The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Acclaimed native son Kenneth Woods returns this weekend to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He talks to The Ear about what Madison meant to him and his international career

March 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, native Madisonian Kenneth Woods (below) returns from his home in the UK to conduct three performances of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts feature two MSO debuts: the prize-winning young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor; and the acclaimed guest conductor, Kenneth Woods, leading the orchestra for the MSO premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “Miracle” plus Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Performances will be held in Overture Hall on Friday night, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, March 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now, along with discounted tickets, at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/the-miracle/; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street; or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online and phone sales.

You can view program notes for this concert online at http://bit.ly/msomar2020programnotes

A Prelude Discussion by Randal Swiggum will take place one hour before each concert.

Guest conductor Kenneth Woods is a busy and versatile musician. He is the Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of both the Colorado MahlerFest and the Elgar Festival in England. (You can hear Woods conducting Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Woods has won accolades for rediscovering and recording the music of the Austrian-British composer Hans Gàl. Woods, who has played guitar in a rock band, is also a professional cellist who solos with orchestras and plays chamber music. He writes a respected blog. And he currently plays and records in the Briggs Piano Trio for Avie Records.

For much more information about Kenneth Woods, including his blog “A View From the Podium,” go to: https://kennethwoods.net/blog1/

Woods recently spoke via email to The Ear about what Madison has meant to him and to his international career.

How did living in Madison play a role in your decision to become a professional musician?

Madison offered me a chance to hear music at an early age. I was taken to watch a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra as a very young kid, maybe three or four years old. That made a huge impression on me, especially seeing the rehearsal process. Later, my parents took us to all the UW Symphony Orchestra concerts for years.

There’s really no reason not to take young kids to concerts! For me, a love of live music led to a love of recorded music, listening to records at home, and from there, to an interest in playing music as a kid.

We were lucky to have a very strong music program in the Madison public schools when I was growing up here. The orchestras at Memorial High School played some really impressive repertoire under Tom Buchhauser (below top, in a photo by Jon Harlow). The UW Summer Music Clinic made being a musician social – it was a great immersion with one’s peers.

Most important, however, was probably the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Playing under Jim Smith (below bottom) was the most fantastic education in orchestral playing one could hope for. He and Tom are a big part of why I became a conductor.

Madison in those days wasn’t a super-pressurized scene, like one might encounter around the big pre-college programs in New York or LA. But what I might have missed in terms of conservatory-level instrumentalists in every corridor, one made up in terms of feeling like you could find your own path. By the time I was in high school, I pretty much knew music was that path.

How did your experiences in Madison help prepare you for that career?

I learned so much about rehearsing from Jim Smith. In his first year, we worked on Dvorak’s 8th Symphony pretty much all year. Every week, he opened our ears to new facets of the music. I’ve never forgotten that.

I went off to Indiana University to do my Bachelor’s degree, but returned to Madison for a Master’s, when I studied cello with UW-Madison professor Parry Karp (below top).

Those were wonderful years for me. I learned an enormous amount from Parry as both a cello teacher and chamber music coach (and especially as a person).

I played in fantastic chamber groups, did lots of wacky new music and had solo opportunities. UW Symphony Orchestra conductor David Becker (below bottom) even gave me my first meaningful chance to rehearse an orchestra when he had me take a couple of rehearsals on the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

And I played in both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I came away from that time with both new skills and new confidence.

What does returning to your hometown to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra mean to you?

It’s both very exciting and a little surreal. Under the leadership of John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), the MSO (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has come so far since the time I was in it. And the new hall is such a treasure for all of Wisconsin – it’s practically a different orchestra.

I still have many friends and former mentors in the orchestra and it’s going to be wonderful to see them all and make music together again after so long.

But it’s more than a homecoming. It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve all been and what we’ve all done the last 20 years or so. My musical life has mostly been in the UK for a long time, so to re-connect with my musical roots here is rather magical.

What are your major current and upcoming projects?

The English Symphony Orchestra (below) represents the biggest chunk of my musical life. This year we’re celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.

The ESO has a special commitment to new and unknown music, and right now we’re in the midst of something called the 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by diverse composers. It’s one of the most ambitious commissioning projects I’ve ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

I’m also excited about this year’s Colorado MahlerFest in Boulder, where we’re focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” this May, which will crown a week of music exploring themes of color and visual art with music by Wagner, Messiaen and British composer Philip Sawyers.

Is the MSO program special to you?

