By Jacob Stockinger
Little wonder that Hough was the first musician to win a MacArthur Fellowship or “genius grant.”
The virtuosic Hough (below) wowed local audiences here a couple of months ago when he performed the dazzling Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Recently, he gave an interview in which he talked about the importance of silence to musicians.
Along the way, he also remarked on and lauded the “thrilling” rise of Western classical music – shown in audiences as well as the huge numbers and high quality of professional performing artists, amateurs and students – in Asia.
Hough also talked about the role of composing for performers, why it is a valuable skill and whether the performer-composer tradition is returning. (You can hear Stephen Hough perform his own Piano Sonata No. 3 “Trinitas” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear found Stephen Hough’s interview engaging and informative, and hopes you do too.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.
Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).
More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.
And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.
Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.
It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.
The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.
For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:
And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy, who is himself a senior and who has followed opera for many decades and across several continents, including North America, Europe and Asia. Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.
By Larry Wells
On Sunday afternoon I attended the second, and final, of two sold-out performances of Daniel Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” presented by Madison Opera, which gave the Midwest premiere of the new work.
Although it is a chamber opera featuring only 16 instrumentalists and running a little over 90 minutes, it was an engaging, satisfying and often hypnotic operatic experience.
The orchestral and vocal music were readily accessible. As a compliment to the composer, I was reminded of the later work of the great British composer Michael Tippett.
The plot features Charlie Parker’s mother, three of his wives, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and his current patroness, the fascinating Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, as they confront Parker’s spirit after his death but before his removal from the morgue and burial.
(Below, standing in front of the photo-portrait set of the Birdland jazz club, are the major cast members, many of whom were in the original world premiere productions at Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater of Harlem in New York City. From the left, they are: Angela Brown as Addie Parker; Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie; Rachel Sterrenberg as Chan Parker; Angela Montellaro as Doris Parker; Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker; and Krysty Swann as Rebecca Parker.)
A pioneer and innovator of bebop in the world of jazz, saxophonist Parker died young and dissolute, destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Portrayed by Joshua Stewart (below), Parker is unsympathetic and weak, desperate to create but distracted. Stewart is a fine, convincing actor. His singing was often compelling, but his voice was too thin in the higher reaches demanded by the score.
The other characters were ably portrayed and consistently strong vocally. Will Liverman’s Dizzy Gillespie was a standout – lyrical and touching.
Likewise, Krysty Swann (below center with a baby) was solid vocally and emotionally convincing as Parker’s abandoned first wife Rebecca Parker.
Rachel Sterrenberg was moving and gripping vocally as Parker’s final wife Chan.
Julie Miller as Baronness Nica commanded the stage whenever she appeared, perhaps because of her bright red dress in a sea of black garments but also because of her powerful portrayal and expressive singing.
Whenever Angela Brown (below right, with Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker) was onstage as Parker’s mother, Addie, she was the focus. She owned the role, she sang beautifully, and she had some of the best material to sing.
One of the finest moments in the opera was an orchestral interlude followed by a vocalise by another of Parker’s wives, Doris, sung by Angela Mortellaro (below). I was totally captivated, as I was by the quintet toward the end with Dizzy, the three wives and Parker’s mother.
Such are the moments for which an opera aficionado waits – several minutes of total aural delight.
Maestro John DeMain was, as always, in full command of the score as he led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I was in a position to watch him conduct, and he was always totally involved in the moment. I repeat what I have said before: Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is a treasure for which Madison should be constantly grateful.
I personally like newer music and always welcome the chance to hear something other than the tired Brahms overtures, Tchaikovsky symphonies and Mozart piano concertos.
The argument in Madison seems to be that to fill seats, you have to give the audience what it wants; and the belief is that it wants music that is tried, true and safe.
The fact that this new work sold out both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and that the audience was not entirely made up of seniors seems to suggest that the halls can be filled if the programming is more adventurous.
I say let’s hear more music of the 20th and 21st centuries, draw in a new audience and give the seniors a little thrill.
What do you think?
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s the weekend — a good time for another reader poll.
Last weekend, The Ear heard the Violin Sonata No. 1 by the French composer Gabriel Faure (below), in a wonderful performance by UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor, who make an outstanding partnership that The Ear hopes to heard more often.
The Ear has long thought that Faure, who was the teacher of Ravel, has been neglected. His work, especially his solo piano pieces and chamber music, is subtle and appealing but unjustly overshadowed by the Germanic school.
Yet Faure seems to be getting more performances, although still not as many as he deserves.
