The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For you, what were the best, most memorable or most enjoyable concerts of 2017? Here are the highlights for critics John W. Barker and The Ear

December 29, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the calendar year is only the mid-point of the new season and the concert calendar.

Still, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and the various performers and performances that we heard.

John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog as well as for Isthmus, recently published his top picks of concerts in 2017 in Isthmus. Here is a link to his year-end assessment:

To be fair, The Ear doesn’t always agree with Barker on the quality of some pieces and of certain performances. But by and large the two of us are in accord, and even when we aren’t, the Ear respects and learns from Barker’s expertise and experience.

The Ear would only add several things he found that Barker doesn’t mention:

The all-Mozart concert in the fall by the Pro Arte Quartet (below) — with UW faculty clarinetist Alicia Lee and San Francisco cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau filling in for Parry Karp, was a much-needed balm in these times of distress.

If you are a fan of amateur music-making and love the music of Bach, the revival of the Bach Around the Clock marathon in March proved enthralling. (Below are violist father Stan Weldy and mandolinist son Alex Weldy.)

You heard all kinds of musicians, from students and adult amateurs to professionals, in all genres of music, including arrangements and transcriptions that Johann Sebastian would no doubt have approved of.

Pianist Richard Goode (below), who played this fall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, showed the power of softness and quiet.

His subtle playing was full of nuance in preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, by Johann Sebastian Bach; in a late sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven; in the only sonata by Anton Webern; in a generous group for Chopin works; and in an unexpected encore by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. All in all, Goode proved a wonderful reprieve from some of the heavier, louder and more dramatic keyboard playing we hear.

But if you wanted drama, you only had to attend the recital by UW-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below). He excelled in everything, especially the total-body playing of the solo piano arrangement by Franz Liszt of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which wowed the house. But he also showed great restraint, tone and subtlety in contemporary American composer John Corigliano “Ostinato” based on that symphony’s famous second movement.

Then Taylor finished up with contrasting sets of six Musical Moments by Franz Schubert and Sergei Rachmaninoff.


Recognizing that the best concert is not necessary the most memorable concert, and that the best or most memorable concert is not necessarily the most enjoyable concert, please tell us:

What did you think was the best concert and best single performance you heard in 2017?

What was the most memorable classical music experience you had in 2017?

And what was the most enjoyable classical music performance you heard in 2017?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What composers and what pieces give you shelter and sanctuary during troubled times?

October 1, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to the inspired all-Mozart program given by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below center) and guest clarinetist Alicia Lee (below right), who was making her debut as a new UW faculty member.

He expected a fine performance and he was not disappointed. Indeed, he shares the same very positive reactions that critic John W. Barker expressed in his review for this blog. Here is a link to that review:

But something else happened too.

The sublime music of Mozart (below) – especially the Larghetto slow second movement of the late Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, but also the other movements and the String Quartet in G Major, K. 387 -– took The Ear into another world, into a parenthesis in time.

(You can hear a live performance in Japan by Yo-Yo Ma and others in the Larghetto movement, plus the rest of the Clarinet Quintet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For a brief time – perhaps a total of about 80 or 90 minutes – The Ear was totally transported. He temporarily blocked out the political strife in Washington, D.C. and the Trump White House; the government turmoil here in Madison and around the world; and  the terrible, deadly natural disasters of floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

He just let the transcendent music and the performances wash over him, refreshing him with their beauty before he reemerged onto the street and into the painful reality of current events after the concert ended.

So The Ear offers a deeply felt thank you to the performers for planning and playing such a timely and therapeutic program. He needed that more than he knew. And he hopes more such concerts are in store. The times demand such balm, not as escapism but as a reminder of great good things that endure.

So here is The Ear’s question: What other composers and what other pieces or works do you find offer the same kind of sanctuary or shelter?

Leave a COMMENT with a link to a performance on YouTube if possible.

Classical music: UW’s Pro Arte Quartet and new UW clarinet professor Alicia Lee perform a sublime all-Mozart program

September 30, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a 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 WORTFM 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

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet has begun its 2017-18 season amid uncertainties.

The most notable one is the current indisposition of cellist Parry Karp, whose injury to two fingers of his left hand has prevented him from playing for the immediate future.

