The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Alumna violist Vicki Powell returns this weekend to perform with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and kick off WYSO’s 50th anniversary season. Plus, Madison Music Makers gives a free concert at noon on Saturday

November 10, 2015
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ALERT: This Saturday, from noon to 1 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, downtown on the Capitol Square, Madison Music Makers will give a FREE concert in the monthly Grace Presents series of music that includes works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Antonio Vivaldi and Ludwig van Beethoven  as well as popular music, country music and American, Bolivian, French, German, Jewish, English folksongs. Founded in 2007 by Bonnie Green and sponsored by many individuals and groups, including the Madison public schools, Madison Music Makers is dedicated to giving low-income students in the Madison area high-quality music lessons.

For more information about how to support or participate in the organization, visit:

Madison Music Makers

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present its first concert series of its 50th anniversary season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts, on Saturday, Nov. 14, and Sunday, Nov. 15.

WYSO Logo blue

Nearly 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the three concerts, which are dedicated to private and school music teachers.

The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

WYSO’s Percussion Ensemble (below), led by director Vicki Jenks will kick off the concert series at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

Immediately following the Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below) and its conductor Michelle Kaebisch will take the stage and perform the Masquerade Suite by Aram Khachaturian; Reigger’s Rhythmic Dances; the Light Calvary Overture by Franz Von Suppe; and the Berceuse (Lullaby) and Finale from the “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

WYSO violins of Philharmonia Orchestra

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Concert Orchestra (below) under the direction of conductor Christine Eckel will perform The Quest by Kerr, Romany Dances by DelBorgo and Slane by Douglas Wagner. The Concert Orchestra will also perform two works by John Williams in Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which Williams co-composed with Alexandre Desplat.

wyso concert orchestra brass

Following the Concert Orchestra, WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will take the stage. Conductor Mark Leiser will lead the orchestra in seven works including the Adagio movement from the Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; Silva’s The Evil Eye and the Hideous Heart; Edward MacDowell’s Alla Tarantella; Shenandoah arranged by Erik Morales, Forever Joyful and Lullaby to the Moon by Balmages; and the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba by George Frideric Handel.

WYSO Sinfonietta

On Sunday, Nov. 15, WYSO’s Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Atz, will open the 1:30 p.m. concert.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

Following the Harp Ensemble, the Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of WYSO music director Maestro James Smith, will perform three pieces.

WYSO Youth Orchestra

In honor of WYSO’s 50th Anniversary, WYSO welcomes back one of their illustrious alumni, violist Vicki Powell (below). Powell began her vibrant musical career studying with UW-Madison faculty members Eugene Purdue and Sally Chisholm, who plays with the Pro Arte Quartet.

From there, she graduated from the Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music. She has performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. For her full bio, please visit our website at

Vicki Powell 2

Vicki Powell, along with the Youth Orchestra will perform the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Bela Bartok. (You can hear the rhapsodic slow first movement played by Yuri Bashmet and the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Following that performance, the Youth Orchestra will continue the concert with Rainbow Body by Theofanidis and the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc. charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information about WYSO, visit:

Classical music review: The Middleton Community Orchestra again shows itself to be a valuable but under-appreciated resource in an area rich with great music-making.

March 5, 2012

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 every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

Once again, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by William Ballhorn)) has reminded me of what genuine musical riches are to be found in the less-publicized areas of our cultural life.

Last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the MCO delivered the third of its four concerts this season. It was a short but intense program of three 20th-century works.

The first item was Aaron Copland‘s “Railroad Ballad for Orchestra” on the traditional song “John Henry,” about the railroading hero. This served as a lively, even noisy opener, but one rather too simplistic in its textures to foretell what lay ahead.

Ernest Bloch‘s “Hebraic Rhapsody” Schelomo is at once a symphonic poem and a miniature concerto for cello.

Featured as soloist was Jordan Allen (below), an example of the kind of talent that can so readily be harvested from hereabouts. Wisconsin-born Allen, already a veteran of the Eastman School of Music, is currently a fellowship graduate student at the UW School of Music Boyishly young and charming, he has the makings of a fine artist. He is already skilled as a chamber musician, but he gives the impression of still working his way into solo concertizing.

Playing from the score, he appeared to be still working to master Bloch’s solo demands. He produced a genuinely warm and winning tone, note-perfect, but nevertheless not fulfilling Bloch’s vision of the Biblical Solomon as a powerful king and a pillar of wisdom.

The orchestra worked intensely at Bloch’s dense tapestry of colors, conveying it with conviction, though conductor Steve Kurr could not quite bring its swirling climaxes to fullest realization.

The third work in the intermission-less concert was the 1919 Suite from Stravinsky’s great ballet, L’oiseau de feu or “The Firebird.” Conductor and orchestra clearly had put a lot of devoted work into preparing the performance.

Kurr (below) made no attempt at a flamboyant “interpretation,” but he guided the players with care and clarity through the intricate patterns of instrumental color that the score contains. Particularly impressive was the work of the splendid team of woodwind players with which the MCO is blessed. The sum total was a performance of satisfying vivacity and strength.

Kurr and his MCO players are a brave bunch, working near-miracles in their very restricted rehearsal time. The Madison area can be proud to have them among its musical resources.

Delighting in facing challenges, they have posed a real set of them for their final concert of this season, to be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30: Suppe’s “Jolly Robbers” Overture; Samuel Barber‘s First Essay for Orchestra; Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488, with soloist Thomas Kasdorf; and the Brahms Fourth Symphony. I, for one, am really looking forward to it.

Here is a link to the Middleton Community Orchestra’s website for more information about how to join it plus background stories, reviews and photos::

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