The Well-Tempered Ear

See and hear The Cliburn piano competition for FREE via streaming. It runs through June 18

June 4, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition got under way this past Thursday, June 2, and will run through Saturday, June 18, when the winners will be announced.

2022 marks the 60th anniversary year of the competition, which the American pianist Van Cliburn founded at Texas Christian University after his 1958 Cold War victory in the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow,.

You can follow it all online. The complete impressive competition is being broadcast on medici.tv and on YouTube.

But The Ear has used the competition’s own streaming website and finds the videos, sound quality, contestant biographies and background information very professional and helpful. So far, it has been a thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and engaging experience. I highly recommendation it for students, amateur pianists and all music lovers.

For The Ear, one of the most impressive performances from yesterday was given by the 21-year-old Chinese pianist Yangrui Cai (below), heard in the YouTube video at the bottom. Such beautiful and subtly virtuosic but shaded Liszt and Brahms is not often heard.

Here is a link to the home page (below): https://cliburn.org

From there you can hear live performances, past performances and many facts , including the complete schedule, about The Cliburn, as it is now called. All times are Central Daylight.

Starting at 10 a.m. today — Saturday, June 4 — will see the final 10 performances (3 in the morning and night, four in the afternoon) of the preliminary round, which has featured 30 pianists in 40-minute solo recitals. Except for a specially commissioned “Fanfare Toccata” by Sir Stephen Hough, who is also on the jury, the choice of programs is entirely up to the individual contestants.

The road to the Cliburn is not easy.

It started with 388 applicants. That was trimmed down to 72 by preliminary judges. Out of 72, 30 were chosen by jurors to compete.

After today, it will be on to the quarter-finals with 18 contestants in 40-minute recitals with no repetition from the preliminary round; then the semi-final round with 12 contestants in a combination of 60-minute solo recital along with a Mozart piano concerto accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by the Nicholas McGegan, who is famous for his interpretations of Baroque and Classical era music; and the final concerto round with each contestant play two concertos with Fort Worth Symphony under famed conductor Marin Alsop, who is also the head juror.

The Ear will be posting his own thoughts as he experiences the extensive competition, maybe after each round or even each day.

But The Ear also wants to hear from you.

Do you have thoughts about the various contestants?

Who are your favorites and why?

Thoughts about the programs and repertoire being played?

Other thoughts about the competition in general?

The Ear Wants to hear.

 


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YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Too bad the Wisconsin Union Theater didn’t book a great pianist for next season

May 21, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

“We are living in a Golden Age of pianists,”  famed concert pianist, Juilliard teacher and frequent Madison performer Emanuel Ax (below) has said.

He should know. But you would never guess that from the recently announced next season at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below).

The WUT has not booked a solo pianist for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a link to the lineup for the next season:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/

Is The Ear the only one who has noticed and is disappointed?

Who else feels bad about it?

After all, this is the same presenting organization that brought to Madison such legendary pianists as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Percy Grainger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Dame Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Robert Casadesus, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, Alexander Brailowsky, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Byron Janis, Misha Dichter, Peter Serkin, André Watts, Lili Kraus and Garrick Ohlsson

It is the same hall (below) in which The Ear has heard Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Valentina Lisitsa, Andras Schiff, Joyce Yang, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Richard Goode, Leon Fleisher, Simone Dinnerstein, Wu Han and so many other great and memorable names including, of course, Emanuel Ax.

What a history!

As you can see and as The Ear likes to say, the Wisconsin Union Theater is “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” For over 100 years, it is where the great ones play.

One irony is that many of those former bookings of pianists took place when the University of Wisconsin School of Music had many more pianists on the faculty and provided a major alternative venue for piano recitals.

Another irony is that so many young people take piano lessons (below) and are apt to want to attend, probably with their parents, to hear a live professional concert piano recital. You would think the WUT would also see the advantages of having such community outreach links to the public and to music education, especially since the WUT has hosted Open Piano Day for the public. (See the YouTube video of a Channel 3000 story in February 2020 at the bottom.)

From what The Ear reads, there are lots of up-and-coming pianists, many affordable names of various winners of national and international competitions. They should be affordable as well as worthy of being introduced to the Madison public.

