The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Page-turners can make or break a concert

April 30, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger


Then some more beautiful music.


Then more beautiful music

And so on for 40 minutes or so.

There I was recently, listening to a wonderful piece of chamber music, a piano trio by Schubert, the energetic opening of which is performed here by Yehudi Meuhin at the 1964 Bath Festival in England.

But the music was interrupted by this sound of an annoying thwap, and another, and another.

It was by the very capable pianist who was turning her own pages.

Of course, I understand why someone might do that. I know one pianist in particular who is really fussy about turning pages and who does it. Get the wrong page-turner and you can get in serious trouble. It’s a special skills as you can read here:

String players and other instrumentalists turn their own pages all the time and usually seem to have the time to do so. And pianists do it when they are practicing.

But when you are a playing the piano in a performance, I’m not so sure that turning your own pages is a good idea, especially when you’re playing a fast movement (first movement, last movement, middle scherzo) and have to turn the page really fast – thereby creating a loud and distracting paper crinkle of the page.

Then too, the noise gets even louder when the page doesn’t turn fully and you lose your place as you slap the page back down again because it doesn’t stay flat.

Of course, maybe something happened in the concert in question. Maybe the page-turner didn’t show up, though the nearby University of Wisconsin School of Music should be full of capable student willing to turn pages.

“I wanted to offer to help,” said another sympathetic listener after the performance, when we were chatting.

I had had the same impulse.

But I figured, as he probably did, that she did what she wanted to do. And maybe neither of us would have been an improvement because we hadn’t rehearsed it with the pianist.

Anyway, I really urge piano players in chamber music performances to line up a capable page-turner. (Notice the one in the one the video above of a thoroughly professional piano trio.)

And I encourage the public to appreciate the good and bad that page-turners can make in a concert. They seem so secondary or tertiary — but they can be vital.

Take a look at this story:

Have you ever been distracted by a musician turning pages during a performance?

What do musicians say about the dilemma?

Do any page-turners have something to say?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will air the Madison Opera’s productions of “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Magic Flute” this Saturday afternoon and next Saturday afternoon

May 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Saturday live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera ended for the season last weekend.

But opera on the radio continues.

The Madison Opera is partnering with Wisconsin Public Radio to present recorded broadcasts of Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet on Saturday, May 20, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute (below) on Saturday, May 27. (Photo are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

Both broadcasts begin at 1 p.m. Listeners can tune into their local WPR station or stream online at

Each spring, two operas from Madison Opera’s season are presented by Wisconsin Public Radio to let listeners re-live the season.  These broadcasts cap off the end of the season of live radio broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera that run from December through May on WPR’s News and Classical Music Network.

“We are committed to showcasing some of the best music and arts performances in Wisconsin. Our broadcast partnership with the Madison Opera, and organizations and musicians throughout the state, help to ensure everyone has access to live and local concerts no matter where they live,” said Peter Bryant (below), director of WPR’s News and Classical Music.

Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet opens the broadcast series on Saturday, May 20, at 1 p.m.  In 14th-century Verona, Romeo meets Juliet in a crowded ballroom, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families. With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers to vivid life.

Madison Opera’s cast features UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago alumna Emily Birsan (below right) as Juliet, John Irvin (below left) as Romeo, Sidney Outlaw as Mercutio, Stephanie Lauricella as Stephano, Liam Moran as Friar Lawrence, Allisanne Apple as Gertrude, Chris Carr as Tybalt, Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet, Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona, Nathanial Hill as Gregorio, James Held as Paris, and Andrew F. Turner as Benvolio.

John DeMain conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Birsan, Irvin and DeMain, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

On Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m., the broadcasts conclude with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A prince, a princess, a bird-catcher and a host of other fascinating characters invite you into a fantastical world of charmed musical instruments, mystical rituals, and a quest for enlightenment and wisdom.

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s sublime opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and all enchantment.

Madison Opera’s cast features Amanda Woodbury as Pamina, Andrew Bidlack as Tamino, Alan Dunbar as Papageno, Caitlin Cisler as The Queen of the Night, Nathan Stark as Sarastro, Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos, Amanda Kingston as the First Lady, Kelsey Park as the Second Lady, Anna Parks as the Third Lady, Anna Polum as Papagena, Matthew Scollin as the Speaker, Robert A. Goderich as the First Priest/Armored Man, and James Held as the Second Priest/Armored Man.

Julliard professor Gary Thor Wedow conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Woodbury, Bidlack, Dunbar and Wedow, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.  A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.

Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took performance photos. 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 for 12 years hosted 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

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.


What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here:

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players of Madison explain and explore the demanding and original horn trios by Johannes Brahms and Gyorgy Ligeti. Now if the musicians can only get the word out and reach the audience they deserve. Plus, on Thursday morning, WORT-FM will preview the FREE world premiere concert on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Pro Arte Quartet.

February 25, 2014
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ALERT: Our blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM 89.9 writes: “On this Thursday, Feb. 27, I’ll be playing the following items which should help publicize the FREE concert this coming Saturday night by the Pro Arte Quartet . It takes place at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall and features an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and a viola quintet by Anton Bruckner — with guest violist Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and the Juilliard String Quartet — as well as the WORLD PREMIERE of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The program should also help publicize the FREE open rehearsal wight he composer that same Thursday morning in Mills Hall from 9 a.m. to noon.

Here is the schedule of my 5-8 a.m. show “Anything Goes”: at 7:10 a.m. — the original Pro Arte Quartet’s December, 1933 recording of the final movement of the quartet by Maurice Ravel; at 7:18 a.m. — the present-day Pro Arte Quartet (below) and its recording (with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor) of the final movement of William Bolcom‘s Piano Quintet No. 2, which was commissioned by the Pro Arte, performed and recorded for its centennial celebration two seasons ago; and at 7:25 a.m. — Invention No. 1 from Benoit Mernier’s “Five Inventions for Organ” (with the composer performing). I had to choose short selections because we’re in a pledge drive on Feb. 27, which mandates a certain amount of on-air fundraising.”

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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

The Mosaic Chamber Players is a group of instrumentalists in the area who enjoy performing chamber works for a public that still needs to grow and appreciate the players and programs.

On Saturday night, three members of the group presented two examples of the rare idiom of trio for piano, violin and horn — the one by Johannes Brahms (1865), which was the trail-blazer in the idiom, and the one by the modern Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti (below, 1923-2006), composed in 1982 as a tribute to the older composer.

gyorgy ligeti

The Ligeti work was given first, and a very sensible touch was to have a little background presentation on it by Sarah Schaffer, who is also a cellist with the Mosaic group.

Having the players contribute actual examples of passages in the Ligeti score, Schaffer (below) did a fine job of sketching the background of the composer and work, and demonstrating the thematic and motivic ideas out of which Ligeti crafted his work with such considerable skill.

It is, to be sure, a thorny work, tremendously demanding on the players, and posing obstacles of an arcane style on the listeners. But Schaffer’s lecture was most helpful. In this trio Ligeti was, after all, playing the avant-gardist taking on classical forms.

Sarah Schaffer on Mosaic Ligeti

The work is in essentially the same four-movement format as the Brahms, echoing the latter, but in Ligeti’s own terms. Listeners can gradually get their bearings. I, for one, came to appreciate the Lamento finale as packed with very moving beauty. (You can hear that finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The style of Brahms (below) 117 years earlier is, of course, much more congenial to our ears, even if this trio is not that often performed. It also contrasts directly with Ligeti’s counterpart work in its rationale.

Whereas Ligeti pits the three players against each other, as veritable opponents, Brahms treats them as collaborators and partners.  He retains their individuality: the muscularity of the piano, the sweetness of the violin, and the horn’s rugged suggestion of the forests and the hunt.  And yet, the power of the horn is tamed, and made to consort comfortably with the violin, under the piano’s firm supervision.


The performers (below) were members of the group founded by pianist Jess Salek, who was joined in these two trios by violinist Laura Burns and hornist Brad Sinner. They had invested a good three months in working on the Ligeti, I was told, and their mastery of this very tricky score showed how deeply they had come to understand and appreciate it.  (Its difficulties were highlighted by the use of not one but two page-turners for the players.)

The spirit with which they tackled it was appropriately transferred to the Brahms, in a rousing performance.

Mosaic Chamber Players horn trios

Barely over 30 people attended the concert, held in the historic old Landmark auditorium in the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The Mosaic Players will return there on Sunday evening, June 8, for a concert of Cesar Franck and Franz Schubert.  I certainly will be there.  Why not you, too? 

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Classical music: Critic John W. Barker tells his sideswiped “Tale of Two Concerts” as he reviews the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and pianist Frank Glazer.

August 6, 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 88.9 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

A funny thing happened on my way to a concert commitment—a funny and increasingly all-too-familiar thing.

