The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: For 75 years, here is how the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival, where composer John Harbison teaches, emphasizes new music and teaches young composers and student performers.

August 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the closing weekend of this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

The closing “Buoyant Baroque” program, featuring the Lydian Quartet and others performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Arcangelo Corelli and Georg Frideric Handel among others, will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. (The Ear sees that Sunday’s performance is sold out, but you should check for yourself. Sometimes spots open up form cancellations.)

Here is a link to find out more:

American composer John Harbison (below top) is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the festival along with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (below bottom).



Harbison is a very accomplished man and musician. He has played the piano this summer for the festival, and he is also a preeminent contemporary composer who teaches at MIT. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant among his many honors. And at the Token Creek Festival, he is the most enlightening commentator on composers and specific works that The Ear has ever heard.

So it seemed a good time to bring to your attention a story done by NPR or National Public Radio about the Tanglewood Festival of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since it features John Harbison as a major source and interview. This summer the festival turned 75.

Harbison is, after all, the co-director – with fellow composer Michael Gandolfi — of the composing program at Tanglewood Music Center, which is where he often premieres his own new works and where he was busy working just before he came to Madison for the Token Creek Festival.

The Ear finds it interesting to hear how, ever since the festival’s beginning, the creativity of young composers and young performers has always been cultivated and encouraged, with an emphasis on creating new music and keeping the classical music world vibrant and current.

Below is a photo of this summer’s world premiere of a new work by Michael Gandolfi, with famed soprano Dawn Upshaw (on the far right in purple) working with student performers.

Tanglewood at 75 dawn upshaw

Classical music: The Token Creek Festival celebrates Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker this Tuesday afternoon and evening with a forum, a picnic and a recital.

August 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Token Creek Festival write:

On this Tuesday, August 25, the Token Creek Festival shines a lens on one of Wisconsin’s most important artists: the American poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), whose recognition and appreciation have been delayed until recently.

Many poets of the 20th century have worked in what is broadly known as the Imagist mode: short lines, brief phrases, elusively stated thoughts. At its most eloquent it can give us the great range and imagination of William Carlos Williams, as well as decades of other very convincingly compressed writers from Emily Dickinson through Gary Snyder.

lorine niedecker

In Lorine Niedecker we feel the pressure of what has been left out, the hard journey to final shape. We infer a “story” behind it, and we marvel at the courage and art that set it down so briefly.

We can also admire the persistence that drove her to continue to write all through her life, when she received little support or recognition. Niedecker cleaned hospital rooms, and hung barely above the poverty level throughout her life, which she led mainly in a cottage on Blackhawk Island (below) near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. (You can hear a reading of her poem “My Life by Water” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Niedecker cottage Blackhawk Island

According to Ann Engelman, president of the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, she “has been called the poet of place because her imagery is so grounded in the area where she lived. Basil Bunting called her “the Emily Dickinson of this century.”

As an objectivist poet, the simplicity of her images helps us sense our own experiences with the elements around us.” Niedecker (below, in a photo from her later years, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation) had a strange life that included a truncated college education and long stretches of isolation as well as an extended epistolary (and, briefly, physical) friendship with fellow poet Louis Zukofsky; her existence resonates in her verse.

lorine niedecker poetry foundation

Three years ago the Token Creek Festival began a concerted look at the land where the festival takes place (below, in a photo by Jess Anderson), exploring intersections between art and nature. The theme continues in the multi-part Niedecker-inspired event, “Paean to Place,” on this Tuesday.

Token Creek land:barn Jess Anderson

Here is a schedule:

  • 4 p.m. Forum. “Finding Lorine Niedecker” will introduce the poet through audio and video footage. A wide-ranging conversation between biographer Margot Peters and composer John Harbison will explore Niedecker’s work, and the event will conclude with performances of music inspired by, or settings of, her evocative texts.
  • 6 p.m. Picnic. Festival attendees are invited to a first -ever Token Creek picnic at the farm—an elegant feast of savory summer fare.
  • 7:30 p.m. Recital: “Longing for Place.” Pianist Ryan McCollough and soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon are two outstanding performers who represent their own youthful generation, searching for what is best and most characteristic in the work of their time. In 2015 our relationship to the natural world is even more fragile and elusive than it was to Lorine Niedecker. Still artists seek to frame that relationship, and render it with their new developing languages.

McCullough and Fitz Gibbon’s recital on themes of nature and place and longing includes works by Henry Purcell, Kaija Saariaho, Nicholas Vines and Robert Schumann, as well as new song cycles by John Harbison — a co-founder and co-director of the Token Creek Festival — and Niccolo Athens.

