The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which great maestro would you be? Take the WFMT quiz and see

June 6, 2016
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago classical music radio station WFMT has come up with a novel idea.

That is the radio station by the way, that brings us “Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin,” which airs every weekday night 8-9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. The insightful McGlaughlin himself is a former conductor, and The Ear suspects he had something to do with the quiz.

WFMT is the same radio station with The Beethoven Satellite Network that brings us host Peter Van De Graaff who chooses and comments on classical music overnight. A performing baritone singer who has sung George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra several times, the discerning Van De Graaff might also have had something to do with figuring out different and distinctive conducting styles.

Anyway, the WFMT staff devised a quiz and put it on the radio station’s official blog.

You answer questions and then you see which great symphony orchestra conductor you would mostly likely be.

Among the names mentioned are Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Leonard Bernstein (whom The Ear was pegged as!) and the three below (from left): Marin Alsop, Pierre Boulez and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who heads the Philadelphia Orchestra and last week was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

WFMT conductor quiz

Here is a link to the quiz and to the comments that its results have inspired:

http://blogs.wfmt.com/offmic/2016/04/22/quiz-which-great-conductor-are-you/

Take the quiz and let The Ear and other readers know the results and what you thought of the quiz.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pianist Jeffrey Siegel leaves Madison, after 26 seasons of his “Keyboard Conversations,” as a victim of his own success.

May 20, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A couple of weeks ago, after 26 consecutive seasons, pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) gave what is likely to be his last “Keyboard Conversation” in Madison at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. “Music and Mistresses” focused on Romantic music that was inspired by love and composed by Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy. (For an introductory sample of that program, listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jeffrey Siegel 2014

That is a fine record of enviable longevity for a unique program that started at the old Madison Civic Center, then moved to the Overture Center and finally ended up at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

For more about his concert-conversation format and the cities where he still performs, visit:

http://keyboardconversations.com

As a fond farewell, I want to tell the public and Jeffrey Siegel how welcome and successful he was.

Not that the series didn’t run into trouble. But I expect there were many reasons why the attendance at the concert-discussion series finally fell to the point where no amount of cutting back or finagling could save it or keep it financially viable.

One reason was the perception, true or not, that Siegel’s concerts began to seem repetitive and predictable, even though he played a wide range of repertoire that also included works by  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others.

Another reason was the overall arts competition in Madison and specifically that more exciting pianists and contemporary or unusual piano programs — Christopher Taylor comes to mind — came on the local scene and cut into his appeal.

Scheduling was one another reason.

My own life became complicated when I started teaching an evening class in journalism at the University of Wisconsin while I also worked my regular day job as a reporter, writer and editor at The Capital Times. The mid-week days just became too long.

For some listeners, I expect, the tickets also became too expensive, especially if you weren’t a UW-Madison student.

But an even bigger factor probably, I suspect, was the explosive growth of the Madison classical concert scene since Siegel first started here 26 seasons ago. For example,  the Madison Symphony Orchestra now gives three performances of its subscription concerts and the UW School of Music hosts some 300 FREE events, including concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, with Juilliard Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes). People, music fans included, are unbelievably busy.

Pro Arte with Samuel Rhodes

But I also want to propose that another major reason why Jeffrey Siegel ended up losing his series in Madison is that his approach proved so popular that other competing musicians adopted it.

In that way, Jeffrey Siegel was ahead of his time in learning how, as a performer and not just musicologist, to cultivate music appreciation, how to grow new and younger audiences for classical music. He was among the first to link musical performance with music education.

In that sense, Jeffrey Siegel -– who first discusses a piece of music and then plays it in its entirety -– was a pioneer who eventually became a victim of his own success.

After all, when The Ear first started attending the concerts by Siegel -– who always proved a generous and genial interview as well as a fine musician -– few or none of the serious “longhair” performers talked about their program. Pre-concert lectures were the exception, NOT the rule.

True, Leonard Bernstein (below) had done the Young People’s Concerts, which might have been a model for Siegel. But there were precious few followers.

Leonard Bernstein conducting

But these days I hear prefatory remarks from performers done regularly by conductor John DeMain at the Madison Symphony Orchestra; by conductor Andrew Sewell at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; by general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera; by cellist Parry Karp of the Pro Arte Quartet; and by virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

I have heard it done at the Madison Early Music Festival by Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe. Every MEMF concert has a pre-concert lecture.

