The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The chamber music group Con Vivo opens its 16th season this Saturday night and the free Unitarian Society’s Friday Noon Musicales resume this week

October 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new concert season continues to get underway with two more openings this weekend.

FRIDAY

This Friday, the FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will resume.

The weekly concerts, planned by FUS music director Dan Broner, run from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

This week’s program features flutist Iva Ugrcic (below) and pianist Satoko Hayami in music by Nikolai Kapustin, Carl Vine, Andre Jolivet and Minoru Miki. (Sorry, no specific pieces were named.)

SATURDAY

On Saturday night, the Madison-based chamber music ensemble Con Vivo (Music With Life, below) opens its 16th season.

The concert is entitled “Three’s Company” and takes place this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at Orange Tree Imports: 1721 Monroe St., or at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

The group opens its season with music for piano duet, Libertango, by Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the husband-and-wife piano duo of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, who recently played together in Madison at Farley’s House of Pianos.)

The Terzetto for string trio by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak will also be performed.

The evening will close with the beautiful Trio for clarinet, cello and piano by Austrian composer Carl Fruhling (below).

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception where they can discuss the concert with the musicians.

In remarking about the concert, artistic director Robert Taylor says: “We are delighted and thrilled to begin our ‘Sweet Sixteen’ season with music that will surely entertain, enliven and energize our audience. We are sure this will once again be a concert to remember.”

Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.


Classical music: Juilliard violin professor Laurie Smukler continues a great season of string playing on Saturday night with a FREE recital at the UW-Madison

November 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

laurie-smukler

But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.

Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.

But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”

Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert. 

suzanne-beia-bdds-2016-vivaldi

axel-strauss-bdds-2016-piazzolla

Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

ilya-kaler

Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Henning Kraggerud playing

Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.

joshua-bell-2016

In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

ancora-2016-group-1

And there were many other events.

But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.

Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.

The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/distinguished-guest-artist-residency-laurie-smukler-violin-free-event/

 


Classical music: A rare early music recital on a locally built clavichord is this Sunday afternoon at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue

November 4, 2016
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ALERT: The recital by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Alessio Bax on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater is SOLD OUT. But a few extra tickets will be released on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the WUT box office, where interested persons should go in person to buy them.

By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., Farley’s House of Pianos owner Tim Farley will unveil his latest handmade clavichord (below) at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 302 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park. (Photos are by Tom Moss.)

F.clavichord p3

If you wonder about the difference between the clavichord and the harpsichord, fortepiano and piano, here is a link to a definition on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clavichord

David Schrader (below), a professor at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts Music Conservatory, will perform on the instrument. Details of the program have not been announced.

david-schrader

A $20 cash or check donation to Farley’s House of Pianos is suggested. The ticket donation goes towards Schrader’s fee and the venue rental.

Farley created the German clavichord using reclaimed Spanish cedar and redwood from Broadwood pianos dating back to 1880, and shipwrecked walnut wood that had been underwater for nearly 60 years. The clavichord was built over three years by Tim Farley and another worker.

F.clavichord p1

Farley chose Schrader to perform specifically for this concert. Schrader has a background in early keyboard and church music. He also performed on Farley’s 1976 Steinway Centennial Grand piano for the Madison Early Music Festival this year.

“In the times we live in today, we never truly experience absolute quiet,” Farley says. “We don’t have that white space background like performers had in the 19th century. Gates of Heaven Synagogue has a perfect acoustical ambience for a clavichord. No question, this is the most personal, sensitive, intimate keyboard instrument ever made.”

Adds builder Farley: “This clavichord is after the eminent clavichord builder, Friederici, who worked in the Silberman workshop. It has many of the attributes of the famous clavichord built by Silberman for Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Unlike Silberman’s clavichord that had 53 keys (C to E), the Friederici has five full octaves.  It is perfectly suited to much music by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and even some by Ludwig van Beethoven.

farley-clavichord-with-hands-tom-moss

“I am indebted to my colleague Dietrich Hein, the German instrument builder, who sent me his drawing of the instrument and that is what I used.

“All of the other wood on the inside of the instrument is wood that had a previous musical life from such pianos as Broadwood, Steinway, Mason and Hamlin, and Chickering.

farley-clavichord-inside

“The lid has new walnut veneers.  On the inside of the lid, the woods are bookmatched. The outside of the lid features individual pieces of figured walnut. The trim is fiddleback soft maple.

“It took about three years to complete the instrument including turning the legs for the case.  It is 72 inches long.  It has a deep, rich sound and a long sustain duration.”

