The Well-Tempered Ear

Too bad the Wisconsin Union Theater didn’t book a great pianist for next season

May 21, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

“We are living in a Golden Age of pianists,”  famed concert pianist, Juilliard teacher and frequent Madison performer Emanuel Ax (below) has said.

He should know. But you would never guess that from the recently announced next season at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below).

The WUT has not booked a solo pianist for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a link to the lineup for the next season:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/

Is The Ear the only one who has noticed and is disappointed?

Who else feels bad about it?

After all, this is the same presenting organization that brought to Madison such legendary pianists as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Percy Grainger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Dame Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Robert Casadesus, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, Alexander Brailowsky, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Byron Janis, Misha Dichter, Peter Serkin, André Watts, Lili Kraus and Garrick Ohlsson

It is the same hall (below) in which The Ear has heard Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Valentina Lisitsa, Andras Schiff, Joyce Yang, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Richard Goode, Leon Fleisher, Simone Dinnerstein, Wu Han and so many other great and memorable names including, of course, Emanuel Ax.

What a history!

As you can see and as The Ear likes to say, the Wisconsin Union Theater is “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” For over 100 years, it is where the great ones play.

One irony is that many of those former bookings of pianists took place when the University of Wisconsin School of Music had many more pianists on the faculty and provided a major alternative venue for piano recitals.

Another irony is that so many young people take piano lessons (below) and are apt to want to attend, probably with their parents, to hear a live professional concert piano recital. You would think the WUT would also see the advantages of having such community outreach links to the public and to music education, especially since the WUT has hosted Open Piano Day for the public. (See the YouTube video of a Channel 3000 story in February 2020 at the bottom.)

From what The Ear reads, there are lots of up-and-coming pianists, many affordable names of various winners of national and international competitions. They should be affordable as well as worthy of being introduced to the Madison public.

But that seems a mission now largely left to the Salon Piano Series.

Plus, so many of the new pianists are young Asians who have never appeared here, which should be another draw for the socially responsible and diversity-minded WUT.

But that is another story for another day.

What do you think of the WUT not presenting a solo pianist next season?

Maybe there will be a pianist booked for the 2023-24 season.

What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming committee?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July?

May 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The famed International Tchaikovsky Competition has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions

April 25, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the granddaddies of all international music competitions — probably the best known and most prestigious — has been disowned.

The International Tchaikovsky Competition — the one that catapulted the young American pianist and first winner Van Cliburn (below, during the competition) to worldwide fame during the height of the Cold War, for which he received the only ticker tape parade in New York City ever given to a musician — has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions, which was founded in 1957 and represents 110 music competitions and programs to help young musicians build a career.

The move comes in response to recent events in Ukraine — including alleged Russian war crimes during its brutal, deadly and unprovoked invasion.

The famed Tchaikovsky Competition — which started in 1958 and is now for pianists, violinists, cellists, vocalists as well as woodwind and brass players — is held in Moscow and St. Petersburg and is financed and organized by the Russian government. It has launched the careers on many great musicians.

It is co-chaired by the discredited Russian conductor Valery Gergiev  (below right, in 2014), a close friend and avid supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin (below left) and of the conflict in Ukraine.

The expulsion came about because the Tchaikovsky Competition refused to condemn the Russian invasion, as the federation requested.

Here is a link to the story that was published on the website Classical Music, an online publication of the BBC Music Magazine. It contains background on both the competition and the current state of affairs regarding Russian musicians and the Russian conflict in Ukraine. It has a lot of noteworthy links:

https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classical-music.com%2Fnews%2Finternational-tchaikovsky-competition-expelled-from-world-federation-of-international-music-competitions%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7C6c24b49a0d734e9d8cba08da23b1b885%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637861543449919994%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=RO2i3yy3HKXFxzEBotr4wTvrEONBM0%2FqUjxqt5CPhQc%3D&reserved=0

And here is the response from the organizers of the Russian competition, which takes place every four years. The 16th competition was held in 2019, and the 17th is still scheduled for 2023. (The announcement of the 2019 piano winners — by the Russian former piano winner Denis Matsuev, who has been boycotted because of Ukraine — is in the YouTube-Medici.TV video at the bottom.)

The response — which accuses the federation of “persecuting” Russian musicians and promises that it will be held as usual and remain open to contestants worldwide — is posted on the competition’s website:

https://tchaikovskycompetition.com/en/news/415.htm

It makes one wonder what the effects on the next Tchaikovsky competition will be.

Will potential jurors outside Russia boycott the competition?

Will non-Russian contestants — with the exception perhaps on Chinese and Belarusian performers — avoid participating?

