The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New music and old music meet in a benefit concert this Saturday night for the Art+Literature Lab of Madison

March 23, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following information from Eric Miller to pass along:

Thanks for sharing my recital at the First Unitarian Society of Madison last week. I really appreciate what you do.

I’m repeating the program of unaccompanied music for viola da gamba at the Arts+Literature Lab (below) on this Saturday, March 25, at 8 p.m.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

I’ll be playing the first suite by Le Sieur de Machy and the Sonata VI by Johannes Schenk from his collection “L’echo du Danube,” (Echo of the Danube), as well as a few other smaller pieces. (Below is Eric Miller, who also performs a Prelude to a suite by Le Seiur de Machy in the YouTube video at bottom.)

In addition to my set, my idea was to juxtapose this music I love with music that is equally intricate and beautiful, but from different sound worlds and traditions.

Milwaukee cellist Patrick Reinholz (below top) will be playing modern pieces by Italian composer Luciano Berio (below middle) and Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (below bottom) as well as one of his own compositions from a solo recording he is releasing.

Finally, cellist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Brian Grimm (below) will be presenting some of his own compositions and improvisations.

The Facebook event page is here:

Advanced tickets are available here:

The Arts+Literature Lab (A+LL) is at 2021 Winnebago Street, on the east side of Madison. It is really doing exciting things for the community.

Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will unveil, play and explain a restored 1855 Bosendorfer grand piano on this Friday night.

May 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Trevor Stephenson (below), the founder and director of the Madison Bach Musicians, will unveil, discuss and perform on a recently restored his historic Bösendorfer Grand Piano (also below), dating from about 1855.

Trevor Stephenson standing with Bosendorfer

The event takes place in the Landmark Auditorium of the Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Drive. The event includes with a lecture at 7 p.m. and a concert at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets available online at and at the door:. They are $25 general admission; $20 for seniors; $10 for students.

Rebuilt over the last two years, the ca. 1855 Bösendorfer Grand Piano has a massive and entirely wooden frame without any of the metal insides of a modern piano–the result is an extremely complex and dark tone that suits the sensibility of most 19th-century piano music. Stephenson will discuss the restoration in detail.

Trevor Stephenson 1855 Bosendorfer collage Wein, Austria

Fittingly, the concert program will include works by Frederic Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg, Gabriel Fauré, Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss Jr.

Trevor Stephenson will also discuss the rebuilding process and the overall character of this remarkable historical piano.

The specific program will be:

“Berceuse” (Lullaby) from the Dolly Suite, Op. 56, by Gabriel Fauré (1845−1924) with guest pianist Timothy Mueller (You can hear the opening charming “Berceuse,” along with the Spanish Dance, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posthumous, and Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, by Frederic Chopin (1810−1849)

Sonata in C major, Op. 53 “Waldstein” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770−1827)


Two Hungarian Dances for piano four-hands, Nos. 1 in G minor and 5 in F-sharp minor, by Johannes Brahms (1833−1897) with guest pianist Timothy Mueller

Suite Bergamasque  by  Claude Debussy (1862−1918): Prelude, Menuet, Clair de lune, Passepied

Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19, by Arnold Schoenberg (1874−1951)

Moment Musical No. 6 in A-flat major by Franz Schubert (1797−1828)

The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz, Op. 314, by Johann Strauss Jr. (1825−1899)

Classical music: What makes early Slavic music different? What composers are being rediscovered? And what will the All-Festival concert offer? Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman Rowe talks about the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF). The festival starts this coming Saturday and runs through the next Saturday. Here is Part 2 of 2 parts.

July 7, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens this coming Saturday night and runs through the All-Festival concert the next Saturday night. The topic is “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

Here is a link to the home website where you can information and event, times and prices:

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below), who co-directs the festival with her husband, UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, agreed to talk about the festival and its lineup of workshops, lectures and concerts. Her interview is running in two parts.

Here is a link to Part 1, which ran yesterday:

Today is Part 2.

Cheryl Rowe color 1

How does early Slavic or Eastern European music differ from its counterparts in, say, Western Europe such as Italy, France, Spain and England. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world?