Harbison’s settings of Niedecker poems, commissioned by the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Music Festival and premiered there this summer, “let the words speak clearly, syllable by syllable, but he adds expressive space into the texts’ phrases and expands its melodic contours, heightening the sense of the poems being mediums of internal, very personal, monolog” (from the Tanglewood program booklet, July 2015).

Ryan McCullough with piano

Lucy Fitz Gibbon

“Paean to Place” is presented in collaboration with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Tickets are $15-$30 (students $10). Packages are available.

Tickets can be purchased by using the order form at the Token Creek website, by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.


Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The concert venue (below), indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.


TokenCreekbarn interior

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, or by calling 608-241-2525.

Classical music: Here is how you attract African-American and Latino students to classical music.

August 22, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Attracting African-American and Latino students – and audiences – to classical music has been a difficult problem across the nation for a long time.

But thanks to Project STEP in Boston, which started in 1982 and is run through the Boston Symphony Orchestra, progress is being made. STEP recruits children from kindergarten and trains them through graduation from high school. Full parental involvement is required.

Project STEP

In Madison, groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and Madison Music Makers, as well as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, have tackled the same problem.

Perhaps the Boston program — which was recently featured on the PBS NewsHour — holds clues to a successful outcome. It certainly is inspiring to see and hear Project STEP’s success stories. 

Project STEP 2

Here is a YouTube link to the story:


Classical music: Choral music, wind music and brass music add to the season-ending events this super-busy weekend.

April 30, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings more season-closers. The groups concluding their concert seasons include the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales; the Festival Choir of Madison; the UW Chamber Orchestra; and Edgewood College.

Here is a round-up of yet another busy weekend.


On Friday afternoon, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., the last FREE Friday Noon Musicale of the season at the first Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature Driftless Winds, a University of Wisconsin-Platteville Faculty Reed Trio.

Members are Laura Medisky, oboe; Corey Mackey, clarinet; and Jacqueline Wilson, bassoon.

The program, performed in the historic Landmark Auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus, Jacques Ibert, Erwin Schulhoff and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Bring your lunch; coffee and tea are provided.


On Friday night, the Madison Chamber Choir will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church ( . It will be directed by Adam Kluck.

On Friday night, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, the University of Wisconsin-Stout Choirs come to Madison on a mini-tour, with a program titled “An Ode To The Bard: Shakespeare in Music.”

The concert will feature musical settings of Shakespeare’s words, popular music of his time (including tunes that are referenced in his plays), and works inspired by the legacy of William Shakespeare (below).

shakespeare BW

Performers include the Stout Symphonic Singers (an open-seat choir of about 30 singers) and the Stout Chamber Choir (an auditioned choir of 20 singers), both directed by composer-conductor Jerry Hui (below), with pianist Michaela Gifford.

Admission is free with a free-will donation welcomed.

Jerry Hui



On Saturday at 11 a.m. at Oakwood Village West, 6209 Mineral Road, on Madison’s far west side, the UW-Stout Choirs will give a second performance of their Friday night program. See directly above.

On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University String Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under conductor Janet Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on a specific program.

Janet Jensen Katrin Talbot

On Saturday, May 3, at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel at 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble will perform under the direction of Walter Rich and Daniel Wallach.  Included will be works by Paul Dukas, Jenkins, Williams, Van der Roost and Franz von Suppe.

Admission is $7 to benefit music scholarships at the college.

Walter Rich  Edgewood Concert Band 2013-3-22-Band

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., the FESTIVAL CHOIR OF MADISON (below) will conclude its 40th season in the 
First Baptist Church, 
518 North Franklin Avenue, in Madison. It will perform with the Pecatonica String Quartet and winds, and under the baton of artistic director Bryson Mortensen, who is the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County.

The program is entitled “Gloria” and features two Glorias: the well-known one by Antonio Vivaldi and a rarely heard one by Luigi Boccherini. A pre-concert lecture, begins at 6:30 p.m. The Ear hears there will also be an encore performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s “Ave Verum Corpus.”

Tickets are $18 general public, $14 for seniors and $8 for students if bought in advance – call (608) 274-7089; the day of the concert, tickets are $20, $15 and $10, respectively.

For more information, visit the link:


On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Women’s Chorus and the University Chorus will perform a FREE concert under the direction of Anna Volodarskaya and Adam Kluck (below), respectively. Sorry, no word yet on a specific program.

Adam Kluck conducting


On “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from 12:30 to 2 p.m., members of the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will perform the second-to–last concert of that series this season. As always it will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio. The concert itself is FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3. Sorry, no word on a program.


On Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band will perform a FREE concert under director Mike Leckrone (below). Sorry, no word on the program.


On Sunday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Chamber Singers, Men’s Choir, Women’s Choir and Campus-Community Choir.

