The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s Valentine’s Day 2018. Let us now praise musical couples and say what music we would play to celebrate romantic love

February 14, 2018

ALERT: If you are a fan of new music, you might not want to miss a FREE concert this Thursday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.

The program of “Ideas and Landscapes,” assembled and directed by UW’s award-winning composer Laura Schwendinger, includes works by UW students and alumni as well as a world premiere of a work for solo oboe by Schwendinger herself.

For more details about the composers, the performers and the complete program, go to:

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Valentine’s Day 2018, and music plays a big role in celebrating the holiday — as the portrait of Cupid (below) expresses.

This week, musician and teacher Miles Hoffman was featured by National Public Radio (NPR) on the program “Morning Edition” with a most appropriate story about famous musical couples who were also linked romantically.

The Ear was particularly pleased that a same-sex couple  – British composer Benjamin Britten (below left) and British tenor Peter Pears (below right) — was recognized during this time when the homophobic administration of President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence keeps attacking the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people under the guise of protecting and promoting religious tolerance. The leaders use the concept of religious freedom as camouflage for bigotry, zealotry and prejudice. 

But more conventional and traditional couples were also recognized, and deservedly so.

Here is a link to the story that also contains some wonderful musical samples:

And here is what The Ear wants to know:

First: Can you think of other musical couples – especially local ones — to single out for recognition on Valentine’s Day? The Karp family as well as pianists-singers Bill Lutes and Martha Fischer plus singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe, conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz, and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino and cellist Leonardo Altino all come immediately to mind. But surely there are others The Ear has overlooked.

Second: What piece of classical music would you listen to or play in order to express love for your Valentine?

Leave the names and information, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir perform Handel’s “Messiah” this Friday night

December 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was originally intended to be performed at Easter. But is there any piece of holiday music more reliable or more central to the Christmas repertoire than “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel (below bottom)?

It seems neither the performers nor the public ever tires of it. (You can hear the iconic “Hallelujah Chorus” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. “Messiah” returns for its eighth year at Blackhawk Church (below) past Madison’s far west side and located in Middleton.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), choirs and soloists will all perform under WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below).

Returning will be last year’s vocal quartet with the combined WCO Chorus and Festival Choir of Madison (below) under directors Scott Foss and Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov.

Tickets are $27. The event usually sells out.

For more information about how to obtain tickets as well as photos and extensive background about the soloists, go to:

Classical music: The legendary St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig will perform Reformation music at Luther Memorial Church this Sunday night

November 14, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Luther Memorial Church will host the historic and legendary St. Thomas Boys Choir (Thomanerchor) of Leipzig, Germany.

The famed boychoir will perform this coming Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave.

The program will present music of Johann Sebastian Bach (the motets “Fürchte dich nicht,” “Komm, Jesu, komm” and “Der Geist hilft”) and unspecified choral music of Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schein and Felix Mendelssohn.

Tickets are available at at $20, $30 and $50. Student rush tickets will be available day of concert.

The St. Thomas Boys Choir (Thomanerchor) of Leipzig, Germany, was founded in 1212. Johann Sebastian Bach (below) served as Thomaskantor, director of the choir, from 1723 to 1750. (For more background about the group, its pedigree and the music of Bach, see the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Classical music: Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble to bring ‘Music of the Reformation’ to four Wisconsin cities, including Madison, Oct. 27–29

October 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble (below) will perform a late-October series of FREE public concerts in four Wisconsin cities featuring music by composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn and others in a centuries-spanning program titled “Music of the Reformation.”

Performances will take place Friday, Oct. 27, in Appleton; Saturday, Oct. 28, in Delafield and Watertown; and Sunday, Oct. 29, in Madison.

“The hour-long concert program commemorates the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany in 1517,” said Rodney Holmes, founder and artistic director of the Gargoyle ensemble. “Audiences will hear works embracing the most famous melodies written by Reformation leader Martin Luther (below), who was a composer as well as a religious figure.”

