The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players announce their new season with the theme of “Journey”

August 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over many years, the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have built a solid reputation for programming unusual composers and neglected works, all performed with first-rate playing.

(You can sample their recording for Naxos Records of a work by UW-Madison graduate Daron Hagen in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

The new 2017-018 season, based on aspects of a JOURNEY is no exception.

Except where noted, performances are on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Oakwood University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side, not far from West Towne Mall.

The group writes:

“Join the Oakwood Chamber Players on our 2017-2018 season journey with composers whose music encompasses the animation and anticipation at departure and beyond. We’ll have something for adventure seekers as they consider the view over the ever-expanding horizon.

“We’ll stop over to stay a while with friends and see the future with those who forever influence the musical landscape. We will welcome both familiar and new faces as guest artists this season. Come along with us on the JOURNEY!”

JOURNEY

DEPARTURE

September 9/10, 2017

Strauss-Schoenberg   Kaiser-Walzer for mixed ensemble

Reger         Serenade for flute, violin and viola

Arutiunian        Concert Waltz for winds and piano

QUEST

November 26, 2017 (1 and 3:30 p.m.)

Blake               Snowman Suite for string quartet

Mozetich         Angels in Flight for mixed ensemble

Rutter               Brother Heinrich’s Christmas for vocal quartet,  narrator and     mixed ensemble

HORIZON

January 13/14, 2018

Casella            Serenade for mixed ensemble

Mikulka            Sunset 1892 for clarinet, viola and piano

Huber             Quintet for winds and piano

SOJOURN

March 10/11, 2018

Hofmann         Octet for mixed ensemble

Schoenberg       Presto for string quartet

Scott                  Cornish Boat Song for piano trio

Mendelssohn     Concert Piece for clarinet, bassoon and piano

LEGACY

May 19/20, 2018

Kaminski         String Quartet

Smit                Sextet for wind quintet and piano

Sekles             Capriccio – Yankee Doodle con variazioni for piano trio

2017-2018 Season Ticket Prices

Senior (62+) Single: $20 per concert

Senior (62+) Series: $85 for the season*

Adult Single: $25 per concert

Adult Series: $105 for the season*

Student Single: $5 per concert

*Season concert series offers five concerts at a 15% discount.  Tickets available at the door.

The Oakwood Chamber Players now accept payment via credit card as well as cash and check.

For more information, go to: https://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com


Classical music education: The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music ranks in the nation’s Top 30 overall and in the Top 10 for music education. Plus, WYSO’s Youth Orchestra and Concerto Competition winners perform Beethoven, Schubert, Walter Piston and Alexander Arutiunian on this Saturday afternoon.

March 27, 2015
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ALERT: Just a reminder that this Saturday afternoon, the top-ranked Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform under conductor James Smith at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street.

The program includes: The Suite from “The Incredible Flutist” by Walter Piston; and the first and second movements of the Symphony No. 8  “Unfinished” by Franz Schubert.

Also included are the winners of the WYSO Concerto Competition. Trumpeter Noah Mennenga will perform the Trumpet Concert by  Alexander Arutiunian. Pianist Theodore Lau will play the third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, O;. 37, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for young people 3-18. For more information, call (608) 263-3320 or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/dianne-endres-ballweg-winterfest-concert-series/

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring Break starts tomorrow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

So The Ear wants students and faculty to leave on a positive note and then return with renewed energy and dedication, knowing that the UW-Madison School of Music  still ranks relatively high (No. 24) among the nation’s top 30 public and private schools for overall programs and even higher (No. 10) for music education in an informal blog survey.

UW logos

To be sure, the UW-Madison School of Music is facing a lot of complex challenges.

Those challenges range from finding enough scholarship money to compete in recruiting outstanding students to finding enough money to recruit and retain outstanding faculty.

And some of the challenges look to be made worse through budget cuts and policy changes proposed by the Republican-dominated legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker (below), though we will have to wait to see the final outcomes.

Scott Walker 1

But the politicians sure are sending out signals that they want to treat the world-class university more like a trade school than a star player in the liberal arts, the arts and the humanities. They just don’t see those fields as adding much to economic development.

As if economic development is the bottom line for everything of personal and social value.

