The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: If a perfect debut concert exists, new UW-Madison faculty violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino gave it last Friday night. Plus, a concert of music for two harpsichords takes place Saturday night.

November 19, 2015

ALERT: On this Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Madison Christian Community Church, 7118 Old Sauk Road, on Madison’s far west side, Northwestern University music Professor Stephen Alltop and Madison Bach Musicians’ artistic director Trevor Stephenson will present a program of masterworks for two harpsichords including: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in C major (BWV 1061); selections from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s elegant “Pièces de clavecin en concerts“; and a very zingy transcription of Luigi Boccherini’s famous “Fandango.” Plus, Stephen Alltop will perform selections from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and Trevor Stephenson will play three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door.

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday night saw the bloody terrorist attacks and murders in Paris, France. And we were all understandably preoccupied then with those events.

That would not have seemed an auspicious time for a new music faculty member to make a debut.

Yet that is exactly what the new UW-Madison violin professor Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt) did. And it turned out to be a remarkable event: a pitch-perfect concert for the occasion.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Let’s start by saying that Park Altino is a complete violinist and has everything: pitch, tone, speed, depth and stage presence. But hers is the quiet and self-effacing kind of virtuosity. There were no show-off works by Paganini or Sarrasate on the program.

The concert opened in dimmed lighting, as she played (below) the Solo Sonata No. 3 in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. She dedicated the opening movement –- which you can hear played by Arthur Grumiaux in a YouTube video at the bottom –- to the people of Paris and said that the slow movement reminded her of a mysterious prayer or meditation.

She was right.

Simultaneously alone and together: Is there a better summing up of how we were feeling that night? And her mastery in voicing the difficult fugue was impressive as well as moving.

Let others play and hear once again Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” or “La Marseillaise.” The Ear will long remember that Bach played in that context. Thank you, Professor Park Altino.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino playing solo Bach

Then she turned effortlessly from grave seriousness and talked about the Sonata No. 2 by Charles Ives (below) and how it borrows from hymn tunes and songs from popular culture. And with laughs she then related all that background to herself when she was growing up in Korea and forming her image of America from popular culture and TV shows such “The Little House on the Prairie,” “Anne of Green Gables” and from cartoons such as “Popeye.”

She was both informative and charming as she Ives-ified Korea and Koreanized Ives. And she totally connected with the audience. If you were there, you could tell. You felt it.

Charles Ives BIG

After intermission came a charming and relatively unknown miniature: the Romance in A Major, Op. 23, by the American composer Amy Beach (below). How refreshing it was to hear an immigrant musician enlighten us natives about our own musical history. It is all about new perspectives. Are you listening, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and other isolationists, anti-immigrationists and xenophobes?

Amy Beach BW 1

And then came a masterpiece by Johannes Brahms.

She chose the Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100. It is not as dramatic as the other two violin sonatas, but relies instead on slow tempi to convey the geniality of its beautiful melodies and harmonies.

It proved the perfect ending to the perfect recital on that dreadful night of massacres and loss, fear and terror. It proved what so much music can do and should be doing, especially these days: offering a balm for the heart and soul.

Her program and playing brought to mind the inspiring words of Leonard Bernstein, who had to conduct a program right after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which happened 52 years ago this Sunday:

“We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

It must be also be said that Park Altino had the perfect partner in Martha Fischer, who heads the collaborative piano program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Even during the most difficult and thorny piano parts, such as in the Ives sonata, Fischer never upset the balance, never departed from the right dynamics, never lost a sense of transparency and always saw eye-to-eye with the violinist in interpretation. She possessed complete technical and interpretive mastery.

The two musicians really proved to be co-equal partners. They make a great pairing or partnership, and it was clear from their stage presence that they like performing with each other and are on the same wavelength.  With their seamless playing, they showed exactly the difference between accompanying and collaborating.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino and Martha Fischer

That makes The Ear very happy. He loves the combination of violin and piano, and now he hopes he has a lot more of it to look forward to from these same two performers -– works he once hoped to hear from the outstanding partnership of Pro Arte Quartet first violinist David Perry and UW-Madison virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor, which started but never fully materialized.