Kathleen Otterson (below) will conduct the Women’s Choir, while Albert Pinsonneault will lead the Chamber Singers, Campus-Community Choir, and Men’s Choir.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Pinsonneault (below) will also conduct the combined choirs and the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Te Deum.”

Admission is $7 to benefit music scholarships at Edgewood.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

On Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, the Lincoln Chamber Brass of Chicago will perform a FREE concert, just a week before they compete at the prestigious Fischoff Chamber Music Competition.

All of them are members of Civic Orchestra of Chicago; at 21, the horn player already substitutes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Four are students at Northwestern University, the fifth at DePaul. Four of the five, including Ansel Norris, who was born in Madison and in high school studied with UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley, will attend the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival this summer.

Musicians of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. 
The program includes Victor Ewald’s Brass Quintet No. 3; David Sampson’s “Morning Music”; Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” (arranged by Barker); and Giles Farnaby’s Suite of Dances.

Members (below, from left) are Ansel Norris and William Cooper, trumpets;
 Kevin Haseltine, horn; 
Joseph Peterson, trombone; and Scott Hartman, bass trombone.

For more information, visit:

lincoln chamber brass  madison shot

At 7:30 in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform its last concert of the season and its last concert before being either mothballed or terminated.

The performance is FREE and will be under the baton of director James Smith.

The program includes: Jacques Ibert’s “Hommage to Mozart”; Richard Strauss’ “Dance Suite After Francois Couperin”; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E Fat Major. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the first movement performed by the legendary conductor Karl Bohm and the Vienna Philharmonic.)

For more about the news significance of the event, here is a link to yesterday’s blog post:

uw chamber orchestra USE

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Classical music: What music does the assassination of JFK bring to mind for you today on the 50th anniversary of his death?

November 22, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (below), or JFK, in Dallas, Texas.

WH/HO Portrait

It was a momentous event in so many ways for the country. And like many of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news flash of his shocking death.

One of JFK’s legacy, one deeply encouraged and acted on by his First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was to revitalize the American art scene and enhance it with involvement and help from the government.

That so now irks the conservative philistines who want to zero out the budgets for NPR, PBS, the NEA and the NEH, who want an ignorant citizenry that will buy into their distorted lies and mean-spirited stupidities.

But how fitting for the New Frontier was that quiet cultural revolution promoted by JFK during his short tenure in The White House.

Artists responded enthusiastically to JFK and his death. How I recall the music that was put together quickly and performed on the then relatively new medium of television. I think the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi were performed and broadcast, as was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” – a favorite of JFK and a work that was given its world premiere by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet in 1936. Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” were also performed.

Here is a link to a great story on NPR about what music was played in JFK’s hometown of Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Erich Leinsdorf:

I remember the specific works that for me struck the right chords, so to speak, about the murderous death of the President.

One was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below). The whole work is so beautiful and gentle, peaceful and calm – and how we all needed beauty and gentleness, peace and calm, that awful weekend — and it was completely unknown to me.


I liked all the movements. “In Paradiso” was one. But I also liked the “Pie Jesu” and the “Libera me.” But what stuck me most and keeps resonating is the “Sanctus.” Here it is in a YouTube video, and be sure to read the comments from other listeners:

The other work I remember from those events is the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms (below). I had known it before. But this was when it took on real meaning.


I remember hearing and loving the movement “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” But the part that really got me choked up was not that one or the Funeral March or even the fabulous “Here on Earth We Have No Abiding City,” with its fabulous fugue “Death, Where Is Thy Sting; Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?.”

It was the final movement, “Blessed Are The Dead for Their Works Live on After Them.” I loved the secular, but respectful and even loving quality of the text and of course the music. That allowed it to appeal to the entire nation and to all people everywhere around the world, regardless of their faith or beliefs.

It seemed so fitting and so true, then; and it still does now.

Here it is:

What works of classical music come to mind for you when you think of that awful day in Dallas and terrible weekend in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: To mark the World Series in Major League Baseball, two world-class symphonies post a YouTube smack down.

October 25, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, as a friend reminded me, it is here: Time for the World Series in Major League Baseball, of which Game 2 of a possible 7 will have been played by the time most of you read this.

Major League Baseball logo

And the two teams — the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals — that are vying for the world championship trophy (below) both come from cultured cities that boast world-class orchestras: The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

World Series Trophy

I am not really a fan of any baseball team — or of team sports in general —  but I do think baseball appeals to a lot of musicians. I know from personal experience that the superstar violinist  Itzhak Perlman (below) is a big fan who once announced the updated scores of a  world series games with the New York Yankees between pieces  and from the stage of the old Madison Civic Center.

Itzhak Perlman close

I wonder what the appeal of baseball to musicians is.

Maybe it has to do with the rhythm of the game.

For the member of a symphony orchestra or chamber music ensemble, maybe it is the team aspect.

For individuals, maybe what matters is the same kind of hand-eye coordination on which so much music-making on instruments depends – as does pocket pool, archery and target shooting, all of which I also like.

In fact, avid pianist that I am, I love watching baseball pitchers – like the great retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (below)  —  but only at home on TV where I can see the pitches relatively close up and also check how the speed is measured and the contortions that batters have to go through to hit the ball.

Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Hit the ball.

Easy game, right?


baseball pitcher mariano rivera

Anyway here, at the bottom, is the World Series Symphony Smack Down is a link to a story — with some surprises — on The New York Times music blog and to the video (which has overtones of the gang warfare in Leonard Bernstein‘s “West Side Story”)  on YouTube.

Listen and tell me in the comments section why your think so many classical musicians like baseball?

And which city has the better symphony as well as baseball team? In other words, no matter who wins the series, I want to know who you think wins the Symphony Smack Down

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Boston Symphony’s outdoor festival Tanglewood marks 75 years by repeating the inaugural program. Also, the festival’s gala concert marking the 75th anniversary will be broadcast on PBS.

July 15, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Outdoor classical music festivals were not always as popular and commonplace as they are today.

In fact, the granddaddy of them all is Tanglewood — named after writer Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s nearby cottage — that is held in Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains by the venerable Boston Symphony Orchestra. BSO conductor Serge Koussevitsky started it with an all-Beethoven program, which included the beloved and appropriate Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale,” in 1937.

How fitting, then, was it for conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi (below, in a photo by Hilary Scott for the Boston Symphony) on July 6 to re-create that inaugural all-Beethoven program for the opening on July 6  of Tanglewood’s 75th anniversary season. (You can hear it via streaming from a link of the NPR blog listed below.)

Another gala concert, performed last night, July 14, to mark the 75th anniversary of Tanglewood — with three orchestras, five conductors and five guest soloists including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Emanuel Ax — was videotaped for later broadcast on PBS as part of its “Great Performances” series.

(The all-Beethoven concert was NOT taped for TV broadcast, contrary to what it first said here. I apologize for the error.) The gala concert is slated to air at 8 p.m. EDT on Friday, August 10, though you should check your local PBS listings and schedules. (In Wisconsin, the CDT time is 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. — a terrible time that guarantees almost no audience! So much for Wisconsin Public Television‘s much-hyped “Summer of the Arts” programming.) You will also be able to also stream both the July 6 all-Beethoven concert and the July 14 gala concert via Wisconsin Public Radio or via WGBH in Boston, below:

All of WGBH’ Boston Symphony on-demand content can be found at:

On Saturday morning, yesterday, NPR featured a profile of the festival’s anniversary, complete with sound samplings that give you the best idea that The Ear has ever heard of what it is like to attend the festival as a listener or visit, or to be part of it as a performer or student.

In addition, it featured some music by composer John Harbison, who is also known to Madison-area fans as the co-director of the upcoming Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Here is a link to the story about Tanglewood’s great history and great music now located on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog. Enjoy!

Also be sure to check out some extra links, including a photo essay of 75 years at Tanglewood, at the bottom of the story.

Classical music news: John Harbison’s Symphony No. 6 gets rave reviews at its world premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

January 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

To many Madison-area residents and local classical music fans, John Harbison may be best known as the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival each summer during which he gives excellent talks, plays jazz and serves as a violist.

Yet John Harbison (below) is far better known throughout the rest of the world as a composer—and a very fine, respected and yes, frequently performed, composer. Many people forget that he has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and that he remains a favorite of Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine, who commissioned Harbison’s opera “The Great Gatsby” to kick off the millennium in 2000.

He continues to teach at MIT and concertizes, especially with the music of Bach, but Harbison is busier than ever with composing new commissions.

This last week saw the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which, under Levine’s direction, started last season to hold a complete retrospective of Harbison’s symphonies.

For health reasons, Levine has left the Boston post, as well as the Met post for next season. But the reviews for the performance under conductor David Zinman and with mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy, are in and they are by and large very positive and agree that Harbison is not a composer to rest on his laurels or repeat himself.

Some critics even called the work, which used both an orchestra and a mezzo-soprano, a “masterpiece” and described it as “powerful.” Below is John Harbison coaching during a rehearsal.

You can read some of the reviews for yourself:

Here is also a good set-up or background piece with Harbison talking about his own new symphony (below he takes a bow with the conductor and singer who performed the world premiere of his Symphony No. 6):

And the world premiere for John Harbison aren’t over by any means. On Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, in a FREE and PUBLIC concert, Habison’s 10-movement String Quartet No. 5 will receive its world premiere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer). The Pro Arte Quartet commissioned the work to celebrate its centennial this season.

For details of that FREE and public performance and other centennial events, visit:

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