The program includes James Curnow’s contemporary “Rejouissance: Fantasia on ‘Ein feste Burg’ (A Mighty Fortress)” for organ; Heinrich Schütz’s “Three Becker Psalms,” Op. 5, a Baroque work for brass quartet; Bach’s Canonic Variations on “Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her” (“From Heaven above to Earth I come”), BWV 769, for organ; and Otto Nicolai’s early Romantic “Ecclesiastical Festival Overture on the chorale ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,’” Op. 31, arranged for brass and organ by Craig Garner.

Also on the program are: Max Reger’s late Romantic “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,” Op. 27, for organ; Randall E. Faust’s contemporary “Fantasy” on the hymn “Von Himmel hoch,” for horn and organ; and Garner’s brass and organ arrangement, “Introduction and Finale,” from Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, “Reformation,” Op. 107.

Performers will include Madison-based organist Jared Stellmacher (below), an award-winning musician heard on the Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble’s critically acclaimed 2015 debut CD “Flourishes, Tales and Symphonies.” He holds a master’s degree in music from Yale University.

Gargoyle brass players will include trumpeters Lev Garbar and Andrew Hunter, horn player Kathryn Swope, trombonist Karen Mari, and artistic director Holmes on tuba.


Here are the dates, times, and locations of the Gargoyle ensemble’s “Music of the Reformation” concerts, with local contact information. No tickets or reservations are required for these FREE events:

*Friday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 912 North Oneida Street, in Appleton, Wis., 54911.

Contact: Matthew Walsh, 920-739-3104

*Saturday, Oct. 28, at 3 p.m. at Christ the King Lutheran Church, 1600 North Genesee Street, in Delafield, WI 53018

Contact: Mark Gould, 262-646-2343

*Saturday, Oct. 28, at 6:30 p.m. at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, 204 North Tenth Street, Watertown, WI 53094

Contact: Janis Shackley, 920-261-1663

*Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 5701 Raymond Road, Madison, WI 53711

Contact: Jared Stellmacher, 608-271-6633

Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble

“The Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble plays with warmth, elegance, and panache,” said U.S. music magazine Fanfare in a review of the ensemble’s debut CD. “[They] are perfect companions for the music lover in need of calming nourishment.”

The group takes its whimsical name from the stone figures atop gothic buildings at the University of Chicago, where the now-professional ensemble got its start in 1992 as a brass quintet of faculty and students. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Under its founder and artistic director Rodney Holmes, it has evolved over the decades into an independent organization of classically trained musicians that focuses on commissioning and performing groundbreaking new works and arrangements for brass and pipe organ. You can find more information at

Classical music: A new recording of Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil” captures the Russian qualities the composer prized in this sacred music

April 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a record review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

For reasons, astronomical and cultural, the Western and Eastern Orthodox celebrations of Easter are frequently held at separate dates. But this year they coincide (on this coming Sunday, April 16). That gives good reason to direct attention beyond familiar Western Easter music and instead to that of Eastern Orthodoxy.

A new recording of one of the landmarks of Russian Orthodox music provides further stimulus to this.

Russian Orthodox practice did not encourage extensive new compositions, but stressed elaborate liturgical rituals built around the heritage of medieval monophonic chant, while benefiting from the fabulous style of Russian choral singing—those low basses (“octavists”) in particular.

Most composers who worked to enrich the liturgical literature were professional church musicians, but a number of “secular” Russian composers also made contributions. Notable among them were Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below).

It is the last of those three who has given us the music at hand, a truly memorable sacred creation. The work is his Op. 37, entitled “The Most Important Hymns of the ‘All-Night Vigil,” and commonly called “The All-Night Vigil” (Vsenoshchnogo Bdeniya) or else, more simplistically the “Vespers.”

It was composed during the early years of World War I, which was to bring about the collapse of the Russia that Rachmaninoff knew. It was performed in 1915, and two years later, amid the upheavals of the two Revolutions, the composer left his native land for good.

