The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear native son Kenneth Woods conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot. Here are two reviews, one a rave and the other very positive

March 8, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear native son and guest conductor Kenneth Woods and guest Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

Woods (below), once a student in Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and a student at Memorial High School, has established an international reputation by leading the English Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado MahlerFest and the British Elgar Festival, and by making many highly praised recordings.

At 26, Pouliot (below in a photo by Jeff Fasano) is a rising star, thanks to winning a major competition in Montreal and other prizes. (You can hear him play “Lotus Land,” composed by Cyril Scott and arranged by Fritz Kreisler, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program is: Symphony No. 96 “Miracle” by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn; and “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss.

For more background and program notes, information about purchasing tickets ($19-$95) and The Ear’s detailed interview with Woods about growing up in Madison, go to:

The opening performance on Friday night received excellent reviews. Here are two major ones:

Here is the rave review that veteran critic Greg Hettmansberger (below) wrote for his blog “What Greg Says,” which is well worth following:

And here is a largely positive review for The Capital Times newspaper written by freelancer Matt Ambrosio (below), who received his doctorate in music theory from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin:

You can be a critic too.

If you heard the concert, what did you think?

The Ear wants to hear


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Classical music: Acclaimed native son Kenneth Woods returns this weekend to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He talks to The Ear about what Madison meant to him and his international career

March 2, 2020

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, native Madisonian Kenneth Woods (below) returns from his home in the UK to conduct three performances of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts feature two MSO debuts: the prize-winning young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor; and the acclaimed guest conductor, Kenneth Woods, leading the orchestra for the MSO premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “Miracle” plus Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Performances will be held in Overture Hall on Friday night, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, March 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now, along with discounted tickets, at:; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street; or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online and phone sales.

You can view program notes for this concert online at

A Prelude Discussion by Randal Swiggum will take place one hour before each concert.

Guest conductor Kenneth Woods is a busy and versatile musician. He is the Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of both the Colorado MahlerFest and the Elgar Festival in England. (You can hear Woods conducting Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Woods has won accolades for rediscovering and recording the music of the Austrian-British composer Hans Gàl. Woods, who has played guitar in a rock band, is also a professional cellist who solos with orchestras and plays chamber music. He writes a respected blog. And he currently plays and records in the Briggs Piano Trio for Avie Records.

For much more information about Kenneth Woods, including his blog “A View From the Podium,” go to:

Woods recently spoke via email to The Ear about what Madison has meant to him and to his international career.

How did living in Madison play a role in your decision to become a professional musician?

Madison offered me a chance to hear music at an early age. I was taken to watch a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra as a very young kid, maybe three or four years old. That made a huge impression on me, especially seeing the rehearsal process. Later, my parents took us to all the UW Symphony Orchestra concerts for years.

There’s really no reason not to take young kids to concerts! For me, a love of live music led to a love of recorded music, listening to records at home, and from there, to an interest in playing music as a kid.

We were lucky to have a very strong music program in the Madison public schools when I was growing up here. The orchestras at Memorial High School played some really impressive repertoire under Tom Buchhauser (below top, in a photo by Jon Harlow). The UW Summer Music Clinic made being a musician social – it was a great immersion with one’s peers.

Most important, however, was probably the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Playing under Jim Smith (below bottom) was the most fantastic education in orchestral playing one could hope for. He and Tom are a big part of why I became a conductor.

Madison in those days wasn’t a super-pressurized scene, like one might encounter around the big pre-college programs in New York or LA. But what I might have missed in terms of conservatory-level instrumentalists in every corridor, one made up in terms of feeling like you could find your own path. By the time I was in high school, I pretty much knew music was that path.

How did your experiences in Madison help prepare you for that career?

I learned so much about rehearsing from Jim Smith. In his first year, we worked on Dvorak’s 8th Symphony pretty much all year. Every week, he opened our ears to new facets of the music. I’ve never forgotten that.

I went off to Indiana University to do my Bachelor’s degree, but returned to Madison for a Master’s, when I studied cello with UW-Madison professor Parry Karp (below top).

Those were wonderful years for me. I learned an enormous amount from Parry as both a cello teacher and chamber music coach (and especially as a person).

I played in fantastic chamber groups, did lots of wacky new music and had solo opportunities. UW Symphony Orchestra conductor David Becker (below bottom) even gave me my first meaningful chance to rehearse an orchestra when he had me take a couple of rehearsals on the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

And I played in both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I came away from that time with both new skills and new confidence.

What does returning to your hometown to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra mean to you?

It’s both very exciting and a little surreal. Under the leadership of John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), the MSO (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has come so far since the time I was in it. And the new hall is such a treasure for all of Wisconsin – it’s practically a different orchestra.

I still have many friends and former mentors in the orchestra and it’s going to be wonderful to see them all and make music together again after so long.

But it’s more than a homecoming. It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve all been and what we’ve all done the last 20 years or so. My musical life has mostly been in the UK for a long time, so to re-connect with my musical roots here is rather magical.

What are your major current and upcoming projects?

The English Symphony Orchestra (below) represents the biggest chunk of my musical life. This year we’re celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.

The ESO has a special commitment to new and unknown music, and right now we’re in the midst of something called the 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by diverse composers. It’s one of the most ambitious commissioning projects I’ve ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

I’m also excited about this year’s Colorado MahlerFest in Boulder, where we’re focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” this May, which will crown a week of music exploring themes of color and visual art with music by Wagner, Messiaen and British composer Philip Sawyers.

Is the MSO program special to you?

I must say that it was incredibly generous of John DeMain to offer me such a fantastic program. Not every music director is gentleman enough to let a guest have Ein Heldenleben.

What would you like the public to know about your approach to music and about the specific works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss?

Haydn’s music is maybe the richest discovery of my adult life. I didn’t get it as a kid, largely because most performances I heard were so dull.

His music is so varied, and his personality so complex, one mustn’t try to reduce him down to a simplistic figure. The late symphonies, of which this is one of the finest, are inexhaustible sources of wisdom, beauty, humor and sanity.

The Mendelssohn is really an astonishing piece. I’ve probably conducted it as much as any piece of music, with so many different soloists, all of whom had hugely different temperaments, personalities, sounds and approaches.

I’ve played it with some of the greatest violinists in the world and with young students. Somehow, whoever is playing, it always leaves me, and the audience, smiling. I’m pretty sure we can continue that streak with Blake Pouliot (below, in a photo by Jeff Fasano).

