ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume this week after a break for Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays. This Friday, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., pianist Olivia Musat will perform music by Olivier Messiaen, Isaac Albeniz and Paul Constantinesco.
By Jacob Stockinger
It seems a tradition throughout the media to offer a roundup of the Year’s Best with a local slant.
The Ear already offered a national and international roundup. Here is a link to that, especially to the surprisingly rich roundup that he unexpectedly found on Wikipedia:
For a more local perspective, The Ear trusts and generally agrees with critic John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog and more often for Isthmus.
Here is a link to Barker’s list of memorable concerts in the Madison area, Because Isthmus mixes classical with other genres like pop, folk and jazz, you have to scroll down to “Classical cornucopia”:
Although I agree with all the concerts that Barker mentions, he left out some that The Ear really loved. One was the absolutely riveting and moving performance in November by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain of the momentous Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
For example just about everything that the Pro Arte Quartet does at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is first-rate and memorable, whether they play in Mills Hall or on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen Museum of Art.”
But this past fall, a free noontime concert by the Pro Arte with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher especially stood out. Together (below), they performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms – an unquestionable masterpiece in an unforgettable performance.
The Ear would also add two events, both violin recitals, at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Last spring Hilary Hahn (below top, in a photo by Peter Miller) turned in a stunningly superb recital. Then this fall, superstar Joshua Bell (below bottom) did the same. Both artists displayed terrific musicality combined with terrific virtuosity in generous and first-rate, ambitious programs.
He would add several summer concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, especially the sizzling dueling violin concert (below) where the BDDS interspersed “The Four Seasons” buy Antonio Vivaldi with “The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.
The Ear would also add an experimental concert at which UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) unveiled his reworked two-keyboard “Hyperpiano.” While the concert, which featured the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, wasn’t successful musically, it certainly was intriguing, unusual and highly memorable, even with imperfect digital technology.
And The Ear also recalls a fine concert by the Rhapsodie Quartet (below) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center.
And let’s not forget the University Opera’s production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi that was impressively and successfully updated to Hollywood by director David Ronis.
The Ear is sure there are more memorable concerts that escape him right now. Madison just features so much wonderful music-making in the course of a year.
Moreover, The Ear is also sure you have your favorites – whether they are individual plays; small chamber music groups such as duos, string quartets and piano trios; larger ensembles like the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater; or entire events like the UW Brass Festival.
I am sure that fans of the innovative percussion group Clocks in Motion and the acclaimed Madison Choral Project have a concert or two to nominate.
So please use the COMMENT section to tell us what were your most memorable classical concerts in Madison during 2016.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Cohen was not a major figure in classical music.
But even as a young artist (below) in the 1960s, he inspired many musicians, including classical musicians, who covered his songs. (You can hear him singing his most influential song “Hallelujah” in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has more than 41 million views.)
Here is a link to an obituary in Rolling Stone magazine:
For example, pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below), who made her name with a self-financed recording of the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach — has paid tribute to Cohen with a set of piano variations (called “The Cohen Variations”) on the song “Suzanne,” which was popularized by the folk and pop singer Judy Collins.
Here is a link to it:
By Jacob Stockinger
Like everyone in the almost sold-out house at Mills Hall last Friday night, The Ear went to hear the wonderfully gifted UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor unveil his new hi-tech invention: the so-called “Hyperpiano.”
Taylor (below) patiently explained in detail how the hybrid electronic-acoustic piano was conceived and developed, and then how it worked.
Here is a link to two stories with detailed background:
But at the risk of hurting the feelings of the brilliant and personable Taylor, The Ear has to confess: He left the event – more an experiment or demonstration than a concert – disappointed. He just doesn’t see the point. It seems a case where the idea will inevitably prove superior to the reality.
This new piano, conceived and executed by Taylor with lots of help, features a digital-like console (below) with two keyboards. The console then links up electronically to two regular acoustic concert grand pianos by means of lots of wires. Wires pass along electronic digital impulses to mechanical fingers that hit actual piano keys and makes traditional pianos play.