I agreed to do this review of the concert by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below top) last Sunday.  (It had to be Sunday afternoon, because another cultural commitment prevented me from attending the first performance of their program on Friday.) But then I discovered that Farley’s House of Pianos was presenting a recital by the seemingly immortal Frank Glazer(below bottom), that same afternoon.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Frank Glazer

That opened the wound I carry from having had to miss his last appearance in Madison two years ago—again, for the same reason of schedule conflict!  That’s Madison’s musical life for you, over and over again, now even in the summer.

Fortunately, however, this situation was less the usual head-on collision in schedule and more of a side-swipe. The choral concert was at 3 p.m., the piano recital at 4:30 p.m. That fact made it almost possible to be at two places at once, thank goodness.

Attending each concert has had personal reasons for me.  In the case of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the issue was my recognition of guilt.

The group’s director, Scott MacPherson (below) — a credit to UW School of Music background — founded the organization in 2002, drawing together some 35 passionate devotees of choral singing for the sole purpose of presenting a concert in Madison each summer.

Scott MacPherson older BW

That allowed MacPherson to maintain an important tie to this city, while holding professional positions elsewhere, and it gave wonderful performing experience to singers here devoted to him.

It also created an annual audience in Madison that allowed the group to move from one performance to two of each year’s program.

And yet–here comes the guilt–through all these seasons, for whatever reasons (excusable or otherwise), I have failed to attend any one of the IVE’s concerts.  Clearly it has been a loss on my part, one to be made up.

Both performances this years were in ample church venues: the Friday night one in Luther Memorial Church, the one on Sunday afternoon, which I attended, at Covenant Presbyterian.

The first half of the program offered what might be called a “classical” sequence.  The opener was a three-section setting for eight voices of Psalm 150, in French, by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), who compose and published polyphonic settings of all the Psalms.

MacPherson deliberately positioned the singers in the usual SATB (soprano-alto-tenor-bass) spread, rather than dividing them into two distinct choirs, to stress eight-voice integration over the antiphonal effects Sweelinck used so flexibly. But for the next two units the singers shifted about in fact into separate choirs.  And the resulting antiphonal effects were simply glorious.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

The motet “Ich lasse dich nicht” is a beloved and much-recorded work long attributed to Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), a relative of Johann Sebastian Bach. The latter is known to have used the piece in his Leipzig repertoire, and scholars now are inclined to award its composition to J.S. himself.  (Personally, I am still inclined to the older attribution.)

Among its fascinations are the juxtaposition of a chorale sung by one section against the contrapuntal workings of the rest of the choir.  Hearing that wonderful effect after the Sweelinck work gave a clear contrast in the seductive elegance of the Calvinist Psalm idiom as against the four-square assertiveness of the German Lutheran chorale style.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble women

The latter style was given a new twist in a rarely heard work for double choir by Brahms (below), the “Fest und Gedenksprüche,” composed in thanks for an honor accorded him by his natal city of Hamburg.  Brahms was not only a professional choir director, but a pioneering booster and editor of early Baroque choral music, whose style he could assimilate and recast in his own distinctive way in these settings of three Scriptural texts.


The first half of the program ended–after another shift in the singers’ positions–with an arrangement for 16 voices made by one Clytus Gottwald of a single one (“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”) from the  “Rückert-Lieder” for solo voice and orchestra by Gustav Mahler (below).  The texture for, in effect, four four-part choirs, resulted in a density of sound that virtually obliterated the all-important text, producing a purely choral sound that completely left behind anything of Mahler’s intentions or musical character.  This should have been called a “motet after Mahler” rather than identifed as somehow still his music.

Gustav Mahler big

The concert’s second part shifted to music of our times. One does not even require the fact that 2013 marks the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth to justify presenting any of his important choral contributions.  This one, his “Hymn to Saint Peter,” sets a combination of English and Latin Scriptural texts celebrating Peter as the “rock” on which the Church was founded–an echo of the claims of the Roman Church that might not have been expected someone grounded in Anglican Church background.

Benjamin Britten

The Anglican tradition (also involving organ accompaniment of the choir) was even more directly evoked by “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” a text attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and colorfully set by British composer Grayston Ives.

By way of intermezzo, the organist Kathrine Handford (below top) played a lively Dance-Rondo for her instrument.  Then came a composition of a UW-trained Wisconsin composer, Linda Kachelmeier (below bottom), in which words of the Good Friday responsory “O vos omnes and of the “Stabat Mater” Sequence were glommed together in a great choral blur, to some extent surmounted by the lovely voiced mezzo-soprano Sarah Leuwerke in the piece’s solo part.