Here is a YouTube video with much more information about the clavichord:


Classical music: Rare repertoire for four pianos will be played at Farley’s House of Pianos on Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, Pro Arte Quartet gives a FREE concert tonight and tickets to pianist Christopher Taylor have SOLD OUT

October 25, 2016
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ALERT 1: The UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program is the “Italian Serenade” (1887) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73, (1946) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975); and the String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 (1895) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).

ALERT 2: Tickets to the piano recital of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations by Christopher Taylor this Friday night are SOLD OUT as of Monday morning.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about a set of unusual piano concerts this coming weekend:

In their only North American appearance, world-renowned pianists Daniel del Pino, Lucille Chung, Alon Goldstein and Roberto Plano will be heard this Friday and Saturday nights in the opening program of the third season of the Salon Piano Series.

Hosted by Tim and Renee Farley at Farley’s House of Pianos, the Salon Piano Series has quickly gained a reputation for unique and stimulating programs in the intimate and historic setting of the Farley showroom.

But never have four pianists been heard at once on four restored instruments.

“It’s an honor knowing the pianists chose our location for their only North American performance,” says Renée Farley, co-founder of the Salon Piano Series. “We thought of no better way to open our third season.”

The repertoire for the “Four on the Floor” concerts could hardly be more entertaining or appropriate for Halloween weekend: arrangements of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Carmen Fantasy” based on the beloved opera by Georges Bizet; Maurice Ravel’s own transcription for four keyboards of his “Bolero” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.

four piano concert sketches--sps--2016b.indd

For the first time, an SPS program will be heard twice, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, with both events beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Farley’s House of Pianos Showroom, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison. That is on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45.

For more information about tickets, the concerts and the artists, plus other artists and concerts in the Salon Piano Series this season, visit:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

For information about Farley’s House of Pianos, go to:

http://www.farleyspianos.com/index.html

THE ARTISTS

Daniel del Pino (below) is a leading Spanish concert pianist juggling an international recital career with teaching in the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.

Daniel del PIno square

The reputation of Lucille Chung (below), who often performs with her husband Alessio Bax, has grown steadily since her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. To date she has performed with more than 60 orchestras.

lucille-chung

Alon Goldstein (below, in a photo by Meagan Cignoli) is particularly admired for his artistic vision and innovative programming. The New York Times described a recent performance as “exemplary throughout, with his pearly touch and sparkling runs.”

alon-goldstein-cr-meagan-cignoli

Roberto Plano lives in Travedona Monate, Italy and teaches there at Accademia Musicale Varesina, which he founded.

robert-plano


Classical music: The Nov. 5 recital by Joshua Bell at the Wisconsin Union Theater is close to sold-out

September 30, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word:

Fewer than 140 tickets are still available for the concert by violinist Joshua Bell (below top) and pianist Alessio Bax. The Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall (below bottom) seats about 1,100.

joshua-bell-2016

Bell’s performance kicks off the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall.

The all-masterpiece program includes: the Sonata in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 3 in D Minor and the Scherzo in C Minor from the FAE Sonata, both by Johannes Brahms; the Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Eugene Ysaye; the Sonata in G minor by Claude Debussy; and the “Carmen” Fantasy by Pablo de Sarasate. (You can hear Joshua Bell play the opening movement of the Debussy sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Ticket prices are: UW-Madison students are $25; Union Members and non-UW students are $62, $56 and $25; UW Faculty and Staff are $64, $58 and $25; and members of the general public are $68, $62 and $35.

Tickets should be purchased soon and can be purchased on the website – https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/theater-tickets/  – or at the Memorial Union box office or by calling 608 265-ARTS.

Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists in the world, with numerous Grammy wins and nominations including Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra and Best Engineered Album, Classical. He was one of the first classical artists to have VH1 feature a music video, and has performed on the Grammys twice.

Bell has performed for three different U.S. presidents and the president of China, and has taken part in several award-winning collaborations. He was the subject of a BBC documentary and received the Humanitarian Award from Seton Hall University. Bell is devoted to charitable causes, and has received the Academy of Achievement Award in 2008.

The vast experience of pianist Alessio Bax (below) in the music industry includes performing as a soloist with over 100 orchestras, including the London and Royal Philharmonics. He won the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and his impressive repertoire has continuously increased since he graduated from a conservatory in Bari, Italy, at the age of 14.

Both artists have performed several times in Madison, always to large houses and enthusiastic receptions.

Alessio Bax 1


Classical music: Does Madison have enough listeners for the city’s many classical music concerts?

January 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is the problem that Madison has too many concerts by too many musicians?

Or is the problem maybe instead that Madison, a mid-size city, has too few listeners for so many musicians?