If the Hyperpiano sounds like some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, well, that’s because it IS. Ingenious, yes; practical, hardly.
The piece Taylor used to demonstrate his new piano was the momentous and magnificent “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, a promising and appealing challenge for the new piano. The Ear has heard Taylor play this music before, and it was a memorable experience.
Not this time.
A great instrument is supposed to make playing easier, to bring both the performer and the audience closer to the music. But this new piano interfered with both and did just the opposite. It put you on edge, just waiting for the next thing to go wrong and get fixed and then go wrong again. It made no sense, and little beauty.
Clearly the Hyperpiano – more accurately dubbed Frankenpiano by Taylor’s students — is a technological curiosity that is still a work-in-progress, with lots of snags and flaws that became apparent during 2-1/2 hours.
But even had it worked perfectly, The Ear asks: What is the point?
Certainly it makes for an interesting electrical engineering problem to solve, one that eats up lots of time, thought, energy and money. But why have three $100,000 concert grand pianos and a custom-built piano console all on the stage when a single traditional piano would do the job just fine?
Single-keyboard pianos have brought us many memorable performances of the Goldbergs – including those by Rosalyn Tureck, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt among others, to say nothing of Taylor himself.
And on stage was an old one-of-a-kind, two-keyboard Steinway that Taylor has used before to fine effect, rather like the two-manual harpsichord that Bach originally wrote the music for and that facilitates the difficult cross-hand passages.
Despite distractions, Taylor played the Bach with total commitment and enthusiasm as well as with his back to the audience, as piano recitals used to be played before the young Franz Liszt turned the piano sideways to show off his heart-throb profile.
Yet the misfiring of electrodes plus an unending loud chirp or tweet and the uneven pistons or clunky mini-jackhammers (below) that hit the keyboards as artificial “fingers” just meant a lot of dropped notes and, for the most part, a very choppy reading of Bach’s great music that stymied both the performer and the listeners.
Compounding the performance was that Taylor took all the repeats, which often just doubled the frustration. How The Ear wishes Taylor had played just the first half on the Hyperpiano and then, for comparison, switched to a regular piano or to the two-keyboard Steinway.
True, at the end the audience gave Taylor well earned applause and a prolonged standing ovation. But The Ear suspects it was more for his perseverance, patience, good humor and stupendous effort than for the music itself or the new piano. He bets only a very few listeners would pay to go back to hear another recital on the Hyperpiano.
Will Taylor continue to work on improving the terrifically complex Hyperpiano? Yes, one suspects that he will and one wishes him success. But wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent learning new music and performing it?
The Ear says: Enough hype about the Hyperpiano!
It’s time for a great musician to get back to the music.
Did you go hear the Hyperpiano?
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT 1: The UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program is the “Italian Serenade” (1887) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73, (1946) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975); and the String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 (1895) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).
ALERT 2: Tickets to the piano recital of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations by Christopher Taylor this Friday night are SOLD OUT as of Monday morning.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement to post about a set of unusual piano concerts this coming weekend:
In their only North American appearance, world-renowned pianists Daniel del Pino, Lucille Chung, Alon Goldstein and Roberto Plano will be heard this Friday and Saturday nights in the opening program of the third season of the Salon Piano Series.
Hosted by Tim and Renee Farley at Farley’s House of Pianos, the Salon Piano Series has quickly gained a reputation for unique and stimulating programs in the intimate and historic setting of the Farley showroom.
But never have four pianists been heard at once on four restored instruments.
“It’s an honor knowing the pianists chose our location for their only North American performance,” says Renée Farley, co-founder of the Salon Piano Series. “We thought of no better way to open our third season.”