So maybe The Ear will switch to say that the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi (below) is now his favorite neglected composer.
You can hear Finzi’s haunting and exquisite “Eclogue” for piano and strings, which was originally the slow movement for a piano concerto, in the YouTube video at the bottom.
But The Ear also likes Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto and his Five Bagatelles — especially the “Romance” movement — for Clarinet and Piano.
There are so many composers who deserve a wider hearing — including big mainstream composers like the prolific master Franz Joseph Haydn whose name is better known than most of his works.
Recently, on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard rarely performed solo piano works by the Czech Josef Suk (below top) and really liked them. Same goes for some solo piano works and violin works by Clara Schumann (below bottom).
There are so many other composers, including ones from Scandinavia, Asia and the United States, who fly under the radar but deserve better recognition and more performances.
So here is what The Ear wants to know:
Who is your favorite neglected composer?
And what is your favorite piece by that composer and why?
Please tell the rest of us, with a link to a YouTube performance, if possible, and help us expand our horizons.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.
Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.
So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.
Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.
The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.
The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.
No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.
The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.
The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:
And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:
From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.
The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.
Here is a link to more information:
At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For information, go to:
At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.
The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.
Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:
Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?
Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?
Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra with violinist-composer Henning Kraggerud (below). The popular “Pastorale” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven is also on the program. Here are some reviews, all positive:
Here is the review that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
And here is the review written by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog “What Greg Says”:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear, who is an avid amateur pianist, ran across these 10 tips for productive practicing – something he can always use.
He knew some of them before. But it never hurts to review the basics. That’s why they are called the basics.
He thought that you too – no matter what instrument you play or if you sing – would find them helpful too.
And if you don’t play or sing, maybe these tips will still enhance your appreciation of the hard work that goes into playing and practicing.
So here they are:
If you have some practice tips of your own to add, just leave them in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
And to play better.
By Jacob Stockinger
Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.
And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.
The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.
Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.
Here is a link:
Read it and see what you think.
Then let us know in the COMMENT section.
Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The opening piece, Maurice Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, showcases the classical simplicity and ultimate decadence of the waltz, and the colors of all the instruments in the orchestra.
Finally, the MSO will perform the groundbreaking Symphonie Fantastique by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). It is an unorthodox five-movement work that vividly captures an artist’s tortured infatuation and the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Sara Sant’Ambrogio is an internationally-renowned soloist and founding member of the Eroica Trio (below). She launched her international career when she was a winner at the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. She holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Arias and Barcarolles.” She last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 2001 as part of the Eroica Trio.
Written in 1872, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 was instantly regarded as a masterpiece by the Paris public. Saint-Saëns rejected the standard concerto form in this work by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.
The composer found the Cello Concerto No.1 difficult to write, so much so that he vowed never to compose for cello again; Saint-Saëns broke this vow 30 years later with his Cello Concerto No. 2.
One hour before each performance, John DeMain, music director and principal conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/santambrogio
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts cannot be combined.
Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.
Major funding for the November concerts is provided by Barbara Ryder, DeEtte Beilfuss-Eager and Leonard P. Eager, Jr., in memory of Karen “Lovey” Johnson, and Rosemarie Blancke. Additional funding is provided by Martha and Charles Casey, Sunseed Research, LLC, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:
Could you briefly bring readers up to date on your career since 2001 when you last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as part of the Eroica Trio and performed the Triple Concerto for piano trio? What are current and future major plans and projects?
Wow, a lot has happened since 2001! I had a son, Sebastian, who just turned 11. I’ve recorded for solo CDs, the complete Bach solo suites, the Chopin collection and “Dreaming,” which has had a number of tracks used in movie soundtracks such as the HBO movie “A Matter of Taste.” I’ve recorded another Eroica Trio CD, “An American Journey,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.
I’ve toured China and all over Asia, and also the Arabian peninsula, which was amazing and mind-blowing. Petra in Jordan was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. It has been a truly amazing 14 years!
There seems to be a revival or rediscovery going on of the works of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Why do you think that is?
Saint-Saens (below) has been grossly underrated in my view. His music has a wonderful mix of gorgeous melodies that speak to the human condition, sparkling virtuous pyrotechnics and a joie de vivre, which is just infectious! What’s not to love!
You are performing on an all-French program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” and Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.” What elements or traits do identify as being typically French in classical music, and does Saint-Saëns fit the mold?
I think there is a lushness to French music that Saint-Saens shares. There is also a very human quality to the best of French music.