And as if the so-called STEM subjects -– science, technology, engineering and math – are the only relevant academic fields for the public to support.

Besides, study after study shows the relevance of music education to success in other fields. (Below are the UW Symphony Orchestra and UW Choral Union.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

So before anyone starts fooling around and making major changes and cuts, it is good to be reminded of what a precious educational, cultural and economic resource the UW-Madison remains, as a world-class learning institution.

But it won’t take much negligence or wrong-headed tinkering for the UW to drop out of the ranking.

So here they are to read and then think about how to best protect the great university that the state of Wisconsin has.

First comes the overall ranking (No. 24) among private and public Schools of Music, which, if The Ear recalls correctly, has dropped over the past decade:

http://www.uscollegeranking.org/music/2014-best-americas-top-music-schools-and-colleges-ranking.html#axzz3UH2L2vW3

And then comes the ranking (No. 10) in the specific area of music education in a less prestigious blog poll done by an individual:

http://musicschoolcentral.com/top-10-colleges-music-education-majors-us/

Thoughts, anyone?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras concerts are tomorrow, Sunday afternoon, and on Saturday afternoon, March 28.

March 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post is just a reminder that the annual Diane Endres Ballweg Winterfest Concert Series of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will take place this Sunday afternoon and on Saturday afternoon, March 28.

The concerts will feature Sinfonietta, Harp Ensemble (below, to play this Sunday at 4 p.m.), Concert Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra and Youth Orchestra.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

The music for the programs is below. Please note that the pieces are subject to change at the conductor’s discretion.

All concerts will take place in Mills Concert Hall, located in the UW-Madison Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for youth age 3-18.

For information, call 608-263-3320 or visit www.wyso.music.wisc.edu

SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2015

Sinfonietta: 1:30 p.m.

Richard Stephan – “Fanfare and Frippery”

Arr. Benjamin Britten – “The Sally Gardens”

William Hofeldt – “Twilight Ceremonial”

Clare Grundman – “Hebrides Suite”

Carold Nunez – “M to The Third Power” (Minor Meter Mix)

Antonin Dvorak – Themes from the “New World” Symphony

Richard Stephans – Variations on a well-known “Sea Chantey”

Sinfonietta strings

Concert Orchestra – 1:30 p.m.

Rimsky-Korsakov – Dance of the Tumblers from “The Snow Maiden,” ed. Carl Simpson

William Hofeldt – “Song of the Prairie”

John Barry – “Dances with Wolves,” arr. Steven I. Rosenhaus

James Barnes – “Yorkshire Ballad”

Harry Gregson-Williams and Steve Barton – ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Arr. Stephen Bulla

wyso concert orchestra brass

Philharmonia Orchestra – 4 p.m.

Schubert – “Military March,” arr. Leopold Damrosch

Mozart – Overture from “The Magic Flute”

Marquez – Danzon No. 2

Debussy – “Clair de Lune,” orch. Arthur Luck

Bizet – Excerpts from “Carmen” Suite No. 1

Tom Buchhauser Conducting Philharmonia Jon Harlow

SATURDAY, MARCH 28, 2015

Youth Orchestra – 1:30 p.m., with winners of the WYSO Concerto Competition

Walter Piston – Suite from the “Incredible Flutist”

Schubert – “Unfinished” Symphony (No. 8) Movements 1 and 2

Arutiunian – Trumpet Concerto

Noah Mennenga, Soloist

Beethoven – Third Piano Concert, Movement 3

Theodore Liu, Soloist

WYSO Youth  Orchestra


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2014/A-Piano-Concerto-Doubleheader-and-Beethoven-to-the-Max/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42237

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH

It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon

PRO ARTE QUARTET

Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?

Haydn

PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?

MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA

Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music Q&A: Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth discusses being a female brass player and her program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

February 11, 2014
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ALERT: Blog friend Rich Samuels writes: “At 7:22 a.m. on this Thursday morning,  my classical music show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast weekly from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT-FM 89.9 will be airing an interview with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth, who will be in Madison for concerts this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a master class at the UW-Madison School of Music (see more below). Listeners can hear a sampling of her solo work as well as a performance by tenThing, her all-female Norwegian brass ensemble. Tune in to 89.9 FM.

