The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.


  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.


  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!


handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?



Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.


Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:


It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile


Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon


Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?



What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?


I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?


Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music Q&A: What makes Haydn, Haydn and Mozart, Mozart? Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra maestro Andrew Sewell, discusses the composers and music he will perform this Friday night at the Overture Center. Plus, at noon on Saturday the Madison Bach Musicians will perform a FREE concert of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti and Corelli at Grace Episcopal Church.

February 20, 2014

ALERT: This Saturday from noon to 1 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church (below), downtown on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue, will present a FREE early music concert of  works by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti and Handel by the Madison Bach Musicians under the direction of keyboardist Trevor Stephenson.

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a concert of Haydn, Mozart and Vittorio Giannini.

WCO lobby

The concert will open with a modern Concerto Grosso by the 20th-century Italian composer Vittorio Giannini, another of the WCO discoveries of neglected or unknown composers. Then the young and critically acclaimed cellist Joshua Roman will join the WCO (below) in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D Major. The concert will close with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s masterful Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter.”

Tickets are $15-$67 and can be obtained from the Overture Center box office 212 State Street or by calling (608_ 258-4141. You can also visit

Haydn and Mozart (below, left is Haydn and right is Mozart) are often mentioned in the same breath and the same sentences if they were identical or fraternal twins — much like Beethoven and Schubert, or Ravel and Debussy.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

So The Ear really likes this kind of contrast-and-compare program that helps to underline the similarities and especially the differences between two composers who were contemporaries and sometimes even colleagues who learned from each other and played in the same string quartet. In that spirit, I recently asked WCO’s longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below) to discuss the program and especially the Classical-era composers whom he is so convincing at interpreting:


Haydn and Mozart are often lumped in together as Classical-era contemporaries. What makes each composer so distinctive? What makes Mozart, Mozart and Haydn, Haydn?

It’s a question of style. They both used classical conventions and were each experimenting constantly, seeing what worked for their audiences. Haydn (below top) was for the longest time confined to writing for a specific audience, at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt as opposed to Mozart (below bottom), who moved from Salzburg to Vienna, and spent time in Paris as well.

The geographical demands of each musical center framed, I think, the level of sophistication being determined by their audience and who they were writing for. Mozart’s symphonies written for the Parisian orchestra and audience had more virtuosity factored in. They had clarinets, and a slightly bigger wind section. They used “flash and sparkle.”

Haydn’s 12 symphonies commissioned by Salomon for the London Salon Concerts were more refined and experimental than before. Again the orchestra was larger, and he had top quality musicians at his disposal, achieving a greater level of virtuosity.


mozart big

What can you tell us about the Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below)? How did you find out about it and why are you attracted to him and to that work? Why do you think it is so little known and rarely performed?

I first conducted a work by Giannini with a high school orchestra in Salem, Oregon in 2012 while guest conducting the Salem Chamber Orchestra. It included several school visits as part of a week-long residency. The work was Prelude and Fugue for String Orchestra. I kept a copy of the score, and was both enchanted and curious about other works by this composer.

He was born in Philadelphia, was a prodigy on the violin and spent time studying at the Milan Conservatory and the Juilliard School. He founded the North Carolina School of the Arts, as a “Juilliard of the South,” in 1965.  His music is both Romantic and Expressionist. He wrote five symphonies and five concertos and several radio operas in the 1930s. His father was an opera singer as were two of his sisters, who sang at the Metropolitan Opera.

After conducting the Prelude and Fugue, I was curious about his Concerto Grosso. It is Baroque in form as the title suggests but stylistically would remind one of Hindemith.  Written in 1955, it reflects the current trends at the time that took music to more strident, poignant and angular sonorities.

I hope performing his music will rekindle interest in his music, and I may program his Prelude and Fugue at a later date. Why did I choose this piece? Because in contrast to the very familiar names of Haydn and Mozart, this presents the other extreme.  In fact, with a name like Vittorio Giannini, one is apt to mistake him as a period equivalent to say, Handel or Vivaldi, and the composition is entitled Concerto Grosso!

Vittorio Giannini

What would you like to say about the young cello soloist Joshua Roman and how he came to your attention to book for the WCO?