I must say that it was incredibly generous of John DeMain to offer me such a fantastic program. Not every music director is gentleman enough to let a guest have Ein Heldenleben.

What would you like the public to know about your approach to music and about the specific works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss?

Haydn’s music is maybe the richest discovery of my adult life. I didn’t get it as a kid, largely because most performances I heard were so dull.

His music is so varied, and his personality so complex, one mustn’t try to reduce him down to a simplistic figure. The late symphonies, of which this is one of the finest, are inexhaustible sources of wisdom, beauty, humor and sanity.

The Mendelssohn is really an astonishing piece. I’ve probably conducted it as much as any piece of music, with so many different soloists, all of whom had hugely different temperaments, personalities, sounds and approaches.

I’ve played it with some of the greatest violinists in the world and with young students. Somehow, whoever is playing, it always leaves me, and the audience, smiling. I’m pretty sure we can continue that streak with Blake Pouliot (below, in a photo by Jeff Fasano).

The Strauss is a rich, personal, wise, funny and moving work. It’s always a challenge, particularly bringing out all the astonishing detail in the score, but it’s also a real joy to perform. If the Mendelssohn always leaves me smiling, the Strauss always leaves me smiling with a tear in my eye.

 


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Classical music: This week brings Baroque music from Just Bach this Wednesday at noon and Sonata a Quattro next Sunday afternoon

November 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings authentic Baroque music from two newer groups that employ period instruments and historically informed performance practices: Just Bach and Sonata a Quattro.

The concert for November by Just Bach (below, in a photo by John W. Barker, takes place this Wednesday, Nov. 20, from noon to 12:30 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave, in Madison.

The performance is free and open to the public, with a good will offering collected.

Performers are: Sarah Brailey, soprano; Lindsey Meekhof, mezzo-soprano; Thore Dosdall, tenor; Paul Rowe, baritone; Linda Pereksta, flute; Kangwon Lee Kim and Nathan Giglierano, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; James Waldo, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ.

The program opens with the six-minute instrumental Sinfonia from Cantata 209. Just Bach favorite Linda Pereksta will be the featured flute soloist, backed up by the strings-and-organ band. (You can hear the Sinfonia in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Cantata 151 ‘Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kommt‘ (Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes) closes the program. Each of the first four movements of this cantata features a different vocal soloist — the serene soprano aria also boasts a lovely flute obbligato — concluding with the chorale in which all take part.

Those who attend are invited to “bring your lunch, bring your ears and your voice, bring a friend, but most of all bring yourself to this stirring program of J.S. Bach.”

The next Just Bach program is Wednesday, Dec. 18, at noon.

For more information, go to:

https://justbach.org/

https://www.facebook.com/events/451732972120968/

SONATA A QUATTRO

This week the Madison-based group Sonata à Quattro (below) will give two performances of its program “A Dark and Stormy Night”:

The program is:

  • Motet: “In furore iustissimae irae” (In the fury of most righteous wrath), RV 626 by Antonio Vivaldi
  • Quartet No. 1 in D Major by Johann Joachim Quantz
  • Cello Sonata in C Minor, Book II No. 6 by Jean-Baptiste Barrière
  • Concerto for 4 in D Minor, TWV 43:d2 by Georg Philipp Telemann
  • Cantata 209: “Non sa che sia dolore” (He does not know what sorrow is) by Johann Sebastian Bach

Sonata à Quattro performers are: Christine Hauptly Annin and Nathan Giglierano, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen, cello; Daniel Sullivan, harpsichord; and Kristin Knutson, soprano. Special guest artist is flutist Linda Pereksta (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

Says founder and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below): “Join us for a program of dark and stormy pieces, on period-instruments. Sonata à Quattro’s third season opens with a program exploring the darker side of human experience, from Vivaldi’s motet, burning with godly rage, to Bach’s secular Cantata, deploring the departure of a beloved friend.

“Quantz’ bubbly Flute Quartet in D Major provides some needed moments of optimism, before we turn to the poignant, brooding Cello Sonata by Barrière. Even the viola gets a turn, in the Telemann, to unfold a haunting saga of tragic beauty.

“But the composers do not leave us in despair; each one leads the listener through the dark night of the soul, to the morning after.”

The Bach Cantata opens with an instrumental Sinfonia, heard in the YouTube video at the bottom, that features flutist Linda Pereksta, who also plays in the works by Quantz and Telemann.

