The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: See and hear what happens at the Metropolitan Opera just before show time. You will be amazed and entertained

July 15, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most illuminating and entertaining stories The Ear has seen recently came in The New York Times.

It does exactly what great journalism does: Take you to a place where you cannot go yourself.

The Times went behind the scenes at the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (below) – the Met, for short – to see what was going on before show time.

And it was a lot more than opera.

There is so much to see and listen to, as suggested below in the 1966 drawing of the Metropolitan Opera House by David A. Mackay.

From the sets, props, wig and costume shops to rehearsals by the Met and the American Ballet Theatre and the Metropolitan Orchestra and even to the kitchen and dining room, to say nothing of the classes, hallways and stage.

What emerged was an enthralling story – full of impromptu serendipity — that made good reading in the newspaper and humanized the arts. Here is the text index version (click on the picture and then on the triangle you will see):

But then The Times took advantage of the Internet to create an interactive look at the same material that features only audiovisual clips and runs 7 minutes and 21 seconds.

The final result is impressive, both for the great videography of the shoulder-held cameras and for the succinct labeling and explaining that doesn’t interrupt the flow.

What resulted should win some kind of prize or award. It should also serve as a model for what many other media – especially television – can do with various media tools at hand.

One last observation: Is The Ear the only person who thinks the driving drum soundtrack sounds suspiciously similar to the soundtrack of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “Birdman”?

What do you think about the video?

Did you like it?

Did you learn anything?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This 90-year-old Belgian classical pianist learned how to play slow movements by Mozart and Beethoven by hearing Ray Charles – and shows why The Ear likes the arts reporting on PBS and NPR

January 15, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.

After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?

Here is a link to that post:

Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.

PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.

A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.

In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.


In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.


Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.

Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.

The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?

It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.

Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:

An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.

What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?

What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?

If you saw this story, how did it affect you?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Newspapers and media continue to cut back on arts writers and critics. What is the effect on the arts?

January 14, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got a message from an old friend who gave him a link to a story about the decline of arts criticism in the mainstream media.

“This is not big news to you, but an interesting update that puts the value of your blog in context,” the friend said.

The Ear thinks that the cutback in arts critics hurts local performing artists and also hurts readers who consume the arts as audiences. That is especially important in a city as rich in the arts for its size as Madison. (Below is the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing for a full house.)

MSO playing

Here is a link to the article from the Columbia Journalism Review:

The story earned an interesting response, sort of a constructive dissent from most judgments, from Anne Midgette (below), an arts writer and arts critic who used to work for The New York Times and now works for The Washington Post. Here is a response she posted on Facebook:

“There’s one thing missing from this thoughtful valedictory on newspaper arts writing – the outrage about cutting critics is all very well, but one reason they get cut is that they don’t always have the readership papers want/need (which can be quantified now better than it used to be).

“I think newspapers could help remedy that by putting in more resources and figuring out a strategy for raising the profile of arts writing (and I think arts writers need to focus on thinking about fresh innovative ways to write about their fields, but that’s another story).

“In any case, I think those of us who love the arts need to recognize this as a big factor in the cuts, rather than simply wringing our hands about living in a world of Philistine editors.”

Anne Midgette BIG

What do you think of Anne Midgette’s response? How would you like arts coverage changed and improved?

How good a job do you think the local media do in covering the arts?

What do you think about the overall reduction in arts coverage?

Have you found alternative sources for news and for information, and what are they?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs “Scheherazade” in the dramatic Beyond the Score® mixed media format this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

January 9, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an announcement from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about two performances of a special concert this coming weekend:

Join the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below top) and Music Director John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad) as they explore one of the most popular orchestral works ever written with Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade this coming weekend in Overture Hall.

The concerts are this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade is an opportunity for concertgoers to discover Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful and exotic Scheherazade in a whole new way.

The first half experience encompasses video, photos, musical excerpts, and  actors Jim DeVita (below top) and Brenda DeVita (below bottom), of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, telling the story.

In the second half, Scheherazade will be performed from start to finish, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with John DeMain conducting.

Jim DeVita

Brenda DeVita

The captivating music of Scheherazade evokes images and passions with a solo violin representing the intoxicating storyteller, Scheherazade. Based on an ancient Persian legend, Scheherazade staves off her death at the hands of her cruel Sultan husband, by regaling him with stories for 1001 nights until he falls in love with her.