Kathrine Handford

Linda Kachelmeier

The official finale was a setting by Haitian-American composer Sydney Guillaume (below) of a text about competing drummers.  Nominally in French, this text really serves onomatopoeic purposes in suggesting the exuberant rhythms of Caribbean dance. As an encore, the choir sang a nostalgia-drenched arrangement of “Shenandoah.”

Sydney Guillaume

As may be concluded, not all of the program choices were ones I would have made.  But I am grateful to MacPherson for allowing me the chance to hear them.  Even more, I am delighted to express admiration for his extraordinary group.  For this pair of concerts, he doubled its normal number to 70, in view of the demands of the selections.  (I could spot a number of familiar Madison musicians among his “ringers.”)

Whether he will continue this practice remains to be seen.  But it is clear that he has a core group that is totally dedicated to working with him.  Each year they spend a busy week of rehearsals leading to the concerts. From him they have learned remarkable discipline and flexibility in ensemble singing and in stylistic range.  Perhaps above all, they just love working with him, and their joy in performance is quite evident.

In addition, I must express admiration for Scott MacPherson himself (below, conducting a rehearsal).  Now based at Kent State University in Ohio, he has achieved a national reputation in choral music–as a conductor of great skill, a choir-builder of magnetism, and an enterprising explorer of choral literature old and new.  An all-Wisconsin product, he was in his UW-Madison days an assistant and colleague to the revered Robert Fountain.  I can imagine the time when Scott MacPherson’s reputation will at least equal that of Fountain, if not eclipse it.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

Now, as the final applause for the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble swelled at 4:35 p.m., I dashed to my car and was able to arrive at Farley’s House of Pianos, having missed Haydn’s Sonata in E Minor and the bare beginning of Beethoven’s rarely heard “Phantasie,” Op. 77.  That was followed by one of Beethoven’s “late” Piano Sonatas, No. 31 in E major, Op. 109.  Both of these works display Beethoven’s constant straining of the forms and mentalities he inherited from his predecessors.

The second half brought a series of shifts.  Samuel Barber’s four “Excursions display a clever ability to inhabit convincingly the differing styles of jazz, blues, cowboy song, and ragtime.  Then came the glittering world of Franz Liszt (below): his free-ranging “Petrarch Sonnet No. 104,” followed by the nature-picture of St. Francis preaching to the birds (“Franziscus Legende” No. 1).  [St. Francis thus, coincidentally, linked the two concerts!]

And a final Lisztian showpiece, his “Paraphrase” on the quartet from Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto.”

After that, still more contrasts, in one of Liszt’s adaptations of dances by Schubert, No. 6 of the former’s Soirées de Vienna” sets, as an encore.

Liszt at piano 2

Now, to the pianist.  Frank Glazer (below) really one the most remarkable American musicians.  Again, he is a Wisconsin native.  Born in 1915, he is accordingly now 98.  He has developed a sideline in writing and lecturing.  He is still artist-in-residence at Bates College in Maine.  And he is still actively performing!

Frank Glazer at the piano

I began collecting his early LP recordings in my student days, so for me he is a living legend.  His tastes in repertoire have always been voracious, and they still are.  He has been a continuing player in chamber-music groups, while his repertoire of solo piano music is astounding in its range.  A list, circulated at this latest appearance, of a series of eight performances this past season at Bates demonstrates that range vividly.  And it ends with a concert this past April in which he played, back-to-back, Beethoven’s cosmic “Diabelli” Variations and the herculean “Hammerklavier” Sonata–a feat comparable to doing two Mahler Symphonies on the same program (something, in fact, that Simon Rattle tried in his rambunctious earlier years).

Glazer’s attributes his resilience to exercise and mental self-discipline, but also to an early study of anatomy, so as to understand how to play with the least strain on his hands.  I was able to watch his hands, if from a distance, and I think I could observe something of his very straight and level hand positions, which nevertheless allowed his fingers to range securely from the dazzling runs of Liszt to the power of Beethoven.

With the aid of a page-turner, Glazer played from printed music rather than from memory, but one could hardly fault him for that.  Yes, here and there, a very tiny suggestion of a faltered note, but the technique was confident, and the stylistic sense always on point in whatever he played.

If you heard Glazer (below) blindfolded, you would take him for a player of maturity and insight.  Up close, his complexion gives clues to his age, but, seen from a distance, his appearance and movements make him look hardly a day over fifty-five.

