The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Concerts by UW cellist Parry Karp and the chamber music group Con Vivo take place this Saturday night

October 11, 2018
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ALERT: The Rhapsodie Quartet, featuring members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will perform a FREE public concert (suggested donation is $5) at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community,  333 West Main Street, two blocks off the Capitol Square, this Friday night, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m.

The program is the String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Razumovsky” String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, by Ludwig van Beethoven. For more information and background, go to:

By Jacob Stockinger

It is a busy week for classical music in Madison, and all the listings have still not been included here.

On Saturday night, Oct. 13, two more noteworthy events will take place.


A Faculty Concert Series recital by UW-Madison cello professor Parry Karp (below), who is also the longtime cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet, will take place on Saturday night in Mills Hall at 8 p.m.

Karp will be joined by two pianists: his mother Frances Karp, a longtime Madison piano teacher; and Thomas Kasdorf (below), who is pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The program is an interesting and unusual one.

It features “Hamabdil” (1919), or Hebrew Rhapsody, by Granville Bantock (below), who, Karp says “was a wonderful British composer, a favorite of Elgar.” (You can hear “Hamabdil” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Phantasma for Solo Cello” (2006) is by Jesse Benjamin Jones (below), who is on the faculty of the Oberlin College Conservatory.

The Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1 (1801-02), by Ludwig van Beethoven, continues the exploration of Beethoven’s violin sonatas transcribed for the cello by Karp himself.

The Cello Concerto (1956) by William Walton (below), says Karp, who performed it this summer with the English Symphony Orchestra, “is one of the great cello concertos of the 20th century. This version features a piano reduction of the orchestral score.


Con Vivo (below), the critically acclaimed Madison-based chamber music group, will also give a concert to open its 17th season on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.

Free parking is two blocks away, at the nearby UW Foundation, 1848 University Avenue.

The eclectic program, called “Members Choice,”will include the  “Kegelstatt” Trio for piano, clarinet and viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the Suite for Organ, Violin and Cello by Josef Rheinberger (below).

The night will be rounded out by solo works from the group’s talented and veteran performers many of whom also play with other major groups including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Tickets are available at the door, and cost $18 for general admission; $15 for seniors and students.

For information, go to

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Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College student orchestras go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

September 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

In yet another sign of the growing conflicts and competition that inevitably occur when with a city the size of Madison has a classical music scene that keeps growing, two of the major academic institutions in Madison — the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College — go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

(And that doesn’t even include Wisconsin Public Radio’s live concert broadcast of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which runs from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and this week features pianist Michael Mizrahi, below, in a program of an early Beethoven sonata, Chopin’s last Mazurka and rarely heard works by newer composers such a Burke, Greenstein, Dancigers and Burke.)

The Ear bets there are many individuals, groups and families especially who would like to support both schools, both music departments. But, alas, that seems impossible.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with the UW Choral Union) under conductor James Smith (below bottom in a photo by Jeff Miller) will perform a FREE concert. The unusual program includes “Un Sourire pour Orchestra” (A Smile for Orchestra) by Olivier Messiaen, “Sieben fruhe Lieder” (Seven Early Songs) by Alan Berg and Hector Berlioz‘s famous “Symphonie fantastique,” Op. 14.

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Edgewood College, the: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra Concert will perform a concert under conductor Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci)  in the Saint Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is $5; free with Edgewood College ID.

Included on the program is the Overture to “Il Viaggio a Reims” by Rossini, Granville Bantock’s “Old English Suite” and Haydn’s Symphony 99 in E-flat major.

This concert is presented as part of the Year of the Arts at Edgewood College, a celebration of music, theatre and art for 2012-2013. Supporters of our Year of the Arts programming include the Kohler Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts with additional funds from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Native Capital Investment, and the Ahrens-Washburn Community Fellows Program.

