The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Collaborative pianist and UW-Madison professor Martha Fischer is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2015

December 31, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

There is now so much outstanding classical music in the Madison area that it is hard to single out one performer or even one group as the Musician of the Year.

So this year The Ear was wondering how to honor all the musicians who generally go nameless but perform so well — all those string, brass, wind and percussion players and all those singers –- and not just the higher-profile conductors or soloists.

Then he was sitting at the astounding debut recital by Soh-Hyun Park Altino, the new violin professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, given the night of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Her partner was faculty pianist Martha Fischer.

And then is when The Ear decided that the Musician of the Year for 2015 should be Martha Fischer (below).

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

I’d say “accompanist,” but we really don’t call them accompanists any more. The better term, and the more accurate term, is collaborative pianist.

And if you heard Martha Fischer play the thorny piano parts of the violin sonatas by Charles Ives and Johannes Brahms, you know you heard amazing artistry. (Park Altino also played a solo work by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here is the rave review by The Ear:

Now, The Ear has to disclose that he knows Martha Fischer and is a friend of hers as well as of her husband Bill Lutes.

But none of that takes away from Fischer’s many accomplishments, which too often fly under the radar and go uncredited.

Indeed, by honoring her, The Ear also hopes to draw attention to and to honor the many mostly anonymous ensemble and chamber players, including those in the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top in a photo by Greg Anderson), the Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as the UW Symphony Orchestra, the Edgewood College orchestras and choirs, the UW Chamber Orchestra and the UW Choral Union (below bottom) and other UW choirs.

Too often, the members of those groups and so many others — such as the Ancora and Rhapsodie String Quartets, the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Willy Street Chamber Players, the Madison Choral Project, the Festival Choir and the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — pass unnoticed or under-noticed, much like Fischer. But like her, they deserve attention and respect.

Because they too are collaborators.

They serve the music. The music does not serve them.

And the truth is that most music-making is collaborative -– not solo performing.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

In addition, Fischer is also the model of the kind of academic that Gov. Scott Walker and the go-along Republican Legislators don’t seem to recognize or appreciate. They prefer instead to scapegoat and stigmatize public workers, and to hobble the University of Wisconsin with budget cuts and so-called reforms.

Remember that old saying: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach? It’s nonsense, especially in this case.

Martha Fischer is someone who both teaches and performs. She also participates in faculty governance and heads up the committee searching for a new opera director. When The Ear asked her for an update on the search, she provided records with complete transparency up to the limits of the law. Our corrupt, secretive and self-serving state government leaders should be so honest and so open.

Fischer is a first-rate collaborator who performs and records regularly with other faculty instrumentalists and singers. They include UW trombonist Mark Hetzler, trumpeter John Aley and singers baritone Paul Rowe and soprano Julia Faulkner, who has since moved on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

A model of the Wisconsin Idea in action, Fischer also serves as a juror for piano competitions, gives talks around the state and helps recruit talented students.

As a researcher, Fischer – who trained at the Julliard School, Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory of Music — traveled to England and interviewed famous collaborative pianists about playing Schubert’s art songs.

By all accounts, Fischer is a phenomenal teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students. The Ear has heard her students in concerto and solo recital performances, and was impressed. He also talked to her students and heard nothing but praise for her teaching.

He has heard Fisher herself sing, from Schubert lieder to Gilbert and Sullivan songs. She does that amazingly well too.

Fisher is one of the co-founders, co-organizers and main performers of the UW’s Schubertiades (below). The third annual Schubertiade is on Saturday, January 30, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Go there and you can hear her sing and play piano duets and other chamber music. It is always one of the outstanding concerts of the year.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Well, The Ear could go on and on. The personable but thoroughly professional Martha Fischer works so hard that there are plenty of reasons to honor her.

So, for all the times her playing and other talents have escaped attention, The Ear offers a simple but heartfelt Thank You to the Musician of the Year for 2015.

Please feel free to leave your thanks and remarks in the COMMENTS section.

If you want to hear Martha Fischer in action, here is a link to the SoundCloud posting of her playing the Brahms Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, for Violin and Piano with violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino:

Then listen to the delicacy, balance and subtleties, of Fischer’s playing in this YouTube video of a lovely Romance for Trumpet and Piano:

Classical music: Wisconsin-born, UW-educated and Vienna-based dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will replace Julia Faulkner at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the next school year. But Faulkner’s leave of absence could become longer or even permanent.

July 18, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

As I have written before, the University of Wisconsin School of Music is facing some serious challenges in terms of staffing in the near future and probably over the long-term.

One of the challenges that The Ear has just learned about is that the acclaimed dramatic soprano Julia Faulkner — who returned from Europe to the U.S. and Madison in 1994, doing part-time teaching as a lecturer at the UW from 2003-2005, and then was hired in 2005 to a full-time tenure-track professorship — will be spending the next academic year on a leave of absence. She will spend it teaching at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she will be on the faculty of the program for Young Artists.

Anyone want to bet that the Lyric will see a good deal and offer her a permanent position?

That is a major temporary loss for the UW and for Madison since Faulkner (below), like many of the professors at the UW, is both an accomplished performer and a popular teacher with very successful students. (I have sat in on her impressive classes.) Just read the ratings and remarks from her students at this link:

As a performer, Faulkner, who remains on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, has sung often with the Madison Opera and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra , whose music director John DeMain admires her work and her professionalism. Faulkner, who possesses a large voice and beautiful tone, has also sung with the UW Choral Union and the UW Chamber Orchestra among other local and university groups.

Here is a link to Faulkner’s impressive bio and discography at the UW School of Music’s website:

And here is Faulkner’s official resume, loaded with recognizable big names in music:


But as luck would have it, Faulkner will be replaced next year by a woman who almost qualifies as her Doppelganger or double: another dramatic soprano, Elizabeth Hagedorn. Like Faulkner, Hagedorn, who is  based in Vienna, was educated in the U.S. but built her career in Europe; she attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point while Julia Faulkner attended Indiana University and the Eastman School of Music; but like Faulkner, she also is a Wisconsin native. (Hagedorn hails from Milwaukee.)

Also like Faulkner, Hagedorn (below) is well-known in Europe where she has sung with many opera companies and symphony orchestras and has made some recordings. Apparently, she gave some master classes at the UW-Madison this past season and was very well received.

Elizabeth Hagedorn  BIG

Here is a link to Hagedorn’s home website, where you should check out her bio and especially the PRESS and REPERTOIRE sections with critical acclaim for her many diverse roles and also the PHOTO gallery:

Still, apparently there is a possibility – no one will say how strong it is at this point – that Faulkner, who as already moved to Chicago for the leave of absence – will stay on in Chicago, despite having family near to Madison. That would be a major loss to the UW’s music program, which was lucky to have landed Faulkner.

But all hope of retaining Julia Faulkner is apparently not in vain. According to Benjamin Schultz, the assistant director of the UW School of Music, “Her heart is here. Julia loves the UW and her students love her. Some of them have even gone to Chicago for lessons with her and might continue to do so, depending on whether she can fit them in.”

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