I first heard Joshua Roman perform with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra in November of 2012, and was very impressed by him. He played the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and afterwards I asked him what he would like to play if he were to return to perform with the WCO? He chose Haydn. His pedigree is such that at the age of 22, he won the Principal Cello position with the Seattle Symphony. He did this for two years before embarking on a successful solo career.  He is a very engaging performer who makes the cello literally “sing” when he plays.

Joshua Roman 3

Do you have any other programming plans in the works like this Haydn-Mozart program to “compare and contrast” major composers -– say with, perhaps, Beethoven and Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, Debussy and Ravel?

I think one is always putting together programs that compare and contrast each other. Whether consciously or otherwise, it’s what fits together in a balanced program. This Haydn-Mozart program wasn’t a conscious “compare and contrast” decision.  It really stems from a more fundamental question of programming. Once you establish the soloist’s repertoire, it’s a matter of putting a program together within the context of the five-concert Masterworks season.

But you do raise a good point. I chose Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, as it is his last and, in my opinion, greatest symphony. The last movement (below in a popular YouTube video with more than 1 million hits) is incredible, particularly as it contains a fugue, the subject of which is introduced in a very subliminal way at end of the trio of the previous movement. It is pure genius and so joyful. In contrast, the genteel nature of the last movement of the Haydn Cello Concerto makes that piece seem jaunty in comparison. Yet they are both highly sophisticated pieces.

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Classical music Q&A: “Rock star” cellist Joshua Roman talks about performing and composing affect each other, and discusses the popular Dvorak Cello Concerto, which he performs Saturday night with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra.

November 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Classical rock star” cellist Joshua Roman, will perform with the UW Symphony Orchestra this Saturday night, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater concert series, which is being held in Mills Hall while the Union Theater is undergoing renovation.

Roman will also hold a FREE public master class on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall in the UW’s Mosse Humanities Building. 

The program on Saturday night includes “Menuet Antique” by Maurice Ravel; Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 4, by Antonin Dvorak; and Symphony No. 4, H. 305, by Bohuslav Martinu.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for Memorial Union Members, UW Madison Faculty and Staff, and Non-UW Students; and FREE for UW Students with valid ID.  To order tickets, call the Box Office at (608) 265-ARTS (2787), buy online, or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave.

Last season, Roman was guest artist for the Seattle Symphony’s opening night gala; made his Toronto Symphony debut; performed at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament; and was presented on the Dame Myra Hess series in Chicago, among other performances. He also performed duos with Yo-Yo Ma at a State Department event hosted by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden for the President of China, and played at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.

Before embarking on a solo career, Roman was principal cellist of the Seattle Symphony for two seasons, a position he won in 2006 at the age of 22.

Since that time he has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras. He performed Britten’s Third Cello Suite during New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival in a pre-concert recital at Avery Fisher Hall, and was the only guest artist invited to play an unaccompanied solo (at bottom, performing the Sarabande movement from J.S. Bach‘s Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello) during the YouTube Symphony Orchestra’s 2009 debut concert at Carnegie Hall.

Since 2007, Roman has been Artistic Director of TownMusic in Seattle, where he creates programs that feature new works and reflect his eclectic musical influences and inspirations.

Roman’s outreach endeavors have taken him to Uganda with his violin-playing siblings, where they played chamber music in schools, HIV/AIDS centers and displacement camps, communicating a message of hope through music.

Committed to making music accessible to a wider audience, Roman may be found anywhere from a club to a classroom, performing jazz, rock, chamber music, or a solo sonata by Bach or Kodály. His versatility as a performer and his ongoing exploration of new concertos, chamber music, and solo cello works have spawned projects with composers such as Aaron Jay Kernis, Mason Bates, Derek Bermel, Gabriela Lena Frank and Dan Visconti.

Roman (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Could you briefly tell us about your current and future career plans for touring, recording, doing other projects? Are there any interesting, but little known facts about yourself?

Over the last couple of years, I have been fascinated more and more by the relationship between the genesis of a piece by the composer and its subsequent interpretations by artists. I often get the chance to work with composers, and this has always informed the way that I look at an older piece.

At a certain point, though, I got the bug to know more. What is it like to write a piece? What is important in the eyes of a composer? Intonation? Character? Dynamics? All of the above? So I started writing music, and recently even began taking composition lessons.

