The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra will open its fifth season on Wednesday with an all-20th century program with guest conductor Kyle Knox and violin soloist Naha Greenholz. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist James Ehnes in music by Bruch, Haydn and Rachmaninoff. Read the glowing reviews!

October 18, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist soloist James Ehnes in music by Max Bruch, Franz Joseph Haydn and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Critics were unanimous in their praise of the performance.

Here are links:

Madison Symphony Delivers Again

Greg Hettmansberger // Madison Magazine

Idiomatic Eloquence: MSO and violinist James Ehnes Mix Masterpieces and Novel Choices

John W. Barker // Isthmus

MSO Feels Soul of Russia with Rachmaninoff Program

Jessica Courtier // The Capital Times

By Jacob Stockinger

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will give the first concert of its new season – marking MCO’s fifth anniversary – this Wednesday night, Oct. 21.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below top and bottom) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

Opening MCO’s fifth anniversary season is an all-20th century program under the baton of guest conductor  and UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below top), with Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholz (below bottom), as violin soloist. The MCO is made up of amateur and some professional musicians.

Kyle Knox 2

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

The program features the catchy “El Salon Mexico” by American composer Aaron Copland; the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; and the lyrical “Mother Goose” Suite and the wildly popular “Bolero,” both by French composer Maurice Ravel. (You can hear Ravel’s “Bolero” performed by Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the bottom in a YouTube video that has more than 3 million hits.)

A free meet-and-greet reception for the public and the musicians will follow the concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Tickets are $10 general admission. Students are admitted free of charge.  Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Hall doors open at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 608-212-8690.

To find out about the entire MCO season as well as how to join the orchestra or to support it, visit:

Classical music: What qualities are needed to be a world-class conductor? New York Times critics weigh in. What do you think?

April 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that Alan Gilbert (below), the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, surprised the music world when he recently announced he would step down at the end of the 2017 season after only eight seasons on the job.

New York Philharmonic

Speculation about a successor — with Marin Alsop (below top) of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Finnish native Esa-Pekka Salonen (below bottom)  former director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, topping the lists — began immediately.

Right now, The Ear leans toward Marin Alsop. It would be great to see a woman in such a high-profile post. It would also be fitting for a protege of Leonard Bernstein to ascend to the podium where American-born and American-trained conductors first made their name. Buy American!

Marin Alsop big


The sensational Venezuelan-born and Venezuelan-trained superstar Gustavo Dudamel (below) seems to have taken himself out of the competition by agreeing to stay longer in LA. But every performer has his or her price, so his story may not yet be over in terms of going to New York.


But Gilbert’s move also raises the issue: What qualities should one look for in a world-class music director and conductor?

These days, it involves a whole lot more than holding the baton and leading the players.

Anyway recently music critics for The New York Times weighed in with their preferences and points of view.

Here is a link to the story:

Read and see what you agree and disagree with.

And also let us know who you think would be a good choice to be the next music director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Pianists Peter Serkin and Julia Hsu will play works for piano-four hands by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms this Saturday night at Farley’s House of Pianos.

March 31, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at Farley’s House of Pianos write to the blog with news of a noteworthy piano concert this Saturday night:

Renowned American pianist Peter Serkin (below top) and Julia Hsu (below bottom) will perform piano, four-hand pieces by Schumann, Bizet, Mozart and more, as part of the Salon Piano Series concerts held at Farley’s House of Pianos at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Peter Serkin

Julia Hsu

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday night, April 4 and will include an introduction by Karlos Moser (below), a retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of music and former longtime director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Karlos Moser

The program includes: Six Etudes in the Form of Canons for Pedal-Piano, Op. 56, by Robert Schumann; Three Pieces from “Jeux d’Enfants” (Children’s Games) by Georges Bizet; the Sonata in B flat Major, K. 358, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Allegro ma non troppo in A minor (the dramatic and lyrical “Lebenssturme” or “Lifestorms” that you can hear in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom), D.947, and the Rondo in A Major, D.951, by Franz Schubert; and Four Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms.

Tickets are $45 and are expected to sell quickly. They are available online at and or at Farley’s House of Pianos, (608) 271-2626.