But that seems a mission now largely left to the Salon Piano Series.

Plus, so many of the new pianists are young Asians who have never appeared here, which should be another draw for the socially responsible and diversity-minded WUT.

But that is another story for another day.

What do you think of the WUT not presenting a solo pianist next season?

Maybe there will be a pianist booked for the 2023-24 season.

What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming committee?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The famed International Tchaikovsky Competition has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions

April 25, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the granddaddies of all international music competitions — probably the best known and most prestigious — has been disowned.

The International Tchaikovsky Competition — the one that catapulted the young American pianist and first winner Van Cliburn (below, during the competition) to worldwide fame during the height of the Cold War, for which he received the only ticker tape parade in New York City ever given to a musician — has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions, which was founded in 1957 and represents 110 music competitions and programs to help young musicians build a career.

The move comes in response to recent events in Ukraine — including alleged Russian war crimes during its brutal, deadly and unprovoked invasion.

The famed Tchaikovsky Competition — which started in 1958 and is now for pianists, violinists, cellists, vocalists as well as woodwind and brass players — is held in Moscow and St. Petersburg and is financed and organized by the Russian government. It has launched the careers on many great musicians.

It is co-chaired by the discredited Russian conductor Valery Gergiev  (below right, in 2014), a close friend and avid supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin (below left) and of the conflict in Ukraine.

The expulsion came about because the Tchaikovsky Competition refused to condemn the Russian invasion, as the federation requested.

Here is a link to the story that was published on the website Classical Music, an online publication of the BBC Music Magazine. It contains background on both the competition and the current state of affairs regarding Russian musicians and the Russian conflict in Ukraine. It has a lot of noteworthy links:

https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classical-music.com%2Fnews%2Finternational-tchaikovsky-competition-expelled-from-world-federation-of-international-music-competitions%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7C6c24b49a0d734e9d8cba08da23b1b885%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637861543449919994%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=RO2i3yy3HKXFxzEBotr4wTvrEONBM0%2FqUjxqt5CPhQc%3D&reserved=0

And here is the response from the organizers of the Russian competition, which takes place every four years. The 16th competition was held in 2019, and the 17th is still scheduled for 2023. (The announcement of the 2019 piano winners — by the Russian former piano winner Denis Matsuev, who has been boycotted because of Ukraine — is in the YouTube-Medici.TV video at the bottom.)

The response — which accuses the federation of “persecuting” Russian musicians and promises that it will be held as usual and remain open to contestants worldwide — is posted on the competition’s website:

https://tchaikovskycompetition.com/en/news/415.htm

It makes one wonder what the effects on the next Tchaikovsky competition will be.

Will potential jurors outside Russia boycott the competition?

Will non-Russian contestants — with the exception perhaps on Chinese and Belarusian performers — avoid participating?

And what will be the effect on the inaugural Rachmaninoff Competition for pianists, composers and conductors that is scheduled to take place this June in Moscow?

What do you think?

Is it the right call by the international federation?

Or the wrong call?

Why do you think so?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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WORT-FM 89.9 now has a Monday morning show of modern and contemporary classical music with Paul Baker

April 6, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The listener-sponsored, community radio station WORT-FM 89.9 — long a home for classical music from all eras, from the earliest to the newest — has a new program to join its many others about music in all genres and all periods as well as news and commentary about public affairs.

It airs on Monday mornings from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. with Paul Baker (below, in his WORT studio). He is well-known radio host, music critic and amateur musician.

Baker recently shared with The Ear some insights into his new show “Listen Adventurously”:

Are you still doing your show for WSUM, the student-run FM radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

I hosted Only Strings on WSUM-FM 91.7 to focus on chamber music at a time when I was taking cello lessons. I wanted to absorb as much chamber music as possible, and preparing for, and hosting, a radio program was one good way to do that. I ended the show in 2019 when I reached the five-year mark.

How did the new WORT show come about?

I’ve been a WORT fan for more than 30 years. I know many of the program hosts and have been in touch with the music director, Sybil Augustine, for some time.

I had hosted a WORT Sunday early morning show briefly about 20 years ago. The Monday morning classical slot recently became available when Christopher Delamarter stepped down, so I raised my hand.

What can you tell us about the content of the show?

