The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Personal experience, artistic excellence and historical importance drew pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel into planning next year’s centennial season at the Wisconsin Union Theater

March 30, 2019

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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break is over and subscription tickets are available for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s special centennial celebration next season – which includes superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax — here is an email interview that pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco), the wife-and-husband consultants and planners of that season, granted to The Ear.

For more about the season and tickets, go to two websites:

Could you briefly introduce yourselves to readers and tell them both your past and current activities?

We have been performing on the world’s many concert stages for almost our entire lives. In addition to our careers as concert performers, we serve as the founding Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, the premier chamber music festival in Silicon Valley, as well as the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) in New York City.

Our main responsibility as concert performers is to give the best concerts we possibly can, and we are constantly striving to achieve the highest possible level of artistry in our performances.

In our roles as artistic directors, our responsibilities lie in the programming, casting and designing of concert series and chamber music projects for our organizations. At CMS, this includes designing the programming for our seven different satellite series around the country, plus international partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Europe.

We are also involved in chamber music programming endeavors beyond Music@Menlo and CMS, having just completed a first-ever chamber music residency at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Wu Han is serving as Artistic Advisor to Wolf Trap Chamber Music at the Barns, which entails thematically programming eight concerts per season for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons.

As artistic directors, we spend much of our time putting ourselves in the shoes of our listeners, measuring their experience and receptivity to chamber music of all periods and styles, and putting together the best programs and artists who will move our audiences forward into ever-increasing engagement with and love of the art.

David was the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet for 34 seasons, and we have been performing together as a duo for about 35 years, and continue to do so as one of our main performance activities.

What are your personal relationships to the Wisconsin Union Theater, and what do you think of it as a concert venue?

Our engagement with the Wisconsin Union Theater goes back quite a few years, but certainly not even close to the beginning of the Theater’s distinguished history. For any performer setting foot on its stage, there’s a sense of slipping into an ongoing tradition of artistic excellence that makes us feel both privileged and obligated to do our best.

The Wisconsin Union Theater and its story in American cultural life is larger than any of us; only the music we play rises above and beyond it all, and as performers, our lucky moment is to represent that incredible literature in a venue as significant and storied as the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Below is the theater’s main venue, the renovated and restored Shannon Hall.)

Why did you agree to be artistic advisors and artists-in-residence for the centennial season? Did your personal experiences in Madison play a role in that decision?

As seasoned artists, we deeply admire and respect the very special place in the classical music tradition and history that the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) inhabits, and the invitation to participate in the Theater’s 100th anniversary was an honor for us to receive. Our experiences playing on this distinguished stage and forming a relationship with the local audience have made our pursuit of the common goal of artistic excellence in the centennial season incredibly fulfilling.

Of course, having performed there in the past gave us a hint of confidence through our familiarity with the place, but we must say we have learned perhaps double what we knew originally through this planning process. Without interfering, but at the same time sharing our uncompromised commitment to artistic excellence, we hope that our presence during the process has been useful, and we know that we look so much forward to seeing the careful thought and hard work of all involved come to fruition.

Is there a unifying or guiding principle to the season you have put together?

The guiding principle behind our work on this historic season is artistic excellence, which in our opinion is what most inspires audiences and best serves the art form of classical music.

Our area of expertise is chamber music, and, as we wanted to share the best of what we can do with the Theater, our focus has been on ensuring that the chamber music offerings during this historic season, and hopefully beyond, reflect the best of the world of chamber music.

In our suggestions, we looked for variety of instrumentations, of composers and periods—in other words, giving as much of an overview of the art as we could within a season.

What would you like the public to know about the Wisconsin Union Theater and the upcoming centennial season?

In the Theater’s centennial season, the audience will have the opportunity to savor a variety of different genres of chamber music, from solo piano to vocal music, as well as a sampling of the very best works of the chamber music canon. Between these various genres, the great composers left a wealth of chamber music that could sustain the art form on its own, but that’s still only the tip of the iceberg.

Our chamber music offerings will include the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which has a long history of performing for the Madison audience. Their December program will include celebrated cornerstones of the piano trio repertoire, including Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio. (You can hear the opening of the Archduke Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Both pieces have achieved monumental historical significance through their influence in propelling the art form forward from the Classical period to the Romantic period.