For more information about the Salon Piano Series, visit:

The distinguished American pianist Peter Serkin has performed with the world’s major symphony orchestras with such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Barenboim, George Szell, Claudio Abbado, Eugene Ormandy and James Levine. A dedicated chamber musician, Serkin has collaborated with artists including violinist Pamela Frank and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

An avid exponent of the music of many contemporary composers, Serkin has brought to life the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Michael Wolpe, and others for audiences around the world. He has performed many world premieres written specifically for him, in particular, works by Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen and Peter Lieberson. Serkin currently teaches at Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Longy School of Music. Serkin became friends with the Farleys in 1994 when he was in town for a concert and visited the Farley’s showroom (below).

Farley Daub plays

Originally from Taiwan, Julia Hsu received scholarships to study at The Purcell School for young musicians at the age of 14. She has also studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at the Hannover Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Germany. Julia has collaborated with conductors Fabio Panisello, Lutz Koeler and cellist Ivan Moniguetti. She was a Festival Fellow at Bowdoin Music Festival, and a scholar at the Banff Centre, Canada before she became a Piano Fellow at Bard College Conservatory of Music in 2013.

The Salon Piano Series is a non-profit founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Upcoming concerts include the internationally acclaimed Czech pianist Martin Kasík (below top), who will play the “Moonlight” and “Les Adieux” Sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and Sonata No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev, on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. Jazz pianist Dick Hyman (below bottom) will perform on May 30 and 31, 2015, at 4 p.m. both days.

Martin Kasik w piano

dick hyman

For ticket information and concert details see

All events will be held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison, on Madison’s west side near the Beltline, and plenty of free parking is available. It is also easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.

Classical music: Early music and period-instrument pioneer Frans Bruggen dies at 79. And American media don’t care.

August 17, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

He wasn’t a maestro in the usual sense.

But he surely was a master.

He was a master, even though he never seemed temperamental and never received the kind of acclaim and press that typical orchestral conductors or maestros receive -– from Arturo Toscanini through Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan to Gustavo Dudamel.

He was Frans Bruggen (below). He was Dutch and a fantastic player of the flute and the recorder. He died this past Wednesday at 79 after a long illness.

Frans Bruggen 1

But he became a pioneer conductor of early music and period instrument authenticity, adopting historically informed performance practices even from the Baroque period, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric HandelJean-Philippe Rameau, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi into the Classical and early Romantic periods.

As a flutist and recorder player, Bruggen was a prodigy who often performed with Dutch colleagues in the early music movement, including harpsichord master Gustav Leonhardt and cellist Anner Bylsma.

He founded the Orchestra of the 18th Century, but also went on to conduct major mainstream orchestras and to teach at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley,

I loved his performances of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn, of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

Even as I write this, I am playing Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony from Bruggen’s set of Haydn’s minor-key, proto-Romantic “Storm-and-Stress” symphonies.

What I especially liked was the expressiveness he often brought to an early music movement that sometimes seemed mechanical or robotic in its early days. Bruggen brought subtlety and emotional connection.

In Brugen’s hands, early music sounded natural, never forced into iconoclastic phrasing or rushed tempi, as it can with Reinhold Goebel and Concerto Koln or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Bruggen’s performances never sounded deliberately goofy or self-serving. (Below is Frans Bruggen conducting.)


Bruggen must have made his case persuasively. Nowadays, most early music groups also sound more expressive and subjective, not so doctrinaire, dogmatic or orthodox in their approaches.

Bruggen seemed a low-key and modest man and musician, qualities that The Ear identifies with the Dutch, including Bruggen’s own more famous conducting colleague Bernard Haitink.

The Ear hopes that Bruggen’s death brings about many reissues of his prolific discography with more high-profile publicity. His Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven symphonies are, unfortunately, largely now out of print.

Here are some links to obituaries that tell his story:

Here is a link to The Guardian, which also lists Bruggen’s five greatest contributions to early music:

Here is a story from the BBC Music Magazine:üggen-1934-2014

Here is a great piece from The Telegraph, also in the United Kingdom:

Curiously, it probably says something about Bruggen that I could find many obituaries from Europe and the UK, but none from the U.S., not even at The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a YouTube video of Frans Bruggen, who served both composers and audiences so well, in action, playing a solo fantasy for recorder by Georg Philipp Telemann. In every way it seems a fitting tribute or homage on the occasion of his death:



Classical music: Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel counters pianist Gabriele Montero and defends for art’s sake his remaining distant and quiet about the political and social protests in Venezuela.