Quartet members (below in a photo by Rick Langer) are, from left, David Perry and Suzanne Beia, first and second violins; Sally Chisholm, viola: and Parry Karp, cello.

But the group has pressed on bravely, offering an all-Mozart concert last Sunday night in Mills Hall.

The first of two works was the buoyant but challenging String Quartet in G Major, K. 387. Replacing Karp was a guest cellist, Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below right and bottom), who is familiar to Madison audiences from his many appearances with the San Francisco Trio for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s summer concerts.

Fonteneau played elegantly and fitted into the ensemble quite smoothly. And the other three players performed with their accustomed precision and style.

But just one personnel change makes a difference. Clearly missing was the robust tone and firm foundation that Karp has imparted to the ensemble’s playing for so long.

If the G major Quartet is a Mozartean model of its kind, we move to Olympian heights with the Quintet in A for Clarinet and Strings, K. 581 — a chamber work (below) with only the tiniest number of peers in this scoring.

Joining the quartet this time was a new UW-Madison faculty member, clarinetist Alicia Lee (below).

Petite but totally confident, Lee brought to the string ensemble not the edgy aggressiveness so often heard from clarinetists but rather a glowing mellowness that balanced neatly with the string sounds.

The loveliest moments seemed to me to be the slower passages, and the exquisite slow movement was truly ethereal. (You can hear the Larghetto slow movement, played by clarinetist Anthony McGill and the Pacifica Quartet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Preceding the concert was an announcement by Linda Graebner of the consolidation of the Pro Arte Quartet Forward Fund, which is seeking to raise an major endowment for the quartet.

Bolstered by that effort, then, the PAQ is some five years into its second century, determined from many sides to cope with its uncertainties.

NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet’s next performance is this coming Thursday: a FREE performance at NOON in Mills Hall of the String Quintet No. 1 in G Major, Op. 111, by Johannes Brahms. Jean-Michel Fonteneau will again be the cellist and the guest artist is the internationally renowned violist Nobuko Imai (below). Imai will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class in strings and chamber music on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).


Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).


This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Con Vivo — Music With Life — will perform chamber music by Mozart, Gershwin, Prokofiev, Bruch and others at the Stoughton Opera House this Sunday afternoon – BEFORE kickoff time for Super Bowl XLIX.

January 29, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the outstanding local chamber music group “Con Vivo” (Music With Life), which made its Carnegie Hall debut last season, has sent the following word:

Hello Friends,

The Madison-based chamber music ensemble con vivo! … music with life (below) invites you to our debut performance at the Stoughton Opera House on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 1, at 3 p.m.

Con Vivo core musicians

The concert will feature music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, George Gershwin, Sergei Prokofiev, Max Bruch and John Williams.

The musicians in Con Vivo are professionals who often play in other noted ensembles including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The beautifully restored Stoughton Opera House (below, from the outside and inside) is located at 381 E. Main St. Stoughton. For more information, call (608) 877-4400.

Stoughton Opera House ext


Stoughton Opera House 2

You can get tickets at the door or by visiting The prices are $20 for regular admission and $10 for an obstructed view.

It’s sad that the Packers aren’t playing in Super Bowl XLIX — that’s 49 to normal people — but if you intend to watch the big game anyway, come spend your pre-game with us. You will be home in time for the kick-off!

We hope to see you this Sunday.

Here is the complete program:

Sergei Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes for piano, string quartet and clarinet, Op. 34

Max Bruch: Romance for Viola and Piano, Op. 85

Jay Ungar: “Ashokan Farewell for violin and piano. (It was famously used in the Ken Burns documentary ‘The Civil War.” You can hear it in a lovely and moving YouTube video that features the composer at the bottom.)

John Williams: Air and Simple Gifts for violin, cello, clarinet and piano


George Gershwin: Preludes for solo piano

Andante con moto e poco rubato

Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, KV 581

Allegro, Andante, Menuetto, Rondo

Classical music: The 57th annual Grammy Award nominations are out — and they provide a useful guide to holiday gift-giving.

December 9, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This year, the holiday gift-giving season went into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, not just Black Friday. That was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and on and on.