For more information, go to:

https://sonataaquattro.com

facebook.com/sonataaquattro

 


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Classical music: Free “Just Bach” concerts change the starting time to NOON and begin their second season this Wednesday at Luther Memorial Church. Here are programs for this semester

September 15, 2019
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The Ear has received the following announcement from the organizers and performers of Just Bach, which had a very successful inaugural run last season:

Join us on this coming Wednesday, Sept. 18, as we kick off our second season of “Just Bach” concerts. The concerts are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, with a goodwill offering collected.

The Just Bach concert series – which features Baroque period instruments and historically informed performance practices — resumes as part of the weekly free noontime “Music at Midday” concerts in the gorgeous sanctuary (below) of Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave. For more information and a schedule of other performances and performers in the series,  go to: luthermem.org/music-at-midday

PLEASE NOTE: While the one-hour Just Bach concerts last season started at 1 p.m., this season they will start at NOON.

The photo (below, from left) shows three performers for this upcoming first concert: soprano Sarah Brailey, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt, and traverse flutist Linda Pereksta.

The season-opener is an instrumental program titled “Gamba Sonatas Without the Gambas.” (Gamba is the Italian word for leg and was used to describe what would evolve into the modern cello.)

Of the three sonatas written for viola da gamba (an early version of the modern cello) and harpsichord, BWV 1027-1029, we’ll hear the first and third, but in alternate versions.

First on the program is the hauntingly beautiful Sonata No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 1029, performed on viola da braccio (baroque viola) and harpsichord. (You can hear the opening movement of the original version, played on a modern cello and piano by Janos Starker and Gyorgy Sebok, respectively, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Following that will be the jaunty Sonata in G Major BWV 1039, the Trio Sonata arrangement for cello, flute and harpsichord that Bach made of the Sonata No. 1, BWV 1027.

Just Bach regulars traverse flutists Linda Pereksta and Monica Steger and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt return to the stage. They will be joined by cellist Lindsey Crabb (below top) and UW-Madison harpsichordist John Chapell Stowe (below bottom on the right), who are making their debuts at Just Bach.

Just Bach organizer and regular performer, as well as UW graduate student and professional touring soprano, Sarah Brailey (below) leads the chorale sing-along, a beloved audience-participation feature of these programs. 

Bring your lunch, bring your ears and your voice, and bring a friend, but most of all bring yourself to enjoy the sublime music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is a schedule of upcoming Just Bach concerts this fall, all taking place on Wednesdays at noon:

Oct. 16:  Cantata 158 Der Friede sei mit dir (Peace be with you)

Nov. 20:  Cantata 151 Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kommt (Sweet comfort, my Jesus comes)

Dec. 18:  Christmas Pastiche

For more information, including tips on parking, go to the website justbach.org


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Classical music: WQXR radio names 19 musicians to watch in ’19. What do you think of the choices? Who would you add?

January 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

What will 2019 bring in the way of classical music?

What and who should we be looking at and paying attention to?

WQXR — the famed classical radio station in New York City – recently published its list of 19 to watch in ‘19, with detailed reasons for and explanations of their picks.

It seems like a pretty good choice to The Ear, although there is always something of a parlor game aspect to such projects.

Nonetheless, the list covers a fine variety – instrumentalists and vocalists, young and old, American and international, the well-known and the up-and-coming such as the opera singer Devone Tines (below, in a photo by Nikolai Schukoff).

Some names will be familiar to Madison audiences – such as pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Nicola Benedettti, the JACK Quartet and cellist Steven Isserlis — especially through their live appearances at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra plus broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to the list: https://www.wqxr.org/story/wqxr-presents-19-19-artists-collaborations-upcoming-year/

The Ear can think of some other musicians that he would add to the list.

An especially deserving one of them is the young American virtuoso pianist George Li (below, in a photo by Simon Fowler).

Born in China and brought as a child to the United States by his parents, Li attended Harvard and just finished his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. (At the bottom, you can hear Li play virtuosic music by Liszt and Horowitz in the YouTube video of a Tiny Desk Concert at National Public Radio or NPR.)

Li won the silver medal in the 2015 at the 15th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow and had a lot of people talking about the energy and excitement of his playing. He was praised for both outstanding technical prowess and deep expressiveness.

He then took first prize at a piano competition in Paris.

Ever since, he has been steadily booked. At 23, the amiable Li has already toured China, Japan and Russia and seems to have a very busy schedule ahead of him, judging by his posts on Instagram.

He has also released his first recording on the Warner Classics label, a fine CD that received many positive reviews from critics, including this one.