And what will be the effect on the inaugural Rachmaninoff Competition for pianists, composers and conductors that is scheduled to take place this June in Moscow?

What do you think?

Is it the right call by the international federation?

Or the wrong call?

Why do you think so?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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How will you celebrate World Piano Day today?

March 29, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Tuesday, March 29, 2022 — is World Piano Day.

(Below is a restored vintage concert grand piano at Farley’s House of Pianos used for recitals in the Salon Piano Series.)

How will you mark it? Celebrate it?

It’s a fine occasion to revisit your favorite pianist and favorite piano pieces.

Who is your favorite pianist, and what piano piece would you like to hear today?

If you yourself took piano lessons or continue to play, what piece would you play to mark the occasion? Fo the Ear, it will be either a mazurka by Chopin or a movement from either a French Suite or a Partita by Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe both!

What piano piece do you wish you could play, but never were able to? For The Ear, it would be the Ballade No. 4 in F minor by Chopin.

One of the best ways to mark the day is to learn about a new younger pianist you might not have heard of.

For The Ear, one outstanding candidate would be the Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson ( below), who has won critical acclaim and who records for Deutsche Grammophon (DG). 

Olafsson has a particular knack for innovative and creative programming, like his CD that alternates works by Claude Debussy and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

He also seems at home at in many different stylistic periods. His records every thing from Baroque masters, to Mozart and his contemporaries in the Classical period — including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — to Impressionists to the contemporary composer Philip Glass.

But The Ear especially loves his anthology of Bach pieces (below) that include original works and transcriptions, including some arranged by himself. His playing is always precise and convincing, and has the kind of cool water-clear sound that many will identify with Andras Schiff.

You can hear a sample of his beautiful playing for yourself in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is an live-performance encore from his inaugural appearance last August at The Proms in London, where he also played Mozart’s dramatically gorgeous Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (also available on YouTube.)

Final word: You might find some terrific pianists and performances on the Internet. Record labels, performing venues and other organizations are marking the day with special FREE recitals that you can reach through Google and Instagram.

Happy playing!

Happy listening!

Please leave a comment and let The Ear and other readers know what you think of the piano — which seems to be falling out of favor these days — and which pianists and piano pieces you will identify this year with World Piano Day.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Just Bach free concert series seeks Interim Co-Artistic Director. Apply by July 5

June 23, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an interim job at Just Bach:

Do you love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)? 

Would you love to perform it every month in one of the most beautiful churches (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) in Madison?

Are you a professional instrumentalist with training and experience in period performance practice?

Do you have strong organizational skills?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then Just Bach needs you!

Because Co-Artistic Director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) will leave on a sabbatical starting in November, Just Bach is looking for an instrumentalist to join the Artistic Team. (You can check out the typical format by using the search engine on this blog or going to Just Bach’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel.)

 

The popular monthly concert series, which made it to the final round of the 2021 “Best of Madison” awards, seeks an Interim Artistic Co-Director for its upcoming fourth season.

POSITION SUMMARY

The Interim Artistic Co-Director works with the Just Bach team and the staff at Luther Memorial Church to program, produce, promote and perform monthly Bach concerts (below) from September through May.

The Interim Co-Artistic Director helps finalize the programming, contract any remaining needed players, schedule rehearsals and performances, perform in the concerts as needed, and upload the concert video to the Just Bach YouTube channel.

The Co-Artistic Director devotes about 4 hours per month to administrative tasks, on a volunteer basis.

The Co-Artistic Director rehearses and performs as needed in the monthly concerts — and is paid $100 per concert. (You can hear and see the closing concert of this past season in the YouTube video at the bottom. Click on Show More to see other instruments, players, singers and the program.)

The current Artistic Team will provide training for this position, and will be available for assistance once the season begins.

A detailed job description is available at:: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDis-RSY5FUnfUGCBvYunWZ1fR4EtyfzSo3xYiMyjUs/edit#

For more information, please contact and apply to Just Bach at: justbachseries@gmail.com

APPLICATION ARE DUE BY JULY 5.


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Middleton Community Orchestra performs the second of four FREE outdoor summer concerts at Firemen’s Park this Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

June 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Firemen’s Park, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO) will give the second of its FREE four summer outdoors concerts.

Besides the fact that the day is Father’s Day holiday, weather predictions also call for a good chance of rain or even thunderstorms.

Updates on whether the concert will take place, be cancelled or postponed to a later date, can be found by checking the MCO’s website at 10 a.m.: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Meanwhile, here are the programs, conductors and soloists for the remaining three concerts. All concerts take place in Firemen’s Park in Middleton close to Middleton High School:

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (revised program)

Sergei Pavlov (below), conductor and professor at Edgewood College

George Walker – “Lyric for Strings”

Ralph Vaughan Williams – “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Giacomo Puccini – Lauretta’s aria from “Gianni Schicchi”; Mimi’s aria in Act 3 and Musetta’s aria in Act 2 from “La Boheme” with soprano Yanzel Rivera (below).