The Strauss is a rich, personal, wise, funny and moving work. It’s always a challenge, particularly bringing out all the astonishing detail in the score, but it’s also a real joy to perform. If the Mendelssohn always leaves me smiling, the Strauss always leaves me smiling with a tear in my eye.


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Classical music: Madison native son cellist, blogger and conductor Kenneth Woods has been named to head Colorado MahlerFest, starting in 2016. Plus, the Middleton Community Orchestra plays tonight at 7:30.

June 3, 2015

REMINDER: The Middleton Community Orchestra plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School. Admission is $10; students get in FREE.

The terrific program includes concertmaster Valerie Sanders in the Adagio from the Violin Concerto by Max Bruch and guest pianist Thomas Kasdorf in the ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (AKA the “Van Cliburn Concerto”). Here is a link to a fuller posting with more information:

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following important and impressive news about Kenneth Woods. Woods, you may recall, attended Memorial High School in Madison, played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he work with Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp. We can all say Congratulations, Maestro!


Here is the press release:

Kenneth Woods has been appointed Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest. He is only the second Artistic Director in the festival’s 28-year history and succeeds Founding Artistic Director Robert Olson. Woods will oversee his first festival, MahlerFest XXIX, in May 2016.

MahlerFest poster 1

Of his appointment, Woods remarks: “I’m thrilled and humbled to be invited to steer the festival’s ongoing exploration of one of the greatest composers of all time. I’ve always been impressed by the sophistication of MahlerFest’s programming and presentation, not to mention the musical standards attained by its participants. I must extend enormous congratulations to Bob Olson for everything he has achieved.”

Woods continues: “The complexity and scale of some tasks can only be fully appreciated once you’ve done them yourself, and as someone who has put together a few crazy Mahler projects of my own over the years, I know something about the kind of heroic effort Bob has made to build and sustain this festival. I take very seriously my responsibility to keep the torch he has lit blazing brightly for many years to come.”

Founded by conductor Robert Olson (below in 1988, the Boulder-based Colorado MahlerFest is an annual celebration of the life and music of Gustav Mahler.

Robert Olson is leaving the MahlerFest he founded at the end of this year's performances. He'll stay on as conductor of Longmont Symphony Orchestra. (Greg Lindstrom/Times-Call)

Robert Olson is leaving the MahlerFest he founded at the end of this year’s performances. He’ll stay on as conductor of Longmont Symphony Orchestra. (Greg Lindstrom/Times-Call)

Throughout one week every May, the festival explores Mahler through symposia, exhibits, films and the performance of a major symphonic work by the composer. MahlerFest is currently in the midst of its third cycle of Mahler’s symphonic compositions.

MahlerFest orchestra

In 2005, MahlerFest received the Gold Medal  (below) of the Vienna-based International Gustav Mahler Society, an honor so far bestowed on only one other American organization, the New York Philharmonic.

MahlerFest gold medal

Gustav Mahler’s music has been a lifelong source of inspiration for Kenneth Woods, and has played an important part in his career. He has conducted acclaimed performances of the symphonies and songs across the Americas and Europe.

His first recording of Mahler’s music, Schoenberg’s chamber ensemble versions of Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) (Somm Records, 2011), received an IRR Outstanding rosette from International Record Review.

Off the podium, Woods (below) is in demand as an essayist and speaker on Mahler’s life and music. He has given talks and participated in panel discussions on Mahler for the BBC and NPR, and was the official blogger of The Bridgewater Hall’s Mahler in Manchester series in 2010-11.

Kenneth Woods

In his native U.S., Woods achieved national media recognition as conductor of the Pendleton-based Oregon East Symphony for staging Redneck Mahler, an event that galvanized the community of a small, western Rodeo town.

With its combination of conducting, symposia, pre-concert lectures, films, community engagement and blog posts, MahlerFest’s format plays perfectly into Woods’ multifarious hands.

“For me,” Woods says, “Mahler has a singular creative voice. His music should be experienced as an immersive, transformative experience.”

You can hear Kenneth Woods conducting Mahler, with UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, in a YouTube video at the bottom.


“This is a most important issue, and all Mahlerians should make its acquisition an urgent necessity.” International Record Review

“a richly balanced performance that easily stands out” Gramophone Magazine

“gives Mahler the ride of his life.” The Oregonian

“something that every lover of Mahler should hear.” MusicWeb International

* * * * *

For more information about Kenneth Woods please visit

For more information about the Colorado MahlerFest please visit

About Kenneth Woods

Kenneth Woods is Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, a post he assumed in 2013, succeeding Vernon Handley.

Hailed by the Washington Post as a “true star” of the podium, Woods has worked with many orchestras of international distinction, and has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s leading music festivals. His work on the concert platform and in the recording studio has led to numerous broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, National Public Radio, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

As Principal Guest Conductor of Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan (2010-2014), Woods made numerous acclaimed recordings, including the first-ever cycle of the Symphonies of Hans Gál (AVIE).

Kenneth Woods Schumann 2 Gal cover

Woods’ unique gifts have been widely acknowledged by some of today’s leading conductors. In 2001, he was selected by Leonard Slatkin to be one of four participants in the National Conducting Institute at the Kennedy Center, where he made his National Symphony debut.

Toronto Symphony Music Director Peter Oundjian has praised Woods as “a conductor with true vision and purpose. He has a most fluid and clear style and an excellent command on the podium … a most complete musician.”

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog, “A View from the Podium,” is one of the 25 most popular classical music blogs in the world. He has provided commentary for the BBC Proms, and has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and BBC Radio 4’s “Today” Programme.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Union Theater opens its new season with a winning blockbuster, meaty program of Brahms and Shostakovich performed by native son conductor Kenneth Woods, Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

November 4, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

While the Wisconsin Union Theater is still under renovation, it is sharing its season’s programs with the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the first one this year was a terrific winner!

Two guests graced the stage at Mills Hall, with the resources of the UW Symphony orchestra placed at the disposal of one of them, conductor Kenneth Woods, himself a product of the UW School of Music  who is now making a very individual career for himself from his home in Wales in the United Kingdom.


Woods chose to begin with a short orchestral piece, “In the Gale of Life,” composed in 2006 by Philip Sawyers (below). The British composer took his inspiration, and his title, from lines in a poem by A.E. Housman.

That fact matters little in the listening, for the piece is basically intended to be a zippy concert overture, designed to show off Sawyers’ mastery of a large orchestra. It might better be called an orchestral “Essay,” on the model of Samuel Barber’s works of that title, save that Sawyers lacks Barber’s clearly focused concision. Thematic materials appear but are denied explorations of their potentials. Just more of your in-one-ear-and-out-the-other repertoire, then.