So many works come to mind. The violin and keyboard sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli and Tartini. (The Ear admits it: He prefers the piano to the harpsichord in Baroque works.) The violin sonatas, perhaps even in complete cycles, of Mozart and Beethoven. The various violin works by Schubert, perhaps in the annual Schubertiades. Sonatas by Schumann and Brahms. Sonatas by Faure, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc. Sonatas and rhapsodies by Bartok. Sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

And then there are the possibilities of her performing violin concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (apparently its music director, Andrew Sewell, is a close friend of hers) and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The possibilities make The Ear swoon with anticipation.

So when you see that Soh-Hyun Park Altino will play again, be sure to mark your calendars and datebooks. You do not want to miss her.



Classical music: Don’t overlook the many FREE and varied student recitals at the UW-Madison School of Music as the semester comes to an end. Plus, this week’s concert of new music is POSTPONED and the Fall Opera Scenes Workshop takes place on Thursday night.

November 17, 2015

ALERTS: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Wednesday night has been POSTPONED. No word yet about the new date.

The fall edition of University Opera’s Opera Scenes will offer its latest production on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. The FREE event features work by students in the Fall Opera Workshop class at the UW-Madison. Students direct, stage and sing the scenes. Piano accompaniment is again the norm,  but this time a small Baroque orchestra of strings and winds will also be there.

The program will include scenes from “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber; “Arabella” by Richard Strauss; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Orlando” by George Frideric Handel. Also, violist, conductor, singer and critic-blogger Mikko Rankin Utevsky will make his opera conducting debut in the half-hour excerpt of Handel, which includes a mad scene. For more information, including a list of the singers, here is a link:

By Jacob Stockinger

There are still quite a few big, important and appealing concerts left as the semester and the year wind down, with just over six weeks remaining until 2016.

At the UW-Madison, there are several major choral concerts, several of them with holiday music and holiday themes, just as many other music organizations — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Bach Musicians  among them — do as the holidays approach.

There are probably some noteworthy student recitals at Edgewood College too, but The Ear generally doesn’t hear about those.

So The Ear wants to direct your attention to the many student degree recitals – both undergraduate and graduate – that begin to pile up as the semester comes to a close.

All are free and usually take place at 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

Morphy Hall 2

The variety is stupendous. There are piano and chamber music recitals of all sorts. There are voice recitals. You can hear music for the flute, horn, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet and percussion. (Below is student Sara Giusti in a recent piano recital.)

Sara Giusti playing

Here is a link to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music online calendar of events and concerts for November and December (click forward to advance the schedule of events):

Click on the event you are interested in for details. Some of the listings have specific programs; others don’t. But almost all are good bets, given the caliber of the teaching and performing at the UW-Madison music school.

Happy Listening!

And please use the COMMENT section to let The Ear and his readers know about outstanding results when you hear them.

Let us now praise students too!


Classical music: Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio talks about the human quality of French music. She performs Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 on an all-French program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

November 16, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The award-winning cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) makes her solo debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in an all-French program this coming weekend.

sara sant'ambrogio 1

Sant’Ambrogio will solo in Camille Saint-Saëns’ stormy Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, a first-time performance of the work by the MSO under its music director and conductor John DeMain.

The opening piece, Maurice Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, showcases the classical simplicity and ultimate decadence of the waltz, and the colors of all the instruments in the orchestra.


Finally, the MSO will perform the groundbreaking Symphonie Fantastique by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). It is an unorthodox five-movement work that vividly captures an artist’s tortured infatuation and the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip.


The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio is an internationally-renowned soloist and founding member of the Eroica Trio (below). She launched her international career when she was a winner at the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. She holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Arias and Barcarolles.” She last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 2001 as part of the Eroica Trio.


Written in 1872, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 was instantly regarded as a masterpiece by the Paris public. Saint-Saëns rejected the standard concerto form in this work by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.

The composer found the Cello Concerto No.1 difficult to write, so much so that he vowed never to compose for cello again; Saint-Saëns broke this vow 30 years later with his Cello Concerto No. 2.

One hour before each performance, John DeMain, music director and principal conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit,

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: Students can receive 20 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts cannot be combined.