The Escher String Quartet performance in January represents the best of the next generation of young string quartets. Their program includes a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn—the father of the string quartet genre—and the sole quartet of none other than revered violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who performed in the Wisconsin Union Theater nearly a century ago. Kreisler set foot on the Theater’s stage numerous times, and his rarely heard string quartet nods to the Theater’s long, distinguished history. David will join the Escher Quartet for the beloved Schubert Cello Quintet, which is the “desert island” must-have piece for many music lovers.

Furthermore, in March, we will bring two of the most fantastic musicians in the world to join us for a program of Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk and Johannes Brahms. This multigenerational cast of musicians includes the incredible young French violinist Arnaud Sussmann (below top, in a photo by Matt Dine) as well as the most important violist of our generation, Paul Neubauer (below bottom). This program is all about the passing down of the baton and the continuous investment in the next generations of artists: Brahms was the one who discovered Dvorak, and Dvorak in turn discovered Suk.

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Classical music: Superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax headline the 100th anniversary of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series next season

March 4, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following major announcement to post about the Wisconsin Union Theater, which The Ear calls “the Carnegie Hall of Madison” for its long and distinguished history of presenting great performing artists.

The Wisconsin Union Theater (below top, with Shannon Hall below bottom) is delighted to announce the schedule for its 100th Concert Series during 2019-20.

In this celebratory year, we introduce two exciting additions: A transformative gift by Kato Perlman establishes the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Series, ensuring the world’s best chamber ensembles continue to perform as a regular feature of the Concert Series.

Additionally, two Concert Series performances will take place in the Mead Witter School of Music’s new Hamel Music Center (below). We look forward to increased collaborations with the school of music.

The 100th anniversary series was curated by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee, with wife-and-husband advisors pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Tristan Cook), who are celebrated musicians and directors of several festivals of classical music and also serve as co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. (You can hear them performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The first season of this distinguished series was in 1920-1921, and featured soprano May Peterson, violinist Fritz Kreisler and pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch.

Nineteen years later, in 1939-1940, the series moved to the newly opened Wisconsin Union Theater. The first season in the Wisconsin Union Theater featured bass singer Ezio Pinza, cellist Emanuel Feuermann, violinist Joseph Szigeti, pianist Robert Casadesus and, the highlight, contralto Marian Anderson.

Through these 99 years, numerous renowned, accomplished and prominent classical musicians have played in the series, the longest continuous classical series in the Midwest. Some made their debut here and continued returning as their fame rose.

See this article for an interview with former WUT director Michael Goldberg about the history of the series.

The schedule for the 100th Concert Series, including the inaugural David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Series, is:

Oct. 6 – A cappella choral group Chanticleer, Hamel Music Center. Program To Be Announced

Nov. 2 – Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), Shannon Hall. All-Beethoven program, including Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Dec. 6 – The Kalichstein, Laredo and Robinson Piano Trio (below), Shannon Hall. “Canonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn; and Piano Trio in B-flat major “Archduke” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Jan. 25, 2020 – The Escher String Quartet (below), featuring David Finckel, Shannon Hall. Quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Fritz Kreisler and Franz Schubert.

March 5, 2020 – Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – featuring David Finckel, Wu Han, Paul Neubauer and Arnaud Sussman, Shannon Hall. Sonatine by Antonin Dvorak; Piano Quartet by Josef Suk; Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25, by Johannes Brahms.

March 7, 2020 – Wu Han with the UW Symphony Orchestra, Hamel Music Center. Program TBD.

March 28, 2020 – Violinist Gil Shaham (below) with pianist Akira Eguchi, Shannon Hall. Program TBD.

May 2, 2020 – Special Gala Concert with Renée Fleming (below). Shannon Hall. Mixed Recital.

All programs are subject to change.

Subscriptions will be available starting March 18, 2019. Subscribers benefits include: access to the best seats, 20% off the price of single tickets, no order fees, a free ticket to Wu Han’s performance with the UW Symphony Orchestra, and the opportunity to be first to purchase tickets to Renée Fleming’s 100th Anniversary Gala Concert.

Find more information about the series and the artists at Subscriptions will be available on March 18 at

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Classical music: Court victories favoring same-sex marriage equality and an extended Valentine’s Day weekend add up to a magical and loving mix for musical partners, including opera star Patricia Racette, who comes out as a lesbian.

February 16, 2014

ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?

But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.

And coming out.

One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.

gay marriage in suits

And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).

Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:

Michael Sam in football uniform

And here is a link to a Washington Post story about Ellen Page:

Ellen Page

As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.

That is exactly what was documented in a recent story on NPR’s great blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.

And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.

Here is a link:

One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.

Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.

Saint Valentine

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Classical music: Let us praise musicians who played outdoors this summer and remember the challenges they faced.

September 8, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Apparently the composer Johannes Brahms was very fond of going to outdoors concerts in his native Vienna.

No surprise. There is something liberating and social, something relaxed and informal, for both players and listeners about hearing music outdoors. (Below is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performing under its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell at the state Capitol.)

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

As summer comes to a close and fall approaches, it is good to recall that we in Madison are lucky to have so many outdoors musical events and so many of high quality.

During this past summer, for example, outdoor concerts were given by: the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its Concert in the Park; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in its justly popular Concerts on the Square; the Madison Opera for its “Opera in the Park” (below); and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras in its Concert in the Park. And there are many others who could be named.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

Then too, I think of so much other kinds of music, usually non-classical and very often roots music such as folk and bluegrass, that gets performed at various outdoors venues from the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Lakefront Terrace at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, La Fete de Marquette, the inaugural Make Music Madison Festival and the Orton Park Festival to little groups of musicians that play informally at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and various other farmers’ markets in the area.

Farmers Market music

Yet there are serious challenges to performing outdoors that non-musicians may not know about that are easy for the public to overlook. (Check out the YouTube video at the bottom and its advice from London about playing outdoors.)

Corinna da Fonsecca-Wollheim of the New York Times recently wrote about some of those challenges as an outdoors concert at the bandshell in Central Park by the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was gearing up to perform its first-ever outdoor concert, of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Antonin Dvorak, for the Naumburg Orchestra Concerts.

It is a very well done story with sources including the concert veteran and former Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel (below) and others. And her reporting gets quite specific about the challenges from keeping instrument in tune and playing the music to taking care of instruments and securing music in the stand.

Here is a link to a story that should remind us of what we can be grateful for this past summer and what we can look forward to next summer:

Do you play music outdoors?

What stories or anecdotes and experiences can you share with others about the challenges of playing music outdoors?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Meet Paul Watkins -– the new British cellist in the New York-based Emerson String Quartet who replaces 34-year-veteran and Emerson co-founder David Finckel.

June 9, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The end of this concert season has meant something special for fans of American chamber music.

It means the end of cellist David Finckel (below) playing with the venerated and globally acclaimed Emerson String Quartet, often called the best string quartet in the world. And it has performed frequently in Madison, always at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

David Finckel BIG

Finckel announced at the beginning of last season that he would retire. He has said he wants to devote more time to his solo career; to his duo performances with his pianist wife Wu Han (below); to concerts of piano trios with his wife and Emerson violinist Philip Setzer; and to his job as co-director (with his pianist wife Wu Han) of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

David Finckel and Wu Han

Still, it is a loss. Finckel was an original member of the Emerson Quartet (below) and has played with them for 34 years, winning many Grammy awards and rave reviews in the process. The quartet is so good, one wonders just what it took in the way of money and artistic freedom to lure the quartet away from its longtime recording home of Deutsche Grammophon to its new home Sony Classical.


Something The Ear particularly liked about Finckel is that he often played on and recorded with instruments that are made today.

Apparently, the quartet considered disbanding but decided instead to replace Finckel.

The choice was Paul Watkins (below), a distinguished British or, more specifically, Welsh cellist who was born in 1970 and who was a member of the Nash Ensemble, which is also acclaimed for its performances and prolific recordings, before joining the Emerson.

Paul Watkins

He remains someone to be discovered through his performances, but here is a fine interview with Watkins:

And here is a review of a performance in Montreal of Haydn. Beethoven and Bartok string quartets that featured the new Emerson Quartet with Paul Watkins. It is promising indeed, as is his performance of Francis Poulenc‘s cello sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.

What do you think of David Finckel? Any good wishes or other things you want to leave in the COMMENTS section?

And what do you know about or think of cellist Paul Watkins?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music news: Let us now praise the Tokyo String Quartet, which will disband after 40 years.

April 24, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This past weekend, in Madison we partied as we celebrated the last of this season’s four concerts, lecture series and world premieres of commissioned works marking the centennial of the UW’s Pro Arte String Quartet.