And I have learned that the upcoming Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee will even require participants to talk about the music they will play, and judge them on how they do.

On the air, the late Karl Haas and now Bill McGlaughlin (below) of the nightly “Exploring Music” series on Wisconsin Public Radio, take a similar approach.

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

In short, concert etiquette these days seems to prefer the Siegel approach of providing a frame for the painting, of giving listeners a historical and aesthetic context and not just assuming that the music can speak for himself.

In Jeffrey Siegel, classical music found a powerful ally and inventive advocate.

In that way, the end of Keyboard Conversations should be seen as vindication of Siegel’s approach and as a success, not as a validation that it was somehow wrong-headed or outdated and so proved a failure.

So The Ear doesn’t know what else to say except: Thank you, Jeffrey. I — and no doubt many others — wish you success in other places and with other ventures.

Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. And so the classical music in Madison will continue to pay homage to you -– even without your presence.

That may not be just or fair. But that seems to be the way it is.

Classical music here and elsewhere owes a debt to you. You can and should be proud of that legacy. You were not a failure, but a success. It’s just that success can exact as severe a price as failure does.

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Classical music: This week is Schubert Week with FREE concerts by Madison violinist Kangwon Kim plus Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” show every evening this week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

May 7, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you love the music of Franz Schubert  – and who doesn’t? – this promises to be a memorable week for you.

When it comes to Schubert (below) these days I find him more to my taste even than his mentor, Beethoven. Others can decide who was greater or more influential. What I do know is that I find Schubert somehow more human, more empathetic, more compassionate than Beethoven.

What an incredible composer Schubert (1797-1829) was – having done so much writing, and so much great compositing, before he died at 31 – almost five years younger than Mozart.

Franz Schubert big

So why is the week Schubert Week?

For one, Bill McGlaughlin (below) is spending all this week exploring the music of Schubert. His program “Exploring Music” airs at 8-9 p.m. (NOT 7-8 p.m., as it used to)  every weekday night on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area)

According to the playlist I saw, McGlaughlin, himself a composer and former conductor who is a Great Explainer of classical music, will look at many different kinds of masterpieces: symphonies, chamber music, songs and solo piano works.

Here is a general link to his show form WFMT in Chicago:

http://www.wfmt.com/main.taf?p=31,2

Here is a link to his listings of his show:

http://exploringmusic.wfmt.com/listen-to-the-show/116/schubertiade-part-ii

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

Add to that a concert with TWO FREE performances that includes three beautiful but under-performed chamber music works by Schubert: the D major sonata and the great C major “Fantasy” for violin and piano (in a YouTube video at the bottom) as well as String Trio in Bb major.

The performers are Madison violinist Kangwon Lee Kim (below left) who will be joined by pianist Li-Shan Hung (below right), violist Matthew Michelic and cellist Mark Bridges.

EPSON MFP image

Here are the details:

The first performance is this Saturday, May 11, at 3 p.m. in the Grand Hall (below) of the Capital Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, in downtown Madison, off the Capitol Square.

Capitol Lakes Hall

Then the program is repeated on Sunday, May 12 at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum at 800 University Avenue on the UW-Madison campus. The concert is the season finale of the program “Sunday Afternoon Live from Chazen.” It is FREE concert and will be broadcast LIVE by Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

SAL3


Classical Music: Wisconsin Public Radio’s music app is first-rate and gets five stars. The Ear has it, and so should you. Plus, a viola duo performs a FREE concert of music by Bach, Bartok and Stamitz on Friday.

March 7, 2013
6 Comments

ALERT: This Friday from 12:15 to 1 p.m., the weekly FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Drive, Alexis Carreon (below top, the personnel manager of the Madison Symphony  Orchestra who also plays viola with the MSO) and Marie Pauls (below bottom), with pianist Stacy Fehr Regehr, play duets for viola by J.S. Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 6), Bela Bartok and Carl Stamitz.

Alexis Carreon

Marie Pauls

By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is one of the few remaining public radio stations in the U.S that still highly values classical music and devotes many, many hours per day to it.

WPR Logo

And now if you have smart phone or an iPod Touch, you can take WPR with you.

True, you need wi-fi -– not just regular FM or AM radio reception. But wi-fi is increasingly prevalent and popular in both public and private places.