The early Slavs came from Indo-European lands, spreading from various parts of Asia into Eastern Europe around 2000 B.C. Under the pressure of nomadic hordes, the Slavic tribes crossed the Carpathian Mountains and pushed their way down to the Balkans. Others moved westward toward the upper Danube, and still others eastward toward the River Dniper and Black Sea.

This migration continued from the fourth through the eighth century, giving birth to the Slavic nations that we know today. East of the River (below) explores the dance music and traditional melodies from these indigenous cultures, and you will hear the haunting and virtuosic melodies from these Slavic traditions that influenced the music of many Eastern European compositions.

East of the River

Bob Wiemken (below), from Piffaro explains: “It would seem at first consideration that an immersion in music of Slavic lands and peoples to the East during the medieval through baroque periods would yield some sounds, styles and repertoire strikingly different from that produced by composers from western lands, and in some cases and during certain times that assumption yields expected results.

“However, when comparing what might be considered composed art music, the fodder of courts and cathedrals, a surprising similarity between the two, between East and West, emerges, at least insofar as the lands bordering on what is normally considered “western Europe” are concerned.

“On closer examination the reasons for this similarity seem clear. Political and cultural interchange between East and West burgeoned during the late 15th through early 17th centuries. Eastern rulers, especially in Poland and Hungary, sought to build their courts and chapels after western fashion. They thus attracted some of the best western composers to create and/or head their musical establishments for a time. Easterners studied and worked in western environs, most notably the Slovenian Jakob Handl in Vienna and the Hungarian Bálint Bakfark in Paris and Padua, and many western composers occupied lofty musical positions or spent a portion of their professional careers at eastern courts.

“As a result, western sacred polyphony, the international musical language of the day, traveled east and settled in Slavic courts and cathedrals, and eastern dances, such as the Polnischer Tanz, the Passamezzo ongaro and the Ungarescha journeyed east, creating a tale of cross-cultural influence and engagement in the musical interaction between western and eastern composers.”

And Jordan Sramek, director of the Rose Ensemble, writes:

“During the 17th century there is an often-forgotten relationship between Poland and Italy and there is a striking influence the Italianate style had on Polish composers of the time. Also, Italian composers were invited to the Imperial Russian court to be in residence in St. Petersburg.”

Bob Wiemken

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

Many composers and their works have only been neglected because the music was unavailable to us in Western countries. The music in some of the Eastern European collections has been out of print, or inaccessible in libraries. It’s the same with recordings—Amazon does not have everything!

Ancora String Quartet violist and Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt (below center) should be interviewed about her experience in Hungary. Tom Zajac was in Poland several years ago, and talked to Polish musicians, went to libraries, and tried to soak up as much information as he could while he was there.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

As time goes by, it will become easier to travel to some of these countries, and more materials will become available, there will be more ensembles presenting this music. Music historians from the East have been doing research, but a lot of their books and articles need to be translated into English.

Jordan Sramek (below), the director of the Rose Ensemble, describes the situation so well, “Among scholars and performers of early vocal music, there is, perhaps, an unreasonable lack of attention paid to music from what is contemporarily referred to as “Eastern Europe.” While some musicians spend their careers digging in the “Western” libraries of Florence and Paris, the shelves of the manuscript libraries and monasteries of Krakow, Moscow and Prague often remain dusty, either due to lack of interest or perceived inaccessibility.”

The Rose Ensemble concert features only a glimpse of the great wealth of early vocal repertoire from Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Bohemia, in an attempt to shine some light on some truly brilliant gems.

Jordan Sramek 

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday, July 18th?

At the All-Festival Concert (below is a photo of last year’s, held in Luther Memorial Church instead of Mills Hall) at the end of the festival on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, there will be a wonderful program of Slavic music. The first half will feature Polish composers:

“Missa Lombardesca” by Bartołomiej Pękiel:

That will be followed by a triple-choir “Magnificat” by Mikołaj Zieleński: and motets by Mikołaj z Krakowa.