There were lectures, a dinner, a question-and-answer session with American composer John Harbison and UK musicologist/music journalist Tully Potter; and a dessert reception after a FREE concert (below) that included Haydn’s String Quartet in C major, Op. 54, No. 2; Franck’s Quartet in D major; and the world premiere of John Harbison’s Quartet No. 5, commissioned by the Pro Arte.

The Pro Arte, you may recall, started in 1912 at the Belgium Conservatory in Brussels, then became the royal court quartet and got marooned in Madison when Hitler invaded their homeland in May of 1940 while they were on tour, playing a Beethoven cycle in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

So 100 years is a world record for a quartet.

Just how very impressive that fact is came home again when I learned that the acclaimed Tokyo String Quartet (below) is going to disband at the end of next season – after 40 years of existence — instead of finding two replacements for two retiring original members.

They had already replaced two of the original members and changed record labels from RCA to Harmonia Mundi. The quartet has won major prizes at both labels.

The Tokyo is not alone. String quartets, and there are many of them right now, come and go.

Over decades,  the constant practicing and performing, touring and recording,  can be a strenuous way to earn a living and live a life. It takes a toll.

A few years back, it was the wonderful Guarneri Quartet, which recorded with pianist Artur Rubinstein in the 1960s and 1970s,  that disbanded. (The Guarneri played at the Wisconsin Union Theater during its farewell tour.)

The Emerson Quartet is still together and performing after some 35 years but is replacing is retiring cellist David Finckel who performed Mendelssohn’s two piano trios at the Wisconsin Union Theater this season with his pianist wide Wu Han and Emerson violinist Phillip Setzer.

I also heard the Tokyo Quartet at least once and probably more at the Wisconsin Union Theater. I especially recall a performance they gave of a Shostakovich quartet.

But they were also known for two complete Beethoven cycles plus Schubert and Mozart cycles. Of the two Beethoven cycles I especially love the six early Op. 18 quartets they recorded for a second cycle for Harmonia Mundi (below), although many listeners will prefer the middle and late quartets, pro their Dvorak, or Tchaikovsky, or their Debussy (at bottom). But I’m just a sucker for early Beethoven!

Anyway, cheers again to the Pro Arte and here is the story about the break up of the Tokyo, which allied itself to Japanese schools and then to Yale University as it followed the academic affiliation model pioneered by the Pro Arte Quartet when they became artists-in-residence at the UW after being exiled here.

Here is the story about the Tokyo Quartet ‘s approaching end:

And here is a link to a live concert by the Tokyo Quartet on April 7 of Haydn, Bartok and Beethoven. It is available for streaming from the New York City radio station WQXR via NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

Enjoy, and let’s relish the music we have left to hear from the Tokyo Quartet – both live and whatever they have “in the can” for recordings.

And finally: Thank you, Tokyo String Quartet, for so much beauty over so many years.

Are cellists the most friendly and sociable players in classical music?

March 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

I like festivals.

I also like cellists.

Combine the two, and you have a good thing.

A very good thing.

Just ask, if you could, that most famous cellist and festival founder  of all, Pablo Casals (below), the man who rediscovered and rehabilitated the solo cello suites of J.S. Bach.

But is the old story about cellists being the most friendly and sociable (or is it social?) of all instrument players in classical music true?

Singers might be even more social, especially given the collaborative nature of opera and choral singing.

But I have indeed found that it is very often the cellists who speak for string quartets. Locally, I have spoken with cellists Parry Karp (below), Karl Lavine, Janet Greive, Sarah Schaffer and Benjamin Whitcomb, among others. And the rule holds up.

All the cellists I have interviewed as individuals or orchestra players are also a pleasure to deal with. They often have hearty laughs and a whimsical sense of fun.

They also very often seem to preserve a sense of proportion and to act as the peacemakers in a group.

And in my experience even solo cellists like Alisa Weilerstein, David Finckel and Yo-Yo Ma (below) are gracious, outgoing and sociable.

What is it about the cello and cellists that make them that way?

Could it be because the cello’s tone is so close to the human voice?

Could it be that you learn to offer help to and accept help from others when you lug around a big instrument and pay for a second plane seat on the airplane?

Could it be you feel especially close and human as a musician when you wrap your legs around your instrument?

Could it be the kind of music, very songful and lyrical music, that cellists so often play?

