The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Best Bets for Sept. 23-29 are big on chamber music for strings, winds

September 23, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend is a memorable one for chamber music fans of strings and winds.

On Friday, Sept. 25, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Pro Arte String Quartet (below right) kicks off its new season with a terrific program that features the return of guest violist Victoria Chiang. The group will perform a MUST-HEAR CONCERT of Brahms’ String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88; Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major Op., 18, No. 6; and Edvard Grieg’s rarely heard Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27. (Members in the photo, from left, are David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Parry Karp, cello; and Sally Chisholm, viola.)


The concert is part of the Faculty Concert Series, which is FREE to the public this season. For more information, see

(The Pro Arte will repeat two-thirds of the program — the Brahms and the Grieg — at “Sunday Live From the Chazen” which will take place and be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) on Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m.)

Also on Friday night at 7:30 at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave., the local chamber group Con Vivo will open its fall season with “Da Capo,” a program that includes Beethoven’s Septet, Carl Nielsen’s “Serenata in vano” and the “Meditation” from “Thais by Jules Massenet as well as Jean Langlais’ “Suite Medievale” scored for the pipe organ at First Congregational Church. Tickets at the door are $10 adults and $8 seniors and students.

Then on Saturday night at 7:30 pm. in the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, the Ancora String Quartet (below center)


will perform a program of Beethoven’s late String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op.132, with the famous “Heilegedankgesang” or Sacred Song of Thanksgiving) along with the rarely heard work String Quartet No. 7 in D minor, Op. 192, No. 2. “The Maid of the Mill” by Joachim Raff, who was a protege of Mendelssohn and Liszt.

Admission is $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors, $6 for children under 12. Tickets are available at the door.

A free reception will follow. (The receptions are good — believe me, I know and my waistline knows.)

(Member of the quartet in the photo above are  Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Robin Ryan and Leanne Kelso League, violins; and Benjamin Whitcomb cello..

The Ancora String Quartet — perhaps Madison’s most deserving up-and-coming chamber music group — is in residence at the First Unitarian Society and has been invited to do a residency at the Monroe Arts Center in Monroe, Wis., next season. The quartet is also looking forward to its debut at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, Nov. 7, as well as a return appearance on the Sunday Afternoon Live” series at the Chazen Museum on March 14, 2010.

For more information about the Ancora’s new season, visit and go to the 2009-2010 Recitals page.

Also on Saturday, Saturday 26: At 8 pm. in Morphy Hall, the UW Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below in a photo by John Wingren: members are, from left, Linda Bartley, clarinet; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Linda Kimball, horn; Dawn Lawler, flute; and Marc Fink, oboe.)

Wingra_Quintet 09-09

Admission is free tot he public.

The program features the String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 (“American”) by Dvorak (whom The Ear blogged about the underperforming of Dvorak on Sept. 8), transcribed for wind quintet by David Walter; the Woodwind Quintet (“La Nouvelle Orleans”) by Lalo Schifrin; quintets by Robert Muczynski and Clint Needham; and “Music at the Movies,” commissioned by Wingra from James Christensen, the director of the UW Marching Band from 1961 to 1968.

It should be a memorable concert. These are all consummate soloists and ensemble players.

If you go to any of these concerts, why not be a critic and leave a mini-review for those who didn’t?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Drafts

I like classical music in fiction: Can you offer suggestions? Plus, piano doc airs tonight

September 22, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

(A Pre-Script: Just a reminder that the documentary “Note By Note: The Making of Steinway L-1037,” about the building of a Steinway concert grand piano, will air tonight — Tuesday, Sept. 23 — from 9 to 10 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television WHA-TV Channel 21.)

I love reading fiction – short stories and novels – that use classical music. So I am always on the look out for more.

I always think it reflects well on writer’s ability to compose musical sentences, to have a sense of poetry – cadence, alliteration, assonance, even rhyme – in prose. Often such allusions also add a layer of cultural and psychological meaning to the characters and story.