I now approach new (and familiar) pieces with a fresh outlook, and different things come to the fore. It has really been eye-opening, and I would encourage all budding musicians to take some time to learn how to write music. It doesn’t take much knowledge to make a significant and positive impact on the way we approach interpretation. (Below is the first page of autograph manuscript of Dvorak’s famous Symphony No. 9 “From the New World.”)

What would you like to say about Dvorak’s status as a composer and about his beautiful Cello Concerto that you will play? Do you have a special view of his work? What should we listen for in the concerto and your interpretation?

Dvorak is a very special composer. I’ve always felt that he is someone who wore his heart on his musical sleeve. I’ve read old quotes knocking his sense of style (even the well-known musicologist Donald Tovey had it out for poor Antonin) and deriding him as a composer of the past.

While there may have been certain things that he was less successful at than others, I think that it’s unfair to judge someone by their worst works, and when Dvorak was at his best he was truly great.

The Cello Concerto in B minor is absolutely my favorite work of Dvorak, and one of my favorite classical works, period. I can’t get enough of this piece, for me it is the ideal setting for the glorious characters the cello can produce. With its giant orchestral role, the colors and nuances become very powerful, and to me the emotional connection with the mind’s storytelling nature is immediate.

This particular performance is exciting to me because I am exploring the concerto again after months away from it. As I prepare, I have forgone the usual route of practicing with the cello part, and instead I am relying only on the orchestral score.

This is a concerto that many people already love, and that presents a unique challenge: performing in a way that not only shows my own personal interpretation, but also connects to the myriad pre-existing ideas the audience may have.

My approach is to go as deep as possible into the characters, based on the indications in the score and the sounds as I imagine them before the orchestra brings them to life. In this way, hopefully the performance becomes about more than just “style” and takes us on an organic journey with Dvorak’s spirit.

This is your Madison debut. Do you have anything to say about Madison and the University of Wisconsin or the UW Symphony Orchestra?

This will be my first trip to Madison, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the city as well as getting to know the music school. I was also surprised to find that one of my first chamber music coaches, Felicia Moye (below), is teaching in Madison at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. She gave me such wonderful insight when I worked with her in Oklahoma as a student, and one of the great things about a small music world is the opportunity to see the people who influenced you and thank them in person.

Was there an Aha! Moment — some composer, piece or performance — when you knew you wanted to be a professional cellist?

I’ve known pretty much as long as I can remember that this is the life for me. I started playing when I was three, and by the age of six or so I was already telling my parents and everyone I knew that I wanted to travel the world with the cello. There have been many wonderful lessons along the way, and I will forever be grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity follow my dream.

Classical music: Here is Part 1 of a 2-part schedule of concerts for the new season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Today is the FALL Semester; tomorrow is the SPRING Semester.

August 14, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The season brochures are almost printed and in the mail.

But you can still get out your calendars and datebooks.

The Ear has been given the schedule of concerts by faculty and guest artists at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

Today, I list events for First or Fall Semester – September through December.

Tomorrow, I will offer the concerts for the Second or Spring Semester

Programs for concerts are not yet available. But you can always check the Events Calendar at

Also, because of building renovations, the Wisconsin Union Theater concerts will take place in Mills Hall.

School of Music, University of Wisconsin-Madison Performances 2012-2013

Calendar of Events

Admission is FREE except where noted by a $


Mon 3: 36th Karp Family (below) Opening Labor Day Concert (FCS) with Suzanne Beia, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Parry Karp, violoncello; Christopher Karp, piano; Ariana and Isabel Karp, narrators; Howard and Frances Karp, piano. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Sat 8: Mimmi Fulmer, soprano (FCS); Bruce Bengtson and Martha Fischer, piano; Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 15: Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer, FCS), Mills, 8 p.m.

Sun 16: School of Music Alumni (SOMAA), Mills, 1:30 p.m.

Sun 16: Paul Rowe, baritone (FCS), Morphy, 4 p.m.

Thu 20: Black Music Ensemble, Richard Davis, director; Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Sat 22: Areon Flutes (GAS); Morphy, 4 p.m.

Sat 22: Mark Hetzler, trombone (FCS); Vincent Fuh, piano; Nick Moran, bass; Todd Hammes, drums and percussion. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sun 23: Opera Props Showcase $; Unitarian Meeting House, 3:30 p.m.