Doesn’t such commercialism of the holidays just make you want to break into “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” Chorus?

Traditionally, The Ear has offered many lists and compilations for suggested classical recordings for the holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever.

Over this past weekend, the nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards were announced.

grammy award BIG

Of course, this event – no matter how hyped and prestigious for helping music  — is an industry honoring and promoting itself. So of course classical music is way down on the list, far behind more money-making and better selling genres.

But over the years The Ear has found that the nominees are actually more useful than the much shorter list of winners, which doesn’t come out anyway until well after the holidays.

So here is a link to the complete list of Grammy nominations. Just go the website, and scroll down to Category 72 though Category 81.

Sure, the Big Labels and Gray Ladies – such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI – are represented.

And so are some pretty big New Names, including the astonishingly gifted prize-winning young pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), who, The Ear thinks, show get a Grammy for his Carnegie Hall recital. (Just listen to the YouTube video, taken from that live recital, at the bottom. It features a difficult Chopin prelude and notice the virtuosic ferocity combined with lyricism, the voicing, and the flexibility of tempo or rubato.)

danill trifonov

But once again The Ear notices how many recordings are being done by labels that have been established by the performing groups themselves or by smaller labels. Decentralization continues. So does the rediscovery of Baroque opera and early music as well as new music.

In addition, there continues to be an emphasis, established in recent years, on newer music and lesser known composers. So specialization also continues.

Notice too that veteran independent record producer Judith Sherman (below, holding the Grammy she won in 2012) is once again up for Producer of The Year – she has won it several times already.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Sherman is the same person who recorded the impressive first double CD of four centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet. That release included string quartets by John Harbison and Walter Mays as well as Piano Quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

pro arte cd commission cover

This spring Judith Sherman is coming back to the UW-Madison School to record the last two commissions: the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poem “Howl’ by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below top) and for the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below bottom, in a photo by Lise Mernier).

Pierre Jalbert

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

More such suggestions for classical music gifts are to come.

Usually critics from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal weigh in, as does Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine and the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), and The Ear will include those.

And often The Ear throws in his own idea for gifts, which often involves linking a local live concert with a CD or a book and a CD. Stay tuned.

In addition, other website devoted to classical music – say the BBC and radio stations WQXR in New York City and WMFT in Chicago –- often featured a Best of the Year compilation.

And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background

The Grammys will be awarded on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 and broadcast on CBS-TV from 8 to 11 p.m. LIVE from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Classical music: The Ear gets to hear a masterpiece in the making -– Pierre Jalbert’s “Howl” Clarinet Quintet. It sure sounds like it will become a staple of new music. Plus, the FREE Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison resume this Friday.

October 2, 2014

ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales (below) in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume again this Friday, Oct. 3, at 12:15 to 1 p.m. This week’s featured group is the Arbor Ensemble  with flutist Berlinda Lopez, violinist Marie Pauls and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr in the music of Jacques Ibert, Cesar Cui, Bohuslav Martinu, Astor Piazzolla and Josef Suk.


By Jacob Stockinger

Imagine my unexpected joy at hearing the new Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below), who was inspired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” last Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Pierre Jalbert

The reason for my happiness is because I heard music that was so compelling and so moving that it made me want to listen to it again and again.

I know, I know.

A lot of proponents of new music say you have to listen to any new and unheard piece several times before you can pass judgment.

I don’t buy it.

True, as loyal readers know, I am generally not a fan of new music. I find too much of it unenjoyable and forgettable. It just doesn’t speak to me, for whatever reason. I like tunes and melody and harmonic mood as well as rhythmic pulse. New music too often seems detached from the emotional life of the listeners– or at least this listener.

I prefer music that speaks so deeply and movingly to me on the first hearing that I welcome any chance to hear it more often as another chance to experience beauty — not to fulfill some intellectual obligation or duty to the composer or the art form.

When I first heard Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, for example, I knew within one minute that I just had to hear it again and would hear it again many times. It never fails to disappoint. And so it is with any masterwork, from early music, through Baroque and Romantic music, to modern and contemporary music.

Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert was performed last Friday night by the Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The guest clarinetist was Charles Niedich (below bottom) from New York City, who has a major international reputation from working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and other well-known ensembles.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Charles Neidich CD Sallie Erichson

The performance came at the newly remodeled Wisconsin Union Theater, which the old Pro Arte Quartet helped to inaugurate when the theater opened 75 years ago in 1939. The theater was not sold-out Friday night, but there was a good and enthusiastic audience that rewarded the Jalbert with a prolonged standing ovation (below). So I know that I was not alone in my positive and approving reaction.

PAQ Jalbert audience ovation

Here is a link with more background:

The program started off with the rarely heard and pretty tame String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a Spanish composer known as “the Spanish Mozart” who died at 20. The program’s fitting finale was the sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In between the Arriaga and the Mozart came the Jalbert Clarinet Quintet, which was the final of six commissions done to mark the Pro Arte’s centennial. (The Pro Arte Quartet, originally from Belgium,  is now the oldest continuously performing string quartet in the world.)

Other elements added to the effectiveness. For one, the Pro Arte Quartet was in top form. Each voice was distinct and yet the overall blend was smooth, resonant and perfect in pitch. And their playing was enhanced by the terrific acoustics of the remodeled Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the new on-stage shell (below, in the background).

PAQ and Charles Neidich in Pierre Jalbert Howl

But it was really the music itself that swept The Ear away.

It started right away, with the pulsing and almost hypnotic rhythms of the opening measures.

The two outer fast movements proved infectious and involving. But I particularly loved the way the middle movement developed.

I heard various audience members talk about how the work reminded them of Samuel Barber, of Philip Glass, of John Adams, of Steve Reich. And yet it didn’t seem to imitate any of them. It possessed a pure, strong voice of its own that used the idea of “Howl” without becoming a didactic piece of program music.

It isn’t often you get to hear a new work that holds the promise of becoming a staple in the repertoire. But that is exactly how it felt as I listened to the Jalbert quintet. Others I spoke to agreed.

PAQ and Charles Neidich standing

Of the six centennial commissions that the Pro Arte has premiered over the past three years, this one seems the best one to end on because it seems the most likely one to succeed in coming years.

Sure, we may hear repeat performances of the String Quartets by John Harbison, Walter Mays and Benoît Mernier; of the Piano Quintets by William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield. They are all recognized composers of quality.

But my money is on the work by Pierre Jalbert, which was by turns pensive and joyous, outraged and lamenting, much like the original poem “Howl.” The tone of both matched, and the clarinet, with its klezmer-like qualities, proved the perfect narrative voice imparted by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (below).

Allen Ginsberg 1

It is a memorable night when you get to hear a masterwork in the making. All that work of chamber music needs now is history and many more repeat performances. I expect it will get those.

And to top it off, Pierre Jalbert (below right) -– who hails from Vermont and teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas — was a very nice artist who was extremely amiable at the pre-concert dinner at the Chazen Museum of Art as well as insightfully candid during the pre-concert Q&A (below) that was so expertly hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (center) and also included clarinetist Charles Neidich.

Jalbert Q&A

Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert will be recorded by the same players for Albany Records, under the supervision of the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, and then released with the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.

I will be first in line to get it and set my CD player on repeat.

Can’t wait.

If you heard it, what do you think of the Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert, who offers his thoughts about composing in a YouTube video at the bottom?

Do you think it will become a staple of the repertoire?

The Ear wants to hear.



Classical music: The Ear offers cheers and jeers for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s remodeled Shannon Hall.

October 1, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday night, The Ear got his first look and listen at the remodeled concert hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, a wonderful landmark structure that I revere and usually refer to as “the Carnegie Hall of Madison” because of its long and distinguished history of bringing the best performing artists to Madison.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

The event on Friday night was the fantastic concert by the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, with guest clarinetist Charles Neidich. It was the first classical music event in the new building.

They all turned in a wonderful finale to the quartet’s six centennial commissions. This final program featured the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert, who based the work on the poem “Howl” by the Beat writer Allen Ginsberg. The string quartet also performed the String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the glorious, sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But I will offer more comments about the concert and the music tomorrow.

