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
The Ear has received the following public service announcement to post, and he is happy to do so because he believes there is no better investment you can make in the future of both classical music and adult success:
Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will hold its annual Art of Note Gala fundraiser, on Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 6 to 10 p.m., at Marriott West, 1313 John Q. Hammons Drive, in Middleton just off the Beltline on Madison’s far west side.
You can join dozens of major corporate underwriters and small business sponsors as well as individual attendees in helping WYSO to meet its goal of raising $85,000.
Study after study confirms that music education reaps lifelong benefits in academic and career success that go far beyond making music.
No single music educational organization in Wisconsin reaches more students or listeners than the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), which is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.
WYSO has served nearly 5,000 talented young musicians from more than 100 communities throughout south central Wisconsin over the past 51 years.
WYSO provides over $50,000 in scholarships for students in need.
WYSO performs through the community and undertakes local concerts and TV appearances as well as international tours. International tours have included Vienna, Prague (below), Budapest, Argentina and Italy.
The Art of Note Gala garners community-wide support from those who are passionate about music education, ensuring that WYSO remains one of the top youth orchestra programs in the country.
The evening will feature live music performed by several WYSO student groups including the Brass Choir (below), Percussion Ensemble and Youth Advanced String Ensemble.
The event will have an Italian theme to food, drinks and decor to bring back memories of WYSO’s most recent tour of Italy.
Fundraising events include silent and live auctions of more than 100 items that include everything from fine wine and restaurant gift certificates to holiday getaways, jewelry and tickets to major sporting and arts events.
To see the auction items, go to: http://www.wysomusic.org/artofnote/the-live-and-silent-auction-2017/
Of special note are the recycled violins that have been hand-painted and transformed into works of art by local artists. They are currently on display at Goodman Jewelers, 220 State Street. (Below top is the violin by Ellie Taylor, and below bottom by Margaret Andrews.)
Individual admission is $125 in advance, $135 at the door ($85 tax-deductible as a charitable donation per person). You can also purchase a table of four for $450, a table of 8 for $900 and a table of 10 for $1,100.
For reservations and more information about attending or sponsoring the gala, donating auction items as well as WYSO’s overall program and upcoming concerts, visit WYSO’s home website for the fundraising event at www.wysomusic.org/artofnote. You can also call (608) 263-3320, ext. 2.
For more general information about WYSO and its programs, go to: www.wysomusic.org
NOTE: If you are a WYSO student, a WYSO parent or a WYSO donor or supporter and have encouraging words to help others decide about attending the WYSO “Art of Note” fundraiser, please leave them in the COMMENT section.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Paran Amirinazari in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saens and Dmitri Shostakovich. Amirinazari, a graduate of the UW-Madison, is a member of the Willy Street Chamber Players. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra will perform a concert of music by Domenico Cimarosa, Ludwig van Beethoven and Gioachino Rossini this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Admission is $5, and free with an Edgewood College ID.
The program features the rarely performed Concerto for Oboe by the 18th-century Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa. Oboist Malia Huntsman will be the soloist. The orchestra will perform under the baton of its music director, Edgewood College professor Blake Walter (below).
You can sample the Oboe Concerto by Cimarosa in the YouTube video at the bottom.
The program opens with music by Rossini and also features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, one of the early symphonic masterpieces of the German composer.
Originally from Los Angeles, Malia Huntsman (below) has been playing oboe since the age of 14. She holds an undergraduate degree in Oboe Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Arts degree in Oboe Performance from Rice University.
Founded in 1993 via an endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and the late Edgewood College music professor Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra provides performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra at Edgewood College.
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
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
The “Grace Presents” series of FREE monthly Saturday noon concerts has been suspended indefinitely.
The series presented folk music, jazz, ethnic, country and other genres in addition to classical music.
Over several years, he has heard memorable performances of sonatas and suites, cantatas and preludes, of vocal, string and piano music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms and other composers. Included here are some photos of past events.
The concerts – held in the wonderful interior (below) of Grace Episcopal Church on the downtown Capitol Square — always attracted a large, friendly and appreciative crowd, and the series became a showcase to spotlight some performers who have a lower profile, including graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
No specific reason for the action was given, and The Ear wonders if it had to do with finding financial sponsors or perhaps with the difficulty of booking performers in a city with such competitive programming of music.
It was not an easy job to set it up and keep it running. So The Ear offers congratulations and thanks to the many people who made the series successful for many years. (Below are violinist Laura Burns, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Rhapsodie Quartet, and pianist Jess Salek, who teaches and performs with the Mosaic Chamber Players and the Madison Youth Choirs.)
Here is the official statement:
Dear Grace Presents Community:
After six seasons of offering free community concert programming monthly at the historic Grace Episcopal Church, the Grace Presents Concert Series has been suspended indefinitely.
From performers such as Yid Vicious, Kenn Lonquist, The Dang-It’s, the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and so many others we have enjoyed presenting these concerts free of charge to the Madison community and the thousands of downtown Madison visitors.
It is our hope that this concert series may find a champion in the near future, but until then, the red doors will no longer be open on Saturdays for free concerts to the public.
Thank you for your support of this series and local musicians. (Below is pianist Yana Groves who played music by Bach and Rachmaninoff at Grace Presents).