Philip Sawyers

The first of the servings of real meat came with the appearance of the second guest, Chicago violinist  Rachel Barton Pine (below). She is surely the best violinist the US has produced, certainly presently active. I have long admired her versatile and imaginative work through her many prize-winning and best-selling recordings as well as at least one previous concert appearance (with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra).

Rachel Barton Pine

Her vehicle this time was Johannes Brahms’ monumental Violin Concerto.  She clearly regards it as a work of serious ideas, to which she is committed, rather than to simplistic showiness. In some ways, she understated the virtuosity, but when impassioned outbursts were called for she threw herself into them body and soul.

She also understands that any Brahms concerto is a partnership between soloist and orchestra. She was collegial, and even deferential when appropriate. The second movement opens with a gorgeous passage for wind ensemble, and when it briefly recurs at the end she joined in as if sharing their conversation.

Woods led the orchestra, meanwhile, in a solid and worthy realization of its role.

Pine also, by the way, eschewed the usual first-movement cadenza written by the concerto’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim (below), and instead used her own–which she has published in a volume of such cadenzas and arrangements that was available in the lobby.

Joseph Joachim

A musician not only of rich talent but genuine personal grace, Barton Pine used the traditional encore slot to talk to the audience about the remarkable history of the instrument she plays, one selected by Brahms himself for a gifted lady violinist in his circle. She then played the composer’s familiar Lullaby in a solo arrangement by Albert Spalding. (You can hear it a YouTube video at the bottom and on her recent acclaimed CD of lullabies.)

As if one great masterpiece was not enough for a great concert, the second half offered another, the second serving of meat.

For a long time, the Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) was regarded as a vulgar capitulation to the brutal Stalinist regime, which had put the composer in serious jeopardy.  Shostakovich himself described it as “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism,” and the work was immediately acclaimed as a model of accessible socialist art.

dmitri shostakovich

It has only been in recent years that all of Shostakovich’s music, and especially this work, have been perceived as carrying dark subtexts of personal and political import.

Woods himself clearly follows this line, and in an introductory talk pointed up the evidence for the Fifth as a work not of subservience but of defiance.  He then led a performance that was, in effect, a testimonial to that viewpoint.

It was a searing, powerful, riveting approach, its revisionism best displayed in the final movement.  Woods launched into its opening march ferociously, faster than most conductors. After its less hectic middle section, he approached its coda-apotheosis not as a paean of Soviet triumphalism, but as a slower, more unsettling challenge to the audience.

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by John W. Barker) followed him magnificently.  How wonderful it is to see these students perform at a virtually professional level, utterly at one with their conductor.  Once more, a tribute to what UW Professor of Conducting James Smith (below) has done to build up a playing tradition of confidence and polish.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker


And, once more, this concert was a reminder of the kind of glorious musical experiences that are to be had on the UW-Madison campus, ones too often ignored or overlooked by the public and the media.

Classical music Q&A: Native son and UW-Madison alumnus conductor Kenneth Woods talks about returning to Madison to open the Wisconsin Union Theater season this coming Saturday night.

October 28, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-born and Madison-bred, Kenneth Woods is almost a one-man band of classical music. This coming year he will have out new six CDs, including performances both as an orchestra conductor, chamber music cellist, and also as a composer and a rock guitarist . And he still finds time to write a fascinating, critically acclaimed and popular blog with an insider’s view of making music called “A View From the Podium.”

Here are links to his main website and to his blog:

And check out his impressive biography:

You should also read the excellent interview he gave UW School of Music concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito on the music school’s terrific new blog “Fanfare,” Here is a link;

Woods attended West High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). He did undergraduate work at the University of Illinois Champaign–Urbana, and graduate work at the UW-Madison and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

That makes him a perfect candidate to conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The concert, which features acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine in the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, also includes the famously powerful Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich, will open the Wisconsin Union Theater season.

For more details about the concert, including ticket prices ($10 for UW students up to $25 for the general public) and links to other sites and samples, visit:

Based in Wales, Woods — who can heard at the bottom in a YouTube video conducting Ralph Vaughan Williams’ haunting “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” performed by the Orchestra of the  Swan with a beautifully divided string section —  recently gave The Ear an email interview:

Kenneth Woods

You are a very busy man these days. Can you bring us up to date and fill us in briefly on your accomplishments over the past year or two?

Well, it’s been a very busy time, I must say. The most important step this year has been the beginning of my new partnership as artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra.

When I last conducted here in Madison, I had just finished a long association with the Oregon East Symphony. Since then, I’ve basically been a freelance conductor without an orchestra to call my home. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time, but I’ve been wanting a chance to build something together with a group of colleagues I really respect.”

Otherwise, it’s been one of those years where you often feel like you are just holding on for dear life. At the Scotia Festival this summer, they told me I set some kind of record for most performances by a guest artist in the history of the festival. It has been that kind of year.

It’s all been very exciting but often quite draining. I’m hoping the next chapter, focusing more narrowly on building an orchestra, will be just as exciting but slightly less manic.

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

What does it mean to you to be returning to your alma mater to conduct the UW Symphony?

My father has been a professor in the Chemistry Department since just before I was born, so I pretty much grew up on and around the UW campus.

When I was growing up, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was not as well-established as it is now, and UW Symphony concerts were the big classical events in town, and I have so many memories of sitting in Mills Hall, where I first heard Bruckner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Brahms and any number of other composers.

The design of the Humanities Building — I’ve heard it described as a model for a dystopian prison — doesn’t tend to inspire much affection among people who work in it, but I’m very sentimental about the place.

Coming back to the UW for my Master’s was a great chapter for me. It was one of those miraculous moments in life when you have the good fortune to find exactly the mentors and teachers you need. Those years studying cello and chamber music with Parry Karp (below) were incredibly important to everything I’ve done since then, and I was also really lucky to work closely with David Becker, who gave me a good foundation as a conductor, and the late violinist Vartan Manoogian, who became a good friend and supported me a lot.

Parry Karp

David Becker full mug

What do you think about working with and conducting student orchestras?

Philosophically, I try to treat every orchestra the same. You go to the first rehearsal really well prepared, give an upbeat, and then see what happens.

What I admire most in any orchestra is preparation combined with flexibility, which, not coincidently, is what I always looked for in conductors when I was playing in orchestras.

Being truly flexible isn’t about, for instance, trying every possible version of a bowing- it’s something that happens more at the quantum level of playing. It’s listening to each other with such focus that you can all make the millions of tiny anticipations and adjustments needed to take the performance somewhere really special.