The repertoire for the “Four on the Floor” concerts could hardly be more entertaining or appropriate for Halloween weekend: arrangements of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Carmen Fantasy” based on the beloved opera by Georges Bizet; Maurice Ravel’s own transcription for four keyboards of his “Bolero” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.
For the first time, an SPS program will be heard twice, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, with both events beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Farley’s House of Pianos Showroom, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison. That is on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.
Tickets are $45.
For more information about tickets, the concerts and the artists, plus other artists and concerts in the Salon Piano Series this season, visit:
For information about Farley’s House of Pianos, go to:
Daniel del Pino (below) is a leading Spanish concert pianist juggling an international recital career with teaching in the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.
The reputation of Lucille Chung (below), who often performs with her husband Alessio Bax, has grown steadily since her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. To date she has performed with more than 60 orchestras.
Alon Goldstein (below, in a photo by Meagan Cignoli) is particularly admired for his artistic vision and innovative programming. The New York Times described a recent performance as “exemplary throughout, with his pearly touch and sparkling runs.”
Roberto Plano lives in Travedona Monate, Italy and teaches there at Accademia Musicale Varesina, which he founded.
By Jacob Stockinger
This week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which is now funded in large part by the Mead Witter Foundation.
The big event is the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new performance center. That, in turn, will be celebrated with three important and appealing concerts.
Here is the lineup:
From 4 to 5:30 p.m., an official and public groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hamel Music Center will take place at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. (Below is an architect’s rendering of the completed building.)
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the two-keyboard “Hyperpiano” that he has invented and refined. (You can hear the opening aria theme of the “Goldberg” Variations played by Glenn Gould in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more information about the concert and the innovative piano, visit:
Tickets are $18 and are available at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office. Last The Ear heard, the concert was close to a sell-out.
At 7 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who studied and worked with the recently deceased French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, will lead a FREE “Breaking Ground” concert of pioneering music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
For more information and the complete program, go to:
At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will give a FREE concert.
For more information about the group and the program, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear sees Lang Lang — the world’s highest paid classical pianist — and Yundi Li and all the Chinese winners of major competitions, and he reads that there are more piano students in China than in all of Western Europe, North America and South America combined.
But the path to such success wasn’t easy.
In fact it was downright tragic during the Cultural Revolution waged by Chairman Mao Zedong – with dramatic stories and figures that may be worthy of an opera or two. (Below is a poster from the Cultural Revolution.)
Anyway, weekends are a good time for reading longer pieces.
So here is a fine and eye-opening story The Ear liked. It comes from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It even ponders the question of whether the more cerebral and intellectual Johann Sebastian Bach will soon replace the more dramatic and emotional Ludwig van Beethoven as China’s favorite classical composer.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice:
The final SoundWaves event of the year will be on this Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Center of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discover (WID), 333 North Orchard Street, across from the Union South.
SoundWaves events explore a broad theme through different lenses from the sciences and the humanities, ending with a related performance.
The title of Friday’s event is “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Origins in Science and Music.”
The presenters are John Yin, speaking about the COOL (Chemical Origins Of Life) Project; Clark Johnson speaking about the first billion years of the Earth’s history; Elizabeth Hennessy on the interaction of man and animal in a pristine environment (the Galapagos) and about Darwin; and the School of Music’s own composer Laura Schwendinger (below), speaking about the inspiration for the creation of new works.
Then, SoundWaves Curator Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), horn professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music, will speak about the process of creating a new CD recording.
The event will conclude with a performance by School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor (below). He will be playing a dual-manual piano (a piano with two keyboards).
This is an instrument that creates whole new possibilities in piano performance, and Professor Taylor will be performing selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations as well as his own arrangement of Liszt’s “Paysage” (“Landscape” from the Transcendental Etudes) made for this instrument.
(You can hear the haunting opening Aria from Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, from the second recording made by Glenn Gould, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom that has almost 1.9 million hits.)
Admission is free.
Cash bar opens at 7 p.m.
