The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here is how the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) plan to continue lessons and performances this fall despite the coronavirus pandemic

August 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has just received the following updates from an email newsletter about the upcoming season of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Over more than 50 years, WYSO has served tens of thousands of middle school and high school students in southcentral Wisconsin and northern Illinois. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the WYSO Youth Orchestra play a virtual performance from the past season of the famous finale from Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture.)

After many weeks of planning, and in consultation with Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) and the McFarland School District, WYSO is excited to announce a fall semester plan that will mark a safe return to in-person music-making—and our first season at the McFarland Performing Arts Center (below) https://www.wysomusic.org/the-wyso-weekly-tune-up-april-17-2020-wysos-new-home/

We had a brief delay last Friday when PHMDC released Emergency Statement #9 delaying in-person start dates for all schools in Dane County. We checked in with the Public Health agency and they re-affirmed that WYSO is not a school —and the 15 students maximum-sized groups outlined in this plan are absolutely perfect. It is time to set up the tents!

The WYSO season will begin on the weekend of Sept. 5, when the winds and brass students from all three full orchestras (Youth, Philharmonia and Concert) will begin their fall rehearsals outside under two enormous tents in the McFarland High School parking lot (below). The 60 winds and brass students will be divided into approximately nine or 10 cohorts, who will meet in two-hour blocks on Saturdays and Sundays.

With a single cohort of masked and socially distanced students spread out within the 40′ x 60′ tent, with “bell covers and bags” for their instruments, the season will not look like any previous WYSO Fall.

If you’ve not been involved in the new science of aerosol transmission, this whole scenario might seem very curious. The reasoning is simple: The winds and brass instruments have been singled out as more problematic since you have to blow into them to make music. The blowing releases more “aerosols,” the tiny droplets that can transmit the coronavirus.

However, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have recently released the first results from a five-month study and have found that the following actions bring down the transmission risk considerably:

  1. Social distancing 9 to 15 feet apart.
  2. Adding bell covers and bags (below) for the instruments (essentially the instruments have to wear masks as well as the students).
  3. Playing outside, which reduces risks due to the increased air circulation.

Because we are in Wisconsin, the “outdoor” location shortens the season for the winds and brass players so by beginning the season on Sept. 5 and ending on the weekend of Oct. 24, they can just squeeze in an 8-week cycle.

Meanwhile, the WYSO string and percussion players, approximately 300 in number and representing all five orchestras, will begin their fall season indoors on Oct. 17, after McFarland moves to a hybrid model for the school year.

The string players will be divided into 15-student cohorts by orchestra, with a wonderful mix of violins, violas, cellos and basses in each group, and with the groups spread throughout one wing of the high school in large music rooms and atriums.

The percussionists have been scheduled into the new Black Box Theater and they are excited to begin playing on the brand new marimbas and timpani so recently acquired by WYSO through a gift from an incredibly generous anonymous donor.

Everything has been carefully scheduled so that at any given time there will not be more than 125 students, conductors and staff in the building.

Start and end times have been staggered. The large beautiful spaces at McFarland will easily hold the socially distanced and mask-wearing players. And the orchestras will again be scheduled into Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons. Even the WYSO Chamber Music Program (below) has been scheduled into the intricate puzzle.

The rest of this exciting fall story has to do with adding incredibly talented professional musicians to lead some of the cohorts and the amazing repertoire available for groups of 15 musicians, whether they play winds, brass, strings or percussion.

From Mozart’s “Gran Partita” to Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 2 and 6; from Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite” to Bartok’s Divertimento, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings — there is almost an “embarrassment of riches” of exciting, seldom-played repertoire, to quote WYSO Music Director Kyle Knox (below). And this fall, that repertoire will be right in WYSO’s wheelhouse.

WYSO will video-capture this year’s Fall Concerts of students playing in the beautiful McFarland Performing Arts Center to 800 empty seats and let you know the exact Fall Concert dates as we get closer. Click here for additional information.

While WYSO is incredibly excited about our in-person plan for rehearsals and playing music together, we have also drawn up two alternate plans, and know that not everyone will be able to participate in-person.

WYSO Registration is underway, and we are asking those who cannot participate in the McFarland experience to let us know their needs through the registration process, so that we can create the best virtual experience possible for those involved. Tuition payment is not due at registration.

To register, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org/members/wyso-registration-form/

 


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Classical music: Here’s bad news — There will be NO string orchestra this season to replace the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra this year – or maybe next or maybe ever.

September 3, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Some bad news reached The Ear yesterday, on the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The following is an official announcement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It comes from the administration via Professor James Smith (below), who heads the program in orchestral conducting.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Writes Barbara Mahling: “I have some disappointing and sad news from Jim Smith. There are not enough string players for this new string orchestra, not enough violas or basses to make it work.”

“It is currently listed on the timetable, so that will need to be changed. It will not exist either term. We can hope for next year.

“Thanks,
“Barb Mahling
UW-Madison School of Music”

You may recall that a string orchestra seemed to be a temporary solution to the unexpected dissolution of the UW Chamber Orchestra (below, in 2012, and at bottom on YouTube in the opening of the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with student conductor Kyle Knox on the podium) will continue to exist and will give its first performance on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall The program features UW visiting voice professor, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, from Vienna, (below bottom) in Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Songs. The orchestra will also perform the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Here is a link to the UW School of Music (SOM) Calendar of Events:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

And here are two links to background stories about the UW Chamber Orchestra and the string orchestra that was supposed to replace  it and do some impressive repertoire, including Mahler’s orchestra version of the famous “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as well as intriguing works by Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-gets-a-reprieve-thanks-to-compromise-and-repertoire-adjustments-or-so-it-seems-right-now-that-makes-the-ear-happy-and-should-do-the/

The Ear finds that the announcement leaves him with some important and disturbing questions.

What is the solution to the problem? More scholarships to attract more talented students, as one source has said.

How will the lack of some smaller ensemble – either a chamber orchestra or a string orchestra – means for the prestige and national ranking of the UW School of Music?

How will the move affect recruiting of new players in strings and other areas?

Will the UW Symphony Orchestra end up doing double duty for the campus and community UW Choral Union (below), which usually alternates between the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra, depending on the work they are singing? (Below is a photo of the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra performing the “Missa Solemnis” by Ludwig van Beethoven in 2010.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What small orchestral group will perform smaller-scale orchestral works, either by itself or in collaboration with others?

And does the concluding phrase “We can hope for next year” mean that the chamber orchestra is dissolved forever? That the best we can hope for is another chance at an all-string orchestra?

No doubt details will emerge in the coming days and months.

But it is all too bad.

What do you think of the decision?

The Ear wants to hear.


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