This app (below) helps solve the problem that I have always had with Apple and its FM radio capability, which for some odd reason, Apple includes only on the iPod Nano right now, not on the more expensive and fancier iPhone or iPod Touch, even though the hardware and software required for FM reception can’t be that big or difficult to include. (And how about getting a photo card slot on the smaller Airbook? Seems to The Ear like a bad and short-sighted decision on Apple’s part.)

Anyway, now if you have to interrupt a broadcast to go grocery shopping or do some other task, you can take WPR with you.

Wisconsin Public Radio app

I have spent some time experimenting with the app.

It is generally clear and easy to use, although the “program” screen didn’t list titles at one point, and then did.

The “Live” screen is, I find the most useful. It features the regular channel for classical music and news; the Ideas channel for talk and call-ins; and the 24-hours a day digital music channel. It has a pause, store and catch-up function. And the app also allows you to explore WPR schedules, state news stories and archives.

I used it while waiting in a dentist’s office. Also, recently I used it on a bus to Chicago and then once I was in Chicago when I couldn’t find something else I wanted. It worked great for not only music but also for “The Midday” stories, quizzes and guests with Norman Gilliland as well as “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and Michael Feldman. It also worked for bringing me  syndicated programs from National Public Radio: “Morning Edition,” “Weekend Edition” and “All Things Considered,” to say nothing of ‘The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor; “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross; “Exploring Music” with Bill McGlaughlin (below); and “From the Top” with Christopher O’Riley.

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

You can download the WPR app for FREE at the iTunes stores for MAC-based devices and at Google Play for Android-based smart phones.

Go ahead, give it a try. You can always delete it you don’t like or it doesn’t meet your expectations.

But I am betting that you will like it and that it will surpass your expectations. The Ear gives the app five stars out of five. If you use it, let me know what you think of the results.

Oh, and there are other radio apps I have that I used to stream classical music over the Internet.

One is the famed WQXR station in New York City. It features live broadcasts from Carnegie Hall that you can also access visa NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

WQXR app

Closer to home, you can also try the app for WFMT in Chicago, the home base of Bill McGlaughlin.

wfmt app

Other public radio stations have specialized programs for vocal music, opera, piano music, music history and so on. You can check them out at the various app stores.

Are there radio apps you especially recommend?

The Ear wants to hear – and so, I suspect, do many of his readers.

Let all of us know in the Comments section.

 


Classical Music: Is Wisconsin Public Radio trying to cut back on classical music to expand news and talk? Look at the schedule changes in its weekday lineup that start Monday, and decide for yourself.

January 11, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Will all the schedule tinkering by Wisconsin Public Radio ever stop or slow down? And what does it all mean? Could WPR’s New and Classical Network (WERN 88.7 FM is the Madison area) be moving bit by bit from classical music to news, talk and popular music and more towards the programming on the AM Ideas Network?

Well, one can hope not, but I fear so. The future will tell and I hope I am wrong. But it sure seems like a good time to raise the question — especially given the remarks at bottom of this posting by WPR’s new director Mike Crane about how easy it is to find alternative sources to radio for listening to music.

WPR Logo

True, Wisconsin Public Radio already boasts more hours of classical music programming than many, maybe even most, public radio stations around the U.S. And we who live in the area and state are deeply grateful for that.

But could it be that after a very successful year of fundraising, which now WPR even trumpets often in ads, that WPR is adopting the salami tactic of gradually reducing its music programming by cutting away thin slices of classical music in order to expand news, talk shows (like the call-in Joy Cardin Show, below) and more popular forms of music?

joy cardin at wpr studio

It sure seems like a solid possibility, given some of the new schedule changes that start Monday and that put one hour LESS of classical music per weekday on the air.

And that comes in the wake of other recent schedules changes that cut back on early morning classical music on the weekends in order to add in “Whad’Ya Know Radio Hour” with Madison celebrity Michael Feldman (below) and “To the Best of Our Knowledge” – not what I like to wake up to. Give me music!

Michael Feldman

Is all this happening because of budget cuts? Staff cuts or staffing changes? Reducing on-duty late afternoon and night hours for local hosts and engineers? It would be good to hear some reasons along with certain of the changes, especially the complete repeating, and then some, of “All Things Considered.” (I love ATC, but enough is enough and I fear somebody has been doing too much focus-grouping with the wrong group.)

It seems like each year brings too much tinkering. In scheduling, predictability would seem a plus, something to strive for in order to build reliable listening habits and popular support.

We’ve been down this road before, many years ago when WPR tried to nix the Saturday afternoon live broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera (below). The public protested strongly, and WPR backed down. But that was two or three directors ago before the affable Mike Crane, and it took place in a different political climate or context.

metropolitan opera 1

These days, many state and national politicians, especially Republicans, want to defund and privatize NPR. They want to make public radio not an alternative to mainstream commercial radio, as it was originally intended to be, but as a competitor with it. Bad idea, says The Ear.

Of course, we all have our personal preferences. I would also like to hear “Exploring Music” during the regular hours of classical music programming; the always entertaining and enlightening “Fresh Air” interviews by Terry Gross (below) interviews seem a greta fit for mid-afternoon when I am most alert: and music rather than talk seems better background during dinner. What are yours?

terry gross Fresh Air

Anyway, here is a summary of the changes, according to a WPR press release:

“Starting, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, Wisconsin Public Radio will make some changes to the schedule on its News and Classical Music stations to provide better service to listeners.

“On weekdays, the afternoon news block will expand until 7 p.m. to provide news for listeners who commute later in the day.

“On Saturday evenings, WPR will extend “Higher Ground” with Madisonian and Edgewood College professor Jonathan Overby (below) an additional hour, to 11 p.m. (Editor’s note: The show features ethnic and world music.)

Jonathan Overby in radio studio

“These changes include an extra hour of NPR’s “All Things Considered” in the afternoon. Currently, the popular NPR news program runs from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The new schedule extends the program from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to help more listeners stay connected to the latest local, national and global news stories that affect their lives and communities.

“The afternoon news block will conclude with “Marketplace” from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The additional hour of news on weekday evenings will shift other programs later in the evening. “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” which currently airs at 6 p.m., will now air from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Exploring Music” with Bill McGlaughlin (below top),” which currently airs at 7 p.m., will now air from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. “Overnight Classical Music” with Peter Van De Graaff (below bottom) will start at 9 p.m.     

Bill McGlaughlin at  microphone

Peter van de Graaff color mug

“Here are News & Classical Music Schedule Changes at a Glance:

“No programs are being cancelled or replaced with these changes — only the scheduled start times are changing. While we are making slight reductions to our music hours, we remain committed to both classical music and jazz programming. You can find more information about these changes, along with answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) here.”

New Weekday Schedule

3 p.m. – “All Things Considered”

6:30 p.m. – “Marketplace”

7 p.m. – “Fresh Air”

8 p.m.  – “Exploring Music”

9 p.m. – “Classical Music with Peter Van de Graaff”*

New Saturday Night Schedule

7 p.m. – “Higher Ground”**

11 p.m. – “Jazz with Bob Parlocha”

On Friday evenings, “Exploring Music” will be followed at 9 p.m. by “Riverwalk” and “Jazz with Bob Parlocha.”

** Listeners to WHAD – WPR’s Ideas Network station in Milwaukee – will also hear an additional hour of “Higher Ground” on Saturday nights. However, the program will be followed by “Tent Show Radio” at 11 p.m. on that station only.

“Let Us Know What You Think” 

“We at Wisconsin Public Radio are excited about the new schedule and hope that you tune in and let us know what you think. Please listen and share your thoughts with us by emailing listener@wpr.org or by calling Audience Services at 1-800-747-7444.”

Please let them know what you do indeed think.

And please let me and other readers and WPR listeners know too.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will make weekend programming changes starting this Friday, Aug. 17. WPR will add “Sunday Brunch,” a new Sunday morning classic music show; and, on Sunday night, will air “From the Top,” the acclaimed national showcase of young musicians with host-pianist Christopher O’Riley.

August 16, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are we classical music fans who live in Wisconsin lucky or what?

Wisconsin Public Radio already provides us with a much higher-than-average amount of classical music than most public radio stations around the country. And now WPR director Mike Crane has announced that, starting this Friday, two more classical music programs will be added.

Here is the official press release that also asks for listener feedback. (The Ear likes the Sunday changes but would still like WPR to air Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air” interviews earlier in the day – preferably mid-afternoon– and not over the dinner hour; and also to air Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” as part of the weekday morning music schedule.)

“Beginning Friday, August 17, Wisconsin Public Radio will introduce some changes to our weekend schedule. They include two new programs and new times for some old favorites on our News and Classical Music stations and regular slots for two of public radio’s most popular programs on our Ideas Network stations.