Could it be all of the above, or many of the above in some combination?

Well, it turns out that my own personal impressions are not just mine.

Take a look at the following stories.

The first examines the inaugural First Piatigorsky Cello Festival in Los Angeles, overseen by cellist Ralph Kirschbaum (below), who performed a few seasons ago with the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

More to the point, using the festival’s collaborative celebration of J.S. Bach’s 327th birthday last Wednesday, the second story takes a closer look at the reputation cellists have for being amiable.

Classical music datebook: Great chamber music by Mendelssohn and by living composers plus some Big Beethoven mark a rich week for music in Madison.

February 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a rich week for great classical music in Madison. Some might even say it is too rich, since Friday is another one of those inevitable train wrecks.

That’s when two great and very appealing concerts take place almost at the same time: an all-Mendelssohn concert by the David Finckel, Wu Han and Philip Setzer piano trio (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and a largely Beethoven concert, with the Violin Concerto and the Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at the Overture Center.

My colleague Greg Hettmansberger even wrote in detail about the conflict for his “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine:

But I guess that is the price one pays for living in such a culturally rich city. Still, for the sake of audiences, performers and the financial stability of the organizations, The Ear just wishes that the two organizations would cooperate more closely to eliminate such heart-breaking conflicts when they are not absolutely necessary.

Anyway, there is a lot of other notable musical concerts to console us for that one disheartening dilemma.


At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Western Percussion Ensemble (below) and UW percussionist Anthony Di Sanza will give a FREE concert. No program is available yet.

The recital by UW soprano Julia Faulkner and pianist Martha Fischer has been CANCELLED.


Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpist Linda Warren, violinist Leyla Sanyer and cellist Philip Delaquessi in music of Naderman and Respighi. For information, call (608) 233-9774 or visit

From 2:30 to 4 p.m., a TRIPLE-HEADER of FREE public master classes, with University of Wisconsin-Madison students, will be held: Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel in Mills Hall; Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer (below) in Morphy Recital Hall; and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center pianist and co-director Wu Han on the stage at the Wisconsin Union Theater, where the same trio will performance an all-Mendelssohn program later Friday night.

At 7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, retiring Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel and his wife Wu Han (below), who also co-direct The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, will team up with Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer to perform both piano trios and a cello sonata in an all-Mendelssohn program.

It is a mark of the prestige these performers are held in that the concert is officially designated the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert. Each season the Wisconsin Union Theater names a concert in honor of Taylor, the pioneering university arts presenter who founded the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series and led it for many decades.

Here is link to more information, including ticket prices, a video and reviews, of Friday night’s concert by the Finckel, Setzer and Wu Han Trio:

At 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below) will perform Benjamin Britten’s “End Sequence” from “Night Mail” as well as Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”).

For more information about the concert and tickets, visit:


At 11:55 a.m. CST at the Point and Eastgate cinemas, the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” satellite broadcast will feature Verdi’s “Ernani.” The cast includes (below) acclaimed soprano Angela Meade and Marcello Giordani. (The encore presentation is March 14 at 6:30 p.m.)

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Circa Now,” a FREE concert of works by living composers. The ensemble performs “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man” by UW composer John Stevens, who will conduct the work; “Concerto for percussion” by Michael Udow, with percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza; “The Future of Fire” by Zhou Long (below), the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in music, with the UW Concert Choir; and “Cosmosis” by Susan Botti, with soprano soloist Mimmi Fulmer and the women of the Concert Choir.  Scott Teeple is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble.

A pre-concert discussion with Stevens, Udow and Zhou will take place at 7:15 p.m.


This week’s “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” offers violinist Kangwon Lee Kim (below) 12:30-2 p.m. p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art. It will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Kim will be joined by colleagues Eli Kalman, pianist, David Rubin, violinist, Matthew Michelic, violist, and Janet Anthony, cellist, presenting Sonatas for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven and Maurice Ravel, and the Piano Quintet in C minor by Erno Dohnanyi.

Kim received degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oberlin Conservatory, the Manhattan School of Music, and Temple University, and this year she has been asked to join the faculty at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Steep & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, a FREE concert will be performed by the UW Concert Band, conducted by Michael Leckrone (below).

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel of Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform a concert under the direction of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci).

The program includes Rossini’s “L’Inganno Felice” Overture, Gorecki’s “Kleines Requiem für eine Polka” (Little Requiem for a Polka), and Mozart’s well-known Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door.