The playing level of student orchestras these days is always very high, so often my job is to help them develop the kind of ten-dimensional listening that lets them play as an ensemble. (Below is the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union under choral director Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What would you like to say about the two staple works you will conduct, the Brahms Violin Concerto (have you ever worked with Rachel Barton Pine?) and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony?

Well, the symphony by Shostakovich (below) is a very special piece, and one I have a very personal relationship with. It was, in fact, the first piece of orchestral music I ever heard played live. When I was three or four, my pre-school teacher, Barbara Goy, founder of the Preschool for the Arts, took us to a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) conducted by its founder Marvin Rabin – and they were working on it.

That morning in the Humanities Building changed my life. I’ve conducted it many times, given lectures on it, taught it and written at length about it, but doing it in the same building where I first heard it is going to be very, very special.

dmitri shostakovich

Brahms and Shostakovich make for an interesting pairing because they’re so completely different in some ways, and yet they have certain important qualities in common.

Shostakovich wrote so much, and could write in so many styles and so many genres- his versatility is almost unmatched in music history. Brahms (below) only left us a smaller body of work- so much of his music ended up in his fireplace- but it’s all so clearly the same voice, and so closely interconnected.

The large-scale orchestral music has this lovely symmetry- four symphonies, four concertos. That’s it! I just did the Violin Concerto back in June with Alexander Sitkovetsky, a favorite soloist with whom I’ve worked many times. I hadn’t done the piece in years and it was so humbling to come back to the score again after a break.


Rachel Barton Pine (below) and I have never met, but I’ve certainly admired her work. Part of the joy of conducting concertos is in seeing how different each collaboration is going to be. My view of the Shostakovich symphony has developed over 30 years and doesn’t tend to change radically from one concert to another, but I might need to completely re-think the Brahms in order to suit Rachel’s take on it.

Rachel Barton Pine

And what do you want to say about the other composer Philip Sawyers (below) and the Overture to the “Gale of Life” piece by way of introducing them to readers?

Philip is one of the great composers of our time- someone whose music will, I’m sure, be discussed and performed and admired for generations to come. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to count him as a dear friend.

I first met Philip when I was conducting my first concert with Kent County Youth Orchestra in England, where he has coached the violins since the 1970s. Philip is a former member of the orchestra of Royal Opera Covent Garden.

Getting to know his music was a revelation.

I’ve just completed a recording of his Second Symphony, Cello Concerto and Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings with the Orchestra of the Swan for Nimbus Records.

It’s a project I’m enormously proud of. I think the Concerto is probably the greatest British cello concerto since the one by William Walton, and the Second Symphony is a staggering masterpiece. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I believe it.

When I took up my new gig with the English Symphony Orchestra (below), one of my first decisions was to commission a Third Symphony from Philip, which we’ll premiere in 2015 and record for Nimbus.

“Gale of Life” is a proper concert opener – it’s not one of his more ambitious works, but it’s immensely satisfying to play and a great introduction to his language. All the great composers used to write overtures and other concert openers, but that has really died off in the last 40 years.

I always like to try to bring something with me when I guest conduct that I have a personal connection to, which will be new to either the musicians or the audience, or maybe both. Hopefully, a good number of folks will come away from the concert anxious to hear his other works.

Philip Sawyers

Classical music: Notes of a Native Son — Madison native and University of Wisconsin graduate, conductor-cellist Kenneth Woods has seen his career crescendo this fall with three new recordings, international broadcasts and important concerts. Plus, Classical Revolution Madison members perform FREE Mendelssohn and Janacek this Sunday at the Fair Trade Coffee House.

December 1, 2012
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ALERT: On Sunday from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at the Fair Trade Coffee House (below), 418 State St., about 20 musicians from the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution perform a FREE program featuring Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, and more. All of the performers are members of Classical Revolution Madison Cooperative, a cooperative of musicians who, by performing in bars, cafes and other nontraditional venues, promote live classical music as a relevant and important part of every community’s cultural fabric.

fair trade coffeehouse madisonjpg

By Jacob Stockinger

It is always fun to read about a local musician who makes it into The Big Time.

Take Kenneth Woods (below), who grew up in Madison, graduated from West High School, played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and received his graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Woods, a prolific blogger and extremely busy performer, is clearly an impressive Man on the Move — which makes The Ear wonder when we will finally see him guest conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or some other local group, as he once did with UW Symphony Orchestra several years ago. (At bottom, in a clip from Sir Edward Elgar‘s moving Symphony No. 1.)


Here are updates and news of Kenneth Woods, courtesy of his agent:

Kenneth Woods is enjoying the release of three new recordings over the past two months, on each playing a different part.

As cellist, Woods anchors the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, whose recording debut of the world-premiere recordings of Hans Gál’s Serenade in D and Trio in F sharp minor, Op. 104, coupled with Hans Krása’s Tanec and Passacaglia and Fugue (AVIE Records), attracted immediate international acclaim. The Irish Times called it “highly persuasive” while the San Francisco Guardian said it is  “a brilliant revelation … unforgettable … a superb performance.” “Ensemble Epomeo … play superbly individually and as a team, and with obvious commitment” was the judgment of, while Chicago’s famed WFMT radio station said simply “Wow!

Epomeo CD Gal and Krasa

Ensemble Epomeo (below), who toured this and other repertoire on the East Coast of the United States in October with performances outside of Boston, in Philadelphia and New York City, is also the subject of a recent feature in Classical Music Magazine.

ensemble epomeo 1

As Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra of the Swan in Wales (below top), Woods conducted world premieres with a Japanese flavor on Spring Sounds, Spring Seas (MSR Classics): Concerto for Shakuhachi, Strings, Harp and Percussion by James Schlefer – himself a Grand Master on the Japanese flute who is the featured soloist – and Schlefer’s “Haru No Umi Redux,” a re-working of a traditional Japanese duet “The Sea in Spring”, “memorable music in fine performances,” according to Fanfare magazine. “The recording is top flight.”

orchestra of-the swan

spring sounds, spring seas cd

Decades before his discovery of the music of Hans Gál, Woods interest in “Entartete Musik” (what the Nazis called “Degenerate Music” and censored) led to his arrangement of the String Quartet No. 3, by Viktor Ullman (below), for string orchestra (1999). Woods studied the chamber work as a cello student at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music under Henry Meyer, long-time second violinist of the La Salle String Quartet, who, like Ullman, had been interred in Auschwitz-Birkenau but escaped at the end of the War.

Woods’ arrangement has been recorded by David Parry and the English Chamber Orchestra, and released on the Gramola label, which promotes the recuperation of works by Jewish and Austrian composers. The arrangement is also scheduled to be performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Musikverein’s Brahmssaal in November.