What would you like to say about the piece you will be performing in Madison, the Cello Concerto No. 1? What is typical or unusual about it? What in particular would you like the public to listen to and notice?
Just to have a blast! The Saint-Saens starts with a bang and never lets up till the joyous end! (Note: You can hear it played by the late Russian cellist, conductor and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
What else would you like to say?
I can’t wait to come back and play in Madison again. I had such a fantastic time playing there last time with my trio that the town loomed so large in my imagination, I had no idea until this interview that it had been 14 years since I was last there.
ALERT: A friend writes: TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, downtown off the Capitol Square, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below with the Middleton Community Orchestra) will be conducting the Serenade No. 1 by Johannes Brahms (at bottom, you can hear the Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Claudio Abbado, in a YouTube video) performed by many members of the Middleton Community Orchestra, and past and future soloists. On the second half of the program, violist Vicki Powell, who is just in Madison for the week, will perform solo works.
The Brahms sounds great. We are lucky to be joined by Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz; violinist Paran Amirinazari who will be Middleton Community Orchestra’s concertmaster in the fall; and violist Vicki Powell plus many other fine players.
THE CONCERT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
By Jacob Stockinger
It could sound like a professional wrestling match: “This Saturday the Über Steinway meets the Colossal Klais!”
The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) German (Hamburg) Steinway piano will meet the colossal Klais Overture Concert Organ (below) in a free concert featuring guest pianist Stephen Nielson and organist Samuel Hutchison.
No tickets or reservations are needed for this 45-minute concert.
From familiar hymns to rousing patriotic medleys and stunning solos for piano and organ, this first and only Farmers’ Market organ concert of the summer promises to deliver thrills for all.
American pianist Stephen Nielson made his orchestral debut as a pianist at age 11. During a 30-year collaboration with his late colleague, Ovid Young, Nielson performed more than 3,500 concerts world-wide as part of the distinguished piano duo Nielson & Young.
His 2008 performance with Samuel Hutchison in Overture Hall garnered rave reviews from those in attendance. Nielson received his degree from Indiana University, where he also earned the Distinguished Performer and Phi Beta Kappa honors. Nielson was named a finalist in the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels and has performed throughout Europe and Asia.
Samuel Hutchison has served as Curator and Principal Organist for Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Overture Concert Organ since 2001. An honors graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, Hutchison has presented many recitals in the U.S and in Europe in locations that include the Riverside Church, New York City; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and Notre Dame, St. Sulpice and St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris. He also performed the complete works of J.S. Bach in a series of 11 weekly recitals for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
To see the Overture Concert Organ series of concerts for 2015-16 or to subscribe at a 25% savings, visit: www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason15-16
By Jacob Stockinger
This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, the famed and long-lived Takács Quartet performs a MUST-HEAR concert of music by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert.
The program includes the Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) in C Minor, D. 703, by Franz Schubert (1797-1828); the String Quartet No. 50 in B-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3 by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809); and the “Razumovsky” String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1 — from his middle period — by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) with its well-known “Russian Theme.” (You can hear the Russian Theme in a performance by the now disbanded Tokyo String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tickets are: General Public: $45, 25; Wisconsin Union Members and Non UW-Madison Students: $40; UW-Madison Faculty and Staff: $42; UW-Madison Student (with ID): $10. Prices do not include fees. See more at:
The Takacs Quartet seems to The Ear a perfect choice for the annual Fan Taylor Memorial Concert — an event designed to honor the first and longtime director of the Wisconsin Union Theater.
For more about Fan Taylor (below), whose name is also used for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s endowment fund, or to donate to it, visit these links:
Here is some publicity material from the Wisconsin Union Theater:
Widely heralded as modern masters of classical music, the Takacs Quartet has delighted audiences in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, bringing a vivid intensity to the works that built their genre. Known for their “supreme artistry manifest at every level,” (The Guardian) they are the only string quartet ever to be inducted into Gramophone’s Hall of Fame.
Such an honor is hardly unfamiliar to the group, however, having also taken home Disc of the Year and Chamber Award from BBC, as well as a Grammy for their Beethoven collection.
This talented quartet (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times) continues to amaze while pushing the boundaries of chamber music.
Please note that there is a WIAA Individual Wrestling Tournament this evening, so allow enough time to find parking.
Because of a conflict at the UW-Madison School of Music, a master class will be held on this FRIDAY from 5 to 7 p.m. in Room 1341 Humanitites Building — NOT as previously stated on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. See more at:
Here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also features audiovisual clips and reviews:
For the quartet’s website, go to: