The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The acclaimed Madison Choral Project will perform its third annual Holiday Concert this FRIDAY night (NOT Saturday) and Sunday afternoon. It features two world premieres plus readings from Shakespeare, Rumi and the Bible

December 15, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Madison Choral Project (below top), under the direction of its founder and conductor Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom) — who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University — will present two performances of its third annual holiday concert, “A Procession of Angels,” this weekend.

(NOTE: You can hear the Madison Choral Project singing its beautiful a cappella arrangement of the carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Madison Choral Project 5-15 1

Albert Pinsonneault 2

The popular Holiday program will be performed twice in Madison; this Friday night, Dec. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Ave. and again on Sunday night, Dec. 20, at 2:30 p.m. at Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, 110 N. Gammon Rd.

The concerts feature Christmas music, as well as music from other traditions, and TWO WORLD PREMIERES of new compositions: “My Brilliant Image” by Madison composer and MCP singer Jasper Alice Kay (below top); and a new arrangement of “Deck the Hall” by the award-winning composer Jocelyn Hagen (below bottom). Other guests artists are also featured.

Jasper Alice Kay

Jocelyn Hagen

Wisconsin Public Radio‘s news director Noah Ovshinsky (below) again joins the MCP to read selected texts that relate to the theme of the concert. There will also be a chance for the audience to join in on some holiday sing-alongs.

Noah Ovshinsky

Music by composers such as Dominick Argento (below top), Felix Mendelssohn (below bottom), Alexander Sheremetev, William Billings, Ola Gjeilo and Kenneth Jennings, among others, will represent many of the points of view that unite the public in reflection upon the season.

dominick argento 1


Also featured is John Aley (below), a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of music and the virtuoso principal trumpet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and the reading of texts by William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Hildegard von Bingen as well as from the Bible and from the mystic Sufi Arabic and Persian poets Ibn Arabi and Rumi.

john aley color

The Madison Choral Project, founded in 2012, is Madison’s professional choir. Its 22 voices are made up of professional singers, teachers and graduate students from the Madison Area.

The MCP says it “is committed in its mission to enrich lives in our community by giving voice to the great music of our diverse world; to express, to inspire, to heal; to garner joy in the experience of live music; and to educate and strengthen the next generation of singers and listeners.”

Tickets are available in advance at as well as at the door of each performance venue. ($25 at the door, $20 advance tickets and $10 student tickets with student I.D.)

For more information, visit:

Classical music: Learn about the odd history of Frederic Chopin’s heart and its long, eerie journey from France back to Poland.

January 4, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849, below in a photo from 1849) remains one of the greatest and most popular of all classical composers, both for amateurs or students and for professional performers.

As they say, he was “the poet of the piano,” and he composed almost exclusively for that instrument, even revolutionizing and modernizing piano technique through his two books of etudes.


Chopin, who was one of the greatest melody writers in the history of Western music, is also known for his fusing of the clarity and counterpoint of the Baroque and Classical-era styles with the emotion or passion of the Romantic style. Chopin loved the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he did NOT like, admire or play most of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

But Chopin was also a famed dandy who wore a new pair of lavender kid leather gloves every day and who was known for his love affairs. That is probably why some images of Chopin (like the one below from Getty Images) tend to glorify him or idealize him, and to make his as handsome, as beautiful, as his music.

Chopin drawing Getty Images

But most people probably do not know much about his quirkier side.

And nothing in Chopin’s life seems more quirky than his death and The Tale of Chopin’s Heart.

It all stems, as I recall, from his terrifying fear of being buried alive. But then the story gets complicated and involves France and Poland, World War I, the Roman Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.

Here are two links to fill you in.

The first comes from NPR (National Public Radio):

The second comes from The Huffington Post:

There is also research that questions whether Chopin actually died from tuberculosis or from some other malady.

But that is another story from another time.

And here is a YouTube video of the last piece that Chopin composed: His Mazurka in F Minor Op, 68, No. 4, as played by Chopin master Arthur Rubinstein. The mood of the piece seems to fit the sad story.





Classical music: Hallelujah! Two performances of a “Sing-along ‘Messiah’ are slated next Friday night in Dodgeville and next Sunday afternoon in Spring Green.

December 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends in the Rural Musicians Forum (below is a press release with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired logo) write to say:

Rural Messiah 2013 poster 2

Around the world and across the country, the performance of the oratorio “Messiah” by George Friderich Handel (below) at Christmas time is a tradition almost as deeply entrenched as decorating trees and hanging stockings.

This year, for the first time in this area, the Rural Musicians Forum is hosting a “Sing-Out Messiah” with two community “sing-along” performances of “Messiah.”

One will be in Dodgeville on this coming Friday, December 6, at 7 p.m. at the United Methodist Church; the other will be in Spring Green on Sunday, December 8,  at 3 p.m.) at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. 

handel big 3

“Sing-along” concerts have been a popular tradition throughout the United States, Europe and Asia since the mid-20th Century.

Many people have grown up hearing “Messiah” in their homes, churches and communities, and whether they’re accomplished musicians or just shower singers, many love to reconnect to those memories by singing the piece with others.

In a “Sing-along Messiah,” trained and accomplished singers perform side by side with friends and neighbors who could be singing — or even hearing — “Messiah”: for the first time. Families, church groups and even adherents to different religious traditions all take part. (For proof, see the very popular YouTube video with note than 42 million hits at the bottom of a flash mob performance of “The Hallelujah Chorus.)

The audience serves as the unrehearsed chorus, supported by a more carefully prepared core group. Instrumentalists and soloists are of professional quality. 

In Dodgeville and Spring Green, performers will include a chorus drawn from the community, the Pecatonica String Quartet (below), and five soloists, led by Greg Dennis, longtime director of the Mt. Horeb Chorale and UW-Platteville choral department.

Pecatonica String Quartet

Soloists for “Sing Out Messiah” include sopranos Madeline Ehlinger (Spring Green) and Leslie Damaso (Mineral Point), alto Janna Johnson (Arena), bass Carl Leaf (Spring Green) and Matt Roble (Dodgeville/Wisconsin Dells).  Retired UW-Stevens Point piano professor, Michael Keller will accompany.

In the audience will be more than a hundred singers waiting for their turns to sing, and listeners who have the opportunity to sit among the singers. 

In announcing “Sing Out Messiah,” RMF’s Artistic Director Kent Mayfield (below) said, “I love Messiah, and there is something about a full-house doing it that is remarkable.  The joy of singing with a mass of people transcends any kind of choral or vocal ability.  It gives the piece an energy you wouldn’t experience otherwise.  Everyone is welcome to join the singing and everyone is welcome to the performance. As an audience member, no one is required to sing but everyone is certainly invited to sing!”

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

The selections to be sung are listed on the RMF website:

Scores for “Messiah” are available at Arcadia Books in Spring Green and from online vendors.  A limited number of copies will be available at each of the performances on a first-come/first-serve basis.

Tickets are $10 (children under 12 are admitted free) for “Sing Out Messiah” and are available now at the Cook’s Room in Dodgeville, Arcadia Books in Spring Green and online at Tickets will be available at the door in advance of each performance.

Rural messiah 2013 poster 1

Classical music news: This Saturday the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Space Place” will offer FREE background to the Madison Opera’s upcoming production of Philip Glass’ opera “Galileo”

January 9, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The “music of the spheres” may be old metaphor, but it is also a new reality in which classical music and astronomy mix, especially in opera.

Increasingly, it seems like scientists are the equivalent of artist-heroes in the 19th century. They now have the makings of dramatic opera, at least in the 20th century. Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” and John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” about J. Robert Oppenheimer come immediately to mind. And I am sure there are others.

But one of modern operas scientists-heroes is Galileo Galilei (1564-1642, below), the same 16th century Italian pioneering astronomer whose discoveries about  sun-centered solar system were banned by the Roman Catholic Church and who drew the attention of the playwright Bertolt Brecht when he wrote his play “Galileo,” with famed actor Charles Laughton in the title role.

Minimalist composer Philip Glass (below), who turns 75 on Jan. 31, also wrote an opera in 2001 about “Galileo.” And that opera is what the Madison Opera will stage Jan. 26-29 in the Overture Center’s Playhouse. (It is a singular production, since you will not find a recording or pictures from previous productions of Glass’ “Galileo.”)

For information about the opera, the cast, the times and date of performance, and tickets, visit:

You will notice that the Madison Opera is offering an Up-Close preview for “Galileo” on Jan. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. Admission is $20. Here is information about that:

But perhaps even more intriguingly, the Madison Opera and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Space Place, located at 2300 South Park Street, are teaming up to offer a FREE event that explores the discoveries and legacy of Galileo. (A page  from his notebooks is below.)

The program is called “Galileo’s Heavens” and will take place on this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 4 p.m. Space is limited, and the deadline for reservations is this Wednesday.

Reservations can be made online at or by calling Madison Opera at (608) 238-8085.

The opera company hopes to have several singers from the cast there.

Here is a capsule description:

“The adventurous and curious are invited to learn more about Galileo’s work and inventions through a special event hosted by UW Madison’s Space Place.

“Tour the Space Place exhibit hall, receive an introduction to Galileo’s amazing discoveries from Space Place Director, and UW astronomer Dr. James Lattis (below).

“View Jupiter (below top) and Venus (below bottom) through a telescope from the Space Place observation deck (weather permitting).

“In addition to these free activities, you can try your hand at invention and continue astronomical observing at home by purchasing a Galileoscope telescope kit, which Space Place will help you assemble.

“The event (hot cocoa included) is free; the Galileoscope kits are $20 each (cash or check only).

The reservation deadline is this Wednesday, January 11.

The relevant websites to visit for information about the “Galileo’s Heavens” event are:

UW Madison Space Place website:

If you want to know more about the “Galileo-scope” telescope that attendees can build, visit:

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