Victor Ullman

Woods’ advocacy of the music of Hans Gál manifests itself most notably in his world-premiere recordings of the composer’s symphonies paired with those of Schumann, an ongoing acclaimed cycle that has received a “Choice” in Gramophone magazine, praise from the New York Times for Woods’ “fine job of revealing the qualities” of Gál’s music, and a feature article in The Washington Post. Following releases of  Gál’s Symphony No. 4 paired with Schumann’s Second (AVIE Records AV 2231), and both of the composers’ Thirds (AVIE 2230), Woods will conduct Orchestra of the Swan in Gál’s Second – a sober, wartime symphony – and Schumann’s Fourth, in the recording studio as well as in concert in the orchestra’s Stratford-upon-Avon home in early December.

Kenneth Woods Schumann 2 Gal cover

Stateside, Woods’ Gal-Schumann recording project has been heard by millions through multiple airings on American Public Media’s “Performance Today,” including a broadcast of Schumann’s Second. The program also featured his recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement, released by SOMM Recordings.

In November, Woods made his debut with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, conducting an all-Beethoven program, including the Overture to “Coriolanus,” the Violin Concerto (with Benjamin Beilman) and Symphony No. 2. In addition, he delivered a pre-performance lecture.

Back in the UK, also in November, Woods also continued his extraordinary Mahler project in support of Alzheimer’s research with the Wrexham Symphony Orchestra conducting the epic Third Symphony.

Gustav Mahler big

When not conducting, playing his cello, arranging, writing, broadcasting or indeed spending time with his family in his Cardiff home, Woods is actively blogging on A View from the Podium, one of today’s most-widely read and respected classical music blogs.

To learn more about Kenneth Woods visit


Classical music diary: UW alumnus conductor-cellist Kenneth Woods on the road and in rehearsal — Part 3 of 3

January 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

What is it like to be a busy professional musician who is in demand and has a lot of far-flung duties to perform and obligations to meet? It is a question that has always intrigued me – especially because I am an amateur pianist who once aspired to a professional performing career but just didn’t have the talent or nervous system.

Anyway, I got a good taste of what my life could have been like from a friend I have made through this blog and the University of Wisconsin School of Music: Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods, who is based in Cardiff, Wales. and has his own great blog (“A View From the Podium”).

He offered me this profile of several weeks of his life last spring and summer. And it’s not all glamour and fun.

I should have posted it sooner. But things happened – or didn’t. Anyway, it seems like particularly good reading right now as I lie here tending to a killer cold or flu and look at the minus 10 winter weather outside.

I hope you agree and enjoy the three-part series. Then maybe you will let me know it you would like to read more first-person accounts from the eye of the classical music storm.

Take it away with the third and final installment, Maestro Ken!

By Kenneth Woods

June 21 – Hereford Symphony Orchestra (below). HSO rehearse on Monday’s and I had to dep out rehearsals on the 31st and 14th for Orchestra of the Swan and Cambridge. This is our last working rehearsal before our final concert together on Saturday.

Lovely French program – Berlioz Corsaire Overture (keeps everyone’s fingers moving!), Saint-Saens 3rd Violin Concerto and the Franck D minor Symphony. Saint-Saens was no Mahler or Debussy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do his music. There are some really nice colleagues in the orchestra — I’ll miss them, but I’m no longer able to do concerts with these long weekly rehearsal runs.

June 22 – First of two more trips up to Stratford. Festivals to plan, a contract to negotiate.

June 23 – A busy day at home. We’ve got to organize the family, who are coming with me to America for a month on Sunday. Also, my conducting workshop in Portland is coming up soon. We’ve got to make final housing arrangements for the students, make sure the orchestra and music are ready to go and that all the faculty have their travel and accommodation sorted.  Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop (, which I’ve directed since 2005, is the only project I do where I take on administrative responsibilities beyond what a conductor normally does, but its’ always worth it.

June 26 – HSO. My final concert with them. We’re playing in Leominster Priory, a stunning and vast building of cathedral proportions in a beautiful corner of Herefordshire. Lighting during the day is a problem- sunlight streams in through the front window and tends to blind the players.

There is one unfortunate moment when one player in the wind-brass neighborhood who had brought rehearsal to a standstill on Monday has still not learned two mildly tricky bars in the finale. I stop to work on it and she flatly refuses to play. Not what I wanted on my last day here! I’ve never actually had this happen to me and am left kind of speechless, but I’m  probably clearly unhappy. I don’t want her ruining the day for the people sat around her, so I have friendly word to clear up the “miscommunication” and improve the atmosphere at the break and she’s as friendly and reasonable as she was rude and crazy in the rehearsal. Another of life’s mysteries.

Concert comes and goes (I LOVE the Franck) and I say many goodbyes. Then it’s back to Cardiff with a lovely bottle of Scotch from the orchestra.

June 27 – TRAVEL. I got back from HSO just before midnight. At 3 a.m. we have to leave for Heathrow  and fly to America for a month. I’m not packed! Also, Suzanne came down with a violent stomach bug Friday night, so she’s not packed either, which means the kids aren’t packed. So, 12-1 is packing time, 1-2:15 sleeping, then pile the kids in the car. About 30 minutes from home we realize we’ve forgotten our son’s most precious comfort toy. If we go back, we’ll miss the flight, but will he cope for a month without it? Will he cope for an hour? Bad news at Heathrow- they’ve changed visa procedures for Sue and the kids. I have to get on the laptop and apply online. Minutes tick away as I contemplate missing the flight and the first day of UW Music Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin.

Finally, we’ve got the codes and we’re off! Kids good as gold on the flight. Change in Detroit starts well — quickly through customs and all is on time. Just a short hop to Madison. We nip in to a Mexican joint for some lunch, but then it rains for 10 whole minutes.

By the time we’ve got our chips, our flight and all flights for the next two hours are cancelled and there are lines of hundreds of people around the block at every ironically named “help desk.”

After some pointed discussions with Delta staff about locking babies in airports overnight, they get us off to Green Bay on the last flight, where my parents come to meet us. Of course, we have no luggage, and are completely out of baby supplies. Not the most fun end to a transcontinental journey, but the kids have been heroic.

June 28 – UW Madison Summer Music Clinic. (See Mills Hall below.) I’ve washed out the shirt I flew in and am ready to go. Teaching cello class, orchestra, string master class and a listening class. Cello class is an interesting mix of those who want to learn and those that don’t.