March 22, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you have been seeing the many news reports about the major student-led political and social protests going on in Venezuela. They concern corruption, poverty, food shortages and the general ineptitude of Nicolas Maduro, the narrowly elected leader who followed the populist and leftist strong man Hugo Chavez after he died a year ago.

Venezuela protest 2014

venezuela mass protests

Then the protests spilled over into the artistic world.

Take the Venezuela-born pianist Gabriele Montero (below). You may recall that not long ago she played the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. She is also known for her improvisations, once of which she performed as an encore in Madison.

Montero has voiced a strong protest over the deadly upheaval in her native land.

Gabriela Montero

She also called on her colleague, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below), who now leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as the student Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela, to speak up about what was happening in his homeland. When he didn’t, she took him to task and protested his silence or his tacit endorsement of the failing government.

DudamelChris Christodoulou

Montero compared Dudamel handling of Venezuela to the election endorsements that two well-known Russian musicians with international reputations — conductor Valery Gergiev (below top on the right with Vladimir Putin) and opera diva Anna Netrebko (below bottom on the right with Putin) — gave to Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. (Hmm–The Ear wonders how Gergiev and Netrebko stand on Ukraine and the Anschluss or illegal annexation of Crimea.) But that is another issue for another time and another post.

vladimir putin decorates valery gergiev

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Here is an open letter that Montero wrote to Dudamel, as it was reprinted in British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

Dudamel has been silent or timid at best, and many have said it is because Hugo Chavez (below top, on the left with Gustavo Dudamel) and his successor Nicolas Maduro (below bottom) have both been generous to “el sistema,” the national music education program out of which Dudamel emerged. Many observers speculated that Dudamel was watching out for the interest of his young followers and successors.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) spe

Nicolas Maduro

Here is his letter response to Montero, also as it appear on Lebrecht’s blog:

But now Dudamel has spoken out forcefully and more at length, defending himself and saying that he intends to keep politics and arts separate.

Except that his removing himself from the controversy is itself political enough, and getting more so. The Ear recalls the saying of the 19-century Romantic French novelist Stendhal that speaking of politics in things of the imagination (like art) is like firing a gun in the middle of a concert.

Anyway, The Ear recently stumbled across a story by The Boston Globe that provided a very good wrap-up of Dudamel’s current position and also included an excellent chronology and summary of the background including Montero’s point of view and accusations.

Here is a link:

What do you think?

Should Gustavo Dudamel speak up about the protests and government killings in Venezuela?

Or should art and politics be kept separate?

Does this controversy change what you think of either pianist Gabriele Montero or conductor Gustavo Dudamel?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra will unveil its first “Beyond the Score®” multi-media performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) this coming Sunday afternoon.

January 20, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today is the birthday celebration of the murdered Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (below) with celebrations around the nation, including a live broadcast from the state Capitol on Wisconsin Public Radio at noon CST. (The MLK tribute will also air tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.)

martin luther king 2

So one could hardly think of a better time to perform classical music that pioneered the use of Negro spirituals and indigenous American Indian music.

And that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will do this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in a first-time and one-time only concert that looks, according to marketing director Teri Venker, headed for a sellout.

MSO playing

Here is the MSO press release:

“Bohemian Antonín Dvořák’s uniquely American composition, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” will be the focus of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert experience Sun., Jan. 26, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in Madison, WisconsinThis is a Madison first and a one-time only performance.

“Beyond the Score® will feature videos and photos, actors and narrator, and musical examples, as well as a full performance of the symphony by Conductor John DeMain and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The experience will fully immerse the audience in the “New World Symphony’s” context in history, how it relates to Dvořák’s other works, and the events in the composer’s life that influenced its creation.

“MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said: “This is an entertaining way to learn more about one of the world’s masterpieces through video, music, and actors. Hopefully, you’ll hear the symphony in a whole new way. This is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!” (At the bottom is a popular YouTube video , that has over 1.3 millions hits, and that features superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic leading the exciting final movement of the :”New World” symphony in a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI.)

John DeMain full face by Prasad

“Other professional talent will also play key roles.

“Anders Yocom, of Wisconsin Public Radio, will narrate.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

“Actor David Daniel (below top), a core member of American Players Theatre, will perform the role of Antonin Dvorak (below bottom).

david daniels color


Actor James Ridge (below), also a core member of American Players Theatre, will enact multiple roles.

James Ridge

“Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who is director of the women’s chorus at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison and is president of the Madison Symphony Chorus, will sing excerpts of spirituals that influenced Dvorak.