Find more information at

Major funding for the November concerts is provided by Barbara Ryder, DeEtte Beilfuss-Eager and Leonard P. Eager, Jr., in memory of Karen “Lovey” Johnson, and Rosemarie Blancke. Additional funding is provided by Martha and Charles Casey, Sunseed Research, LLC, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

sara sant'ambrogio

Could you briefly bring readers up to date on your career since 2001 when you last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as part of the Eroica Trio and performed the Triple Concerto for piano trio? What are current and future major plans and projects?

Wow, a lot has happened since 2001! I had a son, Sebastian, who just turned 11. I’ve recorded for solo CDs, the complete Bach solo suites, the Chopin collection and “Dreaming,” which has had a number of tracks used in movie soundtracks such as the HBO movie “A Matter of Taste.” I’ve recorded another Eroica Trio CD, “An American Journey,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.

I’ve toured China and all over Asia, and also the Arabian peninsula, which was amazing and mind-blowing. Petra in Jordan was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. It has been a truly amazing 14 years!

There seems to be a revival or rediscovery going on of the works of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Why do you think that is?

Saint-Saens (below) has been grossly underrated in my view. His music has a wonderful mix of gorgeous melodies that speak to the human condition, sparkling virtuous pyrotechnics and a joie de vivre, which is just infectious! What’s not to love!

camille saint-saens younger

You are performing on an all-French program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” and Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.” What elements or traits do identify as being typically French in classical music, and does Saint-Saëns fit the mold?

I think there is a lushness to French music that Saint-Saens shares. There is also a very human quality to the best of French music.

What would you like to say about the piece you will be performing in Madison, the Cello Concerto No. 1? What is typical or unusual about it?  What in particular would you like the public to listen to and notice?

Just to have a blast! The Saint-Saens starts with a bang and never lets up till the joyous end! (Note: You can hear it played by the late Russian cellist, conductor and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What else would you like to say?

I can’t wait to come back and play in Madison again. I had such a fantastic time playing there last time with my trio that the town loomed so large in my imagination, I had no idea until this interview that it had been 14 years since I was last there.


Classical music: The UW-Madison Symphony Strings performs a forceful all-Beethoven program. Plus, the So Percussion ensemble performs Saturday night and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra performs on Sunday afternoon.

November 6, 2015
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ALERTS: First, a reminder that the acclaimed and innovative So percussion ensemble performs this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Here is a link with information about the program, which includes the minimalism of Steve Reich, and the performers as well as tickets:

The Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra will perform this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. The orchestra, under the direction of Blake Walter, will perform the “Lucio Silla” Overture by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Concertino for Horn and Orchestra in D major by Michael Haydn, featuring horn soloist Dafydd Bevil; “Three Pieces in the Old Style” by Henryk Gorecki; and the Symphony No. 2 in A Minor by Camille Saint-Saëns. Admission is $5, or free with Edgewood College ID.

By Jacob Stockinger

Don’t be fooled by the name.

The UW Symphony Strings Orchestra (below) is a lot more than string players who also belong to the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. And it is NOT to be confused with the All-University String Orchestra, which is made up of amateur musicians and non-music students and is conducted by Janet Jensen.

UW Symphony Strings copy

Conductor Kyle Knox (below) explains:

During one concert cycle per year, the UW Symphony Orchestra performs at Music Hall with UW Opera.  Given the space limitations of the opera pit, not all of our 75 Symphony members will play the opera.

So during this period the Symphony is split into two ensembles – Opera Orchestra and Symphony Strings.  Professor James Smith conducts the Opera Orchestra and I conduct the Symphony Strings.

Symphony Strings is a good venue for our players to perform some of the core classical chamber orchestra repertory.  Given the reduced size of the ensemble and the stylistic demands of music from the late Classical period, the Symphony Strings provides a wholly different performance challenge as compared to what they will experience in the large orchestra works performed in other concert cycles.

Playing Mozart and playing Mahler are very different experiences.  Both are difficult, but in different ways.  Last year, we did Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 88. This year, we’ll do two of the lesser-performed Beethoven Symphonies, Nos. 1 and 4.

