey of this violin concerto.”

    Sometimes, it pays attention to pay attention to the composer and what he was doing and to the notion that there is not just one way to do something. Source for the quotation:

    Mr. Barker in his review turned his attention to the final work on the program; in essence, he objects to the visuals accompanying Holst’s “The Planets” on two grounds: “Many of these are remarkably impressive, and would be fascinating if accompanied by a lecturer who identified what is being seen. The trouble is, the video has nothing — absolutely nothing whatsoever — to do with Holst’s music.” So, he sees the video information as an annoying and uninformative accompaniment to the music which really detracts from it. I suspect that many listeners feel otherwise and have enough knowledge and imagination to make their own links between the Holst’s music and the astronomical photos and indeed their own feelings.

    His second point is that the work is based on astrological rather than astronomical concepts and hence astronomy and astronomical photos are just distractions, just “fluff”. There is an element of truth in this but it is also misleading: astronomy as a field really developed out of astrology (as much as astronomers may dislike that notion). Only in the 17th century did the two fields become separate. Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei were all both astrologers and astronomers. And the depiction of Mars as the “war planet”, for instance, stems not only from roman mythology but also from the red color of the plant (visible to the naked eye) and to the 19th century belief that life, perhaps hostile life, had evolved on that planet. So Holst’s views of the planets likely were an amalgam of roman mythology, astrology, astronomy, and fiction.

    But a bigger question, never asked by Barker, is: should the public be limited by the composer’s own thoughts and ideas? I think not. With any composition, an audience should perhaps as a starting point be aware of a composer’s ideas and thoughts, but not limited by them. If some NASA images help fuel people’s imaginations alongside Holst’s music, is there really anything wrong with that? I suspect not, especially if the visuals attract individuals to classical music who might not otherwise listen or attend. And Barker seems to have missed that point entirely.

    Comment by fflambeau — September 25, 2016 @ 5:55 am

  2. This time I agree with fflambeau. I went last night. The bag search took all of three seconds (I carried a small bag). The security person was pleasant. It was a non-issue for me. I entered through the Henry St. entrance, where there was NO line.
    By the way, Monsieur Flambeau–Is it flambeau as in “torch” or is it Lambeau Field? Just wondering. In any case, a great nom de plume.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — September 24, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

  3. I looked at the list of 83 mass shootings that have occurred since 1982. I could not find one that occurred in a fine arts venue (and only two at music venues of any kind. Both were nightclubs).
    The cost/benefit ratio of mass screening seems very high. Even overstaffed airport screeners fail to detect most contraband. Entering the beautiful Overture Center only to be met with messages of danger will drive away audiences, as will the humiliating act of being searched.
    Does the Overture Center know of a credible and ongoing threat specifically directed at it that will be ameliorated by searches? If not, these screenings are a poor use of funds and good will.

    Comment by Janet M — September 23, 2016 @ 1:45 pm

    • Sorry, I disagree with Janet. Better to be safe than sorry; and it is meaningless as to what targets have been in the past. I do not find it humiliating, either to have a bag searched.

      Comment by fflambeau — September 23, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

  4. It means we are no longer a free country, and the reign of terror is here.

    Comment by slfiore — September 23, 2016 @ 8:35 am

    • Having someone check your bag means a “reign of terror”? You’re overreacting.

      Comment by fflambeau — September 24, 2016 @ 1:07 am

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