Rachmaninoff prized his Op. 37 above his other works; it was his proclamation of Russian identity, and after it he wrote no more sacred music. He even hoped that one section of it could be sung at his funeral. (A moving sample can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Orthodox Christian celebration of the Resurrection places emphasis on the Saturday night offices of Vespers and Matins, in a prolonged and elaborate ritual. (This Vigil array can also be used for other significant feasts beyond Easter.)

Given the lengths, Rachmaninoff chose to set his selection of “the most important hymns” for his Op. 37, for a total of 15 sections. He did follow working practice by building his settings on or around traditional chant melodies. He expected that individual sections might have liturgical usage; but he understood that the totality was a grand concert work.

The Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil, or “Vespers,” has been recorded many times, often by Russian choirs, which have the musical and liturgical style in their blood. But non-Russian groups and directors have also come to recognize the transcendent beauty of this masterwork.

Noteworthy among those was Robert Shaw, the great American choral master whose recording (on the Telarc label) has been acclaimed by his admirers for its predictably superb choral sound. But Shaw and his singers lack Russian sound or spiritual sensitivity.

Other American performers have joined in: the broadly paced recording with Charles Bruffy and his Phoenix and Kansas City choirs (for Chandos) is notable. Paul Hillier’s recording (for Harmonia Mundi) with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir has earned great respect.

I have just been taken by the brand new release (below) from Paraclete Recordings of Massachusetts, with the Gloria Dei Cantores and members of three other choirs under the direction of Peter Jermihov.

They number 77 singers in all and, as recorded in a church setting, they make a sumptuous sound. Their emphasis is less on clarifying individual voice parts and more on relishing the rich blends that make up the total texture.

While treating the work as a grand concert piece, this performance goes beyond most others by including intonations by clerical celebrants, recalling the liturgical context that was always in the composer’s mind.

One of the striking features of this release is its thick album booklet. This is not only richly illustrated but contains an unusually penetrating background essay. Further, in presenting the Russian texts (in Cyrillic and transliteration) with English translations, it also gives useful comments section by section, for the fullest understanding of the liturgical contexts.

This is a noteworthy addition to the crowded recording picture for this sumptuous and deeply moving sacred music.

Classical music: What is your favorite Easter music? There is so much to choose from. Here are two samplers.

March 27, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.

Easter Sunday

You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.

Easter lily

Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)

There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Heinrich Biber

Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.

But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.

For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.


But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.

Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:

And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.

Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.

Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:

What piece of music is your Easter favorite?

Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Conservative Republican presidential candidate and Evangelical Christian Ted Cruz wants to ban the tritone – or Devil’s chord – from classical music. NOT. Then again, maybe he does

March 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.

So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Sure, it’s a satire.

But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic  Church.

But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.

Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.

Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?

To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.

And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.

Here is the satire from It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.

And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:

Classical music: The Edgewood College Chamber Singers will make history when it performs by invitation at a sacred music festival in Quito, Ecuador later this month.

March 5, 2016

A REQUEST: The Well-Tempered Ear blog is within 10 subscriptions of breaking 1,000. That would be so encouraging! The Ear wonders if either you or friends of yours who read the blog regularly might subscribe and help him meet the goal?

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has just a small — yet big — news item to pass along today:

The Edgewood College Chamber Singers (below) will perform by invitation later this month at the International Sacred Music Festival in Quito, Ecuador.

Edgewood Chamber Singers.jpeg

The choir will perform under the direction of Sergei Pavlov (below), who writes:

“The Festival Internacional de Música Sacra in Quito is a long-standing tradition and one of the most prestigious Easter music festivals in South America.

“It is organized by the National Theater (Teatro Nacional Sucre) and the Municipality of the City of Quito.

“In previous years, it has featured groups from about 15 countries, and all the performances — around 20 concerts — are completely free for the audience and are presented in numerous historic churches in Quito.

Sergei Pavlov

“The Edgewood Chamber Singers is the first American youth choir to be invited (last year the group from the U.S. was the professional American Spiritual Ensemble). We will be performing together with the youth choir of Teatro Sucre and the National Chamber Choir of Ecuador.

