The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the Final Forte winners. Mosaic Chamber Players concludes its season this Saturday night with piano trios by Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Charles Ives. Plus, a FREE concert of Latin American bassoon music is Friday at noon

March 30, 2017

NEWS: In case you missed it last night on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, here are the winners of the  Madison Symphony Orchestra’s high school concerto competition, which featured a lot of fine music and excellent performances.

First prize went to violinist Julian Rhee of Brookfield, who performed Tchaikovsky; second prize went to pianist Michael Wu of Sun Prairie, who performed Saint-Saens; and the two runners-up were violinist Yaoyao Chen of Menasha, who played Sibelius, and harpist Naomi Sutherland, who performed Ravel.

For more information about the annual event, including links to video biographies of the contestants, go to:

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo in works for solo bassoon by 20th-century Latin American composers. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Mosaic Chamber Players will conclude its 2016-2017 season with a program of piano trios.

Members of the Madison-based Mosaic Chamber Players are Wes Luke, violin; Kyle Price, cello; and Jess Salek, piano.

The program features the “Elegy” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff; the Trio, Op. 86, by Charles Ives; and the Trio in D Minor, Op 49, by Felix Mendelssohn. (You can hear the opening of the lovely and darkly dramatic Rachmaninoff Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert will be this Saturday, April 1, at 7 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of First Unitarian Society of Madison.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; $10 for seniors; and $5 for students. Cash or checks only will be accepted.

Pianist Jess Salek (below), who graduated from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton Wis., and who runs his own piano studio in Madison and also works with the Madison Youth Choirs.

Violinist Wes Luke (below) plays with many regional orchestras and ensembles, including the Madison-based Ancora String Quartet.

Here is an informative and engaging story about cellist Kyle Price (below), a UW-Madison student, and how he started a music festival and ended up studying with Professor Uri Vardi at the UW-Madison.

Classical music review: The Ancora and Rhapsodie String Quartets show deep collegiality in performing outstanding Mendelssohn and Prokofiev.

May 24, 2012

A REMINDER: Tonight at 7 p.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center, the Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), which is made up of members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will perform a FREE concert of Haydn’s “Emperor” String Quartet in C major, Op. 76, No. 3, and Brahms’ String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51. No admission will be charged, but freewill donations are welcome at the door.

By Jacob Stockinger

Collegiality is the hallmark of great chamber music-making.

If you doubt that, all you had to do was be at the performance of the Ancora String Quartet (below) as it closed its 11th season last Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Unitarian Society Meeting House with performances of Prokofiev and Mendelssohn.

The Ancora consists of violinists Leanne Kelso League and Robin Ryan; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb. The ensemble remains artists-in-residence at the First Unitarian Society where music director Dan Broner continues to leave his mark with the weekly free Friday Noon Musicales, the all-music Sundays and sponsorship of the Ancora as well as other musical events.

Two works made up the Ancora concert.

The first was Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 1 in B minor, Op. 50, from 1930. The second quartet by Prokofiev (below) is the more famous and more easily listenable of the two since it is based on folk themes and has a sprightly sense of rhythm and melody – a very Mozartean or Haydnesque lightness for Soviet Russia compared to the unrelenting darkness and heaviness of his contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich.

But in the hands of the Ancora, the more “composed” first quartet revealed its many charms. Its unconventional structure of two fast movements followed by a slow movement showed how Prokofiev played with expectations. And for all his percussiveness and angular modernism, you find a looking backwards quality – a transparency and lyricism — to Prokofiev. The Ancora brought out the motivic qualities of the piece, ending with the tuneful quality of the song-like last movement, with its quiet ending.

A work that can seem daunting seemed thoroughly prepared and executed in such as way as to make it welcoming and accessible.

For most listeners, surely the highlight of the concert was Mendelssohn’s Octet from 1825. Written when the composer (below) was only 16, it was and remains one of the miracles of Western classical music. It conveys infectious energy right from the opening measures and continues that energy until the end. Especially the typical Mendelssohn signature – a cat-like Scherzo — was both charming and impressive. The fleet lightness sounded so easy when it is really so hard.

But talk about collegiality.

The Rhapsodie Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), which is made up of members from the Madison Symphony Orchestra: violinists Suzanne Beia and Laura Burns, violist Christopher Dozoryst and cellist Karl Lavine – proved a hand-and-glove match for the Ancora. Two groups blended tightly and seemed as one, even as the as score calls for competing voices and certain kind of virtuosic competition.

The Ancora and Rhapsodie quartets emphasized the unity of the piece, the way Mendelssohn –who so admired the music of J.S. Bach – stitched together these four various movement into a seamless fabric.

But the most outstanding quality was the sheer boundless energy, the youth exuberance, that the two groups brought to this irresistible work. Once again, the Octet worked its magic.

It was a brilliant program that was brilliantly executed.

The only problem was the venue. Historic or not, landmark or not, the auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is uncomfortable because of its seats – those awful lower back-breaking benches Wright designed – and because there was no air conditioning on a 90 degree day.

Indeed, at one point, a breeze from the open door blew the music right off the stands and the musicians had to start again.

But in another testament to collegiality and informality, the Ancora players just picked up and carried on in good humor with the audience of 50 or so — it was UW commencement weekend, after all – taking their cue and remaining with the quartet all the way.

The Era has often remarked on what a rich classical music scene Madison has. Just think of the outstanding string quartets you find in the area: there is the Pro Arte, the Ancora, the Rhapsodie, the Roundtree, the Mifflin and the Oakwood Chamber Players and others that escape me at the moment.

Anyway, here is what another review – no less enthusiastic by John W. Barker of Isthmus — had to say about the Ancora, which just keeps getting better and better in its playing as well as more ambitious and original in its programming:

For more information about the quartet and how its next season is taking shape, visit or follow it on Facebook at

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