Fri 28: Imani Winds, below in a photo by Eddie Collins, (WUT); $; Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 29: Edith Hines, violin (GAS); John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord. Morphy, 8 p.m.

Sun 30: UW Symphony Orchestra, James Smith, conductor. Mills, 2 p.m.


Tue 2: Wolfgang David, violin (GAS); David Gompper, piano. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Fri 5: Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 6: UW Chamber Orchestra (below), James Smith, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

Mon 8: “An Hawaiian Sound Salon”; Alan Akaka, Hawaiian lap steel guitar; Henry Sapoznik, host; Pyle Center, 5 p.m.

Sat 13: Choral Collage. Mills, 4 p.m.

Sun 14: Concert Band, Scott Teeple, conductor. Mills, 2 p.m.

Sun 14: University Bands, Mills, 4 p.m.

Mon 15: Elias Goldstein, viola (GAS); Thomas Kasdorf, piano. Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Tue 16: Gerry Pagano, bass trombone (GAS); Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Tue 16: Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel, below) (WUT) $; “Spellbinding Bach.” Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Fri 19: Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, FCS). Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 20: Linda Bartley, clarinet (FCS); Jessica Johnson, piano. Morphy, 8 p.m.

Thu 25: Stephanie Jutt, flute (FCS); Christopher Taylor, piano. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thu 25: Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano (GAS); Scott Gendel, piano. Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Fri 26: Wind Ensemble Collage. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 27: Pro Arte Quartet (FCS). Mills, 8 p.m.

Sun 28: Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below), Laura Schwendinger, director. Mills, 7:30 p.m.


Thu 1: Wind Ensemble Chamber Winds. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Fri 2: Nathan Wysock, guitar (GAS). Morphy, 8 p.m.

Sat 3: Marc Vallon, bassoon (below, FCS). Morphy, 8 p.m.


Sun 4: John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (FCS). Morphy, 4 p.m.

Mon 5: Project Trio (GAS). Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Thu 8: Black Music Ensemble, Richard Davis, director. Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Fri 9, Sun 11 & Tue 13: University Opera with UW Chamber Orchestra and Madrigal Singers $; William Farlow, director; Andrew Sewell, guest conductor (below) from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; Bruce Gladstone, chorus master; “Medea,” by Cherubini. Music Hall, 7:30 p.m. (Fri & Tue), 3 p.m. (Sun).

Fri 9: Parry Karp, violoncello (FCS); Howard and Frances Karp, piano. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 10: UW Symphony Orchestra with Joshua Roman (below), violoncello (WUT) $; James Smith, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sun 11: Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Mon 12: David Hyunsu Kim, fortepiano (GAS). Morphy, 7:30 p.m.

Wed 14: Tyrone Greive, violin (FCS); Martha Fischer, piano. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Wed 14: Guitar Ensemble, Javier Calderón, director.  Morphy, 8:30 p.m.

Thu 15: Alasdair Fraser, Scottish fiddle (WUT) $; Natalie Haas, cello; Music Hall, 8 p.m.

Fri 16: Concert Choir, Beverly Taylor, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

Fri 16: Michelle Malafronte, flute (GAS); Vincent Fuh, piano. Morphy, 8 p.m.

Sat 17: Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble; Matthew Mireles, director. Mills, 4 p.m.

Sat 17: Chorale, Bruce Gladstone, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

Sat 17: Wingra Woodwind Quintet (FCS). Morphy, 8 p.m.

Tue 20: Trombone Choir, Mark Hetzler, director. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Wed 28: Jazz Orchestra, Johannes Wallmann, director. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Thu 29: Ninety Miles Project (WUT) $; Music Hall, 8 p.m.

Fri 30: Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple, director. Mills, 8 p.m.


Sat 1: All-University String Orchestra, Janet Jensen, conductor. Mills, 4 p.m.

Sun 2: Winter Choral Concerts. Luther Memorial Church, 2 and 4 p.m.

Sun 2: Concert Band, Scott Teeple, conductor. Mills, 2 p.m.

Sun 2: University Bands, Mills, 4 p.m.