“News & Classical Music Schedule Changes:
Listeners to our News & Classical Music stations will enjoy two new music programs and have the opportunity to hear some of our most popular programs at new times.

“On Saturdays, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” is moving to 6 a.m. Weekend Edition Saturday will continue to be heard 7-9 a.m. followed by a special edited version of Michael Feldman‘s “Whad’Ya Know?” (below) called the “Whad’Ya Know? Radio Hour” at 9 a.m.

“On Sundays, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” will air for an hour at 6 a.m. Weekend Edition Sunday will continue to be heard 7-9 a.m. followed by another hour of “To the Best of Our Knowledge” at 9 a.m.

“Then, from 10 a.m. to noon, we’ll offer a fresh approach to classical music called “Sunday Brunch.”

“Finally, at 8 p.m., we’re adding “From the Top,” a national showcase of young classical performers hosted by classical pianist Christopher O’Riley (below, with a young gues), who is known for his transcription of rock songs by Radiohead, which he has performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater

“At 9 p.m. the overnight classical music will start — an hour earlier than the current schedule.

Ideas Network Schedule Changes
Listeners to our Ideas: Network stations will experience fewer schedule changes, but we think you’ll be just as excited about them.

“On Friday nights at 7 p.m., the second hour of “On Point” will be replaced by the popular story-telling program, “The Moth Radio Hour.”

“On Saturday afternoons, we’re replacing our rotating one-hour specials with the show that made science fun, “RadioLab,” at 3 p.m. Both of these programs have found time on our airwaves in the past, now we’re pleased to offer them as a regular part of our weekend line up.

Let Us Know What You Think 

“We considered a number of options when making these changes – find answers to frequently asked questions on our website.  We are excited about “From the Top,” “Radiolab” and “The Moth Radio Hour” and the new schedule, and we hope that you will tune in and let us know what you think by emailing listener@wpr.org or by calling Audience Services at 1-800-747-7444.”


Classical Music Alert: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte Quartet plays music by John Harbison and Cesar Franck LIVE tonight, Monday, April 30, from 8 to 10 p.m. at radio station WFMT in Chicago. Here is a link to stream it live.

April 30, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you have been following this blog, you know that this past season has been the historic and landmark centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer).

In four centers over the season, the quartet gave the world premieres of four commissions: two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison; and two piano quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

If you missed the last concert a week ago last Saturday (at bottom) or want to hear it again, you can stream the live concert that the Pro Arte Quartet will perform tonight Monday night, April 30, from 8 to 10 p.m. in the studios of Chicago’s famed classical music radio station WFMT.

The program features the Pro Arte Quartet’s third performance of the String Quartet No. 5, written in 10 short movements, by John Harbison (below). The String Quartet in D Major by the Belgian composer Cesar Franck will also be on the program. The quartet by Haydn, which was such a great counterpart to the Harbison will NOT be performed because of time constraints.

The Pro Arte Quartet, by the way, will also perform John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 this summer at the acclaimed Aspen Festival.

Here is a link — click on the LISTEN LIVE button — to use so you can hear the live Monday night concert by the Pro Arte Quartet as well as much other terrific programming on WFMT, the home of Bill McGlaughlin’s “Exploring Music” that airs weekday nights at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio. (McGlaughlin was the guest lecturer for the concert that featured Paul Schoenfield’s Piano Quintet No. 2 last November.)

http://www.wfmt.com/main.taf?p=4,5,28


Classical music news: The Pro Arte String Quartet, originally from Belgium and now from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is Musician of the Year.

December 30, 2011
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It is the end of the calendar year, though not the end of the concert season.

That makes it time to announce The Ear’s choice for Musician of the Year.

And this year’s Musician of the Year is: The Pro Arte String Quartet. Members (below, from left, in a photo by Rick Langer) are: Perry Karp, cello; Suzanne Beia, second violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; and David Perry, first violin.

I’ll give you more details about the reasons for my choice. But first I have to offer one qualification and one disclosure.

The qualification is that it is very far from easy to pick out one single individual musician or group in a city where the practice of making classical music is so prevalent and takes place on such a high level.

The disclosure is that I am a member of the committee working on the centennial celebration of the string quartet. But speaking frankly, that kind of close work has only given more reasons to make my choice.

