By Jacob Stockinger
Has March’s proverbial lion finally yielded to the lamb?
Here is Madison there is still some snow on the ground. But it should all be gone by the end of today, which, like yesterday, will reach into the 50s.
Just in time.
Today is the Vernal Equinox, bringing the first day of spring. It arrives at 5:29 a.m. this morning.
Spring has been an inspiration to many composers. So there is a lot of music to choose from when you want to celebrate season musically.
The Ear is fickle and his choice changes from year to year.
But lately, his favorite has been the “Spring” Sonata in F Major for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the opening of the famously tuneful and upbeat sonata, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of course there are violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn; chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; orchestral music by Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky; piano pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Edvard Grieg; songs by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. And there is more, so much more.
Yesterday, Wisconsin Public Radio programmed a lot of spring music, and The Ear expects the same for today’s programming.
But you can be your own DJ if you want. Here is a list of almost two hours of spring-related music:
And here is a springtime puzzler, or quiz, about flowers in opera from NPR or National Public Radio:
Plus, there are plenty of other guides and anthologies to music for spring that you can find online.
So here is what The Ear wants to know: What is your favorite piece of music to greet spring with?
Leave words in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.
And a Happy Spring to you!
By Jacob Stockinger
The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.
Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.
First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.
This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”
The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).
In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.
His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).
Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).
As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).
In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.
What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.
Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.
But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.
In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.
For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Over the years, The Ear has heard quite a few child prodigies, many of them impressive.
But he has heard only one Julian Rhee (below).
Rhee, from Brookfield, is a young Milwaukee area violinist who has won numerous awards from and has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Rhee will perform again with the WCO (below), playing the complete Brahms Violin Concerto — not just separate movements or excerpts — this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
What makes Rhee so outstanding is that the level of his musicality matches his high technical mastery.
When he performed some of the Brahms concerto in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte competition, which he won two years ago, all eyes and ears popped open with the first notes. You just knew right away who was going to win.
(You can hear the Final Forte introduction to Julian Rhee, which aired on Wisconsin Public Televisi0n, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Rhee’s playing exuded a maturity that even seasoned listeners did not expect. And the Brahms is a perfect vehicle to display his interpretive maturity as well as his technical virtuosity. Surely Rhee still has room to grow musically. But his mastery is already something to behold.
If you enjoy being able to say “I heard him when …,” this concert has all the hallmarks of being a must-hear, do-not-miss event.
But there are other attractions on the program, to be played under music director Andrew Sewell, who has again combined works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Igor Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale) will be performed with guest narrator Jim DeVita (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. The story involves a soldier who sells his soul to the devil.
And there will also be the Symphony No. 102 in B-Flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn, a composer whose style brings out the best in WCO music director and conductor Sewell (below), an accomplished interpreter of music from the Classical era.
To read Julian Rhee’s complete and impressive biography, and to find out more information about the program, the performers and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
A friend of The Ear and a fan of this blog writes:
I want to alert you and your readers that in February we have two performances scheduled at The Malt House (below), 2609 East Washington Avenue, on the corner of Milwaukee Street.
The Yahara String Quartet (below) plays on this coming Saturday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. YSQ says they will play “among others … music by Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Holst, Haydn, Vivaldi … and more.” For information, go to:
The Cello and Bass Duo of Karl von Huene (cello, below) and John Dowling (contrabass) will play on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Adds Karl von Haene: “We play short pieces by Sebastian Lee (1805-1887) that are obscure enough that I will buy a beer for anyone who knows them. You see, there’s no opus number, they’re just “melodic studies/etudes.”
You can hear the first of Sebastian Lee’s “40 Melodic and Progressive Studies” in the YouTube video at the bottom. For information about Sebastian Lee, who performed and taught in France and Germany, go to:
For information, go to:
Performances are FREE, and the full bar is open for business. We open at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
For more information about the highly rated tavern that specializes in artisan beers and ales, and also presents other forms of music, go to:
Bill Rogers, The Malt House
By Jacob Stockinger
The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.
So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:
What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?
There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.
There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)
So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?
And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?
The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Was it the Baroque trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)
Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.
Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.
And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.
The Ear wants to hear.
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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
By Jacob Stockinger
The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.
Take this weekend.
At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.
But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.
Here is a roundup:
From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.
All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:
At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.
You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the program and the group’s history. Here is a link:
For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:
And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:
Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.
At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.
Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:
At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.
Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.
Here is a link with more information:
Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:
Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.
Admission is $45.
Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.
Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.