The show has been billed as 20th-century classical music. I am extending that to include pieces from the 2000s as well — things written as recently as last year. There is just so much good material. Younger composers and performers deserve to be heard. 

So the show will feature Bartok and Shostakovich and Samuel Barber, of course, but also Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt and Jennifer Higdon and Laura Schwendinger (below, who teaches at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and whose music is widely performed) and Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion Ensemble. In my opinion, there’s a lack of local availability to hear this music.

I enjoy sharing music with people. When I worked on campus, I programmed three shows for WSUM-FM. Now that I’m retired, I’m happy to have this opportunity on WORT. The only drawback is that I must get up at 4 a.m. for the 5 a.m. air time. But I’m a morning person, so it’s not that bad.

Editor’s note: If you want to see a sample playlist, as well as WORT’s daily show schedule, here a link to the one from this past Monday: https://www.wortfm.org/on-air-schedule/


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Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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How will you celebrate World Piano Day today?

March 29, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Tuesday, March 29, 2022 — is World Piano Day.

(Below is a restored vintage concert grand piano at Farley’s House of Pianos used for recitals in the Salon Piano Series.)

How will you mark it? Celebrate it?

It’s a fine occasion to revisit your favorite pianist and favorite piano pieces.

Who is your favorite pianist, and what piano piece would you like to hear today?

If you yourself took piano lessons or continue to play, what piece would you play to mark the occasion? Fo the Ear, it will be either a mazurka by Chopin or a movement from either a French Suite or a Partita by Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe both!

What piano piece do you wish you could play, but never were able to? For The Ear, it would be the Ballade No. 4 in F minor by Chopin.

One of the best ways to mark the day is to learn about a new younger pianist you might not have heard of.

For The Ear, one outstanding candidate would be the Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson ( below), who has won critical acclaim and who records for Deutsche Grammophon (DG). 

Olafsson has a particular knack for innovative and creative programming, like his CD that alternates works by Claude Debussy and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

He also seems at home at in many different stylistic periods. His records every thing from Baroque masters, to Mozart and his contemporaries in the Classical period — including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — to Impressionists to the contemporary composer Philip Glass.

But The Ear especially loves his anthology of Bach pieces (below) that include original works and transcriptions, including some arranged by himself. His playing is always precise and convincing, and has the kind of cool water-clear sound that many will identify with Andras Schiff.

You can hear a sample of his beautiful playing for yourself in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is an live-performance encore from his inaugural appearance last August at The Proms in London, where he also played Mozart’s dramatically gorgeous Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (also available on YouTube.)

Final word: You might find some terrific pianists and performances on the Internet. Record labels, performing venues and other organizations are marking the day with special FREE recitals that you can reach through Google and Instagram.

Happy playing!

Happy listening!

Please leave a comment and let The Ear and other readers know what you think of the piano — which seems to be falling out of favor these days — and which pianists and piano pieces you will identify this year with World Piano Day.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Music con Brio starts an annual Black Composers project with a FREE virtual concert

July 1, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Carol Carlson, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Madison-based Music con Brio (below), who is a violinist and holds a doctorate in music from the UW-Madison:

Hello friends,

Happy summer! I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun.

I am emailing you because Music con Brio embarked on an exciting new project this year, and I want to share it with you.

In an effort to diversify our repertoire and guest artists, we have launched our new “Music by Black Composers” project. Last winter, our staff chose four pieces of music by Black composers and made student-accessible arrangements of them. 

We then taught these new pieces during our online lessons this spring. On May 8, we gathered together outside at the Goodman Community Center, with four phenomenal local Black guest artists, to professionally record all four pieces.

And now, in lieu of our regular Community Concert Series this year, we are thrilled to present our first-ever Virtual Community Concert!

Click on the link to YouTube video at the bottom to watch and hear the 12-minute performance. Once there, click on Show More to see the composers, pieces and performers.

We are incredibly proud of our students and staff for all their hard work making this so successful. I’m sure you will enjoy their performance!

Please do feel free to pass the video along to anyone else you think might be interested in watching it.

And if you feel so inclined, we would really appreciate a donation in support of this work, which we plan to do every year from now on. To support Music con Brio and our Black Composers project by making a secure, tax-deductible donation, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org/donate/ 

Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you at a live concert again sometime soon!