By Jacob Stockinger

As he tells the story, Madison Symphony Orchestra’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain was riding in his car and listening to Sirius XM radio. He heard a new recording by a terrific trumpet player and he was so impressed that he determined then and there that he would try to book her for a Madison concert — especially since most soloists he books are pianists, string players or singers.

Her name in Tine Thing Helseth (below), and DeMain succeeded. He booked her for a debut that will take place in Madison this weekend.

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

Helseth is young, energetic and articulate. She is also generous with her time and talent. In fact she will give master class for trumpet and brass players with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and a FREE public master class at the UW-Madison School of Music at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Thursday, Feb. 13.

Then come her MSO concerts, which she will perform under the baton of DeMain in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 pm.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Helseth will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s well-known Trumpet Concerto in D Major and Alexander Arutiunian’s lesser known Trumpet Concerto in A-Flat Major (1920).

Rounding out the program is Jean Sibelius’ powerful and popular tone poem “Finlandia”; the symphonic suite from John Adams’ opera about physicist Edward Teller and the A-Bomb called “Dr. Atomic”; and the luscious late Romantic suite from Richard Strauss’ opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” a perfect offering for Valentine’s Day weekend.

A prelude discussion by musicologist Susan Cook, the new director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music, will take place in Overture Hall one hour before each curtain time.

Tickets are $8.25-$82.50 with rush tickets and discounts available. They can be purchased at the Overture Center box office, 211 State St., or by calling (608) 258-4141 or by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/helseth

http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventList?groupCode=MSO_H&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode=

Here is a link to the MSO’s program notes, written superbly as always by trombonist J. Michael Allsen who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/5.Feb14.html

Helseth recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

Can you briefly introduce yourself, and tell us when and how you started studying music? How did you get into brass and what attracted you to brass and specifically the trumpet?

I started to play the trumpet when I was seven years old, basically because my mother plays the trumpet. I had played piano a couple of years already, but from the first moment the trumpet felt like my best friend — and we’ve stayed that way ever since! My mum had a good friend who played in the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, and she became my first teacher. I also played in my school band. 


tine thing helseth side view with trumpet

Do you find that being a woman plays any role, positive or negative, in your career or reception as a world-class trumpet player?

The most important thing as a performer will always be if you have something to say. Nothing else really matters.

But, that being said, I do feel comfortable with the fact that for some it might be a bit rare to see a woman having my profession. I feel a responsibility to show all the young kids out there that you can pick up whatever instrument you feel like, and make it your voice. Stereotypes can be boring. Just listen to your inner voice and follow your heart. 


(Here is a link to a more extensive answer she gave about the issue of gender and sex roles in another interview:

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/music/trumpet-trailblazer-tine-thing-helseth-on-women-in-the-classical-music-world-8749414.html

trumpet

What would you like to tell the audience about the Trumpet Concerto by Haydn (below)?

Franz Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto is basically the most famous concerto for my instrument. This year marks my very own 10-year anniversary for the first time I played it with a professional orchestra. I was 16 and it was with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.

This piece will forever have a truly special place in my heart. I play it several times a year, but I never get tired of it. There are always new things to discover, new colors and voices in the orchestra. It’s a true chamber music work, and I absolutely love performing it.  (And she performs it very well. You can hear the final movement at the bottom in a YouTube video that has drawn more than 3.3 million hits.)

Haydn

What would you like the audience to know about the Trumpet Concerto by Alexander Arutiunian (below)?

It’s very romantic in style, with clear folk music elements and the harmonics reveals that it’s written in the middle of the 20th century. It reminds me a bit of Khachaturian. It has beautifully melodic material and a really catchy fast theme.

Alexander Arutiunian

These concerts mark your debut in Madison, perhaps even Wisconsin and the Midwest? Is there anything special you want to say about the city, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conductor John DeMain or the rest of the program (Jean Sibelius, John Adams and Richard Strauss)?

I am just very much looking forward to coming to Madison and working with the orchestra and Maestro DeMain, and to meeting the audience. As a performer I live for the communication with the musicians I work with and with the audience. It’s always exciting to come to new places and communicate with music.

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