The second half of the program will feature excerpts from a wonderful Hungarian collection that Marika Fischer Hoyt found for MEMF when she was in Hungary this past summer. She was visiting family, but also spent a lot of time in the library researching music that is only available in Hungarian libraries. Libraries are still so valuable, and it’s wonderful to know that we can’t find everything on the Internet!

Take Harmonia Caelestis, a cycle of 55 sacred cantatas attributed to the Hungarian composer Paul I, First Prince Esterházy of Galántha (1635–1713) and published in 1711. They are in the Baroque style, and each of the cantatas consists of one movement, composed for solo voices, choir, and orchestra.

The program will end with Ukrainian composers Ephiphanius Slavinetsky (below, depicted revising service books), a sacred choral concerto by Dmitri Bortnianski.

Epiphanius Slavinetsky

Next on the program, you will hear a stunningly beautiful a cappella choral work, “Now the Powers of Heaven,” by Giuseppe Sarti.

In 1784, Sarti was invited by Catherine the Great to succeed Paisiello as director of the Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. We will end the program with a work by Nikolai Diletski.

Many of these works have not been recorded, so we hope the Madison community will join us to hear these unknown works. Also, it’s not too late to sign up to sing or play in the workshop!

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers that you especially recommend for the general public?

I think everything is highly recommended, and I’m looking forward our first day on Saturday, July 11, with the opening concert of the Rose Ensemble. John W. Barker, who is well known to The Ear, will be presenting the opening 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture, “Discovering the ‘Other Europe’”, which will give a wonderful overview for the week. There will be other lectures throughout the week, and the Balkan Dance event with live music, on Wednesday, July 15, will be really fun.

I’ve included the link, which has more information about these and all the other events. Try to see them all!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’re looking forward to an entire week immersed in the wonderful Slavic sounds.

And in 2016 we will be celebrating Shakespeare!

Classical music education: Report 2 about the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra tour in Europe: Days 3 and 4 include extensive sightseeing and a successful performance in Budapest.

July 11, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Madison-based Youth Orchestra (below), the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, conducted by James Smith, is on a concert tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO pus a link to this blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s second report, with photos and videos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser, covering the concert and sightseeing in Budapest. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


Monday began with a tour of the city by bus, including stops in Heroes’ Square and the Vajdahunyad Castle (below). The latter was actually designed for Hungary’s millennial celebration as a cardboard model, featuring a hodgepodge of architectural styles borrowed from other famous buildings, but was so popular that a real brick-and-mortar copy was later constructed. (And yes, you read that right — millennial. The Hungarian state was founded in 896. America is just a toddler on the world stage next to nations like this.)

After lunch in the Great Market Hall, a cavernous building full of local vendors (I hear Madison is considering something like it – it’s great!), we headed up to the Military Museum for a rehearsal before our first concert.

The performance at the Military Museum (below) was a smashing success with the audience, who applauded furiously after every piece.

Receiving the European unison clap was a puzzling experience for many used to the American custom of random, discordant applause. Personally, I rather liked it. The applause continued long enough that the orchestra actually simply left the stage down the center aisle while the ovation continued. It was a very cool feeling. (Below is a snippet of an encore, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 1, taken by Bridget Fraser.)

Monday night ended late, finishing with dinner at the Citadella Restaurant (below top) overlooking the Danube, serenaded by a trio (growing into a quintet) of Gypsy musicians. The cimbalom (below below) player was especially impressive, in my opinion, as was the first violinist. They played a broad range of music, including colorful renditions of two pieces of imitation Gypsy music — Vittorio Monti‘s “Czardas” and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 — probably more authentic than the originals.

Tuesday was an early start, beginning with a long drive in the country out to the Esztergom Basilica (below), a beautiful edifice that serves as the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary. It is the tallest building in the country, holding the reliquaries of two martyrs. It also contains a massive organ, which we did not get to hear, which was played by Franz Liszt.

There were a couple of musicians outside the church busking – a young cellist delivering some lovely Bach in the open air, and a recorder player dressed as a jester with an immense repertoire ranging from Mozart and Handel to the themes from “Star Wars” and “The Pink Panther.” I confess to singing along with a few of them.

