The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) needs YOUR HELP as it presents its annual Art of Note gala on May 4 in Madison in order to help hundreds of music students from all around south-central Wisconsin. Plus, the UW-Madison’s national Stamps Scholars give their debut concert on Sunday afternoon.

April 27, 2013
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ALERT: You might want to catch the FREE debut performance by UW-Madison’s first class of Stamps Scholars (below in a photo) this Sunday, April 28, at 5 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Stamps Scholarships are competitive, four-year merit scholarships given by the Stamps Family Foundation of Atlanta. At the UW School of Music, Stamp Scholars include Renee Brechtel, violin; Alex Charland, clarinet; Kyle Pompei, horn; Cobrun Sells, piano & percussion, and Anna Whitaway, soprano. The program includes Igor Stravinsky‘s “L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale); Franz  Schubert‘s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock); Jarmo Sermila’s “Das Geblase”; and a piece written by Stamps Scholar Alex Charland, titled “Caricatures for Stamps Quintet.” For more information about the Stamps scholarships, check out these links: 

Stamps Scholarships 2013 Kathy Esposito

By Jacob Stockinger

Nobody quite knows what the cause is — maybe competing events, maybe the late cold, wet and overcast spring, maybe less public exposure.

But one fact is not in question: So far this year fewer than half the places that were sold last year have been sold to the annual Art of Note fundraiser for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on a week from today, at 6 p.m. on next Saturday, May 4, at the headquarters of CUNA Mutual on Mineral Point Road.

Art of Note logo copy

And WYSO simply needs to do better if it is to carry on the important and inspiring work it has been doing so successfully since it was founded in 1965, when it began educating more than 5,000 students from more than 100 communities throughout south-central Wisconsin.

wyso violas

Bluntly put: WYSI needs your help.

As The Ear has often said, there is no better cause or organization in the area to support if you care about the future of classical music, both the music-makers and the audiences, and about the role that music education plays in the lives of young people.

WYSO Youth Orchestra Violins

The gala will feature an evening of live music, gourmet cuisine, wine, locally brewed beer, and live and silent auctions, including a wine auction and bidding on violins that have been transformed into works of art (Below is the front and back of a violin by artist Michael Velliquette.).

Velliquette Violin Front & Back

The Art of Note gala will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2013, starting at 6 p.m. at the CUNA Mutual Conference Center, 5810 Mineral Point Rd., on the far west side of Madison.

Tickets are $100 per person in advance, $110 at the door. $70 of each ticket is tax-deductible. Guests can also purchase a table for 8 for $750.

Those who attend will enjoy hors d’oeuvres and dessert, served buffet-style, while they bid on fine dining, event tickets (including Badger football tickets), travel packages and many other items at the live or silent auctions.

You can preview many of these auction items at WYSO’s newly redesigned website:

The gala will include performances by the young musicians of WYSO’s Percussion Ensemble (below), Brass Choirs and Chamber Music Ensembles.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

Proceeds of the gala will help support all aspects of the WYSO program for young people, including high-quality orchestral training, performance opportunities, student scholarships, orchestra tours -– major international tours every two years are on the works (below is a photo of WYSO performing in Vienna last year) — and master classes with professional musicians.

WYSO tour Playing George Cao

The outstanding results of WYSO training -– which has helped professional musicians and people in many other fields all over the world –- can be experienced first-hand when WYSO’s groups perform at several concerts during the year. Just listen to the performance of the last movement of Shostakovich‘s Symphony No. 5 in the YouTube video at the bottom.

WYSO Logo blue

The next upcoming examples of WYSO’s impressive achievement will be the Bolz Spring Concerts on Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and May 19, in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus. (Below is a photo by Cheng-Wei Wu of the WYSO Philharmonia Orchestra performing under retiring conductor and WYSO associate music director Thomas Buchhauser.)

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

Here is a link about the concerts and, at the home page, more about WYSO’s history and mission. Read them and see if you don’t agree that WYSO deserves support – YOUR support:

And speaking of support, let us acknowledge and praise the business and institutional help donated by the Art of Note sponsors: Boardman Clark Law Firm, The Century House, C.K. Chang, CUNA Mutual Group, Custer Financial Services/Lincoln Financial Group, EnRich Financial Partners, Goodman’s Jewelers, Tetrad, Inc., Susan Hoeft Vandewalle (WYSO Charter Concertmaster), and Wallman Investment Counsel.