Right now, I want to offer my take on the new hall, which was part of a two-year renovation that cost over $50 million, all privately raised. The remodeling project was completed just in time to mark the 75th anniversary of the historical theater, which opened its doors in 1939 and was inaugurated by the original Pro Arte String Quartet.

I will be anxious to hear your own take on the new hall, as well as the music and performance,  in the COMMENTS section.

Here is mine:


I like the generosity and intent of University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Michael Shannon (Class of 1980) and his wife Mary Sue Shannon (Class of 1981, both below), who donated something like $8 million to restore and remodel the hall, to reconfigure the Langdon Street entrance and provided a “sunset lounge” for receptions, study and relaxing.

That is why you can hear the “Consecration of the House” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven, conducted by Chicago Symphony Orchestra maestro Riccardo Muti, at the bottom in a YouTube video.

So The Ear offers kudos, a big and hearty THANKS to the Shannons.

Michael and Mary Sue Shannon


Why can’t rich people show some respect for the very history they seek to honor and preserve as well as some good taste and modesty?

Do we really need this well-known and historic hall, which is so respected by the world-renowned performers who appear there and are pleased when they see the list of their predecessors, to be renamed?

And do we really need the new name embedded in big metal letters in the handsome terrazzo stone floor of the theater? Wouldn’t a big bronze wall plaque with a bas-relief portrait and some kind words of thanks and praise, perhaps along with a paragraph of background, details and even a quote, have done the job and preserved the continuity of history?

Shannon Hall name in floor WUT

Why can’t we continue to use the names of public buildings and spaces to honor public service rather than money and wealth? Do the arts also have to remind us of the ever-widening wealth gap in the U.S., which already is now the biggest in the world?

Is that the message we want a public building to send?

Could someone rich enough today buy the entire university and rename the UW to the University of Walmart, now that state support has dropped below 20 percent? Could that path to privatizing public education really be the way we want to go?

As I have said in another column: If you can afford to buy naming rights, you aren’t being taxed enough. Governor Walker, are we open for business? Or are we getting the business? What about the importance of tradition, history and public service?

Well, enough of a rant. (Below are the happy Shannons hand-in-hand on the Memorial Union waterfront.)

shannons on wut waterfront


I like the new bigger and 3-inch wider seats, although they reduce the seating capacity from 1,300 to 1,139. I also like the new upholstery. But I heard someone complain that there was no padding on the armrests. And I still find too little knee room, even though I am only a bit over 6 feet tall. It feels like flying economy class, which, these days, is not good. But that can’t be helped, short of destroying the original concrete raking and seat beds.

WUT new seats and walls

I also very much like the acoustics and sound -– try the terrific lower balcony (below) sometime to see that closer isn’t always better — especially with the new shell (below, the on-stage background). But I hear that you can’t do multimedia because the shell simply won’t allow for a screen to drop down for films, videos, slide shows and Power Point presentations. That design mistake should be fixed in view of the importance of high technology.

WUT from Shannon Hall lower balcony

The wall color (take another look at the first photo above), which was apparently chosen and approved by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is NOT the same as before and I don’t find it attractive except to the degree it is evenly applied and not water-stained.

But it doesn’t feel authentically period or Deco. The color seems darker and shinier than in photos, more dark peach than salmon. Some may find it handsome. I find it awfully close to pukey brown. And I believe the rule of thumb is that paint only darkens with age. Lighter, one suspects, would have been better both now and especially in the long run.

Something unfortunate happened between the idea and the execution. It happens to me too — and to many others — when I tried to match a dry paint chip to a whole wall. But you’d think the experts would have the collective experience to get it right, if only by trial and error.

Overall, the walls and paint remind The Ear of a face with too much heavy foundation makeup on an oily skin. The wall paint -– maybe it’s a semi-gloss? — is just not flat enough and exudes a light sheen in the right lighting. It makes you want to blot the wall with cotton gauze balls.

I like the new carpet color and pattern (below), but I already saw staining — see the one below? —  within the first month or two. I wonder: Couldn’t it be easier to clean? How long will it last and wear well?

WUT new carpeting

I like the new sunset lounge, with its airiness and its great view of Lake Mendota. It made for a great post-concert dessert reception.