Tue 4: Masters Singers. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Wed 5: Opera Workshop. Music Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Wed 5: Western Percussion Ensemble, Anthony Di Sanza, director. Mills, 7:30 p.m.

Fri 7 and Sun 9: Choral Union with UW Symphony Orchestra (below), $; Beverly Taylor, conductor; “A “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. Mills, 8 p.m. (Fri), 7:30 p.m. (Sun)

Sat 8: World Percussion Ensemble, Anthony Di Sanza, director. Music Hall, Noon

Sat 8: UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor. Mills, 8 p.m.

To request a season brochure, call (608) 263-1900.

Web calendar:

Concert Line, recorded weekly: (608) 263-9485

The Digest, e-mailed weekly:  Send request to

Additional Information

FCS=Faculty Concert Series

GAS=Guest Artist Series

WUT=Wisconsin Union Theater

SOMAA=School of Music Alumni Association

Mills & Morphy Halls are in Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St.

Music Hall is on North Park St., at the foot of Bascom Hill (clock tower)

Unitarian Meeting House is at 900 University Bay Drive

Pyle Center is at 702 Langdon St.

Luther Memorial Church is at 1021 University Ave.

Tickets (for University Opera, Choral Union and Wisconsin Union Theater) at: Campus Arts Ticketing Office; (608) 265-ARTS;

In person:  821 University Ave. (street level, east side of Vilas Hall)

By mail only:  800 Langdon St., Madison, WI  53706

Day-of-concert sales in concert hall lobby beginning one hour before program

This is also the Wisconsin Brass Quintet 40th Anniversary Season: Founded in 1972, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, with some former members) is an ensemble-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music.  The WBQ’s commitment to commissioning and performing new music of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as its mastery of styles from every musical period, are evident in the group’s distinguished 40-year history of recitals, recordings and outreach events.

For 2012-13, the WBQ will give the premiere performances of works by two of its members:  Hodesanna, by John Stevens, composed in memory of Jeff Hodapp; and Gravikord, by Daniel Grabois.  In addition, it will perform two new pieces for brass quintet and wind ensemble by James Stephenson and Anthony Plog.

Concerts include: Faculty Concert Series:  Oct. 19 and March 15

Wind Ensemble (Scott Teeple, conductor):  Oct. 5 and Feb. 23

Current members include John Aley, trumpet; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and John Stevens, tuba.

Guest Artist Series showcases Collins Fellows

The School of Music proudly presents the following exceptional musicians who were honored with Paul Collins Fellowships during their graduate studies.  See calendar for dates of their performances.

Edith Hines, violin – Doctor of Music Arts 2008; Elias Goldstein, viola – DMA 2011; Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano – DMA 2005; Michelle Malafronte, flute – Master of Music 2008; Dylan Chmura-Moore, trombone – DMA 2011; Eli Kalman, piano – DMA 2006; Kevin McMahon, conductor – DMA 2005; Pavel Morunov, oboe – DMA (in progress); Johanna Bourkova-Morunov, violin – MM 2006; Emily Birsan, soprano  – MM 2010; Jamie Van Eyck, mezzo soprano (below)– DMA 2012; and John Arnold, bass-baritone – DMA (in progress).

Classical music news: Is this “au revoir” or “adieu” for classical music at the Wisconsin Union Theater, The Ear asks after pianist Peter Serkin performs Beethoven and new music to bring down to the curtain?

May 11, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night’s piano recital by Peter Serkin (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater was certainly timely.

It was a perfect event for bringing down the curtain for the next two seasons at the Union Theater as the Memorial Union undergoes a major renovation in time to reopen for the theater’s 75th anniversary season in September of 2014.

The question is: Does this mean “au revoir” or “adieu” – that is, “until next time” or “farewell” – to classical music at the Wisconsin Union Theater after 73 seasons?

(NOTE: A Curtain Down Party and Open House will be held — free and open to the public — from 2 to 6 p.m. this Saturday. For details, see

I speak as someone who sincerely hopes the answer is “Au revoir.” After all, I have often referred to the Wisconsin Union Theater as “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” It is where The Great Ones have played – and continue to play — as you will see shortly in my review of Peter Serkin’s Beethoven, which was done on the same legendary stage where I heard his famous father Rudolf Serkin (below) also perform Beethoven 40 years ago. Now that is tradition and legacy! History and longevity!