The latest comes from the new novel, “A Gate at the Stairs,” which I just finished, by Lorrie Moore (below right). Lorrie Moore
Here is how Moore, who lives in Madison and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,  uses her protagonist Tessie to describe pianist Glenn Gould (pictured left) Gould3 performing J.S. Bach’s French Suite No. 1 in D minor: “It was someone humming along with the light dirge of the Bach. Later I would own every loopy Glenn Gould recording available, but there in the car with Sarah was the first time I’d hear him play. The piece was like an elegant interrogation made of tangled yarn, a query from a well-dressed man in a casket, not yet dead. It proceeded slowly, like a careful question, and then not: if x=y, if major=minor, if death equals part of life and life part of death, then what is the sum of the infinite notes of this one phrase? It asked, answered, reasked, its moody asking a refinement of reluctance or dislike. I had never heard a melody quite like it.” (Page 39) Moorebook

I think Moore, who also alludes to Mussorgsky and Mozart and who describes someone as “fretful as a Bartok quartet” in the same novel, has written an outstanding description of what it is like to listen to that particular piece done by that particular artist. (I just played it again to check.)

I can think of many other similar examples.

Another current book is Eva Hoffman’s new novel “Appassionata,’ which deals with a touring piano virtuoso who falls in love with a Chechan terrorist.

And Haruki Murakami uses many references to Western classical music, as well as to jazz and pop culture, in his short stories and novels, including “Kafka on the Shore” and “Sleep.”

Thomas Mann discusses Beethoven’s late string quartets and other music in “Doctor Faustus.” In “Tristan” he uses Wagner and in “The Magic Mountain” he writes of Schubert.

Marcel Proust uses a lot of music – not surprisingly, French music — in “Remembrance of Things Past”  (In Search of Lost Time).

William T. Vollmann makes Shostakovich pivotal is his historical novel “Europe Central,” which won the National Book Award.

Willa Cather has a moving account of the power of music in her story “A Wagner Matinee.”

Swedish detective writer Henning Mankell has his hero/anti-hero police detective Kurt Wallander listen to opera in his car.

Julio Cortazar refers to the composer Alban Berg in his experimental novel “Hopscotch.”

But I am certain there are many more.

So, readers, can you help me out?

Can you suggest literary works with references to classical music?

What ones are your favorites?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Drafts

Who is the better classical diva – Kiri Te Kawa or Renee Fleming?

September 18, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

Two of the world’s top singers are in the news.

Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa (below right) – now 65 and past her prime, which was prime indeed  — has backed off from suggestions that she might retire, according to press account in the U.S. and Australia.


Meanwhile top soprano Renee Fleming (below left), who at 50 is in peak form and is very, very busy and is the current darling of the opera and concert world, helped open the New York Philharmonic’s new season Wednesday night when she sang Olivier Messiaen’s “Poemes pour Mi” (anyone else find the work underwhelming?) with the Philharmonic’s new director Alan Gilbert at the opening of his tenure. (You could see it and hear on PBS.)reneefleming

Now I have heard Dame Kiri live when she came to Madison.

I don’t think Fleming has ever appeared here. And with her fee, she probably won’t.

But who is better?

The overwhelming consensus today seems to be Fleming. (For the sake of argument, we’ll leave out Dawn Upshaw, who, I also think, is superb, and Maria Callas, who has never been surpassed for her sense of drama, if not for her  voice.)

But I recall hearing both Fleming and Te Kanana sing two famous Puccini arias: Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” from “Gianni Schicchi and “Vissi d’arte” from “Tosca.”

And I have to say that, in both cases, I liked the quality of Kiri’s voice better.

To my ears, she had less obtrusive vibrato.

Most of all her phrasing seemed simply smoother and more natural.

And her tone was smoother and fuller, rounded with kind of naturalness, pleasant to the ears — the kind of apparently easy or effortless and natural-sounding mastery that tenor Luciano Pavarotti had.

But voice is not my specialty.

So what do real voice fans, opera and art song fanatics, say?

Kiri or Renee?

And why?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Drafts

Single tickets for Madison Opera’s great season are now on sale

September 17, 2009
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Single tickets to Madison Opera’s 2009-10 season productions went on sale Monday.