So here are several reasons why the Pro Arte Quartet deserves this honor:

1. The Pro Arte Quartet is celebrating its centennial this season. No other quartet in this history of music has ever achieved the milestone of staying active for 100 years. (Below is an excerpt from their 1934 recording, still in print, of the Schumann Piano Quintet with famed pianist Artur Schnabel.)

2. The Pro Arte Quartet embodies in the performing arts the Wisconsin Idea that the university is to serve the larger public that supports it. The quartet is constantly playing, touring and teaching. They are supremely successful ambassadors of the state and the university.

3. The Pro Arte Quartet is celebrating this momentous centennial year  with commissions that will add two new string quartets (by Walter Mays and John Harbison, below) and two new piano quintets (by Paul Schoenfield  and William Bolcom) to the chamber music literature. That important achievement seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the same critics who most protest the lack of new music. But the heritage of the Pro Arte is that it has always pioneered new and modern music, all the way back to Bartok and Schoenberg, and the current configuration is continuing that tradition of innovation.

4. In addition to concerts the Pro Arte Quartet has lined up free lectures by important figures includes NPR host Bill McGlaughlin and New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini (below). In addition the concerts are FREE and open to the public. In short, the Pro Arte Quartet adds to the life of the community through both accessibility and quality.

5. The Pro Arte Quartet changed the business model for just about all string quartets and chamber music ensembles. When in 1940 the members back then (pictured below) were marooned in Madison because Hitler had invaded their native Belgium, they joined the UW-Madison as artists-in-residence—the first such positions to be created. These days, just about every important quartet (the Juilliard, Emerson, Tokyo, St. Lawrence, Takacs, Fine Arts and Brentano quartets, to name just a few prominent examples) has an academic affiliation that allows it to perform and concertize as a string quartet and simultaneously to teach.

6. But that dual role of performer-teacher can exact an exhaisting toll. Many people know that the Pro Arte Quartet plays beautifully, plays exceptionally well. (Just listen to the short Prelude by Ernest Bloch at the bottom of this post.)  But few know that that mastery is the result not only of talent but also of very hard work. The current Pro Arte Quartet (below, by Rick Langer) rehearses every weekday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. Then they still teach and still tour around the state, the nation and the world to perform and to conduct music education education and outreach.

7. For all its devotion to new music and innovation, the Pro Arte Quartet is also unapologetically devoted to the great quartet repertoire of the 18th , 19th and 20th centuries. They have performed complete cycles of Beethoven and Shostakovich. Their programs this year are the very model of smart and balanced programming. Each of the four centennial concerts features a world premiere of a contemporary commission. Each of the four concerts also features an older, more mainstream modern work to which the quartet has a special relationship. (Few people realize, for example, that the Pro Arte Quartet gave the world premiere of the famous ‘Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber – below — in 1936 in Rome.) And each program features a major work by an established classic composer such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

8. The individual Pro Arte members are devoted collaborators who also perform frequently with other performers, from their colleagues at the UW Madison School of Music to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

In short, the four members of the Pro Arte Quartet are the model of well-rounded musicians who are committed to both performing and teaching, to both the past and the present, to both fellow professionals and the general public.

We should all be proud to have the Pro Arte Quartet call Madison and Wisconsin home. It showed great foresight for the University of Wisconsin to recruit them; and it showed great generosity of spirit that the Belgium-born quartet agreed to emigrate permanently to the UW-Madison to pursue their artistry.

The Pro Arte Quartet deserves a much bigger reputation and higher profile than they currently enjoy — locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. Perhaps this post and honor will help achieve that.

Certainly no one in the Madison area who is interested in chamber music and classical music in general should miss Pro Arte concerts. The two remaining sets of centennial events and concerts –  in late March (March 21-25) and late April (April 17-22) – are nothing short of MUST-HEARS. One can also stream the centennial concerts, albeit NOT live, from the UW School of Music website and Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu/events. For more information about the Pro Arte Quartet and its Centennial Celebration,  visit www.proartequartet.org

Why, one can even hope that the 2-CD set of four new commissions the quartet is recording in Mills Hall (below) — with Grammy-winning producer Judith Sherman — will be nominated for, and maybe even win, a Grammy Award next year.

With so many pluses going for the quartet and its music-making, The Ear says it isn’t too soon to start the campaign.

Cheers to the Pro Arte Quartet, now and in 2012!

Cheers to us for being lucky enough to hear them live!


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