Jacqueline Colbert

“Dan Lyons (below), principal pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the accompanist.

Dan Lyons

“Dvorak, already an internationally renowned composer, came to America in 1892 at the invitation of wealthy East Coast philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. He headed the American Conservatory of music in New York City and his main goal was to discover “American Music” and employ it in his own compositions. He also vacationed in the Czech community Spillville, Iowa, which holds an annual Dvorak festival each summer.

“Dvorak was particularly taken with the music of both African-Americans and Native Americans, and in 1893 began work on Symphony No. 9.  To this day there is a lively debate as to whether the piece more prominently reflects these “new world” cultures or rather Dvořák’s native Bohemia. 

“According to notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music.” Beyond the Score® is a complete exploration of these varied and intriguing influences.

“Tickets are $15-$60 each, and are available at ; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin or by calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

“Beyond the Score® is produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gerard McBurney, creative director, and Martha Gilmer, executive producer. Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”

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Classical music: Superstar fashionista pianist Yuja Wang is in the news again with her new recording of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos. In an interview she talks about everything including her piano playing, her small hands and her controversial concert clothes.

December 28, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

There are a lot of talented young pianists on the scene today including Daniil Trifonov, Lang Lang, Jan LisieckiKirill Gerstein, Yundi Lee, Benjamin Grosvenor, Jonathan Biss, Igor Levit and Inon Barnaton, to name just a few.

But few make the waves that 26-year-old pianist Yuja Wang (below) always does. She is nothing short of electrifying to see and hear, according to the reviews I have read – even the reviews that don’t especially like her interpretations. (The Ear would like to hear Wang perform some serious Classical and Baroque works, not just later Romantic or modern music.)

YujaWang casual photo

Yang’s latest venture is an exciting recording for Deutsche Grammophon (below) of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s gargantuan Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

Yang – featured on the cover in almost a parody of the Madame Butterfly look with fake eyelashes — performs them live with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar alumnus Gustavo Dudamel, who is now the music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (You can hear Dudamel’s take on Wang in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

I have listened to the recording, and these are high-octane performances that remind one, for better and worse, of Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich — not bad artists to be compared to. 

But Yuja Wang has added to their appeal with an interview she recently did with the Los Angles Times on the occasion of four performances in LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall that was designed by Frank Gehry. It even builds on the one she did with NPR in which she compared Rachmaninoff to jazz great Art Tatum in this mastery of improvisation:

In a surprisingly candid and matter-of-fact manner, she covered a lot of topics.

They included he background, her training, her taste in non-classical music, her piano playing and acclaimed technique, even her controversial concert attire such as the scarlet micro-skirt (below top) she wore at the Hollywood Bowl and the thigh-high slit black gown and stiletto heels she wore for her Carnegie Hall debut (below bottom).

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

Here is a link to the interview, which I hope you enjoy as much as The Ear did:,0,3852129.story#axzz2oDubILHw

Classical music: Sexy phenom pianist Yuja Wang sees Rachmaninoff rooted in improvisation and compares him to jazz giant Art Tatum. Hear her talk – and play — on NPR. Also, Marvin Rabin, founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, has died at 97.

December 7, 2013

NEWS ALERT: Marvin Rabin (below, at an award dinner in 2011),  the man who founded and directed the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra back in the 1960s, after a similar history in Louisville and Boston, died at 97 (NOT 95, as I erroneously first stated) on Thursday night. He was a giant in the field of music education, and had a national and international reputation. Look for a longer blog posting tomorrow, on Sunday. He was an amazingly talented, devoted and humane person who affected tens of thousands of lives for the better.

Rabin portrait USE

By Jacob Stockinger

Was that refreshing or what?

Maybe it even shows that there is more of an NPR audience for classical music than for some of the hip-hop and Latin stuff they cover to attract younger audiences. One can always hope.

Twenty-six years old and already a superstar, piano phenom Yuja Wang proved playful and articulate as she promoted her new recording (below) for Deutsche Grammophon. It features Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, both with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela under its superstar former conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who now is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. (The Madame Butterfly eye lashes on the CD’s cover are a bit much, no? It’s guilding the lotus, The Ear would say. Wang is attractive and sexy enough just as she is.)