Registration is suggested at www.discovery.wisc.edu/soundwaves
By Jacob Stockinger
Two concerts at the UW-Madison this week are especially noteworthy:
A winner of the bronze medal at the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) concertizes around the world to rave reviews, especially for his performances of modern or contemporary music.
This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform a more tradition recital, but with a still noteworthy program made up of Baroque and Romantic music.
He is known as an interpreter of that music too since he has performed all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Franz Liszt transcriptions of the nine symphonies by Beethoven. (You can hear Taylor play the opening of the Famous Fifth Symphony at a festival in Russia in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Plus, Taylor is known for playing the “Goldberg” Variations, by Johann Sebastian Bach, on a special double keyboard piano that he has tinkered with and refined or improved upon, and which is now being built.
In the upcoming recital Taylor will perform the French Suite No. 1 in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 by Johannes Brahms; and the even more rarely played compete Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. (The etudes include the last one in D-sharp minor that was a favorite of pianist Vladimir Horowitz.)
Tickets are $15. Students get admitted free.
For more information, visit:
Then on Saturday night, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet will perform a FREE concert of music by a variety of older composers and works as well as living composers and new music.
Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (WBQ, below, in a photography by Michael R. Anderson) are, from left: Mark Hetzler, trombone; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Curry, tuba; John Aley, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn.
The program is: Sonatine by Eugène Bozza (1905-1981); Allegretto Pizzicato by Béla Bartók (1881-1945); Madrigaux Slaves by Ivan Jevtić (1947- ); Morning Music by David Sampson (1951-); Contrapunctus IX from “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1695-1750); Elegy by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, arranged by UW-Madison emeritus professor of tuba and euphonium and a nationally recognized composer John Stevens); and Music for Brass Instruments by Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970) with special guest Tom Kelley, bass trombone.
A native of Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom Kelley is a junior at UW-Madison studying trombone performance under Professor Mark Hetzler. At the UW_Madison, Kelley has performed with the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, Blue Note Ensemble, Low Brass Ensemble and a number of chamber groups.
He has also played outside the university in groups such as the Rock River Philharmonic and the Darren Sterud Jazz Orchestra. In the summer of 2015, Kelley attended the Sewanee Summer Music Festival where he won the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition. He enjoys biking, cooking and binge-watching TV and movies.
For general background on the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:
By Jacob Stockinger
Ear Friends and local merchants Dean and Orange Schroeder, who sponsor a lot of local classical music, write about an event they created and that is being held in conjunction with this week’s Madison Early Music Festival, which is exploring early Eastern European music:
We are hoping that you might help us promote this year’s third annual Handel Aria Competition (below, in 2013). It takes place on this Thursday, July 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music. (Chelsea Morris, who won last year’s competition can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tickets are $10, general admission, and are available in advance at Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe Street, and online through Brown Paper Tickets (see www.handelariacompetition.com for the link).
There should also be tickets available at the door.
We have seven wonderful finalists coming to perform. And we are particularly excited that, this year, the accompaniment will be more than a harpsichord and will be provided by the Madison Bach Musicians with Trevor Stephenson (below).
We asked each of our seven finalists to answer the question “Why I love to sing Handel,” and I thought your readers would enjoy their answers.
Handel Aria Competition Finalists for 2015
Sarah Brailey, soprano (a finalist in 2014), NY, NY
Corrine Byrne, soprano, NY, NY
Margaret Fox, mezzo-soprano, Chicago
Kristin Knutson, soprano, Brookfield, WI
Andrew Rader, countertenor, Bloomington, IN
Jacob Scharfman, baritone, Boston
Here are their answers:
“Handel’s is “perfect music,” as Joyce DiDonato joked in a recent master class, music he whipped up almost thoughtlessly. Some composers slave over their works, but Handel—like Mozart—captured the pacing, moods and nuances of his characters immediately.
“It’s for this immediacy that I love to sing Handel. His genuine showmanship has enthralled audiences for centuries, and I commend the Handel Aria Competition for sustaining that legacy.”