Frank Glazer

Frank Glazer is, in sum, a phenomenon.  The ability of Tim and Renee Foley to fit him into their lineup of star performers for their incomparable recital events is a remarkable testimony to their reputation. And the splendid 1885 Steinway, so lovingly restored by the Foley technicians, and played by Glazer, was certainly no small draw to him, I would guess.

In all, it proved a memorable experience, allowing us to ponder over which is more remarkable — Glazer’s artistry or his longevity.

Frank Glazer at piano


Classical music: Classical music host Rich Samuels at WORT-FM community radio in Madison wants to record and then broadcast recordings by local performers to mark J.S. Bach’s birthday on March 21, 2013.

January 30, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Attention professional and amateur musicians! Attention teachers and students, both private and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College!

Here is some news that The Ear thinks is so good and so welcome, you will probably want to forward it, link to it, Facebook and Twitter it.

You might remember that this year there will be no “Bach Around the Clock” from Wisconsin Public Radio, as The Ear announced in an earlier blog post:

But here is something of a substitute, or at least an addendum or supplement, to that event to celebrate the great Johann Sebastian (below).


It is an urgent but polite request, a direct solicitation from radio host Rich Samuels (below), who writes:

Rich Samuels

I’m preparing a special Bach’s Birthday edition of the Thursday 5-8 a.m. classical music program I host on WORT 89.9 FM, which will air, of course, on March 21. (WORT’s headquarters at 118 South Bedford Street in Madison is pictured below.)

WORT FM 89.9

“I’m hoping to include pre-recorded segments featuring performances by local Bach lovers. (I have the capability to make broadcast-quality recordings in the field).

“If you know of anyone who would like to participate in this joint effort, please let me know.”

Rich Samuels, WORT, 118 South Bedford Street, Madison WI 53703

WORT logo

Here is more contact information:

By way of details, Samuels adds:

“You can mention my effort whenever you wish. I’d like to get the recordings made in February. Of course, I have no idea how many people want to participate in this effort.

Participants will have to provide their own instruments, page-turners and performances spaces (but they are probably clever enough, in the case of keyboard artists, to have access, somewhere, to a well-tuned piano or harpsichord).

It’s probably best for people to contact me via this email address, so we can work out times and places.

My goal since I began hosting this show a couple of years ago is to feature local performers as much as possible.

rich samuels 2

And here is a link to an interesting story about Rich Samuels, who used to be a TV reporter in Chicago, and his new life in Madison:

Classical music review: the marathon “Bach Around the Clock” concert is now officially a tradition in Madison, Wisconsin. Let’s go for three.

March 21, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

When does an event become a tradition?

Probably when the promise of a so-called “first annual” event turns into reality and actually becomes the second annual.

And that is the case with the marathon noon-to-midnight “Bach Around the Clock” concert that was held last Saturday, March 19. Like last year, it was organized by Wisconsin Public Radio and hosted at the Pres House chapel, 731 State St.

The event, patterned after a similar 24-hour event in New Orleans, is to greet the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21, 1685-July 28, 1750), who is generally considered the be the greatest and most seminal or influential of all composers.

In some ways, this year was harder to do. The momentum for starting something new is often considerably less than the momentum for continuing it.

Add in the early spring break at the University of Wisconsin, where the outstanding School of Music usually provides great performers, both student and faculty, and you have some idea of the challenge.

“We were just killed this year by spring break,” admitted Cheryl Dring, WPR’s music director and morning host who dreamed up and organized the event, then hosted it (below, with Pres House music director Michael Hillestad.)

Dring promised that next year, the event would not coincide with UW Spring Break (March 31-April 8, 2012). I’m happy personally because then it is more likely I will play. The Ear’s guess is BATC-3 will be held on Saturday, March 17, 2012.

But from what I saw and heard, this year was still a resounding success.

It started perfectly, with great contrast between student and professional musicians. Bach’s universality clearly calls to both.

First came 10-year-old Mikaela Steckelis, whose playing was also used for a radio engineer’s sound check, performing Bach’s Two-Part invention No. 13 in A minor on the piano (below).

And she was followed by UW professor and early music specialist John Chappell Stowe (below, with his page-turner, baroque violinist Edith Hines) explaining and playing Bach’s long, difficult and dark English Suite, No. 6 in D Minor, in its entirety on the harpsichord.

Organ music was once again provided in plenty by Alex Ford (below), who played a handful of trio sonatas, preludes and fugues, and choral preludes, including “Wachet auf” (Sleepers, Wake) from Cantata 147 (below and at bottom).