The program includes Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor “Funeral March,” Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” and Consolation No. 3 and the popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

Given all the concertos he is now performing, it would not surprise one to see his next recording be a concerto, possibly the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto N. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, which brought him instant acclaim.

Here is a link to his website: http://www.georgelipianist.com

And here is a link to his entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Li

Keep your ears and eyes on George Li.

What do you think of the choices made by WQXR?

Who would you add to the list of musicians to watch in 2019, and why?

If possible, maybe you can include a YouTube link to a performance, live or recorded, in your comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra impresses in a concert of “non-holiday” music for the holidays. Plus, what music is best to greet the Winter Solstice today?

December 21, 2018
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ALERT: Today we turn a  corner when the Winter Solstice arrives at 4:23 p.m. Days will start getting longer. What music would you celebrate it with? Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” section of “The Four Seasons”? Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey”? Let The Ear know in the COMMENT section with a YouTube link if possible. Here comes the sun!

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 WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) proudly presented an alternative Christmas program of music, none of which had any connection whatsoever with that otherwise inescapable holiday.

It was a program of great variety, full of novelties.

It began soberly with Gustav Mahler’s early song cycle, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). This venture into German orchestral song (with a folk song background) provided symphonic inspiration for his First Symphony, the so-called “Titan,” so it unites many strains in the composer’s work.

Baritone Paul Rowe (below), of the UW-Madison’s music faculty, sang these songs. Rowe has a strong feeling for German, and he used clear diction to capture the dramatic meanings of the four song texts.

A contrast then, and a particular novelty, was the appearance of Matthew Coley (below), of the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion, playing the cimbalom, the intensely Hungarian version of the hammered dulcimer. 

He was joined by the orchestra for a fancy arrangement of the Hungarian dance, the popular Czardas by Vittorio Monti. (You can hear Matthew Coley play the same piece on the cimbalom in the YouTube video at the bottom.) He followed this with an encore, a hand-me-down arrangement of a movement from one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo cello suites.

More contrast came with the mini-ballet score by Darius Milhaud Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) of 1919. This was one of the French composer’s trailblazing introductions of American jazz styles into European music.

It really works best with a small orchestra, so Middleton’s was a bit overblown for the assignment. But the elaborate solo role for violin was taken by Naha Greenholtz — concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wife of the evening’s guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who is the music director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Associate Conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. There are some fiendish passages in the solo work, and Greenholtz brought them off with unfailing flair.

The final part of the program was devoted to the orchestral suite that Zoltan Kodaly derived from his Singspiel of 1926, Hary Janos, in which a comic Hungarian soldier upstages even Napoleon.

This is a satiric and highly colorful assemblage that offers wonderful opportunities for all of the instruments and sections to show off. And Coley was back with his cimbalom for Hungarian spice. The players clearly were having a great frolic, and conductor Knox drew the best out of them in a bravura performance.

Ah yes! Christmas without “Christmas” music. A wonderful idea to refresh the ears in December!


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Classical music: Two performances of a FREE family concert for young children of “Beethoven Lives Next Door” take place this Saturday morning at the Goodman Community Center  

May 17, 2018
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, young children and their families can experience the world of classical music through the eyes and ears of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Beethoven will be portrayed by Whitney Derendinger (below) of the UW-Madison Department of Theatre and Drama.

Two performances of the FREE concert will combine music, storytelling and learning for the whole family as Beethoven and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, with help from students from the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music, bring to life the compositional journey of the infamous theme and first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – heard in the YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 53 million views — which closed the WCO season last weekend.

Here are the details:

WHERE: Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa Street, on Madison’s east side

WHEN: Saturday, May 19, 2018

CONCERT 1

9:00 a.m. | Preconcert Activities

9:30 a.m. | Performance #1 (40 minutes)

CLICK HERE to get tickets to Concert 1

CONCERT 2

10:45 a.m. | Preconcert Activities

11:15 a.m. | Performance #2 (40 minutes)

CLICK HERE to get tickets to Concert 2

The WCO’s Family Community Concert Series is a new, free-of-charge but ticketed educational program for children ages 4-10 and their families.

A unique format will encourage audience members of all ages to interact with classical music and each other like they never have before and serve as a new way for parents to introduce their children to classical music.

WCO will use music to inspire connections within families and communities and to foster a love for music that spans generations.

Families can also help prepare children for the experience. For more information and a preparatory study guide, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/education/wco-connect-family-concerts/concert-experience

The event is sponsored by CUNA Mutual and Findorff Construction.


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