So much of one’s teaching energies these days are spent getting a student ready to learn rather than teaching them. Teaching in groups makes the dynamic infinitely more complex. Orchestra is HUGE, and so young. Quite a change from Hereford – their longtime concertmaster once called the HSO the Hereford Geriatric Orchestra.

I decide to start with the grand and majestic Prelude to Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger.” We tune and I give a big upbeat and nothing really happens — they’ve got the music to the Prelude to Act III, which starts with very soft cellos, instead of the Prelude to the whole opera, which starts with the whole band playing nearly full out. Yikes!

So — we dispatch the library team to find the right Wagner and read our excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s a great, great string section this year — lots of very gifted and passionate players. “Montagues and Capulets” already sounds very good.

Performance Critique (the string masterclass) gets off to a good start, and after my listening class, I have time to buy some underwear, baby food and a toothbrush on my way home.

After rehearsal, it occurs to me, that at this point, in the last four weeks since May 31st, I’ve conducted 7 different orchestras in 7 cities on two continents in 7 completely different programs, done a challenging world premiere, played a concerto, conducted one of the most high-pressure gigs of my own life and managed to transport two very little children to America.

Of the 7 orchestras, two (the Clinic orchestra and the Cambridge band) had never played together before. In spite of the vast differences in experience and skill, there were some definite similarities.

There were new beginnings for me — my first concert as a member of the team at Orchestra of the Swan (below) — and endings, as I said goodbye to Hereford. Likewise, I finally got to conduct in Oxford for the first time 6 years after I met them, just days before I completed my Schumann cycle with the SMP, an orchestra with nearly identical demographics to the Ox Sinf. Earliest work performed was Telemann, the latest Joanna Lee’s premiere (which was Classical Music Mag’s Premiere of the Month!).

A good month’s work, to be sure. Of course, as I said, I can’t really afford to think in months. The story must continue: Sue, the kids and I are still without luggage. There’s a concert to prepare with the Clinic Orchestra and a whole lot of teaching work to be done, and then there’s my conducting workshop next week (always the busiest week of the year for me) to get through before vacation.

So, the run continues, but perhaps this blog post ends! For the rest …  it’s

To be continued …

And here is Woods conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra (NOT the summer clinic group) in Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 in the UW-Madison’s Mills Hall.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music diary: UW alumnus and conductor-cellist Kenneth Woods on the road and in rehearsal — Part 2 of 3

January 23, 2011
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

What is it like to be a busy professional musician who is in demand and has a lot of far-flung duties to perform and obligations to meet? It is a question that has always intrigued me – especially because I am an amateur pianist who once aspired to a professional performing career but just didn’t have the talent or nervous system.

Anyway, I got a good taste of what my life could have been like from a friend I have made through this blog and the University of Wisconsin School of Music: Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods (below), who is based in Cardiff, Wales. and has his own great blog (“A View From the Podium”).

He offered me this behind-the-scenes profile of several weeks of his life last spring and summer. And it’s not all glamour and fun.

I should have posted it sooner. But things happened – or didn’t. Anyway, it seems like particularly good reading right now as I lie here tending to a killer cold or flu and look at the minus 10 winter weather outside.

I hope you agree and enjoy the three-part series. Then maybe you will let me know it you would like to read more first-person accounts from the eye of the classical music storm.

Take it away with Part 2, Maestro Ken!

By Kenneth Woods

June 2 – My first rehearsal with Oxford Sinfonia (below). I met their director on a gig the day before my wedding in 2004 and he invited me to do a concert then and there. Six years later, here we are at last. Great program: Honegger’s rarely-played Symphony No. 4, the Schumann Violin Concerto (also something of a rarity) and Beethoven 7. Good band with especially fine horns (promising for the Beethoven) and cellos. A rehearsal 3 hours from home means a shortened day for practice and study.

June 3 – More practice. Boring for you, dear reader. As it turns out, this shall be my last day of proper practice for the Schumann. See tomorrow. I run the piece 3 times — twice for the recorder and once for Suzanne.

June 4 – Oh, crap. Manchester is one long, miserable drive from Cardiff. Schumann tomorrow is in Manchester, so I didn’t want to drive up on the day of the concert and be exhausted.

With that in mind, I scheduled a meeting at the BBC in Manchester to talk about a program proposal. Then, I noticed a change from the tentative to final schedules for Oxford — I have a rehearsal tonight there.

So, instead of a leisurely drive up for an early afternoon meeting followed by some practice and an early night at a friend’s house, it’s a mad dash to Manchester for a very promising chat, followed by another mad dash across the country in Friday rush-hour traffic to Oxford.

Good rehearsal, although they tend to double dot the main theme in the Schumann — naughty, naughty!!!! Finally, rehearsal ends at 10 p.m. and it’s back to Manchester, arriving around 1 a.m., to an uninhabitable hotel room. After schlepping the cello up five flights of stairs, it’s back down to the front desk to negotiate for a room humans can sleep in. Negotiations done, I’m finally in my room about 2 a.m.

June 5 – First challenge was to find a nice coffee. This is important. After a 10-minute walk I find a Starbucks and a local place next door to each other. My heart always votes for the local place, but today is no time to take chances, and my coffee radar is sounding notes of concern about the locals. Starbucks it is.

Fortunately, there are no ill effects from the lost day of practice once I’ve done a slow, careful warm-up in my hotel. It’s off to rehearsal. I always say conducting is more tiring than playing the cello on a sheer physical level, but doing both is something else, and I am pooped from Friday’s driving. By the end of the rehearsal I feel only half alive. Great program: Telemann’s “Don Quioxte” (which I’m leading from the cello facing the orchestra), the Schumann (again, leading from the cello but facing the audience) and Beethoven 6.

I sleep on the floor of my green room for most of the short gap between rehearsal and concert. It’s a special week for Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850) – his 200th birthday is on Tuesday, and Bobby S is my main man. In my pre-performance rap, I try to encourage the audience to forget his life story, amazing as it is, and to forget all the crap they’ve read and just listen. The important thing about Schumann is that he’s a musical genius.

Somehow, it goes really, really well, as does the Beethoven. Afterwards, everyone is talking about the fantastic timpanist playing on the Beethoven. Poor violins — they play almost every bar, but it’s the timpanist, who plays about 8 notes with style, who gets the solo bow.

June 6- My birthday! Family time!

June 7 – Surrey Mozart Players (below). First rehearsal — great program. Schumann “Manfred” Overture, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and Brahms 4th Symphony. My first Brahms with them, and possibly my last Schumann – “Manfred” is the finale to a cycle of all the Schumann symphonies, concertos and short orchestral works we’ve done together.