But I also know that classical music has been a tough sell for the past several seasons at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The audiences are dwindling, due, I am sure, to competing events, to tough economic times and to shifting priorities in how young people – or older people, for that matter – choose to spend their discretionary money and leisure time.

While the jazz festival and world music series continue to draw large crowds or even sold-out houses, the classical concerts usually sell under half a house.

How long, one has to ask, can that go on?

True, next season, the Union Theater’s four classical concerts will largely take place in Mills Hall, the same hall in the UW School of Music where pianist Jeffrey Siegel (who will mark his 25th anniversary performing “Keyboard Conversations” in Madison) and the UW faculty and the school’s guest artists now perform. It has about 750 seats compared to the Union Theater’s 1,200 seats.

In addition, the classical series is holding down ticket prices and is trying out scheduling mini-concerts at non-traditional times in non-traditional venues — at lunchtime at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, for example — to generate interest and audience.

Plus, there is clearly a decision to mix in some of the appeal of world music by booking groups like the Grammy-winning Imani Winds (below, below in a photo by Jeff Fisano) and The Knights chamber orchestra (below middle) with the pippa player Wu Man (below bottom) in a Silk Road Ensemble-type event .

More traditional classical bookings include cellist Joshua Roman (below top, in a photo by Tina Su), who will do a solo recital and also play a concerto with the UW Symphony Orchestra; and up-and-coming pianist Jeremy Denk (below bottom), who first appeared there as an accompanist for violinist Joshua Bell and last season played a fabulous and monumental recital of J.S. Bach and Ives and who offered a master class and blogging workshop as well as a lecture on Chopin at the UW School of Music.

For details, visit:

You have to believe that cultural arts director Ralph Russo (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller of UW-Madison) and the student directors whom he works with are doing their very best to make the classical concert series succeed. But I already have heard several veteran subscribers who say they will pass on subscription tickets next season and wait to see what else is happening that week or day.

That doesn’t bode well –- though I could be, and hope that I am, wrong.

Time will tell, as they say. Maybe larger new audiences will indeed replace lost audiences. Something has to happen, that is for sure.

Whatever it takes for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s classical series to succeed and become popular again, I hope that is what happens. But I do fear for the worst – which is that it will continue to wind down to the point of disappearing. That would be a shame. We just can’t let that happen.

AS FOR PETER SERKIN (below): It was a memorable concert that featured Serkin’s specialties.

The first half was devoted to contemporary music by British composer Oliver Knussen, Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and American composer Charles Wourinen.

Of them all, I preferred the “Adagio” by Wuorinen (below), which had a great sense of spaciousness and placidness while so much contemporary music seems abusively aggressive.

But I also have to confess that largely atonal new music is not my thing and that I find the music just can’t get traction, as they say, on my being.

I think I need more melody or tunes in the music, more obvious sense-making or structure and emotional directness with less cerebral puzzle-solving, for new music to reach me and seem like something other than R&D – or research and development. I seek emotional resonance.

I think you could play a sampling from any one of the pieces and almost no one could tell you which composer or which piece it was.

I also think it says something that even someone as experienced with those works as Peter Serkin – who commissioned the Wuorinen and Knussen and continues to champion them in performance – had to use scores to play them. On the other hand, the hour-long, late-life magnum opus “Diabelli” Variations by Beethoven (below) proved no challenge technically, musically or memory-wise. For players or listener, the Diabellis stick, so to speak, while the other works do not.

Playing without a score, Serkin turned it a fabulous interpretation that treated each of the 33 virtuosic and encyclopedic variations on an insipid  simple waltz by Beethoven’s publisher Anton Diabelli (below) as a discreet composition unto itself.

Even for someone like me – who finds any number of Beethoven’s piano sonatas to be much more rewarding music than these often pedantic as well as inspired variations – found many memorable moments, like the subtle fugue, where the music and the performer (who has recorded the Diabellis twice) all came together. 

But it is the kind of program where opinion can vary widely. So here are some others.

Here is a link to Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine and its blog Classically Speaking:

And here is a review for 77 Square, The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal by Lindsay Christians:

What did you think of Peter Serkin’s recital?

And what do you think about the future of the Wisconsin Union Theater and about its next season?

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