Yuja Wang Rach 3 CD coverGD

Yuja Wang and Gustavo Dudamel make a great team, as you can hear in the excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom. And watch how, since she is wearing s strapless dress, you can see how her shoulder and chest muscles get that big sound from a small woman.)

Relaxed and freewheeling, Wang herself proved a great improviser in an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition” co-host Steve Inskeep as she deconstructed and eve performed parts of the “Rach 3” (below, in the NPR studio in a photo by Diane DeBelius).

yuja wang at npr Denise DeBelius NPR

Wang also emphasized the improvisational qualities of the music and compared Rachmaninoff (below top), one favorite of Vladimir Horowitz (below middle), to the blind jazz giant Art Tatum (below bottom), another favorite of Horowitz. I myself think it is very controlled improvisation, much like the music of Frederic Chopin.


Vladimir Horowitz

art tatum

You may recall that the work in question is the titanic, knuckle-busting and wrist-taxing Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor that ruined pianist David Helfgott’s sanity or at least triggered his nervous breakdown in the 1996 Australian film “Shine.”

Be sure to listen to Wang’s expressive voice and to read the Readers’ Comments. There are quite a few – and just about all positive.

Many of them see Yuja Wang as a new Vladimir Horowitz — an obvious comparison reinforced by both the way she plays and the repertoire she plays. (Why not see her as the new Martha Argerich — whom Horowitz himself said had learned much from him.)

But the readers also clearly encourage NRP to do more stories along these lines.

And guess what?

There was no talk about her attractive looks and the sexy micro-skirts and black gown with heels and thigh-slits (below) that have sparked such controversy when she played in them at the Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall, respectively.

yuja wang dress times 3

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Ruby Washington NYTimes

Classical music: Can the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America and its inaugural tour — with American superstar violinist Joshua Bell and Russian conductor Valery Gergiev — help revive classical music in the U.S. and build bigger audiences of young people? Check it out.

July 21, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

By now, many of us in this country and around the world have heard about “el sistema,” the pioneering music education movement for young people in Venezuela that gave us the superstar young conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below) who learned his art with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, which he still conducts and records with when he isn’t with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Closer to home, I have often written about my admiration for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Madison and their 96-year-old founder Marvin Rabin as well as their enthusiastic and cheering audiences.

But it seems that music education for young people has taken a gigantic leap forward with the National Symphony Orchestra of the United States of America (below, seen rehearsing) that draws its play from around the nation.

It was created by and is sponsored by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall – some pedigree, no? (Unfortunately, I can’t find a list of possible Wisconsin participants. If you know of any please let me and the other readers now.) Below is a photo, from Carnegie Hall, of some of the 120 players chosen from more than 100 cities in 42 states, entering their first rehearsal with a great NYO-USA poster in red, white and blue. (For more information, look at the YouTube video at the bottom.)


It performs in major halls, including Carnegie Hall, and has launched a tour with the American superstar violinist Joshua Bell (below top, who is also now the concertmaster and conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) and the acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom). Plus the ambitious program suitably featured major  Russian works, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 plus a new commissioned work from the young American composer Sean Shepherd that paid homage to Russian composers.

joshua Bell

Gergievin NY

That such big names are willing to participate in this project tells you something important about it and its future.

If you haven’t heard about it – and I have seen precious little about it in the mainstream media except for PBS, NPR and The New York Times, it is time to catch up.

So here some links to help you earn about what seems like such a promising event that some observers say it has the potential to revitalize the classical music scene in the U.S.

Here is a link to its home website at Carnegie Hall with a lot of photos (below is one of the group rehearsing by Chris Lee of The New York Times):


Here is a link to a great background or set-up story on NPR:

National Youth Orchestra with Valeyr Gergiev CR Karsten Moran of NYTimes PURCHASE1-articleLarge

And here is a rave review from Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times of the orchestra’s first performance of its first historic tour:

Classical music: The Ear falls in love with the clarinet as, once again, Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society surprises fans and inspires audiences to standing ovations with great music, great performers and great fun. Don’t miss the rest of the BDDS season.

June 17, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Every summer it happens.

Just when I think I can’t be pleasantly surprised anymore, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society once again manages to surprise me – and with the greatest of pleasure.

This summer’s series — three weekends of six programs in June — opened with two programs this past weekend. And this time, the BDDS made me fall in love with the clarinet.

Now, I have always liked the clarinet. But after hearing clarinetist Burt Hara in his first BDDS appearances, I am absolutely in love with the instrument.