You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has an announcement to pass on from the Volta Quartet:
“Join us for our first concert in Madison!
“It is this Saturday night from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, two blocks off the Capitol Square.
“The program features the Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement), D. 703, by Franz Schubert; String Quartet, Op. 33, No. 5, by Joseph Haydn; and Quartet No. 1 by Béla Bartók. (You can hear the beautiful “Quarttetsatz by Schubert played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
“We are called the Volta Quartet, and we are based in Chicago. It is comprised of Alex Norris, and Ben Seeger on violins; Willie Mclellan on viola; and Elizabeth Oar on cello.
The members are pictured below (left to right)” Willie, Ben, Elizabeth and Alex.
“We formed the quartet this summer because we all love to play string quartets and we don’t want to give up that part of our lives just because we are busy with other things.”
By Jacob Stockinger
It can’t be easy to start a new classical music group in a city that already has so many outstanding classical music groups and events.
Yet that is exactly what The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) have done – and with remarkable success.
To be honest, The Ear thought of awarding the same honor to them last year.
But that was their inaugural year. And launching a new enterprise is often easier than continuing and sustaining it.
But continue and sustain it they have – and even improved it.
The main season for The Willy Street Players is in July,, usually around noon or 6 p.m.
But they also usually offer a preview concert in the winter, and will do so again at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22, when they will perform string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla and Daniel Bernard Roumain at A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street. Admission is $20.
For tickets and more information about that concert as well as the group in general, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
The Ear finds so much to like about The Willy Street Chamber Players.
To start, the quality of the playing of the mostly string players and pianists — most of whom are products of the UW-Madison — is unquestionably superb. So are their guest artists such as Suzanne Beia. They have never disappointed The Ear, and others seem to agree.
The programming is ideal and adventurous, combining beloved classics, neglected works and new music from contemporary composers. And it all seems to fit together perfectly.
The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the Baroque era through the Classical, Romantic and modernist eras to today. They have performed an impressively eclectic mix of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Pietro Mascagni, Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb, Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger.
The concerts are very affordable.
The concerts are short, usually running only about an hour or 75 minutes. That allows you both to fully focus or concentrate on the performance but then also to do something else with your precious leisure time.
The group of sonic locavores stays true to its name and mission, playing at various venues on or near Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side – including the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street and at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. But they have also collaborated with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the post-concerts receptions, they even offer outstanding snack food from local purveyors in the Willy Street area. And it’s there that you can also meet the performers, who are fun, informative and congenial whenever they talk to the public, whether before and after a performance.
Most of all, The Ear has never heard anything dull or second-rate from the Willy Street Chamber Players. They are a fantastic breath of fresh air who invest their performances of even well-known works, such as the glorious Octet by Mendelssohn, with energy and drive, zest and good humor.
They are exactly what classical music – whether chamber music or orchestral music, choral or vocal music –needs to attract new and younger audiences and well as the usual fans. They have just the right balance of informality and professionalism.
The many musicians, all of them young, work hard but make the results seem easy. That is the very definition of virtuosity. Small wonder that many of them play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups. But this group seems special to them, and it shows.
If you don’t already know the Willy Street Chamber Players, you should get to know them. You should attend their concerts and, if you can, support them. They are a new gem, and constitute an outstanding and invaluable addition to Madison’s music scene.
NOTE: The Ear offers one piece of advice to The Willy Street Chamber Players: Since he can’t find a sample of you in action, please post some of your outstanding performances, which have been recorded by radio host Rich Samuels and broadcast on WORT-FM 89.9, on YouTube. The public needs a way to hear them and whet its appetite for your live performances.
In any case, The Ear wishes them well and hopes that, despite the inevitable personnel changes that will surely come in the future, The Willy Street Chamber Players stay on the Madison music scene for many years to come.
The Ear sends his best wishes for the New Year and another great season, the group’s third, to The Willy Street Chamber Players as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following word to share from Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians who is also an accomplished keyboard player in addition to being an entertaining and informative lecturer about early music and period instruments:
We’re giving a house concert to celebrate the New Year, 2017.
On Friday evening, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., I’ll play a program of solo keyboard music on harpsichord, fortepiano and the restored 1855 Bösendorfer concert grand piano (below). (NOTE: The Ear earlier mistakenly had said Jan. 7 in the headline only, and apologizes for the error.)
The program includes selections by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy. Sorry, no word about specific pieces. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Stephenson play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on a fortepiano.)
Refreshments will be served.
Admission is $40.
Reservations are required. To let us know that you’d like to attend, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Trevor and Rose Stephenson