Generally when I come back to a piece I’ve done, the changes in my approach are matters of specific details. But I feel like my thinking on the Brahms, especially the last movement, has undergone a pretty vast sea change.

June 8 – Bobby Schumann’s 200th birthday. I meant to write a blog post about it. I still mean to write a blog post about it.Radio 3 celebrates with a broadcast of the Violin Concerto, and Sir Colin Davis has the orchestra double-dotting through the whole first movement. I can only hope nobody in Oxford is listening.  I know he’s Sir Colin, but Schumann knew how to double-dot.

June 9 – Oxford Sinfonia. We’re making progress, to be sure. Very intense work on the 1st two movements of the Beethoven.

The Honegger is lovely to listen to, but a little dull to work on. There’s not a lot of detail in the score about what he wants, and there lots of long passages that are more about atmosphere than direction. I have to remember the piece from a listener’s point of view — on that level it works.

June 10 – Orchestra of the Swan (below). A long day of planning sessions in Stratford. Great stuff, but more driving!

June 11 – Oxford Sinfonia. Need to get in some more serious work on the Schumann tonight as well as cover most of the Beethoven. The 7th is not massive like a Mahler symphony, but it is one of the most tiring pieces in the repertoire. We don’t want to spend too much time on it tomorrow.

After rehearsal, I drive back to Hereford, where my family are staying at grandma’s for a few days since I’m hardly home anyway. It adds 6 hours driving in a busy week, but gives me two hours of time with the kids in a weekend I might miss them altogether.

June 12 – Oxford Sinfonia. Never been to the center of Oxford before- it looks like the all the movies set there. Rather astounding. Most UK orchestras have dress rehearsal at 2:30 and concert at 7:30. Here it is 1 and 8, which means a much longer day for me, and a few extra hours wandering the streets between rehearsal and show.

Alexandra Wood (below) is the soloist in the Schumann — we did the piece as part of the SMP cycle a year or so back, and she’s as wonderful as I remember. This time, we’re able to dig even deeper.

Afterwards, I get lots of comments from orchestra and audience about the Schumann along the lines of “but it’s one of the greatest violin concertos I’ve ever heard! Why is it never done?” I know! People always love Schumann when it’s played well, and hate it when they read snooty program notes about his orchestration.

Honegger works! Lovely —  as long as I stay patient and let the right kind of nothing happen. I love the fact I’ve done Beethoven 6 plus the Schumann Cello Concerto and the Violin Concerto and LvB 7 in consecutive weeks. Beethoven 7 is fab — for once, the horns nail it! Rarr!!

Afterwards, one of them says he’s never been so tired after a concert. Good. I’ve managed to frame Bobby’s birthday with his two great string concertos — the Violin Concerto is so visionary, the slow movement so deeply moving. To think it was lost for decades…

June 13 – Surrey Mozart Players. After the Ox Sin concert it was back to Hereford for a few more precious hours with the family. I got in about 1 a.m., then about 11 a.m. it’s off to Surrey for more Brahms, Schumann and Tchaik. “Manfred,” all 12 minutes of it, is so much harder than the whole rest of the program put together. After rehearsal, it’s straight off to Cambridge (about 2½ hours away) where tomorrow, I conduct the world’s greatest string orchestra.

June 14 – World’s Greatest String Orchestra. A day I could write a book about! I’m conducting a charity concert for Motor Neuron Disease research. The orchestra is made up entirely of soloists and chamber musicians who have had great instruments bought for them by Nigel Brown and the Stradivari trust.

The Endellion, Fitzwilliam and Doric quartets are all represented, as is the Leopold Trio, leaders of the BBC Symphony (below) and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The rest are merely soloists with recording contracts and busy schedules.

The cello section (5 players) are playing in 7 million pounds (about $11 million) worth of instruments. Generally, everyone’s heart is in the right place, but it’s an orchestra with many leaders and no followers. They make a great noise, but the rehearsal (only one, less that two hours)  is surprisingly intense. There is so much talent, wealth, power and mojo around all day that it feels like a year in a few hours. Of course, there’s pressure on all of us, and everyone shows some nerves at one time or another during the day. The concert isn’t perfect, but I’ll never forget that string sound. Wow.

June 15 – I say goodbyes to Nigel (my host and the founder of the Stradivari Trust) and everyone in Cambridge. I like the idea of conducting in Oxford and Cambridge in the same weekend. What a life! Nigel has offered me a glorious concert in November that conflicts with recording sessions for my new CD with Orchestra of the Swan. Argh! I leave hoping that my inability to do November doesn’t mean I’m done in Cambridge. Any time you say no in this business you know you might not get another chance to say yes.

June 16 – Surrey Mozart Players. I’ve got a good feeling about the Brahms. SMP understand Schumann better than almost any group of I’ve done him with after the last 4 years, but Manfred is pushing us all to the limit. It’s not a hard piece to fake, but to do justice to it?

June 18 –  Surrey Mozart Players. As with Oxford last week, there’s a need to mix doing the last proper rehearsing with doing some large chunks of things so we don’t have to play too much at the dress rehearsal tomorrow. Afterwards, it’s back to Cardiff for a morning with the family, even though I have to be at the hall again tomorrow by 2.

June 19 – Surrey Mozart Players. SMP dress rehearsals are always made more intense by the fact that it is the first and only time I get to work with the trumpets, trombones and timps. They’re generally good to very good players, but if our regulars aren’t available, things can get sketchy. This week we have the A-team.

Since they are only there for the one rehearsal, we need to cover pretty much the whole program- experience has taught me the danger of trusting too much that someone knows how things go.

Our soloist for the Tchaik is Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), a marvelous young player and supremely nice guy. Again, our only rehearsal with him. Lots to do in one 3-hour rehearsal. The concert goes marvelously well. The Tchaik is just about spot on, and Sascha nailed the whole thing. Brahms worked really well, as well. I was worried about the Schumann — the dress was not good, but somehow, it comes to life. So ends our Schumann cycle and my Schumann birthday month — in stark and bleak E-flat minor. That seems appropriate.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music diary: Life on the road and in rehearsal as lived by UW alumnus and conductor-cellist Kenneth Woods — Part 1 of 3.

January 22, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

What is it like to be a busy professional musician who is in demand and has a lot of far-flung duties to perform and obligations to meet? It is a question that has always intrigued me – especially because I am an amateur pianist who once aspired to a professional performing career but just didn’t have the talent or nervous system.

Anyway, I got a good taste of what my life could have been like from a friend I have made through this blog and the University of Wisconsin School of Music: Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods (below), who is based in Cardiff, Wales. and has his own great blog (“A View From the Podium”).