Rimsky-Korsakov evokes the moods of her various tales with memorable and haunting melodies. (You can hear “Scheherazade,” conducted by the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Designed for classical music aficionados and newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music, Beyond the Score explores Scheherazade’s context in history, how it relates to the work of other composers, and the events of Rimsky-Korsakov’s life that influenced its creation. The Chicago Tribune said of the Beyond the Score series, “Seldom has enlightenment proved so entertaining.”

As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov (below) spent almost three years at sea with the Russian Navy and was exposed to other cultures. With 19th-century readers fascinated by exotic settings and fairy tales, he first conceived of creating an orchestral work based on the tales known as The Thousand and One Nights in 1887, when he was the leading teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.


Single Tickets are $15 to $60 each, available at, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% 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 Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: Students receive 20% savings on advance ticket purchases for seats in select areas of the hall.

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

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

Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Score®.

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society seeks amateur photos from the public for a slide show to accompany Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in June. Plus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky gives a FREE viola recital Sunday night

April 9, 2016
Leave a Comment

ALERT: Blog contributor and all-round musician — violist, conductor and singer as well as critic — Mikko Rankin Utevsky sends the following word:

Dear friends: I’m giving my senior viola recital this Sunday evening, April 10, the culmination of my four years of study here at the UW-Madison. On the program are a pair of powerful and evocative works from 1919: the Viola Sonata of Rebecca Clarke, and the Suite for Viola and Piano by Ernest Bloch. Pianist Thomas Kasdorf joins me for the program, which is at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes, off the Capitol Square, at 333 West Main Street. I hope to see you there!

P.S.: Thomas and I are giving another recital – with me singing this time – on Tuesday, May 10, at 7 p.m., also at Capitol Lakes. On the program are assorted songs by Samuel Barber, Kurt Weill, Charles Ives, Robert Schumann, and Claude Debussy, and the “Songs of Travel” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. If you can’t make this one, see you in a month!

By Jacob Stockinger

Multi-media concerts seem to be catching on, perhaps in an attempt to attract new and younger audiences.

Next season the Madison Symphony Orchestra will do two of them: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” with a hi-definition film made by NASA for the Houston Symphony Orchestra; and a Beyond the Score with “Scheherazade” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, accompanied by photographs plus actors Jim DeVita and Brenda DeVita from American Players Theatre in Spring Green.

Doing mutli-media is nothing new for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which is always experimenting and looking for novel approaches to classical music. But the group is expanding how it is done in an impressively populist way.

Here is an announcement from The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which turns 25 this summer:

BDDS silver jubilee logo


Have you taken photos of your favorite time of year?

Visual artist Lisa A. Frank will be creating photographic scenery for this year’s “Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society” concerts at the Overture Center for the Arts.

The program on June 25 will include the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. For this concert, a photo collage of the four seasons – like Frank’s spring image of bird eggs and feathers in a nest and the fall image of gourds – will be projected on a large screen behind the musicians.

(You can get a sense of it from the popular YouTube video at the bottom, which features the “Spring” section of the four string concertos that make up “The Four Seasons.)

Lisa Frank Spring Birds eggs



Lisa Frank (below) invites amateur photographers of all ages to participate in this concert by sending up to 5 of your best shots depicting any aspect of any season.

Lisa Frank

The images can be in jpeg, tiff or Photoshop format. If your photograph is included, you may be asked to resend a higher resolution image. (Below is a summer photo of a flower and butterfly.)

Lisa Frank Summer Butterfly

All featured photographers will receive a video of the final result.

Up to 100 photos will be selected.

Send your photographs by Sunday, April 18 to:

And here is a link – with information about programs, performers, venues and tickets — to the new summer season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which celebrates the group’s 25th anniversary or Silver Jubilee:

Classical music: Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma turns 60. NPR offers a capsule biography and generous sound samples from throughout his varied career.

October 11, 2015
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Have cello. Will play.

Any style. Any place.

Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.

The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.

After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.

yo-yo ma CR Jason Bell:Sony Classical

Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.

And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.

The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.

An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.

He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)

Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.

One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.

You surely will appreciate the eminently readable and listenable post that Tim Huizenga wrote for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?

Leave it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Music for piano-four hands played a vital historical role in disseminating classical music and also in encouraging amateur musicians and a socially acceptable form of erotic intimacy.

April 1, 2015
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

First things first — a full disclosure because today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

april fools day

But this is no April Fool’s post. The Ear detests using the media, old or new, for April Fool’s stories and pranks. The Ear finds them stupid and reprehensible. They undercut credibility and insult readers or consumers by taking advantage of their gullibility.