And I really like the new entrance lobby off Langdon Street. It feels much less like the theater is hidden away. You don’t have to seek it out. That part especially seems more populist and in keeping with The Wisconsin Idea.

The quieter heating and air conditioning system also seem much improved and make for a far more comfortable concert experience.

I like the historical feel fostered by keeping turquoise water fountains (“bubblers”), but I also like the eco-friendly greener restrooms with automatic light switches that save on electricity.

All in all, I give the remodeling a B, though given all the money and know-how I would have thought an A-plus was a certainty.

To help you decide for yourself, you should really attend an event there.

But for more background and details, here are some links:

To a story and photos by Eric Tadsen in Isthmus:

To a story in the UW-Madison student newspaper The Daily Cardinal:

To the official press release from the UW-Madison:




Classical music: Which one of five trains will you ride into the upcoming super-wreck on this Sunday afternoon?

September 25, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.

And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!

Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.

The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking —  falls into place.

There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.

A-l-l-l-l aboard:

Here, in timetable order, we go:


The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle).  It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to on the day of the concert for a link.

The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a link:

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer


Pierre Jalbert


Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are,  from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

Wes Color CR Barry Lewis


At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1



At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci


At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris  and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.

Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.

He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. 
Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot


At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.

All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber  Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:—ve-never-seen-a-concert-like-this-sep-12-2014



Classical music: The FREE world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet of American composer Pierre Jalbert’s Clarinet Quintet — based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” — takes place this coming Friday night at 8 p.m. in the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. The concert includes a composer interview and then a FREE dessert reception, where you can meet the composer and performers. A FREE encore performance is on this Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. at the Chazen Museum of Art and will be web-streamed live.

September 23, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night will bring the FREE world premiere of the final work of the six commissions to mark the centennial of the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Pro Arte Qartet  Overture Rick Langer

The work is a Clarinet Quintet, written Pierre Jalbert (below), a prize-winning American composer with French-Canadian roots. It will receive its world premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday night in the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. A FREE dessert reception in the Memorial Union follows. There is also a FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC rehearsal, with the composer advising the string quartet, from 9 a.m. to noon on this Thursday morning in Mills Hall.

Pierre Jalbert

Here is a link to the Pro Arte Quartet’s website

And here is the official press release about the new work and the upcoming concert. It was researched and written by Mike Muckian (below), who also writes and blogs for Brava Magazine and the Wisconsin Gazette.

Michael Muckian color mug

MADISON, Wis. – When Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (below) published “Howl” in 1956, he may have anticipated the obscenity charges he faced because of the work’s highly charged content. Chances are he didn’t foresee his epic poem, now considered a significant work of American literature, as the source of inspiration for a 21st-century chamber music composition.

Allen Ginsberg 1

Pierre Jalbert, an American composer of French-Canadian descent, thought otherwise. When commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet to compose an original work to help the quartet celebrate its centennial season, Jalbert chose Ginsberg’s poem as his source of inspiration.

Jalbert’s “Howl” for clarinet and string quartet will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Union Theater in the historic Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The event, free and open to the public, will be the first classical music concert to take place in the venerable theater’s newly refurbished Shannon Hall (below top). 

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

The 8 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. concert preview discussion with Pierre Jalbert in Shannon Hall. In addition to Jalbert’s composition, the evening’s program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (below top) -– known as “the Spanish Mozart” — and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1791) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below bottom).

Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga

Mozart old 1782

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) includes violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet concert will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 28, at 12:30 p.m. in Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art, also on the UW-Madison campus. The concert will be streamed live worldwide on the Internet by the Madison-based Audio for the Arts.  Check the Chazen Museum of  Art’s website ( on the day of the concert. Details of  the Chazen music series for 2015 will be announced on Sunday at the concert. The new series is designed to replace the “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series (below) of live chamber music concerts that was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio last spring after 36 years.  Sunday’s concert is FREE and OPEN to the public; however, Chazen Museum of Art members can call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating.