We then drove to Visegrád Castle (below), which unfortunately did not weather a 1544 siege by the Ottoman Turks terribly well; the building is more or less in ruins, and was indeed totally buried for many years before a recent excavation uncovered much of it. It is set up somewhat like a museum now, with rooms exhibiting reconstructed suits of armor and weapons and, of course, a gift shop.

Another little culture shock for today — I’m still not used to the total lack of bubblers or public toilets; those of the latter at museums and such are invariably only accessible for a fee. It’s a slick racket.

After Visegrád, we drove a bit more to the town of Szentendre, where we stopped for lunch. We were then turned loose for an hour or two to shop and explore the town in small groups.

It’s a lovely little place: hilly, with winding cobblestone streets and some admittedly touristy shops. Notably, the rather reckless Hungarian drivers are no less so in a small town than in Budapest, although they’re a bit slower. Not a good place to be in the habit of jaywalking, Hungary; I don’t know that anyone would slow down for you.

For the evening, we split up — half explored Moscow Square (below), near the Hotel Budapest where we’re staying (a big, cylindrical building in which every room, true to form east of the Iron Curtain, is exactly the same size), and half went to the Széchenyi Baths in City Park. I chose the latter option, which I do not regret in the slightest.

The bath complex (below) is built on two hot springs rich in minerals, which are reported to possess prodigious medical properties. I can’t report to their efficacy, but I can testify that the waters, which can be sampled at a wide range of temperatures in pools of varying size, are wonderfully relaxing. I checked out almost every pool and two of the saunas. The water did wonders for a sore neck and shoulders — totally worth the admittedly steep price of admission (about 15 euro, or 4,300 HUF).

Tomorrow is another early start, driving into Vienna (below). I can’t wait for our next concert!



Classical music: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra arrives in Budapest and dines on the Danube.

July 10, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Youth Orchestra (below), the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, is on a concert tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues and repertoire:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from the WYSO tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another concert, featuring Ravel‘s “Mother Goose” Suite and Schubert‘s Symphony No. 5, on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO plus a link to this blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s first entry, with photos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser, covering the flight and arrival. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


The Lufthansa flight out of Chicago was very, very long. A lucky handful caught some sleep over the Atlantic, but for myself, I arrived in Frankfurt totally exhausted and entirely convinced it was midnight.

Following Customs (astonishingly friendly compared to the American TSA, I must say — one agent joked I’d concealed a weapon in my viola case, picking it up and pretending to shoot at me, grinning the whole while), we boarded a shorter flight to Budapest.

Our tour guides, Daniel and Nick, greeted us there, taking us downtown for lunch on our own before returning to the Hotel Budapest where we are staying.

I’m afraid I didn’t have long to wander in Budapest yesterday. Having had nothing but a bit of airplane food for more than a day, most of us elected to grab a bite first.

We didn’t need to order in Hungarian, thankfully; most people we’ve encountered speak a fair amount of English. I learned a few words from a friend’s guidebook on the plane, though correct pronunciation eludes me. “Thank you” and “I’m vegetarian” are about all I can manage. The food is pretty good, though, if a bit unfamiliar.

Yesterday evening was our (very posh) dinner cruise on the Beautiful Blue Danube.

In the photo below, taken before boarding the Danube cruise, are WYSO conductor Jim Smith (center) and orchestras members, from the left,  Kestrel Schmidt, Jinri Lee and Christie Cheng with, in back, Ansa Seppalainen.

Admittedly, the river has more the color (and smell) of Lake Monona than anything implied by Strauss’ famous waltz, but that didn’t stop the cruise company from playing that waltz plus half a dozen others through dinner.

The food was plentiful and tasty, and the sights were fantastic – Budapest is beautiful at night, especially from the river, with many of the most famous old buildings illuminated (check out the photos!).

We were all a bit silly, running on little or no sleep for about 34 hours, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The kicker: Budapest is HOT. Shorts, contrary to the rumor, seem to be just fine, as it’s in the 90s here too. We’re looking forward to a day of sightseeing in Budapest today, as well as our first concert this evening.



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