“The concert will feature music by the Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli – who was an 18th-century missionary in South America; traditional African Christian music; music by Karl Jenkins and Aaron Copland; and spirituals. (You can hear a beautiful non-choral work — an Air — by Domenico Zipoli, performed by the Jean-Francois Paillard Chamber Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The festival runs for two weeks before Holy Week. We will be there March 17-24 and our concerts are March 21 and March 22.

“Unfortunately, in South America people still rely on TV and newspaper advertising and the on-line info appears only a few weeks before the festival.”

For more information, visit:

Classical music: Let us now praise churches for providing concert venues.

January 4, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following message from a loyal reader and thinks it is worth passing on:

“Dear Ear,

“Two of your recent posts sing the praises of Wisconsin Public Radio.

“May I also suggest that we thank area churches?

“Not only do they provide concert venues for various groups, but their active promotion of music more generally — choirs, organ accompaniment — throughout the year is worth a blessing.

“On Christmas Eve, we went to the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the Madison Bach Musicians performing its annual Baroque holiday concert) to hear an abbreviated Nine Lessons and Carols.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

“We had the benefit of hymnals and for the first time for me could actually read or sing along with the service. Plus lighting dozens of candles in the darkness and wishing the congregation of the planet peace.”

The Ear couldn’t agree more and is happy to comply.

Quite a few churches or church-like organizations come immediately to mind.

There is the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below) with its FREE Friday Noon Musicales every week and its special concerts:



There is the downtown Luther Memorial Church (below) where University of Wisconsin-Madison choirs hold their annual holiday concert and where the Madison Early Music Festival has performed:

luther memorial church madison

MEMF 2014 Luther Memorial audience

There is Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below) where the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra holds its annual performances of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio “Messiah”:


There is Grace Episcopal Church (below), on the Capitol Square, which is where the Wisconsin Chamber Choir held its concert this year of various settings of the Magnificat and which hosts the FREE Grace Presents series.

grace episcopal church ext

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Magnificats 1

There is the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), on the near east side, that hosts the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Madison Bach Musicians.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

There is the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on the near west side, which hosts many different concerts and groups:

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

There is Holy Wisdom Monastery (below) in Middleton, which holds a variety of concerts and hosts the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in the summer.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

And even though it is now a landmark building rather than an active place of worship, there is the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park, where the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs.

Gates of Heaven

Thank you, all.

The Ear is sure there are many more that he is leaving out.

So he asks readers to please leave the names of other churches and concerts or musical events in the COMMENT section.

Classical music: A FREE and PUBLIC choral and guitar concert this Sunday night at Edgewood College will explore the new St. John’s Bible musically and visually.

November 21, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday night at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, a FREE concert by the local percussion group Clocks in Motion will give the world premieres of two new works by composers Ben Davis and Anthony Donotrio.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday night, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. the public will have the chance to explore musically and visually the modern Saint John’s Bible, a large mutli-volume work. which is beautifully illuminated with original contemporary art that is reminiscent of Medieval illuminated manuscripts.

St. John's Bible 1 Matthew

The audio-visual event, “Illuminated Harmony,” will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

No tickets are required and the event is FREE. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Saint John's Bible 2 Ecclesiastes

This musical and visual collaboration explores the themes of creation, incarnation and transformation. Inspired by illuminations from the Saint John’s Bible Heritage edition, choral selections will be accompanied by projected animations of the chosen illuminated images. It was on display this past year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art.

Edgewood College officials say that this concert is an invitation to the community to tap into the deep spirituality of the music and the illuminations in the presence of the Gospels and the Acts volume of the Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition.

saint john's bible close up

Here is a link to the official website for the Bible, which was commissioned and cost $145,000 in 1998 and was finished in 2011:

And here is a link to an online exhibition of the Bible at The Library of Congress, so you can explore it more before or after the concert:

The event will feature the Campus-Community Choir, the Chamber Singers, the Women’s Choir (below) and the Guitar Ensemble. Sorry, no word about the specific pieces or composers that will be sung and played.

Edgewood Women's Choir

Here is a link to a brief audiovisual sample of the Edgewood presentation:

In the YouTube video below, art director Donald Jackson talks about creating the new Bible:

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