Along the way several piano teachers brought their studios to perform.

They included Denise Taylor, who also accompanied her violinist daughter Ellie (below) in a minuet from the “Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach” and who herself performed the difficult opening movement of Bach’s big Partita No. 4 in D major.

Sophia Musacchio (below) played three movements from the French Suite, No. 6 in E Major.

Caroline Zhou (below) played the Two-Part invention No. 1.

Caleb Zimmick (below) played two of the “Little Preludes,” which don’t seem so little when you are performing them in public.

And Sevan Virperian (below) played the Two-Part Invention No. 8.

Gloria Chuang, who coincidentally also played the same partita movement as Taylor, also brought students, including some very young very talent children – one boy (below) who played with great sensitivity and from memory. But her students (and their pieces) were never identified by themselves or by her, so I can’t credit them by name. I regret that because they worked hard and performed well.

Casey Oelkers (below top) played a solo flute partita that was a delight, while Aaron Catalano showed up in a red badger athletic shirt and played a prelude for guitar (below bottom).

I was particularly impressed with the musicality of solo violinist Maynie Bradley (below).

Some snafus were inevitable – a baritone got a cold and cancelled and a cellist lost a tuning pegged and couldn’t play – but host Dring made the best of it and stay unruffled.

In a nearby cafeteria, generously donated snacks – cookies and peanuts, water and lemonade, coffee and tea – had been provided along with tables and chairs to sit and talk about the music and greet the various performers.

And this year, the statewide live and real-time webcast (below) did NOT fail. So before I went to bed at home, I got to see baroque violinist play a sonata with Stowe and then a wonderful solo sonata of Bach.

Were there mistakes, wrong n motes and memory lapses? Of course, this was a live event. But there was also wonderful music-making and an appreciative and forgiving public.

All in all, it was a lot of fun for the performers and the listeners.

The Ear says: Do It Again Next Year.

Let’s make it No. 3!

And I have a few suggestions to offer:

WPR should start signing up players soon. It gives people an incentive and lots o time to learn pieces and practice them.

Have someone or a couple of people do the same piece – maybe a two- or three—part invention or a prelude and fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier – on the piano and harpsichord so listeners can compare period performance to modern performance. The same goes for the baroque and modern violin.

Maybe a particular teacher could line up five students to each do three Two-Part Inventions and then in Tag Team fashion perform the complete set? Or 15 students to do one each.

Oh well, ideas are easy and execution is hard.

However BATC-3 is planned and turns out, The Ear expects to be there again next year and hear another successful homage to Mr. Bach.

And hopes you will too.

What do you think of this year’s Bach Around the Clock?

Should it continue?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

Classical music interview: Violinist Hilary Hahn to play Bach, Beethoven and Ives this Thursday, and has commissioned 27 short, encore-like pieces.

February 14, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

This Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, the young and acclaimed American violinist Hilary Hahn (below) and pianist Valentina Lisitsa will perform a recital.

It promises to be a highlight of the season – perhaps of many seasons. Certainly the last time the same two performers were here, at the same venue, they delivered an unforgettable recital. For me, this is a MUST-HEAR concert.

The eclectic program includes J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for solo violin; Beethoven’s famous “Spring” Sonata; a work by Tartini arranged by Fritz Kreisler; Charles Ives’ Sonata No. 4; and Antheil’s Sonata No. 1.

Tickets are $20, $42 and $46 with $10 for UW students. Call (608) 262-2201. (A free pre-concert lecture at 6:30 by Isthmus critic and The Ear’s guest blogger John W. Barker is at 6:30 p.m.)

For more information, visit:

Hahn (below) is a very busy musician. She tours globally, records constantly and f gives premieres of works she has commissioned. (Her recording of the Jennifer Higdon Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto, paired with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, has been a bestseller.) On top of that she blogs and wires an e-journal and e-postcards when she is touring.

She recently gave the Ear an e-mail interview about the upcoming Wisconsin Union Theater program:

Was there a turning point – a particular piece or performance or performer  – when you knew or decided you were going to be a professional violinist?

If there was, I don’t recall it. When you start playing an instrument at 4, it’s hard to say when these things happen. I do remember meeting many professional musicians early on, initially through my teacher Klara Berkovich, and listening to old recordings of violinists, and learning about their lives and working pretty hard at violin.