Burt Hara

Hara performed beautifully in Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, but the pieces that really enraptured me were Brahms’ sublimely beautiful and intimate Clarinet Quintet (below) and Olivier Messiaen’s dramatic “Quartet for the End of Time,” which to me is more remarkable for the playing than for the music. (Retired Wisconsin Public Radio host and now narrator Linda Clauder expressively read poems by Shelley, Yeats and other works chosen by pianist Sykes in between movements.)

BDDS 2-13 Brahms Clarinet Quintet

In all cases, Hara showed a complete mastery. (See and listen to his YouTube video at the bottom.) He is the model of a quiet virtuoso who avoids flash. He blends rather than stands out. He can play softly, almost inaudibly, without losing the incredible richness and depth of tone. His pitch is wonderful, and his ability in the Messiaen quartet (below) to hold a tone from almost silence to a very loud sound with gradual but absolute steadiness was nothing short of miraculous.

BDDS 2013 2 Messiaen

Not for nothing has Hara been the principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Orchestra for 25 years, although due to that orchestra’s unfortunate lockout and labor strife, he has apparently decided to take a position as assistant principal clarinet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its white-hot young, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Wherever Hara makes his home, I hope he returns to Madison in future summers to perform some of the great clarinet repertoire – Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Brahms’ two clarinet sonatas, Debussy’s Rhapsody and Poulenc’s sonata among others.

But Hara is not alone in attracting my attention and admiration.

Also impressive in the first two concerts was guest violist Yura Lee (below), whose lyricism and expressive face matched her impeccable intonation and tone.

Yura Lee 2

Among the more regular BDDS members were co-founders and co-directors pianist Jeffrey Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt (below top) as well as Anthony Ross (below top), principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and violinist Carmit Zori (below bottom), from the Brooklyn Chamber Music Festival.


Anthony Ross cello

Carmit Zori

I don’t think a wrong note, an off-rhythm or a false interpretative move happened among all of them. In short, chamber music and ensemble playing just don’t get any better.

Then there is the repertoire.

I may be never again hear such rarely performed works as Felix Mendelssohn’s early Sonata for Viola or Maurice Emmanuel’s Trio Sonata from 1907, but I am very happy I got to hear them once and I doubt I will ever hear them performed better.

Then there was the American contemporary composer Kenji Bunch (below) and his “New Moon and Morning” (2008) for flute and string quartet. It was a lovely and accessible work that goes down easily. It struck me as very post-Ravel, a sort of meticulously Minimalist French-like work that was terrifically evocative and convincingly atmospheric. As far as I know it is a Madison or even a Midwest premiere, and the work’s colorful transparency worked perfectly as a counterpart complement to Mozart’s trio.

kenji bunch composing

As always there are the creative and very ingenious sets, this year designed by artists Brenda Baker and Burt Ross. This summer’s theme is “Deuces Are Wild” to mark BDDS’ 22nd season, so art of thre “set” uses playing cards around the stage and projected onto the backdrop (below top and bottom) as well as a card trick by a local magician.

BDDS 2013 playing cards on stage

BDDS 2013 playing cards screen 2

The Ear was told that ticket sales are ahead of last summer, and that even subscription tickets are moving faster. That pleases me since I named the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society as Musicians of the Year for 2012.

But there are still seats to be filled at the Overture Center’s Playhouse, the Stoughton Opera House and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

Over the next two weekends, the performers include Madison  Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain as pianist and MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz as well as the always reliable singers of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Emily Birsan and bass-baritone Timothy Jones plus Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp and the always reliable violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau of the San Francisco Trio.

The repertoire includes major instrumental works and songs by Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mozart and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

But curiously, despite the group’s name, there was and is NO Bach.

Maybe pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a masterful chameleon of a pianist who can blend into any period or style and who played solo Haydn last summer, could open each concert with a brief overture of sorts — some solo Bach, perhaps a short Prelude and Fugue from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” or a Two-Part or Three-Part Invention, or a movement from a suite or partita. Or maybe a guest violinist or cellist could play a movement from a Bach s0lo suite or, with Sykes, a movement from a Bach sonata. It would set the tone, so to speak, and become a unifying motif.

BDDS Jeffrey Sykes Haydn sonata

Anyway, if you love music and are not attending the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you are cheating yourself out of a wondrous experience.

For a complete listing of dates, place, times, tickets, performers and pieces, go to:

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