As its name suggests, Symphony Strings has traditionally been a “strings only’ group.”  When necessary, recruitment for winds, brass and percussion starts with players from the Symphony Orchestra roster who are not involved with the opera. Inevitably players from other ensembles are recruited as needed to ensure that all parts are covered.  It all works out one way or another.

Kyle Knox 2

True to Knox’s words, it does work out.

A week ago Wednesday night in Mills Hall the Symphony Strings did indeed perform two symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 4. (You can hear Symphony No. 1 performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Christian Thielemann in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

And sure enough, as well as strings, the orchestra included the required winds, brass and percussion.

The playing by all parties was very good. True, you could detect some unevenness. The cellos (below), for example, seemed especially polished and better in pitch or intonation than the violins, which were rough by comparison. Maybe that is because the cello section includes more accomplished undergraduates or more advanced graduate students or because the section is smaller in number or because the cello part is easier.

UW Symphony Strings cellos

Still, one has to make allowances. After all, these are students, not professionals. And it is still early in the season and school year. Most of all, Beethoven simply is not easy, not even early Beethoven.

And that was one of the highlights. The program included two lesser-known Beethoven symphonies and they went together extremely well.

Graduate student conductor Knox (below, center right), who is quite busy these days with many engagements — including the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Opera — drew sharp attacks and clean quick releases, forceful accents, sudden and dramatic dynamic shifts in tempi and volume. Those are all hallmarks of exceptional Beethoven playing.

Kyle Knox conducting UW Symphony Strings

It was enough to make The Ear hope that the group does another program with Beethoven’s two other less well-known symphonies: Nos. 2 and 8. Maybe next semester, or maybe next year.

Then again, The Ear loves the same early Beethoven (below), influenced by the Classical era of Haydn and Mozart, that many other listeners skip over: the early symphonies, the early piano sonatas, the early piano trio, the early violin sonatas, the early cello sonata and the early string quartets.

young beethoven etching in 1804

And often a soloist pulls up the quality, so perhaps a faculty soloist would be a good addition.

But soloist or not, it is well worth hearing.

So The Ear highly encourages orchestral fans to go. The next performance is on Thursday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. No program is listed yet. But write the concert into your datebooks. You’ll be happy you did.

Classical music: The New Hyperion Jazz Babies perform Sunday to raise funds for The Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund and to mark 35 years of Opera Props

November 4, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features S. Christian Collins and Alyssa Smith, piano and harpsichord, performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy and S. Christian Collins.

By Jacob Stockinger 

A friend writes:

The New Hyperion Orchestra, the New Hyperion Jazz Babies and friends celebrate the 35th anniversary of Opera Props — the supporting group for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — with a benefit fundraiser to support the Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund.

The concert, entitled, “What’s Wrong with Me? Love, Phobias and other Ailments,” will take place on this Sunday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, and will feature show tunes about maladies that have plagued the human race for centuries. (The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, below, at the foot of Bascom Hill on North Park Street.)


Karlos Moser (below left), who founded Opera Props and saw five renovations of Music Hall during his 36 years as UW-Madison’s Opera Director, celebrates his 85th birthday this year. But age is no matter to a seasoned performer. Moser will head the concert as lead vocalist, crooning about everything from Spoonerisms to Arachnophobia.

Joining him are his wife, Melinda Moser (below right), on the piano, clarinetist Eric Ellis, violinist Rebecca Mackie, and bassist Ben Ferris. Together, they create the New Hyperion Jazz Babies, an offshoot of the Original Hyperion Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra.

Karlos and Melinda Moser

“Last year, we celebrated the 40th year reunion of the founding of the OHOFTO with some of the original members,” says Moser. “We now want to pass on this rich tradition to a new generation.”

The Original Hyperion, founded in Madison in 1974 by Rick Mackie and Moser, began with a mix of students and professional musicians, who quickly established their standing in this jazz-influenced style.

In the spirit of passing the baton, the Sunday concert will conclude with a number of student musicians, including three opera ticket fund recipients and students from Sun Prairie High School, along with their musical director, Steve Sveum.