PAQ Jalbert audience ovation

Here is what got The Ear wondering about that question.

This coming Sunday afternoon is another “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic likes to describe worthwhile events that conflict.

What’s a listener to do?

At 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) perform an intriguing program of unusual music at Oakwood Village West, on Madison’s far west side.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/classical-music-the-oakwood-chambers-players-will-perform-playful-works-by-elisenda-fabregas-malcolm-arnold-and-robert-schumann-this-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

At 3:30 p.m., Opera Props stages a benefit for the University Opera at the First Unitarian Society of Madison that features talented singers (including soprano Tyana O’Connor, below top) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music joined by UW-Madison alumnus, “Barihunk” baritone and rising Broadway star Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (below bottom). Lots of famous arias and duets will be sung to piano accompaniment, with a reception following.

Here is a link to details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/classical-music-broadway-star-and-uw-madison-alumnus-joins-students-for-the-university-opera-benefit-this-sunday-afternoon/

Tyana O'Connor soprano

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunk

At 4 p.m., there is a terrific duo-piano recital at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side, by the husband-and-wife team of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) featuring the music of Franz Schubert and Francis Poulenc.

Here is more about that concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=43117&action=edit

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

The Ear has mentioned such conflicts before and knows that there is little point to complaining. Others will chime in and point out how lucky we are to live in a city with so many choices.

Nonetheless, it got The Ear to wondering.

Maybe the problem is not that Madison has so many musicians and music-makers.

Maybe the problem is that Madison doesn’t have enough listeners to go around and reward them all.

The Ear finds it hard to believe that each of the three events being held on Sunday afternoon won’t affect attendance for the other two.

And it will happen again and again later this winter and spring. Even in the summer too, if last summer is any guide.

Take Friday night, Feb. 5 when the St. Lawrence String Quartet plays two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn and the new String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Madison Opera also opens its production of Mark Adamo’s opera “Little Women” at the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Take Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Maurice Ravel, Peter Tchaikovsky and the famous Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, with Russian-born soloist Alina Ibragimova, that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and then that same night the winners of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music concerto competition will perform works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and more, including a student work, at 7:30 p.m.

And if you look over the semester, you will find other conflicts.

Are there enough listeners to go around?

So many Madison classical musicians, both individuals and groups, are top quality and deserve big, enthusiastic audiences — and the kind of financial support that comes with good attendance.

But scheduling conflicts, along with a limited number of listeners, might be preventing that. And that doesn’t even include competition from the wealth of non-classical music events in the area!

So: Does Madison just have too many music-makers for the number of listeners?

Please say what you think about the problem of competition and scheduling conflicts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation


Classical music: Duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung perform Schubert and Poulenc at Farley’s House of Pianos this Sunday afternoon. Plus, a FREE guitar concert takes place at noon on Friday.

January 13, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 pm. at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features guitarist Steve Waugh, who will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Isaac Albeniz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Francisco Tarrega and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

As part of the Salon Piano Series held at Farley’s House of Pianos, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) will perform numerous pieces by Franz Schubert and a concerto by Francis Poulenc, all for one piano-four hands and for two pianos.

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

The concert is this Sunday, Jan. 17, starting at 4 p.m. when Bill Lutes, a local distinguished piano teacher who also used to be the music director and a program host at Wisconsin Public Radio and a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and University Opera, will give an introduction to the concert.

Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 at the door, and are available online at salonpianoseries.org, or at Farley’s House of Pianos (call 608 271-2626) or Orange Tree Imports.

But a new development will help students, says Renee Farley.

“The Salon Piano Series recently got word of being awarded a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board,” says Farley. “Their board liked what we do, but wanted us to increase our outreach to younger people. So, effective today we are offering student tickets to this concert for $30 each. Right now this is just being offered for the Bax-Chung concert. But our SPS board meets later this month and will discuss how to handle it for future programs.”

The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.

Farley Daub plays

Bax, a winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition and the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, started off 2016 performing several concerts in Japan with other concerts scheduled in Spain, Chile, South Korea and China.

Chung, an alumna of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, is a winner of the Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts and an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Governor General of Canada.  In 2015, she performed in Canada, Italy, Germany and Argentina.

Here is the program:

Fantasia in F Minor, D. 940 — Schubert

Andantino varie, D. 823 — Schubert

Military March No. 1, D. 733 — Schubert

Lebensstürme, D. 947 — Schubert

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor, original transcription for two solo pianos — Poulenc (NOTE: You can hear the poignant Mozartian second movement in its original form and with the composer at a keyboard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Salon Piano Series is a non-profit organization founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

For ticket information and concert details see salonpianoseries.org.

