The Well-Tempered Ear

Too bad the Wisconsin Union Theater didn’t book a great pianist for next season | May 21, 2022

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By Jacob Stockinger

“We are living in a Golden Age of pianists,”  famed concert pianist, Juilliard teacher and frequent Madison performer Emanuel Ax (below) has said.

He should know. But you would never guess that from the recently announced next season at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below).

The WUT has not booked a solo pianist for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a link to the lineup for the next season:

Is The Ear the only one who has noticed and is disappointed?

Who else feels bad about it?

After all, this is the same presenting organization that brought to Madison such legendary pianists as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Percy Grainger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Dame Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Robert Casadesus, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, Alexander Brailowsky, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Byron Janis, Misha Dichter, Peter Serkin, André Watts, Lili Kraus and Garrick Ohlsson

It is the same hall (below) in which The Ear has heard Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Valentina Lisitsa, Andras Schiff, Joyce Yang, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Richard Goode, Leon Fleisher, Simone Dinnerstein, Wu Han and so many other great and memorable names including, of course, Emanuel Ax.

What a history!

As you can see and as The Ear likes to say, the Wisconsin Union Theater is “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” For over 100 years, it is where the great ones play.

One irony is that many of those former bookings of pianists took place when the University of Wisconsin School of Music had many more pianists on the faculty and provided a major alternative venue for piano recitals.

Another irony is that so many young people take piano lessons (below) and are apt to want to attend, probably with their parents, to hear a live professional concert piano recital. You would think the WUT would also see the advantages of having such community outreach links to the public and to music education, especially since the WUT has hosted Open Piano Day for the public. (See the YouTube video of a Channel 3000 story in February 2020 at the bottom.)

From what The Ear reads, there are lots of up-and-coming pianists, many affordable names of various winners of national and international competitions. They should be affordable as well as worthy of being introduced to the Madison public.

But that seems a mission now largely left to the Salon Piano Series.

Plus, so many of the new pianists are young Asians who have never appeared here, which should be another draw for the socially responsible and diversity-minded WUT.

But that is another story for another day.

What do you think of the WUT not presenting a solo pianist next season?

Maybe there will be a pianist booked for the 2023-24 season.

What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming committee?

The Ear wants to hear.


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  1. Hello, Jake. Not on topic, but in case you hadn’t heard, Choral Union will not be back until 2023, and then sporadically. I wonder if there will be enough singers to make it work. A 130-years-old campus/community program is not part of the restructuring. So much for The Wisconsin Idea…

    Dear Choral Union members:

    We would like to share an important Choral Union update with you. As many of you may know, with the support of the whole conducting area in the Mead Witter School of Music, we are restructuring the choral program to be focused on its core mission of serving UW-Madison students. We feel strongly that the student experience is the most critical component of the work we help facilitate.

    With that in mind, we are shifting towards a model of producing a choral symphonic work as makes sense in meeting curricular and programming goals. We therefore do not plan to offer Choral Union every semester.

    We are pleased to announce that, in spring 2023, we will once again offer Choral Union and will invite community members to join with UW-Madison students to take part in a semester-long collaboration on a larger work with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra and conductor Oriol Sans.

    Choral Union registration information will be available this fall, so please check your email for further details. We deeply value and appreciate the partnerships we have formed over the years with the choral community, and we look forward to extending those relationships. We also appreciate your patience as we continue to navigate a full return to safe choral activities during the pandemic.


    Mariana Farah, D.M.A (she/her/hers)

    Director of Choral Activities

    Mead Witter School of Music


    Comment by sconniegrl55 — May 26, 2022 @ 6:56 am

  2. I totally agree with Kathy Otterson. It is way past time the Union season featured chamber ensembles for the entire season, rather than the measly two or three (if we were lucky!) that have been offered in the past. I realise that you are a keyboard player, and I’m just as aware that I am not (frankly, I felt lucky to pass the piano proficiency portion of my Music degree!), but being able to hear the Emerson Quartet on their Farewell tour is extremely important, and we are lucky that they already had an excellent working relationship with the Union and were willing to put us on their schedule (even if it does conflict with an MSO concert!).


    Comment by bratschespeilerin — May 21, 2022 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Jake, I agree, it’s too bad. Your readers can come to hear a phenomenal local pianist, Thomas Kasdorf play the Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2 this Wednesday, May 25th at Hamel at 7:30 with the Middleton Community Orchestra, Chris Ramaekers, conducting.


    Comment by Mindy Taranto — May 21, 2022 @ 10:25 am

  4. Check out David Fung, pianist.


    Comment by Roy Carroll — May 21, 2022 @ 10:15 am

  5. It is too bad, Jake.
    You can come hear a great local pianist this Wednesday, May 25th at Hamel Music Center. Thomas Kasdorf is playing the Rachmaninov Concerto no 2 with the Middleton Community Orchestra. 7:30 pm. Chris Ramaekers conducting.


    Comment by Mindy Taranto — May 21, 2022 @ 9:47 am

  6. Why not some of the DMA students from UW and music conservatories? I imagine that would give piano students and their teachers a boost. Whatever it costs could go partly to the pf depts. of those schools.


    Comment by Susan Fiore — May 21, 2022 @ 8:58 am

  7. I think the Union series looks exciting! Three great chamber groups; the excellent clarinetist Anthony McGill; and the usual string quartets. I won’t miss a piano soloist, and here’s why: MSO has two on their 2022-23 series; the excellent UW piano faculty regularly performs in the beautiful new Hamill Center; Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra features Michael Mizrahi in May 2023; and of course Farley’s Salon series offers nothing but pianists. Spread your entertainment dollars around!


    Comment by Kathy Otterson — May 21, 2022 @ 8:12 am

  8. I and also disappointed the WUT is not presenting a solo pianist in 2022/23 season. It would like to see WUT book: Brad Meldhau, Valentina Lisitsa (Ukrainian American), and Hélène Grimaud.


    Comment by Mary W — May 21, 2022 @ 7:39 am

  9. Hello, Jake,

    You ask:
    What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming

    Why, Marc-André Hamelin, of course.

    Cordial regards,
    John Holzaepfel


    Comment by john callan — May 21, 2022 @ 7:16 am

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