Grace Presents Board Members
PS: Thank you to the following:
– Bruce Kasprzyk for recording dozens of our concerts and providing his services free of charge
– Oakwood University Woods for printing our programs each month
– Bruce Croushore for initiating the Grace Presents Concert Series seven years ago
– folks who have served on the Grace Presents board
– over 100 musicians who performed for a Grace Presents concert
– all of you who have attended and supported live music at Grace Church
We especially thank our many donors and supporters over the years, and in particular Dane Arts, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, the Madison Arts Commission, and the Wisconsin Arts Board
By Jacob Stockinger
Are they warhorses?
Or are they simply great, surefire masterpieces of classical music that have meaning to many, many people even after repeated listening?
Can they be both?
Can one critic’s warhorse be another listener’s masterpiece?
Think about it and then decide for yourself.
Here is some help.
Every year, WQXR-FM, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, asks its listeners to nominate the Top 100 pieces of classical music. From the holidays through New Years’ Day, Jan. 1, the radio station then airs those pieces in a countdown format. (You can also check out and stream much of WQXR’s regular and special programming by going to: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/
Here is a link to this year’s selections:
Many, if not most or even all, of the titles will seem quite familiar.
But before you dismiss them as too easy or too popular or overperformed, The Ear reminds readers of what the famed American playwright Edward Albee, who died last year, once observed.
Albee said something to the effect: Great art should move you and make you feel different. If it doesn’t do that, then forget it. You’re wasting your time. Find art that does.
How many of these pieces would fit that criterion for you and how many would you also have named? For The Ear, an awful lot.
How many have you heard, live or on a recording?
How many do you look forward to hearing again – on the assumption that repeated listening brings repeated pleasure and deeper appreciation and understanding?
It is also useful to remember what the great and, at the same time, popular pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) once said: “Classical music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for classical music.”
So much music!
So little time!
Enjoy the list and the music, and leave your thoughts about these selections or about what is missing in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume this week after a break for Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays. This Friday, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., pianist Olivia Musat will perform music by Olivier Messiaen, Isaac Albeniz and Paul Constantinesco.
By Jacob Stockinger
It seems a tradition throughout the media to offer a roundup of the Year’s Best with a local slant.
The Ear already offered a national and international roundup. Here is a link to that, especially to the surprisingly rich roundup that he unexpectedly found on Wikipedia:
For a more local perspective, The Ear trusts and generally agrees with critic John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog and more often for Isthmus.
Here is a link to Barker’s list of memorable concerts in the Madison area, Because Isthmus mixes classical with other genres like pop, folk and jazz, you have to scroll down to “Classical cornucopia”:
Although I agree with all the concerts that Barker mentions, he left out some that The Ear really loved. One was the absolutely riveting and moving performance in November by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain of the momentous Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
For example just about everything that the Pro Arte Quartet does at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is first-rate and memorable, whether they play in Mills Hall or on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen Museum of Art.”
But this past fall, a free noontime concert by the Pro Arte with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher especially stood out. Together (below), they performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms – an unquestionable masterpiece in an unforgettable performance.
The Ear would also add two events, both violin recitals, at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Last spring Hilary Hahn (below top, in a photo by Peter Miller) turned in a stunningly superb recital. Then this fall, superstar Joshua Bell (below bottom) did the same. Both artists displayed terrific musicality combined with terrific virtuosity in generous and first-rate, ambitious programs.
He would add several summer concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, especially the sizzling dueling violin concert (below) where the BDDS interspersed “The Four Seasons” buy Antonio Vivaldi with “The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.
The Ear would also add an experimental concert at which UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) unveiled his reworked two-keyboard “Hyperpiano.” While the concert, which featured the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, wasn’t successful musically, it certainly was intriguing, unusual and highly memorable, even with imperfect digital technology.
And The Ear also recalls a fine concert by the Rhapsodie Quartet (below) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center.
And let’s not forget the University Opera’s production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi that was impressively and successfully updated to Hollywood by director David Ronis.
The Ear is sure there are more memorable concerts that escape him right now. Madison just features so much wonderful music-making in the course of a year.
Moreover, The Ear is also sure you have your favorites – whether they are individual plays; small chamber music groups such as duos, string quartets and piano trios; larger ensembles like the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater; or entire events like the UW Brass Festival.
I am sure that fans of the innovative percussion group Clocks in Motion and the acclaimed Madison Choral Project have a concert or two to nominate.
So please use the COMMENT section to tell us what were your most memorable classical concerts in Madison during 2016.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Is there a better way to greet the New Year than to take a look back at the past year?
2016 was a year of big losses: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below top), conductor Sir Neville Marriner (below middle) and early music pioneer and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below bottom) among the many whose names you might recognize.
What better way to start 2017 than to recall the figures we lost and hope that the coming year is kinder.
And here is an entry from, of all places, Wikipedia that includes an exhaustive and detailed list of important events, performances and compositions as well as of classical musicians who died.
It seems as good a summing up as any that The Ear has seen, and demonstrates just how prolific the composers of new classical music are:
We remember and we revere.
Which is why The Ear has included the Funeral March movement from the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven on a YouTube video below that features an intriguing graphic arts representation of the music.
We are lucky: We have the music even when we no longer have the musicians.