All events are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near the Beltline. Plenty of free parking is available and it is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.

 


Classical music: Farley’s House of Pianos announces its Salon Piano Series for this season and offers subscription tickets for the first time. It opens on Sunday, Oct. 4.

September 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Farley’s House of Pianos write:

The Salon Piano Series offers inspiring performances in an intimate salon setting. Each concert is followed by an artist’s reception and some performances include introductions by music scholars and commentators.

Farley Daub plays

Season tickets are being offered for the first time this year and they provide substantial savings as well as the assurance that you won’t be left out. You can buy tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com

Here is the lineup:

DANIEL DEL PINO  – Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, 4 p.m.

Daniel del Pino (below) returns to play music by Felix Mendelssohn, Cesar Franck‘s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and Twelve Etudes, Op. 10, by Frederic Chopin. (You can hear him perform a transcription of the “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla during a concert at Farley’s House of Pianos in January of 2013.)

Daniel del PIno square

ALESSIO BAX and LUCILLE CHUNG (below) – Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 4 p.m.

This concert will include pieces for one piano-four hands and for two pianos. The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.

alessio bax and lucille chung

CELLIST AMIT PELED (below) – Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 7:30 p.m.

Hear the exact program that famed cellist Pablo Casals performed 100 years ago, played on Casals’ own 1733 Goffriller cello with Noreen Polera accompanying on a 1914 Mason and Hamlin piano restored by Farley’s House of Pianos.

Amit Peled 1

DICK HYMAN, Jazz Clinic-Lecture, Saturday, May 7, 2016, 4 p.m.

Jazz legend Dick Hyman presents his third clinic at Salon Piano Series.

Dick Hyman – Jazz Concert – Sunday, May 8, 2016, 4 p.m.

Dick will play solo piano for half the concert. Then bassist John Schaffer and drummer John Lombardo will join Dick in a jazz trio.

Since he began his career in the early 1950s, Dick Hyman has been a pianist, organist, arranger, music director and composer while recording over 100 albums under his own name.

Hyman is a masterful improviser with a unique style of piano that spans from early jazz such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton to George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and beyond. He is one of the first people to record on the Moog synthesizer and his track “Minotaur” landed on the Billboard magazine’s US Top 40.

Hyman has served as composer, arranger, conductor and pianist for 12 Woody Allen films. He also won an Emmy for his original score to the daytime drama “Sunshine’s on the Way” and for musical direction of a PBS special on Eubie Blake. His recording, Dick Hyman’s “Century of Jazz Piano” is an encyclopedic series of solo performances that covers the last 100 years in jazz over the course of 121 performances.

dick hyman

All concerts are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west wide near West Towne.

See complete concert programs and more at www.salonpianoseries.org

Salon Piano Series Tickets Available Online at www.brownpapertickets.com

Tickets cost $45 in advance, $50 at the door. The Jazz Clinic is $20.

Buy the series for $160, and save $40. Tickets are also available at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports. Service fees may apply.


Classical music: Finals of the Leeds Piano Competition take place this weekend. Here is some background by a judge from the solo semi-finals and an Internet portal to hear the concerto finalists.

September 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Since 1963, the Leeds International Piano Competition in England has brought us such keyboard luminaries as Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Christopher O’Riley and Andras Schiff as well as Alessio Bax, who will perform in Madison on Sunday, afternoon, Jan. 17, this season with his wife Lucille Chung at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The competition, held every three years, has been taking place over the past two weeks. (You can hear the 2012 winner Federico Colli discuss why the Leeds is important and has helped his own career in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

leeds competition-auditorium logo

This weekend you can take in the finalists in their concerto performances.

Here is a link to the competition home page:

http://www.leedspiano.com

Here is a link with an Internet portal.

But it also features some fascinating background and commentary from a judge or juror about the solo semi-finals.

http://www.classical-music.com/blog/leeds-piano-competition-2015-semi-finals

Happy listening.


Classical music: Here are three notable new solo piano releases from Madison-connected pianists — Emanuel Ax, Alessio Bax and Jonathan Biss.

March 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A New York Times critic recently asked about veteran pianist Emanuel Ax (below): Does this guy ever have an off night? And the answer was no.

Emanuel Ax playing LA Times

Ax, a longtime favorite to Madison audiences ever since he first played here in 1975, is indeed one of the most reliable, consistent and reputable pianists on the circuit these days.

He has technique to spare but he is not known for, or given to, pyrotechnics. No one raves about his octave technique, his huge sound, his fast scales.