So …

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted a preview of the upcoming recital this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. by pianists Peter Serkin and Julie Hsu at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Here is a link:

But as background, or perhaps an appetizer or teaser, I thought you might like to see a link sent to me by a professor friend at Stanford University. It covers a book by his colleague in German that offers not only history but also the role of four-hand playing in encouraging intimacy, a kind of erotic sensuality and sexuality that was socially acceptable. Then, too, music playing also bridged the worlds of professional and amateur musicians.

Whether or not you attend the concert at Farley’s, it is good to read the overview of the vital role that music for piano-four hands (below is the team of Varshavsky and Shapiro who perform quite often in the area) played in the history of Western classical music. They helped to disseminate into ordinary homes versions of the symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when hearing a real symphony was a rare occasion.

And of course they also encouraged Hausmusik — the playing of music in private homes before commercial concerts became established. A piano was like the CD player or radio or television of its day.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Madison hears its fair share of such music. It is always featured at the Schubertiades, held by wife-and-husband pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in late January.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Such music has also appeared regularly at the free Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum of Art, the annual Karp Family Labor Day Concerts, the summer Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Farley’s House of Pianos, and other important series.

The Ear has enjoyed such music – in addition to the many social works by Franz Schubert, I have heard Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak and Polonaises by Franz Schubert, for example — but was never fully aware of what, historically, he was listening to.

So The Ear found the historical essay fascinating and thought you might also appreciate it.

Here is a link to the essay:

And here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece that is perhaps the crown jewel of piano-four hand literature — Franz Schubert’s late Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 — performed by two of my favorite British pianists, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis:

Classical music education: One of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will embark on an international tour to Argentina that runs July 24 to Aug. 3. So WYSO says “Bon Voyage” with a FREE send-off preview concert on this coming Tuesday night, July 22, at 7 p.m. in Olbrich Gardens.

July 18, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger 

The young musicians of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and its premier performing ensemble, the Youth Orchestra, are preparing for a fantastic opportunity this month when they will tour to Argentina.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

Youth Orchestra members will have a chance to visit the three cities of Buenos Aires, Rosario and Mar del Plata. While in these cities they will visit some of the most beautiful places in South America and perform in world class venues.

The tour will be led by WYSO Music Director James Smith (below). He has served as conductor of the Youth Orchestra for 29 years and also serves as the Director of Orchestras for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where WYSO is housed.


The 67 WYSO musicians who will participate in the tour range in age from 14 t0 18 years old and hail from 19 different communities across southern Wisconsin. (You can hear a great sample of the Youth Orchestra under James Smith in the “Carmen” Suite by Georges Bizet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The tour will run from July 24 to August 3. It will include performances at Facultad de Derecho, the famed Teatro Colon (below) in Buenos Aires, Escuela 23 Distrito Escolar, La Usina de Musica, and Teatro el Circulo.

Teatro Colon interior

Repertoire for the tour will include the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, “Billy the Kid” Suite by Aaron Copland;  Liturgical Scenes by Dwane S. Milburn, the Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36, by Peter Tchaikovsky; and “Malambo” from “Estancia” Suite, Op. 8a by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (below).

Alberto Ginastera with cat

The Youth Orchestra will be posting a live blog before and during their trip to keep friends, family, and supporters of WYSO up to date with how the tour is going.

The writers will mainly be students, but a handful of chaperones will also be offering their perspectives.

You can visit the blog, and bookmark it, at


Prior to departing on their international tour, the Youth Orchestra members will give a bon voyage send-off concert at Olbrich Botanical Gardens this coming Tuesday night, July 22, at 7 p.m. The concert is FREE and outdoors (weather permitting; otherwise it will be held indoors), and is open to the public, with a $1 suggested admission donation to support the gardens.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens


The Ear thinks it would be great if local media – especially television – paid as much attention and gave as much coverage (even an audiovisual sample or clip with a voiceover) to these distinguished cultural ambassadors and exceptional products of music and arts education as they do to, say, student athletes.

Since 1966, WYSO has been providing excellence in musical opportunities for more than 5,000 young people in southern Wisconsin.

WYSO includes three full orchestras and a string orchestra, a chamber music program, a harp program, a percussion ensemble, and a brass choir program. The orchestras rehearse on Saturday mornings during the academic year, perform three to four public concerts per season, and tour regionally, nationally and internationally.

For more information, contact WYSO, Room 1625, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI 53706. You can also call (608) 263-3320 or visit


Classical music: The Wisconsin Union Theater opens its new season with a winning blockbuster, meaty program of Brahms and Shostakovich performed by native son conductor Kenneth Woods, Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

November 4, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

While the Wisconsin Union Theater is still under renovation, it is sharing its season’s programs with the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the first one this year was a terrific winner!

