The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.

Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Longtime New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow retires to teach. The Ear remembers him from TV and sees why the media jumped on his leaving.

July 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

I have seen him live in concert and in person only once.

But over decades I have seen him many times in The New York Times and especially on PBS, particularly on “Live from Lincoln Center” and, if I recall correctly, “American Masters.”

I have heard him in regular subscription concerts and also, I think, in Mainly Mozart concerts. I think I have even heard him solo at least once or twice, maybe more.

And chances are, so have you.

He is violinist Glenn Dicterow (below), the longtime concertmaster of  the world-class New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

glenn dicterow

The Ear is not surprised that the retirement of Glenn Dicterow this past weekend made the media in a major way.

He is a smart, talented, humorous, good-natured and articulate man and musician who has a lot to say about music and about working with some celebrated figures, including conductors Leonard Bernstein (below), Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert.


The stories about Dicterow also give us a renewed and expanded appreciation of the role of a concertmaster, and how a concertmaster can affect an entire orchestra and how the orchestra sounds and how its members get along with each other and with the maestro.

Dicterow played his swan-song concert this past weekend.

Here are backstories and a review of his final “New York Phil” concert:

Here is the story that appeared on the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR:

And here is a similar story, with lots of facts, including his incredible salary, from The New York Times:

Here is the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal:

glenn dicterow 2

Here is a review of his last concert with the New York Philharmonic performing the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven with New York Philharmonic principal cello Carter Brey and guest pianist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman, who played two Beethoven piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5, the “Emperor”) this past season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Finally, and in case you thought ensemble players were necessarily less virtuosic than soloists, here is a YouTube video of Glenn Dicterow playing the fiendishly difficult “Carmen” Fantasy by  composer Franz Waxman (below), who is better known for the Hollywood movie scores he wrote after he fled Nazi Germany. Dicterow plays it with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. (You can also see him perform other works and talk about his role as concertmaster on YouTube.)

Franz Waxman

Sounds like Glenn Dicterow will be a fantastic teacher at the same school in Los Angeles, California where the legendary violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz taught for so many years:



Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s maestro John DeMain looks back with pride on 20 years and forward with gratitude to many more years in Madison as long as the city wants him and he remains physically capable of the job.

March 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last week the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) announced its next season, 2013-14, which is special because it marks the 20th year of the tenure of music director and conductor John DeMain.

Here are links to the MSO website and to this blog’s announcement of the MSO’s new season:


The season announcement by DeMain and his administrative team took place over lunch. It was on a cold rainy day in the light-filled rooftop restaurant Al Fresco, located in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which is also located in the Overture Center where the MSO regularly performs in Overture Hall.

Looking trim and fit, DeMain gave an articulate, humorous and informative introduction to the upcoming season, even though he had just had just had a very busy week that included three subscription concerts, a sold-out morning of children’s concerts and the sold-out Final Forte teenage concerto competition that was broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio:

After a lunch of Chicken and Caesar salad dressing wraps and green salad, the gregarious and amiable DeMain opened up the session to informal questions.

The Ear asked DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) to reflect on the last 20 years and what he made of it, and to look forward to his future in Madison – especially since the average tenure of a conductor is around 10 years.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Well first of all, I think that 10-year tenure rule is true for large, major 52-week orchestras. But for orchestras of this size, I think communities of this size don’t like to see too much change if they don’t have to. And there are always exceptions even at the big orchestras.

How would I sum up my 20 years here? Obviously, I am thrilled that during my tenure we went from two to three performances (triples) of each concert and that we got the Overture Center (below), which is such a great home in which to make music and opera. Both the musicians and I so love being in this home. The hall also attracts the top-notch musicians in the orchestras that I get to work with. It’s been a real high. (Below top is the Overture Center; below bottom is Overture Hall.)


Overture Hall

As for repertoire, I wanted to do all the Mahler symphonies and I did. So now we are looking at still more composers that we’ve neglected and composers that we want to do more of and haven’t. But that comes in the future. Right now, we want to celebrate next season with a feast of beautiful music and use the next season to celebrate.

The great thing about music is there is so much beautiful music out there is that if you can’t do one beautiful piece, you can do another. You don’t really feel bad about it because there is a limitless choice of good music out there. You just can’t get to all you want to play when you want to play it.

I am so glad where I am in this community where there is such a love of the arts and such support for the arts. It is a heart-warming experience every time we do a subscription weekend.

John DeMain conducting 2

I also love it when a guest soloist comes to me and says — which has happened twice in the past month -– “I’ve done this piece with such and such a major orchestra and you are already doing it better than they ever did.”

Experiencing music live is great. Take the Shostakovich 10th Symphony we just did. You see the violins take a down bow in an aggressive moment. The orchestra plays with a physical involvement that goes with the audience as well as the listening does. The audiences tell me over and over again how much they enjoy watching the orchestra play — as long as it enhances the experience of the music.

I’ve always been the kind of musician who likes being in a long-term relationship or post. I don’t particularly enjoy guesting. I was with Houston Grand Opera a long time. Now I’m here with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera a long time.

What I do is my brand of music-making and the next person who comes along will have their way of making music. But by staying on, you have a chance to develop. By being here a long time you have a chance to raise the bar and set a high standard just by being here and not being away all the time and running around. I like the idea of growing and maturing with the orchestra during these years and having a beautiful home.

John DeMain conducting

Barring the unforeseen, I certainly expect to be here to celebrate my 25th anniversary and from then on we will see. One doesn’t think about age except maybe when looking in the mirror. But if your ears are OK and your eyes are OK and your arms are OK, making music is lifelong experience. I don’t think it has a timeline to it. We know that. Just look at Lorin Maazel, who is still conducting at 83. There is no real time line there unless you just can’t do it.

Here is John DeMain on TV, NBC 15, talking about a 2011 MSO concert featuring local UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor. You can find many more John DeMain videos on YouTube.

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