Also making special appearances are tenor Fabian Qamar and soprano Nicole Heinen, both Opera Props recipients in the graduate music program, as well as a mystery guest from Fleet, England, who was a ticket fund recipient.

Tickets are $25 for general admission, with students receiving two tickets for the price of one. In honor of Karlos Moser’s 85th birthday, every $85 donation to the Opera Fund will be met with one free ticket.

Please send donations of any amount directly to the UW Foundation online at, or by mail at US Bank Lockbox, Box 78807, Milwaukee, 53278 (memo: “Moser Fund for Opera Tickets”). $85 gifts may be confirmed at or 608-274-1150.

General admission tickets are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at (click “box office”). Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Beginning one hour before the performance, tickets can be purchased at the door.

All proceeds will go to the Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund, which buys expensive opera tickets for UW-Madison music students.




Classical music: Clocks in Motion and Transient Canvas perform new music for winds and percussion this Wednesday night. Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Beethoven and Webern on Saturday night.

November 3, 2015

ALERT: The Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music, will give a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features: the String Quartet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 1 (1799-1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) for String Quartet (1905) by Anton Webern; and the String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428 (1783) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word from Clocks in Motion:

Clocks in Motion (below), Madison’s premier new music ensemble, welcomes the renowned bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas to Madison for a collaborative performance of new sounds, new instruments, and new music.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Featuring a world premiere by Italian-American modernist composer Filippo Santoro, as well as rarely heard works by Daniel T. Lewis, Matthew Welch, and Franco Donatoni, this concert offers a singular chance to experience the cutting edge of new music.

The performance is this Wednesday night, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the DeLuca Forum (below bottom) of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below top), across from the Union South at 330 North Orchard Street.


SEW Forum room

It will feature Transient Canvas (below), which consists of the “dazzling” (Boston Globe) clarinetist Amy Advocat and the “expert and vivid” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) marimbist Matthew Sharrock performing thrilling repertoire commissioned for their distinctive instrumentation, as well as larger works in partnership with Clocks in Motion.

Transient Canvas close up

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show; $5 with a student ID. PURCHASE TICKETS

Advance tickets are available at

Praised by the Boston Globe as “superb,” Transient Canvas has been blazing its own trail in the world of contemporary music since 2011. In four years, they have premiered over 40 new works, essentially creating an entirely new repertoire for their unique instrumentation. Fearless in their programming and hungry for new collaborations, TC actively seeks out new composers who will stretch their instrumentation to its limits. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Learn more about Transient Canvas at

Transient canvas performing

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (, Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program. The group Clocks in Motion consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater, and computer technology.

Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

clocks in motion in concert

Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate young audiences through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The ensemble’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of rock, jazz, contemporary classical, orchestral, marching, and world styles.

Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as an affiliate ensemble of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.


Classical music: The Ear praises UW student recitals but offers four suggestions to help them reach the public.

October 30, 2015

ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will perform a FREE and PUBLIC concert under the baton of UW-Madison professor James Smith. The program features the Chamber Symphony for Strings, arranged by Rudolf Barshai from a string quartet, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Serenade for Strings by Antonin Dvorak.

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to a terrific piano recital by Sara Giusti (below), a graduate student who is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who studies with UW virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Sara Giusti bowing

It took place, as most student recitals do, in Morphy Recital Hall (at bottom), and was a fine performance that both she and her teacher can be proud of.

The Partita No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach was articulated well and was pedaled beautifully and very judiciously. The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Joseph Haydn had the right touch of lightness and humor to its minor-key pathos. The later sonata, Op. 78, by Ludwig van Beethoven was lyrical where it needed to be and structural where it needed to be. And the rarely heard Sonata No. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev had the requisite bite, at the same time melding both Romanticism and Modernism.

Sara Giusti playing

But the event got The Ear thinking, as did the relatively small audience of two to three dozen listeners.

We are lucky there are so many good student recitals at the UW. They are usually high in quality, plus they are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Ear is especially pleased that they are now being listed on the School of Music website and Calendar of Events, which allows listeners to choose and plan. Here is a link:


Too many of the student programs say the performances will feature music by such-and-such composers. They don’t give you the actual pieces.