He offered me this profile of several weeks of his life last spring and summer. And it’s not all glamour and fun.

I should have posted it sooner. But things happened – or didn’t. Anyway, it seems like particularly good reading right now as I lie here tending to a killer cold or flu and look at the minus 10 winter weather outside.

I hope you agree and enjoy the three-part series. Then maybe you will let me know it you would like to read more first-person accounts from the eye of the classical music storm.

Take it away, Maestro Ken!

By Kenneth Woods

Jake Stockinger at The Well-Tempered Ear recently invited me to do a guest slot on his excellent blog. His suggestion was that I write a summary of my working month of June. I thought it was a great idea — I love reading my old teacher (below) Leonard Slatkin’s monthly messages on his blog, and these sort of “my month” columns were an interesting mainstay of Gramophone for a long time.

My only challenge is that I, like many musicians, don’t think in months and weeks. We think in concerts and runs of concerts. Ask a musician what they did on the weekend, and you’re likely to get an eye roll. They probably drove 600 miles and played 3 concerts. Tuesdays are more likely to be a family day for many of us (which doesn’t work so well once your kids are in school).

Likewise, I find my own work tends to organize itself into runs of several concerts that fall one after the other — such runs tend to be about 3-5 weeks long and are usually bracketed by nice breaks where I can reintroduce myself to my family.

From that perspective, this run of work most certainly began on May 19th when I flew over to Boston to meet my colleagues in Ensemble Epomeo (below) for concerts at the Newburyport festival and a radio concert in New Hampshire.

It was a fun trip, but intense – one of my colleagues has angered the gods of Vulcan and was stranded by volcanic ash, so we had to put together the premiere of Kile Smith’s marvelous new string trio on one rehearsal. Then American Airlines smashed my spare cello on the way home — nice work, guys. I had a rehearsal the night I got in to Heathrow and wasn’t in the finest mood.

However, it seems a stretch to start a “my month of June” post with discussions of May 19-23 (although I just did, didn’t I?), so I’ll start almost in June…

May 31 – Orchestra of the Swan (below). My first concert with them since being appointed Principal Guest Conductor. We’ve got one rehearsal (four-hour call) to put together Joanna Lee’s incredibly tricky new work, “The Chronicles of Archy” and “Walton’s Façade.” “Archy” is a tall order — wicked rhythms, dense and complicated textures, extended techniques and lots of wit.

It’s about 28 minutes long. Normally you’d get 3 rehearsals, but this is part of a busy festival week (Spring Sounds, the orchestra’s annual new music festival), so we have to get the job done. Our biggest challenge is the acoustic: marble floors, walls and ceiling mean the percussion and trumpet are impossibly loud in spite of the musician’s great skill and delicacy.

“Façade” is full of the same problems — the spoken text is always hard to hear, but nearly impossibly so in this space. The orchestra is virtuosic, flexible, patient and heroic — I’m really looking forward to working with them. After putting together “Archy,” we only had 50 minutes to put together 45 minutes of Walton, and they nailed it to the wall.

June 1 – No rehearsals, but lots of scores to learn and cello to practice.  I will play the Schumann Concerto with Lancashire Chamber Orchestra (below) on Saturday. I’m often asked things like “What do you do all week between rehearsals?” These days fly by — a few hours of practice, a few hours of score study (a vast amount of music this month to conduct), answer some emails and look after the kids and I’ve put in a 15-hour day.

In addition to preparing the Concerto itself, I’m still adjusting from my now-smashed spare cello to my Italian one. Lots of careful intonation work to be done.  Since I’m conducting and playing, the memorization process is a little more intense, as both cello part and score have to be memorized cold.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music news: It’s Kenneth Woods Week on The Ear as we visit with an important UW alumnus and lost composer Hans Gal

November 21, 2010
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks the start of Thanksgiving week, typically a slow time – though hardly a dead quiet time — for live classical music before the accelerating rush toward the winter intermission over the holiday season. It’s the time when classical music gradually gives way, appropriately, to holiday music, both secular and sacred, classical and popular.

Several factors make this a good time, then, to celebrate a special man and musician who is also a good friend of the blog. So The Well-Tempered Ear is devoting this week – with the exception of a Wednesday break for the usual Best Bets and special Thanksgiving piece on Thursday — to Kenneth Woods (below) and calling it “Kenneth Woods Week.”

Specifically, we will be looking Woods’ career and at how Woods is working with AVIE Records on the rediscovery and revival  of the Viennese composer Hans Gal (1890-1987, below) — with great enough success that even more Gal recordings are in store.

Woods – who will be hosting Thanksgiving for American ex-patriots at his home in Cardiff, Wales — is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Music with a master’s degree in cello performance in 1993. (As an undergraduate, he attended Indiana University 1986-1990.)

He is now the conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan (see the link below) and is based in Cardiff, Wales.

He has returned to guest conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra.

He has made recordings of previously unknown repertoire.

He travels around the United Kingdom and the world doing guests appearances and he recently made headlines in a charity concert rededicating a renovated concert hall with the patron Her Royal Highness Camilla Parker-Bowles in attendance. Here is a link to a detailed review:

Amid all his activities, however, Woods does not forget his alma mater.

He has returned to teach at the annual summer clinics for middle school and high schools students, and he has worked with UW students.

Woods, himself a cellist before he turned to conducting, has also booked UW professor and cellist Parry Karp to give his first public performance of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concert this past week.

(Woods is an avid fan of and specialist in Elgar and last year conducted the UW Symphony Orchestra in Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 – a work far less well-known than it should be, given that it is done the composer of the famous Cello Concerto and the “Enigma” Variations.

Here is a link to his impressive website, which includes his impressive bio, his enormous repertoire list as well as his debut recording and its great reviews and a list of his honors and awards:

Here is a link to his informative blog, “A View From the Podium”:

Here is a summary of Woods’ career highlights from Wikipedia:

This is not the first time this blog has focused on Wood:’s-kenneth-woods-conducts-free-uw-symphony-orchestra-concert-sunday-night/

If all this seems excessive, wait until you see what we will be dealing with.

And take a look at his long list of guest conducting stints. Woods is clearly a young musician on the move. We will hearing more from him and more about him on both sides of The Pond.

There are quite a few  YouTube videos of Woods to enjoy.

Here he is conducting the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra in the first song from Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder”:

And here is conducting the State of Mexico Symphony Orchestra in the first movement of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.

Tomorrow: Reviving and recording the music of Hans Gal, Part 1

Posted in Classical music
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