Selections from the Pixar movie COCO (piano and strings)

 

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JULY 25, 11:30 – a.m.-1 p.m.

Chris Ramaekers  (below),  conductor and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky – “March Slav”

Carl Maria von Weber — Clarinet Concerto No. 2 with soloist and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist JJ Koh (below)

Tchaikovsky — Symphony No. 2  “Little Russian”          

CONCERT 4 – SUNDAY, AUG. 15, 11:30-1 p.m.

Sergei Pavlov, conductor 

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist and UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below)


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Going live! Here are some links to newly announced summer concerts and 2021-22 seasons

June 15, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Now that the pandemic is fast abating, at least locally, music groups and music presenters in the Madison area have been announcing a return to live music and their new seasons and summer events in a relentless way.

The Ear had been out of commission since mid-May until this week. But in any case, The Ear was overwhelmed and just couldn’t keep up with a separate post for each one.

Still, he thought it might be helpful to be able to check the dates, performers, programs, tickets and other information in one place.

Remember that the Madison Early Music Festival is no more. It has been absorbed into the regular music curriculum at the UW.

Please know that many groups – including, but not limited to, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music (below is the UW Symphony Orchestra — masked, socially distanced and virtually streamed — during the pandemic), University Opera, Edgewood College, Just Bach, Grace Presents, the Salon Piano Series, the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Bach Around the Clock, the Festival Choir of Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and the Madison Bach Musicians – have not yet released details of their new seasons.

But most of their websites say that an announcement of their new season is coming soon.

There are also some trends you may notice.

Many of the groups are raising prices and persistently seek donations as well as subscribers, no doubt to help make up for the loss of revenue during the pandemic.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have reduced the number of concerts or start later.

Some have simply rescheduled events, like the Wisconsin Union  Theater closing its season with soprano Renée Fleming. And the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s new season is largely the same one they were planning to have to celebrate the Beethoven Year in 2020-21.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players all have pop-up concerts and scheduled outdoor concerts in parks. Some have also scheduled individual mini-concerts or personal sessions.

If you look at programs, you will see an emphasis on Black composers and performers by almost all groups. (The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scheduled “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, below. You can hear it performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

What is most disappointing is that no group seems to have announced a special concert or event to pay homage to the public ordeal, health care workers and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ear keeps thinking a performance of a suitable requiem (by perhaps Mozart, Faure, Brahms, Verdi or Britten) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would have been an appropriate way to start the in-person season and, at the same time, acknowledge the more than 7,000 deaths in Wisconsin and almost 600,000 deaths in the U.S. and almost 4 million worldwide as of now. Maybe even Barber’s overplayed Adagio for Strings would suffice.

Finally, very few groups seem to be offering online virtual concert attendance as a possibility for those listeners who found that they actually enjoyed at least some the  music in their own homes and at their own times.

IN ANY CASE, HERE IS WHAT HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE OR IS STILL ON TAP. CHECK IT OUT! 

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in free live and for-pay recorded concertshttps://bachdancing.org

Middleton Community Orchestra’s summer concerts at Fireman’s Park (below) in Middleton: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Madison Bach Musicians summer workshops (below): https://madisonbachmusicians.org/2021-summer-chamber-music-workshop/

Concerts on the Square with limited paid admission at Breese Stevens Field (below): https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/madison-symphony-orchestra-concerts/

Madison Opera and Opera in the Park (below): https://www.madisonopera.org/oitp21/; and https://www.madisonopera.org/21-22/

Wisconsin Union Theater: https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Willy Street Chamber Players (below) at Orton Park: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/2021-summer-concert-series.html

If you know of more entries or have observations to make about these, please leave word and, when possible, a link in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Salon Piano Series posts pianist Kangwoo Jin playing the Liszt transcription of Schumann’s song “Dedication”

June 13, 2021
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has the following announcement to post from the Salon Piano Series.

As the series has done during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is offering a FREE excerpt from a past concert.

In this case, it is the South Korean pianist Kangwoo Jin (below, in a photo by Andy Manis) playing Franz Liszt’s solo piano transcription of Robert Schumann’s song “Widmung” (Dedication). which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is a sensitive and lyrical performance full of unrushed songfulness.

It is often used as an encore, and was a favorite of Van Cliburn and others.

Here it was part of a larger program that Jin – who last summer received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music — did virtually and only during the pandemic.