When I started at the Curtis Institute of Music, I was suddenly in an environment where all of my fellow students were aiming towards careers in music and an extremely high percentage of them would go on to become professional musicians. Mr. Brodsky, my teacher from when I was 10 until I was 17, prepared me for that path as well – so I guess one thing led into another, and here I am!

Can you comment on individual pieces on your Madison program and how you build it or on the unity that runs through it?

There’s something to each of these works.

The Tartini/Corelli was a piece I saw performed in a recital when my age was still in the single digits, and I learned it shortly thereafter. I love the recording by Fritz Kreisler (below) of it; I’ve been listening to that for years so it’s gotten into my ear.

The Bach -– well, I’ve been playing Bach for a very long time now, but I haven’t played this sonata in recital in quite a while, so it will be nice to return to it. Its form is unusual, with the movements paired, seemingly in theme and single-variation mode. I once performed it with mandolinist Chris Thile, and we experimented with the possibilities of these “doubles” by first taking turns and then playing both base movement and “double” movement simultaneously. The form opens up a range of interpretive possibilities for me as a solo performer, so I will work on exploring those as this tour progresses.

The sonata by George Antheil (below) is rock-and-roll meets minimalism within a classical form. Antheil wrote a page-turner of an autobiography that I read in my mid-20s, and that made me curious to play one of his sonatas. We’re having fun with this one, though the patterns it contains are a mind-bender to memorize.

(Pianist) Valentina (Lisitsa, below top) and I spent several days last year recording all four sonatas by Ives (below bottom). It was an intense experience to live closely with that music in such a concentrated way. Every time you play it or hear it, something new comes to the fore. That album is in post-production now, and I’m looking forward to touring Ives No. 4 after our studio experience. Delving that deeply into a work changes your perspective on it.

Beethoven’s “Spring” sonata is probably the best-known piece on this program. Although I sight-read it while I was a student, I didn’t learn and perform it until last summer. Its melodies will sound familiar; it is a beautiful piece.

Does the Bach mean you are about to complete your recorded cycle of solo Bach (see below)?

The Bach means that I am continuing to perform the solo sonata/partita cycle, and it is still an active part of my repertoire!

Do you have any comments about Madison or Madison audiences you want to share?

The first time I went to Madison, about half my life ago, it was winter time and I was impressed by the stacks of sweaters and knit hats on tables in the snow. The air was crystal clear. I had also never seen a noodle shop before, so I went a little nuts with noodle soups every day. I loved it. I felt like I was in a fairy tale! I always look forward to returning.

Your success with the concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below, on right with Hahn) ) shows that new music can be accessible, even best-selling. Do you have other commissions and premieres in the making and can you elaborate?

I do -– 27 new short-form pieces are in the works! This project (titled, “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores”) has been more involving than I ever imagined. It is challenging to learn 27 composers’ musical language. But I also feel that I have become closer to a specific world of creativity and artists. I know and work with many performers. Now I’m getting to know composers from all sorts of different backgrounds, and I feel honored for the experience.

You blog and do a lot of interviews and YouTube videos.

I do not consider it blogging, actually; I write postcards for my site and journal entries from the road. To me, blogging is more about the writer, whereas what I put online is focused on the experience of being on the road as a performer – it’s more of a professional travelogue. I try to provide a resource for young musicians and concertgoers who are curious what this lifestyle is like.

How can classical music reach young people better and build younger audiences?

As for building younger audiences, I don’t know what the best approach is. It’s not a particular goal of mine, but then again, I cross paths with young audience members almost every day. I appreciate the first-time concertgoers as well as the ones who have been attending for over 50 years. They all have pretty interesting things to say about what they experience in the concert hall.

What we can do is just encourage performers to do what they enjoy and are good at. My website is one of my creative outlets, I learn a lot from interviewing my colleagues, and I like meeting the audience after concerts. Other musicians organize festivals and educational programs or create Apps or music group websites. Together, I think we can cover nearly everything people are interested in.

What is the role of music education today, especially in tough economic times and with so many other competing art forms?

That’s hard to say. We will not know for sure until kids now are grown up. I think teaching any art encourages creativity, which is a skill useful for grownups in all situations. Providing a range of artistic choices for students means that more will find creative pursuits that speak to them, and more will have constructive ways to communicate their experiences and frustrations and everything else.

I am actually more for broad-spectrum arts education in general than for music education specifically; not everyone finds music to be the most engrossing activity, but it is perfect for some. For others, other performing arts or visual arts or craft might be the magic key.