Joining the Pro Arte for both concerts will be guest clarinetist Charles Neidich (below, in a photo by Sallie Eichson), a regular member of the New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and noted guest performer with orchestras and string quartets worldwide. Here is a link to Neidich’s own impressive website:

“The Jalbert quintet is a very exciting composition, often very rhythmic, but with very serenely quiet contrasting sections,” said Neidich. “It is also interesting in that the clarinetist has to switch to bass clarinet, creating a very different sound for the group.” (At bottom is a YouTube interview with Pierre Jalbert, who explains his philosophy of composing and his concern with the audience’s understanding of his work.)

Charles Neidich CD Sallie Erichson

Ginsberg (below, young), who died in 1997, began work on “Howl” as early as 1954. The poem was first published in “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956 as part of the “Pocket Poets” series by fellow beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, also known as founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.

allen ginsberg young

Upon the poem’s release, both Ferlinghetti and City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested and charged with distributing obscene material because of the poem’s profanity, drug references and frank sexual content. Four months later, Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the work was not obscene and charges against Ferlinghetti and his employee were dropped.

Judge Horn deemed “Howl” to have redeeming social content, and over the years it has proved its worth both in terms of social and literary value, according to Dr. Lynn Keller, the Martha Meier Renk Bascom Professor of Poetry in the UW-Madison Department of English.

lynn keller uw-madison

“’Howl’ stands out stylistically in its compellingly and varied repetition of words beginning successive lines, its near surrealist imagery, and its combination of agonized depictions at once hellish and lofty with a very appealing sense of humor,” Dr. Keller said. “In terms of content, it also stands out in celebrating the down-and-out hipster as spiritual quester and visionary.”

As part of the Beat Generation – as much a social as a literary phenomenon – Ginsberg’s celebration of physical pleasures and suspicions about “the military industrial complex” created a new path that still appeals to younger audiences.

“It is a powerful poem, a howl from the heart of an agonized generation in a repressive era,” Dr. Keller said.

Allen Ginsberg Howl cover

Jalbert was familiar with the poem prior to the Pro Arte commission, but it was only after he started composing the work that he began to realize the influence Ginsberg had on the music. Those similarities had less to do with the poem’s content and more to do with its structure and rhythm, the composer said.

“At the beginning of my piece, the clarinet is basically playing long tones, creating a long line much like the long lines in Ginsberg’s poem, while the strings present the rhythmically pulsating harmonic underpinning,” Jalbert said. “Ginsberg’s poem has been called a  ‘litany of praise,’ and the second movement of my work becomes a litany, much like a series of prayers in a liturgy, with the strings creating chant-like lines while the clarinet becomes the vox Dei, or “voice of God,” hovering mysteriously over everything. The third movement returns to the musical materials from the first movement, but now the bass clarinet takes on the virtuosic role.”

In keeping with emotional soundings in parts of “Howl,” Jalbert also has attempted to capture the “shrieks” that were characteristic to the poem alongside the aforementioned litany of praise.

allen ginsberg with flower

“There are buildups to shrieking moments in my piece as well as a “howl” motive of a low chord slurred up to an immediate high cluster, all played very forcefully,” said Jalbert. “There’s also something very urban about parts of the poem and to me, there’s an urban quality in my first and third movements. There are also many religious allusions and the last words of Christ on the cross, so the second movement uses some of this.”

The Jalbert composition is the final of six commissions for the Pro Arte Centennial seasons, and it has all the earmarks of a contemporary work with staying power, according to clarinetist Neidich.

“Having studied the score, I believe that it will be accessible to listeners and exciting to hear,” said Neidich. “It features the clarinet both in the role of soloist and as contributor to the sonority of the ensemble. It has all the necessary attributes to become a significant work.”

The Jalbert commission also brings to an end the Pro Arte’s seasons of centennial celebration in honor of the quartet’s long and storied history.

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven at the then-new Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans.

By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artists ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. At more than 100 years old, Pro Arte also is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.

Pro Arte Quartet in 1928 Onnou far left

The Pro Arte in May traveled back to Belgium to perform the European premiere of its fifth centennial commissioned work, Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The work had received its world premiere on March 1 in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus with the composer in attendance.

A 2-CD set (below) of the first four commissions was released last year by Albany Records. It includes two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison as well as two piano quintets, one by William Bolcom and the other by Paul Schoenfield.

pro arte cd commission cover





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