The Middleton Community Orchestra’s Winter Concert, conducted by Steve Kurr, will be on Wednesday, February 29, 7:30 at the Middleton Performing Arts Center at Middleton High School. The concert features a performance of “Schelomo,” by Ernest Bloch with cellist Jordan Allen (below) as soloist. The orchestra will also play “John Henry” by Aaron Copland and “The Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

Tickets are $10 for general admission. Students and retirement home residents are free. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West.

Call 608-212-8690 for more information.

Classical music Q&A: Who will replace the famed Beaux Arts Trio? Cellist David Finckel, violinist Philip Setzer and Pianist Wu Han of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center talk about their all-Mendelssohn concert this Friday at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison.

February 20, 2012
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ALERT: Want to sing through Haydn’s great oratorio “The Creation”? Then consider going to the FREE Madison Symphony Chorus Community Open Sing! this Tuesday night from 7:30 to 9:30 in the Wisconsin Room of the Overture Center. Scores will be provided and all levels are welcome. You’ll join members of the Madison Symphony Chorus and conductor-director Beverly Taylor, along with choristers from all over the community.  Taylor will lead singersl in a brief rehearsal of the main choruses.Then the public will sing them through with arias sung by soloists from the UW-Madison School of Music. (On Tuesday, March 20, the same group will do Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist David Finckel made news last week when he announced that after 36 years he would retire at the end of next season from the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning Emerson String Quartet (below, with Finckel on the far right).By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a link to an NPR story about his retirement:

One of the reasons Finckel gave for the move — he will be replaced in 2013 by British cellist Paul Watkins — was to devote himself to other enterprises, including running the CD label (ArtistLed) and co-directing the famed Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, both of which he does with his wife, pianist Wu Han.

Another reason Finckel gave for retiring from the Emerson will be to devote himself to other forms of chamber music – which makes this Friday’s concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison all the more timely, notable and even newsworthy.

On Friday night at 7:30 is when celllist Finckel and his wife Wu Han will team up with Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer to perform both piano trios and a cello sonata in an all-Mendelssohn program.

It is a mark of the prestige these performers are held in that the concert is officially designated the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert. Each season the Wisconsin Union Theater names a concert in honor of Taylor, the pioneering university arts presenter who founded the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series and led it for many decades.

Here is link to more information, including ticket prices, a video and reviews, of Friday night’s concert by the Finckel, Setzer and Wu, Han Trio:

Could this trio become the new Beaux Arts Trio? David Finckel and Wu Han (below) took time out from their hectic schedule to answer an email Q&A for The Ear about their upcoming concert:

Speaking as members of the Emerson String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, how healthy would you say the state of chamber music in America is today compared to the past?

DAVID FINCKEL: Chamber music varies, as do all classical music and serious art forms in America, from very healthy to endangered, depending upon the integrity, commitment of the local presenter and the engagement and support of the community.

We are often encouraged or alarmed when we travel to see different results in different communities. However, we always find intelligent, passionate audience in many different corners of the world.

We find if chamber music is presented in the best way – with intimacy and passion — the audience is always inspired. Because of that, we found through our role in the Emerson Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, chamber music continues to be a big part of many people’s lives.

How and why did the three of you start a piano trio?

WU HAN: We all love the same repertoire and have enjoyed making music together for quite a long time. It all started with the two Schubert trios (Note: Those trios are available in an exceptional recording, below bottom,  from Artist Led and you can hear some of them at the bottom.) David and I knew Phil Setzer (below top) would be the perfect partner to record with because we all feel very deeply and similarly about that music.

It was such a success that we continued with the Mendelssohn trios now. We don’t know if this trio will continue, but we are letting the repertoire guide us.

Why did you choose an all-Mendelssohn program? Could you give a short introduction to each piece you will play and what you think its importance is or what the audience should listen for?

DAVID FINCKEL: Mendelssohn (below) was not only one of the most skilled and devoted musicians of all time, but his music appeals to a broad spectrum of the public — from those who are musical experts to new listeners.  His ingenious voice well deserves an entire evening’s attention.

The Trio in D Minor, Mendelssohn’s first, shows him in a stormy mood for its outer movements, and offers both a song without words and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” experience in its middle movements. There’s something for everyone in this trio.