Classical music review: If you want to hear the difference between talent and genius, compare the music of John Field and Frederic Chopin — and thank the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

March 19, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, I went to the penultimate concert of this season by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in the Overture Center‘s Capitol Theater. (This season’s last Masterworks concert is at 8 p.m. on Friday April 13, and features Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony.) In so many ways, it was an enjoyable event with an appropriate sense of occasion for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Under the baton of Andrew Sewell, the WCO (below) just keeps sounding better and better. And the audiences just seem to grow bigger and bigger, and more and more enthusiastic.

Clearly, the WCO is on the march, as its expanded next season shows:

I was particularly impressed with the performances of two well-known and frequently perform classics: Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony. These are great works that received great performances.

The overture by the transitional Mendelssohn (below) had precise Classical-era part playing and a clarity of texture. Yet the evocative reading also had Romantic color. You could feel the ocean swells and the Scottish mystery, the dark, almost Gothic atmosphere of the seashore cave that the work was meant to convey.

In the “Haffner,” I was impressed by the muscularity of the Mozart (below). The very opening bars had sharp and strong attacks, and that sense of energy kept up right to the closing measures. I like grace and elegance, but not when it descends into music-box Mozart and preciousness. This reading was decidedly NOT music-box Mozart. It was hearty and robust as well as refined.

The WCO is clearly mastering the playing of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and they should include more of those masters on each program. Lord knows there are enough pieces by each to choose from given overtures, symphonies and concertos.

In between came other pieces on the “Celtic Celebration” theme chosen to mark St. Patrick’s Day and to bring us neglected works.

Granville Bantock’s “Celtic” Symphony for string orchestra and six – yep, six harps a harping — was a gratifying piece with some lively moments. But like Vaughan Williams, to whom Sewell aptly compared Bantock (below), it lacked depth and had major moments of lateral drift. The plainsong aspect of the harmony and the Celtic dance rhythms proved particularly captivating. All in all, it proved a rarity worth well unearthing and hearing.

That kind of creative and original programming has become typical of WCO music director Sewell (below).

The major work of the first half was a performance of Irish composer John Field’s rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat Major. One of seven concertos by Field (below), it was performed to perfection by the remarkable UW pianist Christopher Taylor, who was superbly accompanied by the orchestra.

On the radio, in a Q&A for this blog and in his playing, Taylor made a convincing case for reviving this curiosity. And it does have a certain period charm, especially in a kind of proto-Chopin way that is looser in form and feeling than the powerful and stricter, less lyrical Beethovenian and Germanic traditions.

After all, you may recall it was Field who pioneered the form of the piano nocturne that Chopin, 11 years his junior, later perfected.

But if you ever want to take the measure of the difference between someone who is talented and someone who is a genius, then just listen to Field and compare him to Chopin (below) — either nocturne-to-nocturne (at bottom), or concerto-to-concerto.

Chopin gives you heart-breaking and memorable melodies and harmonies that you carry with you out of the concert hall. Field’s music seems, sad to say, forgettable as soon as the playing is over. You are glad you heard it, but would you hear it again right away, would you go home and put on a recording of it? I suspect not.

Like Chopin’s writing, Field’s score uses a lot of notes in the passagework. And how they sparkled under virtuosic fingers of Taylor (below). But overall the concerto lacks substance and that bel canto sense of singing or vocal line that makes Chopin so irresistible and seductive.

In a museum or gallery, I find that looking at a great painting or photography makes me wish I could paint like that or use a camera tike that. I want to go out and make a painting or a photograph of my own.

Chopin does the same. His music makes me want to go home and play the piano, and especially his works.

Field, however, does not leave with the listener with that desire. I find myself, saying: OK, I’m glad I heard it, but once every 10 or 20 years is enough.

Chopin’s music simply has, and deserves, a much longer shelf life.

So I guess what I am saying is that I hope the WCO books Taylor again — this time in one of the two Chopin concertos, and probably No. 2, which is more suited to the chamber ensemble than No. 1, the concerto that actually was composed later on a bigger scale. But either would do the job nicely.

Now that would be something memorable indeed.

Anyway, here are links to the other reviews since you may wonder: What did the other critics in town have to say?

We pretty much agree, but we differ in what we make of our minor disagreements.