Contact the Overture Center Box Office. The Box Office can be reached online at, by phone at (608) 258-4141, and in person at 201 State Street in downtown Madison.

To view a three-minute guided preview of the new season with General Director Allan Naplan (below),

visit Naplan

The Opera’s 2009/2010 season opens with Georges Bizet’s ever-popular Carmen on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 8 at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. International opera star Katharine Goeldner sings the title role, with Madison-native Candace Evans directing and Maestro John DeMain conducting the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera Chorus. This production also features the Madison Youth Choirs and the Tania Tandias Flamenco and Spanish Dance Company.

Following Carmen, the Opera presents a new production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw from Jan. 28 to 31 in The Playhouse at Overture Center for what is sure to be a haunting and intimate theatrical experience.

Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” — the company’s first Wagner production ever — rounds out the mainstage season in Overture Hall on Apr. 9 (8 p.m.) and 11 (2:30 p.m.) in Overture Hall.

It’s worth noting that music director John DeMain (below), who is entering his 16th season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and who is a world-class opera conductor with guest stints around the country and world, will be at the podium for all three productions. That might attract even more people to the productions since some go more for the theater and others go more for the music. DeMainOpera

Tickets to Overture Hall performances remain as low as $16 and pricing for front-balcony seating has been reduced for the 2009/2010 Season.

Tickets for Carmen and The Flying Dutchman are available for $16, $38, $49, $68, $77, $97, and $112. Students have the added option of purchasing $38 level seats for $20.

Tickets for The Turn of the Screw in The Playhouse are available for $20 and $50.

Cast listings and opera summaries are online at To receive press images, please respond to this e-mail. All Madison Opera fans are invited to join the Madison Opera Facebook page at

To The Ear, it seems like an extremely well-planned season with something French-Spanish, something British-American and something German-Dutch. So my guess is that the Madison Opera will continue to do well, despite a weak economy and a lot of local competition in the performing arts.

I am hardly an opera fanatic but I can’t think of a disappointing production I’ve seen at the Madison Opera, and I am especially impressed with the way the Madison Opera is using new media — the Internet, texting and social networking sites — to reach new audiences and get out the word.

I say, Congratulations and Good Luck.

What do you say about the Madison Opera and to the Madison Opera?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Drafts

NY Philharmonic starts new era on TV Wednesday night

September 15, 2009
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music lovers should like this mid-week concert that doesn’t make us rush through dinner and stay out late.

So save Wednesday night for the PBS series “Live from Lincoln Center” (produced by Emmy-winning UW-Madison graduate John Goberman) will televise the orchestra’s opening night’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center, the iconic performing arts complex in New York City. (Can it really be 50 years since it went up?)

Even if you can watch this enjoyable historic event live, you can record it for later viewing.

The broadcast will feature the opening of the first season and the national debut of the New York Philharmonic’s 42-year-old new music director and conductor Alan Gilbert (below), whose parents have long been connected to the Philharmonic.AlanGilbert3

He’s young, he’s good and he is adventurous in his programming, which some observers are skeptical about and others are wildly enthusiastic about. (For a profile with question-and-answer interview, see

The programming for Wednesday night’s concert seems to show how Gilbert will mix the old and the new.

Superstar soprano Renee Fleming (right) will solo reneefleming in 20th-century composer Olivier Messiaen’s orchestral songs “Poemes pour Mi,” the world premiere of a work by contemporary  Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg and then Hector Berlioz’ long-respected and frequently performed mainstream Romantic masterwork “La Symphonie Fantastique,” which includes the famous drug-induced hallucination passage and also a march to the scaffold.

Check the story and local listings at PBS:

In Wisconsin, the concert will be broadcast Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television Channel 21  (WHA-TV in Madison) and on the high definition channel. (Following it at 10 p.m. will be the Vienna Philharmonic’s Summer Concert with Daniel Barenboim.)

Be sure to let The Ear know if you like having TV concerts included in the blog.

And don’t forget a short review of the concert with what you think of Gilbert and the program. Here’s a chance for you to be the critic.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Drafts

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