The Ear finds that frustrating. The actual program would help him, and he presumes others, to decide about which concerts to attend. For example, he ended up going to Sara Giusti’s recital as a leap of faith since the advance notice listed only works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Prokofiev –- and all were prolific composers. Luckily, someone else recommended her.

Take the examples of two upcoming student recitals.

Pianist Jason Kutz (below), who performs on Friday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m., gets it right. His advance notice says he will perform the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the “Davidbundlertanze” by Robert Schumann. What a terrific and unusual program of contrasting styles. The Ear will be going.

jason kutz at piano

Chan Mi Jean, who will perform on Monday, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m., gets it wrong. Her notice says she will “perform chamber pieces by Brahms, Ravel, Bernstein and Previn.” That offers some help but, without specifics, not enough. What pieces? What are the other instruments — cello, violin viola, voice? The Ear needs to know more to decide about attending, though he is leaning towards going.

So here are four suggestions for students -– and even for faculty members — offered in a spirit of enthusiasm and helpfulness, from The Ear:





That said, The Ear wishes the best to the gifted students at the UW. They give successful recitals and he hopes that they want to share their talent and hard work, as well as the music, with the largest public possible.

Morphy Hall 2


Classical music: Con Vivo performs two masterpieces of German Romantic music to mark its recent cultural exchange tour of Germany.

October 28, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist and organist Theodore Reinke in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Edvard Grieg, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

By Jacob Stockinger

“Con Vivo – Music With Life” (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “German Romance” on this Friday, October 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

To celebrate the group’s recent cultural exchange tour to our sister county of Kassel, Germany, the concert program includes two masterpiece pillars of 19th-century German Romantic chamber music: the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert’s String Quintet with two cellos, regarded as one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music. (You can hear the Schubert Quintet with the Juilliard String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their experiences on their concert tour in Germany.

Con Vivo 2015

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “Our tour to Germany was a wonderful honor and great success. We return very excited to begin our 14th season with two of the great masterpieces for chamber ensemble. Our Madison audience will be able to welcome us home as we present some of our favorite repertoire in this concert.”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble composed of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

Classical music: This week the UW School of Music offers two free classical concerts: two symphonies by Beethoven and a cello recital by Parry Karp.

October 26, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night — Halloween Eve — will be a busy one.

So far, three fine classical music concerts compete for your attendance. They including a UW faculty cello recital, a program of Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert by Con Vivo and a concert of violin and piano sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edvard Grieg and Karol Szymanowski by the Mosaic Chamber Players.

All will receive preview attention here.

But first things first.

The Ear tends to favor FREE and PUBLIC concerts. So he is starting with the two very appealing events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.


On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the strings (below) of the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Graduate student Kyle Knox (center right) will conduct.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

For more information about the program and about clarinetist-turned-conductor Kyle Knox, here is a link:


On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison cello professor Parry Karp (below left), who is also a member of the Pro Arte Quartet, will perform with pianist Eli Kalman (below right), who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW-Oshkosh.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

The exotic program mixes the known and the unusual. It includes:

The “Ruralia Hungarica” for Cello and Piano, Op. 34/d (1923) by Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnanyi; the Violin Sonata in E-flat Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12 No. 3 (1798) by Ludwig van Beethoven, as transcribed for piano and cello by Parry Karp; the Capriccio for Violoncello and Piano (1985) American composer William Bolcom; the First Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1928) by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (you can hear the work in a YouTube video at the bottom); and the Sonata in B-flat Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 8 (1899) by Ernst Dohnanyi.

PLEASE NOTE: Parry Karp and Eli  Kalman will also repeat their Friday night recital program this Sunday, Nov. 1,  for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE and PUBLIC performance will start at 12:30 p.m. for the audience in Brittingham Gallery 3. The recital will be streamed LIVE on the website for the Chazen Museum of Art.

Here is a link:


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and soloist Ben Beilman deliver the best Beethoven Violin Concerto that The Ear has ever heard live

October 8, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Many people see the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) as competitors.

WCO lobby

But that’s not how The Ear sees them.

The Ear sees symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras not as competitors but as complements.