Posted in Classical music

Classical Music preview: Emmanuel Music of Boston brings an all-Bach program this Saturday and Sunday to close the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival

September 2, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. (sold-out), the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will wrap up its current summer season with two performances of an all-Bach concert.

The special guest performers are soprano Kendra Colton (below top) and oboist Peggy Pearson (below bottom), who perform at Emmanuel Music of Boston, which was founded in 1970 and is marking its 40th anniversary this year under its new director Ryan Turner.

That’s also where, ever since Emmanuel was founded, Token Creek co-director and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below)  has performed as principal guest conductor, and, for the last three years, and served as interim director, and where his wife and the festival’s other co-director Rose Mary Harbison has performed on the violin.

Local performers – including violinists Heather Wittels and Laura Burns, violist Jennifer Paulson, cellist Karl Lavine and bassist Ross Gilliland — will also be featured  in this weekend’s concerts.

The program includes: four soprano arias from Cantatas Nos. 58, 93, 98 and 171; the Concerto for Oboe and Violin; three Chorale Preludes; and Cantata No. 84, “I am overwhelmed by my good fortune.”

Here is a link to the Token Creek Festival:

John Harbison recently took time out from preparing for the festival -– he will make introductory remarks and also perform on a 2004 continuo organ -– to talk about Emmanuel Music and J.S. Bach:

Can you give us some background about Emmanuel Church of Boston?

The music program is based at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, which is a progressive church to put it mildly. It is a very old church. The grandfather of composer and my teacher Roger Sessions was a rector there. It’s a very powerful downtown location and goes way back.

It used to be very mainstream. But the “jazz priest” Al Kershaw made the church an arts haven. He started a jazz school and was a real radical at odds with the diocese, but he attracted a new congregation. There was a period when the church was defrocked for its behavior. Now its mode of living has been reached. It has its first openly lesbian leader and has a collective ministry, which includes a rabbi who preaches every fourth Sunday.

The musical organization was formed in 1970 by Craig Smith, a visionary who led it until he died in 2007. When he was shown the cantatas, Al Kershaw got the connections between jazz and Bach. So the complete cycle of more than 200 cantatas has been performed several times along with the complete songs of Schubert, which took 12 years.

Emmanuel Music (below) is all professional musicians and has been a training ground for a huge number of players who are now dispersed around the country, including our violinist Heather Wittels.

Does it use period or modern instruments?

We use modern instruments. Boston has a very lively early music scene, but Emmanuel doesn’t even worry about how people played back in Bach’s time. Our approach is more about reacting to the text for the service and the character of the piece.

The stylistic approach is independent of what we’d call the baroque. I like the idea that we are not at all doctrinal about that music. We think of it as very persuasive music and a powerful presentation of the texts. We coordinate and consult with the rector, so it takes place on many planes at the same time.

Also, at Emmanuel we believe you don’t know a composer until you knew every work.

What is the traditional of Emmanuel music?

It’s like a collegium musicum. We are Bach teachers, a core of Bach teachers. Bach’s music has dropped out of the educational process of a lot of music schools that train instrumentalists because, they say, the students won’t be playing early music in regular modern orchestras. So we travel around the country and work with other people doing this stuff.

We have a very strong personal commitment to Bach and to getting back to the persuasive function of his music. We deal with the full background. The first thing they find out is that we’re not interested the Bach style. We’re more interested in expression and being persuasive.

You have often programmed Bach at Token Creek. Why?

It is just part of our habit. We don’t ever have much time without Bach. It’s this idea of getting younger players involved. I had to battle to get Tanglewood to include one Bach cantata last year. I just really feel that the music of Bach is disappearing from the training of young musicians and we will have lost a lot of ground.

Bach’s music used to be considered a fundamental, but is now considered a luxury. That’s not how we see it. We’re proselytizers of Bach. All over the country, there are Emmanuel Music musicians who keep Bach going. We’re outside the early performance movement and we have an advantage there because it is somewhat ghettoized.

For us Bach is what Shakespeare is to some actors and writers. There’s a level of comprehension and achievement there rarely equalled and never surpassed by even other great composers like Beethoven. Bach has a range of and sense of possibility that no one else has equaled. It’s found in the to 200-plus cantatas — not in more popular or well-known works like the Brandenburg concertos or piano music. You get an inkling of it in the Passions, but even they are different. That’s what we want to get out there.

Bach is both very traditional and very avant-garde. Sometimes you are as surprised by the message as much as by the music.

You be the critic and tell us what you thought of what you heard at Token Creek.

Was the case for Bach made?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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