Two guests graced the stage at Mills Hall, with the resources of the UW Symphony orchestra placed at the disposal of one of them, conductor Kenneth Woods, himself a product of the UW School of Music  who is now making a very individual career for himself from his home in Wales in the United Kingdom.


Woods chose to begin with a short orchestral piece, “In the Gale of Life,” composed in 2006 by Philip Sawyers (below). The British composer took his inspiration, and his title, from lines in a poem by A.E. Housman.

That fact matters little in the listening, for the piece is basically intended to be a zippy concert overture, designed to show off Sawyers’ mastery of a large orchestra. It might better be called an orchestral “Essay,” on the model of Samuel Barber’s works of that title, save that Sawyers lacks Barber’s clearly focused concision. Thematic materials appear but are denied explorations of their potentials. Just more of your in-one-ear-and-out-the-other repertoire, then.

Philip Sawyers

The first of the servings of real meat came with the appearance of the second guest, Chicago violinist  Rachel Barton Pine (below). She is surely the best violinist the US has produced, certainly presently active. I have long admired her versatile and imaginative work through her many prize-winning and best-selling recordings as well as at least one previous concert appearance (with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra).

Rachel Barton Pine

Her vehicle this time was Johannes Brahms’ monumental Violin Concerto.  She clearly regards it as a work of serious ideas, to which she is committed, rather than to simplistic showiness. In some ways, she understated the virtuosity, but when impassioned outbursts were called for she threw herself into them body and soul.

She also understands that any Brahms concerto is a partnership between soloist and orchestra. She was collegial, and even deferential when appropriate. The second movement opens with a gorgeous passage for wind ensemble, and when it briefly recurs at the end she joined in as if sharing their conversation.

Woods led the orchestra, meanwhile, in a solid and worthy realization of its role.

Pine also, by the way, eschewed the usual first-movement cadenza written by the concerto’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim (below), and instead used her own–which she has published in a volume of such cadenzas and arrangements that was available in the lobby.

Joseph Joachim

A musician not only of rich talent but genuine personal grace, Barton Pine used the traditional encore slot to talk to the audience about the remarkable history of the instrument she plays, one selected by Brahms himself for a gifted lady violinist in his circle. She then played the composer’s familiar Lullaby in a solo arrangement by Albert Spalding. (You can hear it a YouTube video at the bottom and on her recent acclaimed CD of lullabies.)

As if one great masterpiece was not enough for a great concert, the second half offered another, the second serving of meat.

For a long time, the Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) was regarded as a vulgar capitulation to the brutal Stalinist regime, which had put the composer in serious jeopardy.  Shostakovich himself described it as “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism,” and the work was immediately acclaimed as a model of accessible socialist art.

dmitri shostakovich

It has only been in recent years that all of Shostakovich’s music, and especially this work, have been perceived as carrying dark subtexts of personal and political import.

Woods himself clearly follows this line, and in an introductory talk pointed up the evidence for the Fifth as a work not of subservience but of defiance.  He then led a performance that was, in effect, a testimonial to that viewpoint.

It was a searing, powerful, riveting approach, its revisionism best displayed in the final movement.  Woods launched into its opening march ferociously, faster than most conductors. After its less hectic middle section, he approached its coda-apotheosis not as a paean of Soviet triumphalism, but as a slower, more unsettling challenge to the audience.

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by John W. Barker) followed him magnificently.  How wonderful it is to see these students perform at a virtually professional level, utterly at one with their conductor.  Once more, a tribute to what UW Professor of Conducting James Smith (below) has done to build up a playing tradition of confidence and polish.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker


And, once more, this concert was a reminder of the kind of glorious musical experiences that are to be had on the UW-Madison campus, ones too often ignored or overlooked by the public and the media.

Classical music: Meet Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. She has big plans to help the school, from securing a new s concert hall to overhauling the website, starting a blog and connecting with other local music groups and media outlets.

September 3, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bascom Hall

That makes it a perfect time for students, both music students and others, to make the acquaintance of Kathy Esposito. Esposito is the new concert manager and director of public relations for the UW School of Music. (That also makes it a good time to subscribe to this blog and to the UW School of Music’s “Fanfare” blog if you are a new or returning student or faculty member.)