But he is known for a certain distinctive and appealing tone and a light touch. More importantly, he is known for always doing justice to the music, not himself, and for favoring naturalness over edginess.

You can hear all this and more – Ax at his best — in his new release for Sony Classical. It is based on the program of theme-and-variations he is now touring with. The CD features Haydn’s “Variations in F Minor,” Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations and Robert Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” in that order. If you get the digital download from iTunes, you can also get Aaron Copland’s Variations that just didn’t fit on the CD but are part of the original program.

All the performance are noteworthy and convincing. But I am especially fond of the Haydn work, which was written, legend has it, at the death of a student who was also the composer’s lover. Ax brings both Classical-era poise and clarity touched with a proto-Romantic sensibility of anguish to this work that is not heard or performed often enough.

The Beethoven variations go back to his early career and he does full justice to it with added subtlety the decades have brought. And the Schumann, which includes some of the posthumous etude variations, are also thoroughly enjoyable.

I have listened to this recording several times and always find new things to appreciate. Here’s hoping he returns soon to Madison, a city The Ear knows that Ax really likes (he has performed several times with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and given several recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater) and a city that helped give him his start.

Emanuel Ax Variations CD

Jonathan Biss (below) is more than a generation younger than Ax, but he is developing a reputation much like Ax’s. Biss, who performed Mozart concerto sublimely with the Madison Symphony Orchestra several season ago, likes to offer distinctive programs (lately he is combining Schuman and Janacek by interspersing them) and is known more for musicianship than showmanship. But he often shows more edginess, especially with faster tempi. Not for nothing does Biss so identify with the music of Schumann, one of his specialties.

Biss

His second volume of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Onyx – to be completed over 10 years – often some surprises as well as some predictable qualities.

Yes, it contains the overplayed “Moonlight” Sonata, which, as the recently deceased pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen once remarked, is probably the best-known piece of art music ever written. But Biss turns in a fine, outstanding performance, and then some — although I personally miss the mesmerizing slowness of Vladimir Horowitz’ opening movement, even if Beethoven indicated he wanted it played faster.

But the real interest on this new CD is elsewhere. Start with the early but very big Op. 7 Sonata – another piece that is not played often enough, but which boasts many wonderful moments throughout but especially in the slow movement. Biss is superb in it and makes we want to play it as well as listen to it more. That is high praise, perhaps the highest praise.

Then add in such rarities as the later and relatively short Op. 78 sonata, one Beethoven was said to favor over the “Moonlight” plus the rarely heard G Minor Fantasy, which Biss recorded before for EMI and which is a quirky piece that some think belongs with the Op. 78 sonata.

I like that Biss follows his habit of mixing up the sonatas by drawing from different periods, and it continues to work well. And if you are going to listen to the “Moonlight,” you can’t do better than his version within this context. All that, plus Onyx’s sound is a clear and close-up without being harsh – just superb as ever as a model for other labels.

I just hope Biss returns soon to Madison for a solo recital or a chamber music program, or even, yes, another concerto.

Jonathan BIss Beethoven CD vol. 2

The young and camera-friendly Alessio Bax (below) won the prestigious Leeds Competition and several others. He has played both a solo recital and a duo program with his pianist wife Lucille Chung in Madison at Farley’s House of Pianos. He has developed quite the reputation with high praise heaped particularly on his technique as well as some unusual repertoire, including his recording of Bach transcriptions.

Alessio Bax 1

When you hear his new CD of Brahms for Signum Classics, you will understand why. For beautiful music, there are the Op. 10 Ballades and the eight Op. 76 pieces and intermezzi. But for sheer breath-taking virtuosity it is hard to beat the “Paganini” Variations, which he performs to perfection, bringing the music rather than his technical prowess to the fore. An added piece of razzle-dazzle is Gyorgy Cziffra’s arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 (see and hear it performed live by Bax in a YouTube video at the bottom).

But Bax also possess great tone, and a wonderful sense of line and lyrical pacing that allow the thickly scored Brahms miniatures to breathe and make sense. He should definitely return soon to Mad City.

I myself like more mixed recital programs like Ax’s, ones built around a central theme or a connection that puts pieces and composers into dialogue with and among each other. And I think that labels are turning more and more to such programs as many buyers and listeners already own compete cycles of certain works by certain composers.

All in all, these new releases bodes well for a new generation of pianists who impress us with their musicianship as well as their technique, but who are still not well enough known to the public. And The Ear says it again: May Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss and Alessio Bax all return soon to Madison for recitals, concertos or even chamber music.

Alessio Bax Brahms CD


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