The second Trio in C Minor is a more advanced work in terms of its structure, with a final movement that contains extraordinary innovations. Listen for the quiet introducing of a hymn within a folk-inspired movement, and follow its progress towards the conclusion where both ideas are reconciled. It is one of the most magical creations in all of chamber music.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major is one of Mendelssohn’s most exuberant works. Giving the lion’s share of notes to the piano, the composer nevertheless affords the cello all the main themes and uses the instrument’s signature lyrical strengths to the fullest. It’s an absolute joy to play from start to finish.

Does the piano trio as a musical form or genre lack prestige or popularity compared to the string quartet, and if so why do you think that is?

WU HAN: The piano trio, in our experience, lacks neither prestige nor popularity among classical musicians and certainly among audiences. Not as much literature exists for the piano trio as for the string quartet, though, and as a result not as many professional trios exist as do string quartets.

The challenges of playing trios well are enormous. Ever since the days when Cortot, Thibaud and Casals (below, in that order in 1926)  played trios, the public has expected world-class level of every trio’s members. The standards set by the world’s greatest trios are hard to live up to, but we try.

With the retirement of the incomparable Beaux Arts Trio (below) recently, we have found that chamber music audiences are hungry for trios. We come to Madison to feed them!

What are your plans for the trio in terms of concerts, projects and recordings?

WU HAN: Our trio is not a formally formed ensemble. We don’t even have a name! We have approached our projects simply as musically compatible friends who are eager to perform this repertoire, having always wanted to. We approach our trio’s career, if you can call it that, on a project-by-project basis. After Mendelssohn, there is another in the oven, but we can’t talk about that yet. Stay tuned.

Will you bring new string instruments as well as old ones to the concert?

DAVID FINCKEL: Philip Setzer and I will be playing the violin and cello made for us by Samuel Zygmuntowicz (below, in his workshop photographed by Melissa Hamburg), although I might bring my Guadagnini.

All three of you have performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, two of you quite often in the Emerson Quartet and the other as a solo recitalist. Do you have an impression of Madison and its audience?

WU HAN: We consider the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison one of the most important and distinguished venues in the United States. A visit backstage will reveal, via historic posters, extraordinary seasons of concerts going way back to the Golden Age of instrumental playing in the first half of the 20th century. One is conscious of the tradition of greatness, and, combined with the vibrant, youthful audience, we know it is a place where we have to play our best.

Classical music: Annals of the Violin 1 – Can YOU hear the difference between a vintage Stradivarius violin and a newly made 21st-century violin?

January 5, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Sometimes the same subject draws the interest of different reporters, and we have a happy convergence of information that can often remain esoteric and known only to specialists.

Two recent stories – one in The New York Times and the other on NPR – focused on the differences – or lack of them – between old and new violins.

Traditionally, the Old Master violins, made by Stradivarius (above, the 1729 “Solomon ex-Lambert” Strad photographed by Dan Emmert/Getty Images) and by Guarneri, sell for millions and are legendary. They are always considered more beautiful in tone, louder in volume and easier to play than more modern instruments.

But how much of that received wisdom is, in fact, wisdom or truth? And how much of it is myth or hype?

Defying conventional wisdom, some high-profile professional concertizing musicians have turned to modern string instruments, including cellist David Finckel (below) of the Emerson String Quartet who will perform an all-Mendelssohn program with the David Finckel, pianist Wu Han and violinist Philip Setzer Piano Trio at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Friday, Feb. 24. And the acclaimed German violin virtuoso Christian Teztlaff (at bottom, playing solo Bach) also performs on a modern violin.

This is a particularly interesting topic to Madison circles. Until his death last summer, William “Jack” Fry (below), a retired professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Physics Department, had long investigated the sonics and engineering of violins. The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has used some of Fry’s instruments as played by John and Rose Mary Harbison, the husband composer/violist and wife-violinist who co-direct the summer festival.

So both old and new violins have their defenders and partisans.

Now you can try the test and decide for yourself.

Here is a link to an illuminating background story in the New York Times.

And here is a link to the NPR story – listen to the streamed broadcast over reading the typescript, if you can — where you can take a “blindfold” hearing test to see whether the old or new violin sounds better to you, and then compare your results to the panel of experts and violinists:

How did you do?

What did you learn?

What do you say in the debate about the superiority of older violins and the inferiority of newer violins?

The Ear wants to hear.

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