Jacob Scharfman (below)
“Why I love singing Handel: This is so hard to answer briefly, because I basically spent my doctorate pondering the joys and intricacies in the vocal works of Handel. His writing is like a puzzle, where I can dive into the subtle meanings of every elegant gesture to create the most meaningful interpretation I can.
“When I’m singing a Handel aria, I get to become not just a vehicle for his music, but a composer myself as well as a researcher and a historian. There’s nothing more exciting than ornamenting Handel, because the music is ever-changing and alive!”
Corrine Byrne (below)
“I love to sing Handel because his music encapsulates the simplest and most complex of emotions, simultaneously, just like real life!”
Margaret Fox mezzo-soprano (below)
“Handel is one of my favorite composers to sing. From a personal standpoint, Handel will always hold a special place in my heart because my first breakthrough in my vocal studies was achieved with a Handel aria, and many of my subsequent vocal successes were accomplished with his arias.
“I love to sing Handel because his music is incredibly expressive and evocative, and so very exciting and stimulating to sing.”
“High on my list of “Great Singing Fears”– along with forgetting my audition dress, or running out of breath mid-vowel–is the fear of being boring. What is the point of all the effort to be a good singer if the audience leaves feeling cold and un-moved?
“Put simply, Handel’s music gives me something real and heartwarming to say. He wrote to persuade the listener, at a deep level, of what the text expressed, and is therefore an easy friend to any singer looking to relate story and emotion effectively. What a privilege to share his music with an audience!”
Kristin Knutson (below)
“I love to sing Handel because of the great variety and flexibility it allows us as singers. Name an emotion and there is a fantastic, dramatic, exciting Handel aria that explores it.
He was so prolific–we truly have a treasure trove at our disposal, especially as sopranos! And how often do we get the opportunity to improvise or compose as classical singers? Ornamenting Handel stretches my brain in a way that few other things do in my career. It’s a very gratifying challenge.”
Sarah Brailey (below)
“For me, Handel’s music is like coming home. No matter what other repertoire I explore, his scores (whether operas, oratorios, cantatas, what have you) can be opened, set on the stand, and they just speak themselves as self-evident. With far fewer exceptions than other composers, not much must be added to bring their magic to the fore.”
Andrew Rader (below)
Adds Andrew Rader:
“I would like to thank you for sponsoring this event. Handel’s music deserves a wider audience than it has in this country, and these scores need support from people like yourselves if they are ever to become more well-known gems in the public spheres of music.
“Regardless of who officially places first in the competition, we are all successful in being winners, due to the experience of putting together this type of performance.”
ALERT: This month’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert will take place tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III.
The concert features local violinist Kangwon Kim, violist Micah Behr and cellist Mark Bridges. The program includes a suite for solo viola by Quincy Porter and an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations for string trio done by Russian violist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.
Admission is FREE. Since Wisconsin Public Radio ended live broadcasts of the concert after 36 years, you can stream it live starting at 12:30. Just go to the Chazen Museum of Art’s website where you will find the necessary link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Her expressive voice became as identifiable with the opera -– with the Metropolitan Opera -– as have some of the world’s great singers.
Her name is Margaret Juntwait (below in a photo by Jonathan Tichler) and she hosted the live radio broadcast from the Met that started in December and ran through May. Every Saturday, she reached more than one million fans worldwide with her commentaries and her outstanding interviews with singers and conductors.
This past Wednesday, Margaret Juntwait died at 58 of complications from ovarian cancer, which she had battled with for a decade.
Because today is Saturday, it seems like the perfect day for The Ear to post about her passing.
Here are three stories about Margaret Juntwait and her career plus a very short YouTube video about Puccini’s “La Boheme” that shows her quick wit.
From the Metropolitan Opera:
Feel free to leave your thoughts and feelings in the COMMENTS section of the blog.
The Ear wants to hear – and so do others.