The two can serve as role models for each other. A symphony orchestra can aim to achieve the transparency and clarity of the smaller group; the chamber orchestra can aim to achieve the richness and bigger sound of the larger ensemble.

Almost two weeks ago, that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and conductor John DeMain did with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland and especially the big, loud and brassy Ethel Merman-like Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Here is how The Ear heard that performance:

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

So how did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra do in meeting the challenge?

In a word — superbly.

The WCO did so last Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.

The program started with one of those welcome rarities that Sewell has a knack for unearthing. This time the native New Zealander played the piece “Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Douglas Lilburn (below), whom Sewell described as the Kiwi Copland.

Well, maybe, though The Ear finds Aaron Copland’s music more interesting and emotionally moving than the clearly modern but tonal and accessible music by Lilburn, whose centennial is this year.

douglas lilburn

The piece — written to commemorate the tricentennial of the discovery of New Zealand — was hobbled with one of those puffily pretentious and over-the-top occasional celebratory poems, which was recited by actor James Ridge (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. It treated navigation and discovery as metaphors of something much bigger than the discovery of New Zealand.

All in all, it proved an interesting but not arresting piece, a curiosity worth hearing but not repeating.


James Ridge

Then came the rarely played Symphony No. 2 in A minor by Camille Saint-Saens. It is a kind of Late Romantic pastiche that reminds one of the “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev. One could hear strains of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn in this charming work that once again is worth hearing but maybe not repeating or at least not soon.

To be fair, critic John W. Barker disagreed in his review for Isthmus:

In both cases, Sewell (below) and the various sections of the WCO brought not only the kind of transparency or clarity that one expects from the WCO but also a robustness that made the orchestra seem bigger than it looked.


Yet it was in the second half where the WCO really showed its stuff.

The piece was the formidable Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The soloist was the 25-year-old Benjamin Beilman (below), making his Madison debut.

Benjamin Beilman close up playing

Together, Beilman and Sewell delivered what is the finest and most exciting live performance of the famous and famously difficult concerto that The Ear has ever heard. It possessed intimacy as well as heroics. (You can hear Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sewell shaded the piece and brought both chamber orchestra transparency and symphony orchestra heft to the work. He also emphasized Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint, a legacy from his days as a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. This time the often thorny Beethoven score seemed smoother and more decipherable.

Beilman, for his part, is already a master of the kind of small details that make a huge difference. He is also not afraid to play softly.

Beethoven (below) was a master crafter but not a great melody writer, and often the opening movement can often seem little more than a patchwork of scales and runs, chords and arpeggios.

beethoven BW grim

But not this time. Beilman made this often flat-sounding violin part exciting with the subtleties he brought to it. He found hidden melodies and camouflaged suggestions of a theme, all delivered with a great tone from his modern 2004 violin.

One unusual touch was the cadenzas. Beethoven didn’t write any for the violin. When he transcribed this work for the piano he composed piano cadenzas. And those were the basis of what Beilman, the top winner of the Montreal International Violin Competition and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, used for his exciting cadenzas.

Tempi mattered too. This long, dense concerto moved right along, and when it was done, the performance drew an immediate standing ovation from the audience of 900 or so.

And here’s the thing: At no point did the chamber orchestra seem to lack the horsepower needed to drive this big and iconic piece of music. Sewell and Beilman were well matched in projecting a big, rich sound and intense interpretation that engaged and excited you from beginning to end.

The audience even drew two encores from Beilman, both solo pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the ultimate test of a violinist. One was the songful slow movement from the Solo Sonata in C Major; the other was the lively Gavotte from the Solo Partita in E Major that almost seems a mirror image of the last movement of the Beethoven concerto.(ATTENTION ALL SOLOISTS: Please announce your encores!)


The first Bach movement, by the way, was also the piece that Beilman played at the wedding this summer where his sister married Joe Morris, the gifted principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra who so stood out in the Copland concerto two weeks ago.

Plus, Beilman’s parents and grandparents hail from Madison.

So young Benjamin Beilman has roots in and ties to Madison.

Could that mean he will return soon?

The Ear sure hopes so.


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