Here is the review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

Here is Mike and Jean Muckian’s review for the magazine Brava and their blog Culturosity:

Here is the review by Lindsay Christians of the Wisconsin State Journal and 77 Square:

Here is Bill Wineke’s review for WISC-TV’s Channel

And here is Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine and the blog Classically Speaking:

But every listener is his or her own critic.

So, what did you make of the works by John Field and Bantock?

What part of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Celtic Celebration” pleased you the most and why?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music Q&A: John Field’s Piano Concerto No. 4 shows there is much more to the Irish composer than being the inventor of the nocturne, says UW pianist Christopher Taylor who will perform it Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

March 13, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Saturday is Saint Patrick’s Day.

Little wonder, then, that the theme of the concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor Andrew Sewell on Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater is “A Celtic Celebration.”

Like many people, I know of John Field (1782-1837, below) as the Irish composer who pioneered the form of the Nocturne, which was then carried to perfection, most would agree, by Chopin. 

But there is much more to Field than his nocturnes, says University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, who will perform Field’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major.

Also on the program are: Mendelssohn’ s famous  “The Hebrides Overture,”  Op. 26; the “Celtic” Symphony for string orchestra and six harps by 
the rarely heard British composer Granville Bantock (below); and Mozart’s well-known Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 “Haffner,” which was composed the same year as the birth of John Field.

Field, was born in Dublin, but spent much of his adult life abroad. A gifted pianist, he became Clementi’s protégé, eventually settling in St. Petersburg. Highly regarded by his contemporaries, his playing and compositions influenced Chopin, Brahms, Schumann and Liszt. 

Tickets are $15-$62. For more information, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit:  

Taylor (below) recently talked about John Fields in an email interview with The Ear:

How would you describe John Field as a composer and compare him musically and historically to other early and important Romantics, especially Chopin?

John Field (below) was a real prophet of Romanticism.  Just 11 years younger than Beethoven, his music sounds very different — an unfailingly lyrical melodic sense, considerable formal freedom, and a virtuoso approach to the keyboard emphasizing brilliance and sparkling grace. The more intellectual, Classical, prototypically Germanic values are much less in evidence with Field.

I find it quite suggestive that it was two composers from Europe’s periphery — Field from Ireland and Chopin from Poland — who played so instrumental a role in blazing a new, emancipated path for 19th-century keyboard music.

Do you consider Field undervalued or underplayed and in need of more performances?

I’m always in favor of bringing new and less familiar repertoire into the concert hall, particularly when they have the sort of historical significance that Field’s works possess.  His music has tremendous charm, and there’s no reason at all that audiences can’t come to love it.

Tell us how learning the Piano Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat affected or changed your opinion of Field?

I admit my knowledge of his work was previously restricted to a few nocturnes; hence I had some appreciation of how he influenced that facet of the music of Chopin (below). But this concerto shows that his influence extended well beyond the nocturnal.  This work, written when Chopin was just four years old, anticipates much of the brilliant style found in Chopin’s early works, including his piano concertos.

While its construction is a bit loose, even rambling, by the standards of Mozart and Beethoven, it demonstrates a composer in complete technical command, full of creative ideas.

Like the Italian composers of the early Classical period, Field has been overshadowed by his successors, but I find his music much more interesting and appealing than his reputation as a mere harbinger would suggest.

What can you tell us about the Field piano concerto and your performance or interpretation of it? What should the audience especially listen for and pay attention to?

Listening to this work should not require intense effort, nor any undue patience or forbearance from the audience.  The imposing first movement is consistently tuneful, with bubbly passagework that befits its author’s status as one of the era’s great virtuosos.

The middle movement, a gentle Siciliano, is much more modest in scale but features a charming interplay between soloist and orchestra vaguely reminiscent of Beethoven’s fourth concerto.

The finale is again a substantial bit of writing, with a recurring rondo theme suggestive of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata’s finale, with similarly evocative pedaling suggestions.

Learning it has been a great pleasure, and I hope that this opportunity to perform it will not be my last.

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