If you wish to know more about Music con Brio, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org


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To celebrate Pride month, here are lists of LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical ensembles 

June 27, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

June is Pride month.

And this weekend will see Pride marches and celebrations in some major cities including New York City, Chicago, Paris and Rome.

As time passes, scholars are finding out more about the LGBTQ+ composers, performers and musical groups that have been hidden by history.

And some ironies emerge. One can only imagine the response of conservative, right-wing Evangelical Christians who find out that the composer of “Messiah” – George Frideric Handel (below) — was queer, at least according to some researchers.

For most listeners, surprises abound.

Here is a good place to start. It is the very large Wikipedia entry of LGBTQ+ composers and performers, both contemporary and historical. The Ear finds it very informative. It is organized by the kind of musicians they are and the category of their sexual identity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_musicians

If you want to be more selective, try these: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/greatest-lgbtq-conductors-you-should-know/. They include Marin Alsop (below top) and her teacher and mentor Leonard Bernstein (below bottom).

Here is longer essay that focuses on lesbian conductors as well as gay men and reaches back to the Middle Ages: http://www.glbtqarchive.com/arts/conductors_A.pdf

And here is one with some great photos or pictures of the individuals: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/great-classical-composers-who-were-gay/

Finally, here are some of the international music ensembles – with audio samples of their performances — made up of LGBTQ+ singers and instrumentalists, including the Rainbow Symphony of Paris (in the YouTube video at the bottom, performing the beautiful Gloria by the gay French composer Francis Poulenc in a benefit Concert Against Homophobia for UNESCO): https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/best-lgbtq-classical-music-ensembles/

Inevitably, some readers will react by asking: What difference does the sexual identity of composer or performer make? All that matters, they argue, is the music.

Here is a reply to that specious argument that focuses on Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below), the music director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the City Symphony of Montreal. It appeared in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/arts/music/yannick-nezet-seguin-met-opera-gay.html

Happy Pride – this month and every day of the year!

Do you have questions, additions or comments?

Leave them below.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Live music continues its comeback from the pandemic. Today is Make Music Madison with free concerts citywide of many kinds of music. Here are guides with details

June 21, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Live music continues to make its comeback from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The past week saw live outdoor concerts by Con Vivo, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Today – Monday, June 21 –is Make Music Madison 2021.

It is part of an annual worldwide phenomenon that started in France in 1982. It has since spread globally and is now celebrated in more than 1,000 cities in 120 countries.

Yet in the U.S., Wisconsin is one of only five states that celebrate Make Music Day statewide. The other states are Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont. In there U.S., more than 100 cities will take part in presenting free outdoor concerts. Globally, the audience will be in the millions.

The day is intended to be a way to celebrate the annual Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Technically, the solstice occurred in Wisconsin last night, on Father’s Day, at 10:32 p.m. CDT.

But The Ear is a forgiving kind. This will be the first full day of summer, so the spirit of the celebration lives on despite the calendar.

You can see – the composer Igor Stravinsky advised listening with your eyes open – and hear 38 different kinds of music. The choices include blues, bluegrass, Celtic, roots music, gospel, rock, jazz, classical, folk, African music, Asian music, world music, children’s music (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and much more. It will be performed by students and teachers,  amateurs and professionals, individuals and groups.

Here is a link to a press release about the overall event: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/make-music-day-2021-announces-updated-schedule-of-events-301304107.html

And here is a link to the global home website — with more background information and a live-stream video of a gong tribute to the who died of COVID — about the festival: https://www.makemusicday.org

The local events will take place from 5 a.m. to midnight. All are open to the public without admission, and safety protocols will be observed.

Here is a guide to local events that allow you to search particulars of the celebration by area of the city, genre of music, performers, venues and times. If you are a classical fan, in The Ear’s experience you might want to pay special attention to Metcalfe’s market in the Hilldale mall.

Here is a link to the home webpage of Make Music Madison: https://www.makemusicmadison.org

Here is a link to the event calendar with maps and schedules as well as alternative plans in case of rain and various menus for searching: https://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/

Happy listening!

In the Comment section, please leave your observations and suggestions or advice about the quality and success of the festival and the specific events you attended.

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music
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