Esposito was hired toward the end of last season and has been furiously and energetically on the job all summer, preparing for the fall by redesigning the website at, producing a season brochure and starting the blog “Fanfare” among other accomplishments. This promises to be a year of big challenges, from a new department director to new teachers, at the School of Music.

I asked Esposito to give an interview and to introduce herself.

Here is the introduction she wrote:

“I guess all I would say about me is that I developed my music appreciation through my two sons who are now classical musicians.

“I was a freelance journalist and communications specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for years, but while doing so, we three immersed ourselves in music and theater.

“We listened to CDs at home, attended productions in Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago, and the two boys took violin lessons. They eventually auditioned into the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below, in a photo by Cheng-Wei Wu).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

“Music for me is completely cathartic. I understand well the intense dedication required to excel, and I am always impressed by the maturity of these young players who by some miracle develop an appreciation of something fairly sophisticated.

“I love the classics and believe these should be our foundation, but also understand that some are interested in taking their passion to a different, more contemporary place (whether composing or performing), something untried and not wholly formed, and the university is a perfect place to do that.

My goal is to present their efforts before the Madison community and beyond, not only to bring bodies into our halls (it’s no fun to play to an empty hall) but also to demonstrate that the music school is as deserving of donor support as any other program on campus.

And here is the lengthy and detailed email Q&A that Kathy Esposito (below, in a self-portrait) did for The Ear:

Kathy Esposito

Why did you want the job of concert manager and director of public relations?

My two sons, Ansel and Alex (below), were in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and my elder son Alex graduated from UW as a violinist studying with Professor Felicia Moye and is now at Texas Tech. (As a high school student, my younger son Ansel studied with UW-Madison trumpet professor John Aley. He is now a senior at Northwestern University and also studies with the principal trumpet player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.)

We made a point of attending music and theater performances in Madison and elsewhere, and I am quite passionate about the marvelous impact that it has had on all our lives. Both are continuing in music and have promising lives as people, not just musicians. That’s what music can do for people.

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

Because of these connections, I knew there was much good stuff going on under the roof of the Mosse Humanities Building that others didn’t know about, and it bothered me.

When people think of classical music in Madison, what comes to mind? The Madison Symphony Orchestra. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Concerts on the Square. The Bolz Young Artists Competition. Why is that? It’s because of marketing — plain old honest “getting the word out” any way possible. In this regard, the UW School of Music can do much better.

We offer a hundreds of mostly FREE concerts each year, often featuring the exact same musicians and guests artists who appear elsewhere in town, plus college students about to launch professional careers of their own. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Beverly Taylor performing “He Watching Over Israel” from Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah.”)

But we don’t have a budget for paid advertising, which means we need to be more creative with our publicity: telling people about the accomplishments of students and faculty and offering them a reason to care and be excited about what they will see.

Meanwhile, the School of Music (SOM) offers great training and opportunities for music students, within an environment that is friendly and supportive, allowing these high school grads to mature as people while improving skills. That’s an important point, as some schools are so competitive that students can actually be damaged in the process.  (Below is Music Hall, where the University Opera stages its productions, at the foot of Bascom Hill.)


I felt that I could help. I have a background in journalism and more recently in business marketing and digital media, and I know the importance of telling stories and being creative, which, nowadays, includes the Internet world as well as print. This new world is a huge, huge area, and I don’t claim to be able to do all of it well, but the truth is that many people who grew up in the world of print are totally overwhelmed by what’s needed now.

So the upshot is that I felt strongly that I had an overall resumé that matched what the SOM needed, and I wanted to help.

What major projects and changes do have in the works, including the website, web streaming for audio and video, spreading the word about the new building and outreach programs, and the like??

We plan to completely overhaul our music school website and will feature prominently the audio tracks that we’ve accumulated over the years, so that when you arrive at our site, your eye will fall upon a “Hear our Sound!” display box that will invite you to listen to one of several performances.

That might include an orchestra, the Perlman Trio (below), the wind ensemble, a jazz septet, a concerto competition winner, or a new piece by one of our resident composers; so many I don’t know how we can possibly choose among them. This is blow-your-socks-off great music.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

Our current website has never had a page for news; it was fairly “static,” as web designers say. To address this in the absence of a new site, I recently started a blog, “Fanfare,” that provides a place to publicize recent accomplishments, and we also are making great use of our Facebook page. I invite all your readers to sign up for the blog (it’s a free subscription) and to become our Facebook fans.

Future plans include acquiring equipment to video-record and live-stream some concerts, so that parents and alumni (and possible donors) around the country and world can watch in real-time. I know how special this is because my sons perform out-of-town, and I have been able to watch them play from the (relative) comfort of my computer chair. It’s the next best thing to actually sitting in the concert hall seat.