Call (608) 263-3320 x 11 for more information or to RSVP.

Classical music review: University of Wisconsin-Madison composer Jerry Hui’s new chamber opera “Wired for Love” is hardwired for success.

January 23, 2012

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 every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

I had to miss the official “world premiere” performance of the new comic opera “Wired for Love” by Jerry Hui (below) on Friday night, but I was able to catch the follow-up performance the next evening at Music Hall.

As readers of The Ear have already been informed, it is a one-act chamber opera, running about 70 minutes and is Hui’s dissertation project for his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.  It calls for four singers, and a pit orchestra of nine players (a string quartet with flutes, oboe/English horn, clarinets, trombone, percussion and piano).

To recap previous information, it has a libretto written jointly by Hui with Lisa Kundrat (below). In rhymed verse, it traces the confrontation made to a Nigerian scammer, who uses a male alias on the Internet, by a British counter-scammer, who uses a female alias. The two electronic “dummies” begin to take on independent characters of their own, fall genuinely in love, betray their creators, and escape to independent existence.

It is, in a sense, a piece of sci-fi satire. But it did remind me just a little of Menotti’s little comic one-act opera, “The Telephone,” which spoofed the intrusion of a modern gadget into real life circumstances. Menotti (below) also captured a lot of American colloquial English, in the way Hui and Kundrat mocked the pseudo-pigeon-English of those Nigerian scam e-mails we all seem to receive.

I was also alert to possible influences on Hui’s musical style. As he promised, he composes in an eclectic mode, reflecting and synthesizing a number of idioms.

There was jazz, and Broadway, but also conventional opera–complete with a witty quotation of the “Tristan chord.” The instrumentation at times reminded me of the “Histoire du Soldat” by Stravinsky (below top) while the overture carried for me some of the episodic writing techniques of Virgil Thomson (below bottom, with his librettist Gertrude Stein).

But Hui is his own man. His handling of the instruments is thoroughly confident, and I even wonder if he might consider fleshing out the score for a fuller orchestra. Above all, while he certainly does not attempt traditional “bel canto” vocalism, he can write genuinely idiomatic vocal lines.

There are several full-scale arias, amid a lot of “parlando” writing. And the most brilliant touch is an ensemble epilogue, a kind of Baroque operatic “coro,” offering moralizing sentiments in an echoing the final ensemble to Mozart‘s “Don Giovanni,” but cast in the form of a kind of post-Renaissance madrigal.

Hui has admitted, after all, that he is very much influenced by early musical styles. And all the music in this work is sustained in a very accomplished contrapuntal texture.

Hui was fortunate in his performers, certainly so with the instrumentalists.

Of his four singers (below, all from the UW School of Music), undergraduate baritone James Held (below, far left) was solid as the British counter-scammer–bringing a fine touch of humor to his acting. The role of the Nigerian scammer was written for a countertenor, of all things, and the very promising  Peter Gruett (below,  far right) invested his part with an appropriately bizarre quality.

Particularly outstanding, however, were the two avatars. Daniel O’Dea as the imaginary Zimbabwean frontman offered a lovely tenor voice and some quite emotionally moving expressiveness. Soprano Jennifer Sams, a familiar singer to Madison audiences, not only brought off her role as the Britisher’s phony American avatar (can you forget a name like “Ethel Wormvarnish”?) with versatility and flair but also contributed the clever stage direction.

A further plaudit goes to to Chelsie Propst for contributing imaginative surtitles, set in different type-faces to fit different characters, notably helpful in duets and ensembles.

In sum, this is a witty and enjoyable stage piece, and the audience of which I was a member just loved it. It is worth experiencing again, I think, so it is good news that Hui plans to record it soon.

Above all, “Wired for Love” is a demonstration of the very impressive dimension of Jerry Hui as a composer, amid all his other enterprises. I have already compared him to the late Steve Jobs for his boundless energy and diversely imaginative productivity.

But dare we wonder if he is perhaps also another Leonard Bernstein in the making? Time will tell. But this production is certainly a tantalizing hint. Watch for future developments …

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