For more information about the complete concert, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2021/04/22/this-sunday-at-4-p-m-the-salon-piano-series-debuts-an-online-recital-by-pianist-kangwoo-jin-he-plays-music-by-scarlatti-beethoven-liszt-and-schumann-it-will-be-available-until-may-9/

Here is the announcement from the Salon Piano Series, which is sponsored by and held at Farley’s House of Pianos on Madison’s far west side near West Towne:

Please take a break from your day to see and hear Kangwoo Jin perform a portion of Franz Liszt’s Transcriptions for Piano.

This video was recorded (below), without an audience, at Luther Memorial Church on April 15, 2021 as part of the Salon Piano Series.

Over the years, many of you have supported the Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships and donations.

We look forward to bringing you world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

Please stay tuned for the announcement of our 2021-22 season.

Sincerely,

Salon Piano Series


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Longtime friends organist Greg Zelek and Madison native and award-winning trumpeter Ansel Norris team up for a FREE live-streamed concert this Tuesday night

April 26, 2021
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two longtime friends and fellow musicians will team up this Tuesday night, April 27, to close this season’s organ concert series, sponsored in the Overture Center by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It will be live-streamed online because of the pandemic restrictions on attendance.

The concert features the critically acclaimed MSO organist Greg Zelek (below left) and Ansel Norris (below right), an award-winning trumpeter who is a native of Madison.

The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and Samuel Barber among others.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT. It is FREE but you must register. The concert will be available to registered listeners for unlimited access through May 31.

Here is a link to the MSO website where you can register. It also has more information about the program and biographies of the two performers: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/norris-zelek-2021-streamed/

Here is more background. It appeared in the latest issue of the email newsletter of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which Norris was a member for many years:

Ansel Norris and Greg Zelek first met in 2010 as high school seniors who had both been selected as finalists in the YoungARTS Awards. The YoungARTS Award is a big competition with just a small percentage of students selected for the $10,000 prize from the thousands of high school applicants. In classical music that year, 12 students became finalists and assembled in Miami for a week of master classes with internationally recognized arts leaders.

Ansel Norris attended as an outstanding trumpeter from Madison East High School and Greg Zelek attended as an outstanding high school organist from the New World School of the Arts in Coral Gables, Florida. 

We hit it off right away and it came to me later what a great story this was,” Norris (below) mused. “Greg had grown up in south Florida and now was living in Madison, and I had grown up in Madison and was now living in south Florida.

“You know, there really is a synergy with trumpet and organ. The sounds are produced in a similar way and the way the sounds blend together is really special. Even then, I imagined a concert together.” 

Ten years later, the two friends were dreaming up this concert when Greg was in Miami in February, 2020. And then the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Norris has distinguished himself as a solo, orchestral and chamber musician.

After graduating from East High School in Madison, he attended Northwestern University, from which he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music in 2016.  From there he attended Rice University in 2019. Twice he was the first-prize winner at the National Trumpet Competition and a winner of the New World Symphony’s Concerto Competition. Then, at 26 years old, he became the first-ever American prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition’s Brass division. (You can hear Norris perform in the competition’s semi-finals in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Playing as soloist with orchestras is a special pleasure for Ansel, and he has enjoyed performances in front of the Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony and his hometown Madison Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. Also a chamber musician, Ansel won a Bronze Medal at the Fischoff International Competition with his friends from the Lincoln Chamber Brass.

Ansel Norris currently resides in Naples, Florida, where he enjoys an eclectic musical career with the Naples Philharmonic. In a place without cold weather, the Naples orchestra could potentially play music safely outside all winter. But Ansel shook his head, “For the most part we’ve been indoors. The orchestra gets tested for COVID each week and we play on a stage with musicians spaced 10 feet apart. HEPA filters are positioned everywhere. Playing 10 feet apart is just crazy. You absolutely cannot depend on the musical cues you were trained to depend on.”

Norris remembers growing up in Madison where there was a “fine legacy for trumpet players. It was so great I didn’t want to go away to Interlochen, even with a full scholarship.” He studied privately with John Aley and attended WYSO rehearsals on Saturdays, which he absolutely loved. 

And now this Tuesday, this 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition finalist will be returning to the Overture stage with his good friend Greg Zelek, who are both amazing and accomplished young musicians.

As Greg Zelek (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) writes: “Concerti of Bach and Haydn will bookend this program filled with music that is both written and arranged for this electrifying pairing of instruments. Mr. Norris’ remarkable technique and soaring lyricism will be on full display while our Mighty Klais both supports and shimmers in this exhilarating performance you won’t want to miss!” Register here for Tuesday’s concert! 


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