Regarding the new music building, to be located on the open lot on University Avenue most recently occupied by several bars: We are about half way toward our goal of raising about $46 million. The project is actually part of a bigger UW plan that includes the entire East Campus Gateway, so the UW Foundation is in charge of the lion’s share of fundraising, which includes soliciting the largest donations. My role now is to continue to raise the school’s profile so that prospective donors can feel their efforts are going to very good use.

Of course, anyone is welcome to donate to the new performance fund, no matter the size of the contribution.

What are the major challenges you see confronting you and the UW School of Music?

Our biggest challenges right now are securing more money for tuition scholarships and for our new performance space. Of course, better publicity will help here; people are more likely to donate if they see their money being put to good use.

College scholarships are critical. A young violinist may want to study with Felicia Moye (below top), or a young percussionist with Tony di Sanza (below bottom with UW piano pedagogue Jessica Johnson), but if she or he gets an offer from a competing music school that includes funding, and we can’t match it, where do you think that student will go? And yet we want to be considered a top music school, just as UW is tops in so many other ways. And graduating with a degree in violin or trumpet performance but with $30,000 in debt is extremely unwise.

Felicia Moye color

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

The School’s mission is not just performance, but educational. And providing music education is expensive. We have many faculty who don’t play instruments but study the music of other cultures, or study the history of composition, and then we also have many classes that are very small: there is a faculty-student ratio of one. (These are called studio classes, where, for example, a college student studying the cello has a weekly lesson with Uri Vardi (below), one of our cello teachers.)


We have several wonderful patrons who understand this and have donated money to fund talented students through their undergrad and grad years. We’d love to discover more people like those. These grateful students have advanced to successful careers as performers and university faculty, and while still here, are more than happy to repay their patrons with private concerts.

Meanwhile, our concerts are presented in a building that is simply worn out, dated and dingy. We have one large hall, Mills Hall (below top) that seats over 700 people, too large for many concerts; and one smaller hall, Morphy Hall (below bottom) that seats about 150, too small for many concerts; and one hall (Eastman) that we don’t use because of problems. We have furniture in the basement Strelow Lounge that I refuse to sit in because the upholstery is so dirty. We have windows that are streaked with grime and cannot be opened or cleaned. It is a distinctly uninviting building.


Morphy Hall 2

How do you think you can get the concerts, master classes, etc. at the UW to draw bigger and younger audiences?

Well, there are many things we can do, all of which I am confident would have a cumulative impact.

The most difficult but also the most helpful is a successful story pitch to traditional media outlets like newspapers, TV and radio. We had great crowds here for two concerts this spring that made it into traditional print media: The 40th anniversary of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and oboist Marc Fink’s farewell concert (below bottom). But media space has shrunk, and there’s a lot of competition. So we need to market ourselves, first and foremost, using all the tools of new and old media.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet Cr Katrin Talbot

marc fink big

That means more fully utilizing the venues already available, such as this blog and others like it that are happy to announce or discuss our events. We also are now more active in the area of social media, especially Facebook, and have gained a hundred new fans in just the last month.

Second, I am interested in forming new partnerships that would bring SOM performers into new spaces, place them in front of new audiences, and send concert announcements to new venues.

Some of my ideas are probably crazy, but you have to start somewhere.

–I’d love to see joint WYSO/UW concerts of some sort: perhaps preface a WYSO concert with a UW piano trio or jazz octet.

–I’d like UW ensembles to perform outside of the music building, especially in the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below)/Town Hall.


–I’d like to start an annual fall music concert that showcases the entire school, including recently written, more avant-garde works, jazz and vocalists.

–I’d like to partner with Wisconsin Public Television to tell a story about our school.

–I’d like to see the new music building include a family-friendly audience space, in the rear of the hall, with a one-way mirror and piped-in sound that would allow the children to watch a concert while being normal children: not always quiet! I’ve never heard of such a space in a concert hall, and we could make our mark here and bring lots of Dane County families in for free performances.

Little pianist

–I also would like the new music building to include a lighted marquee that announces the next night’s concerts, just as we see in larger cities. Now that would attract some notice!

–I’d like our local radio stations to update listeners about concerts just as a friendly service, not as paid underwriting (because we can’t afford it). Minnesota’s public classical music station has a host, John Birge, who very kindly will mention upcoming local concerts just as a part of his between-music banter. That’s part of how we as music lovers can support each other, just by being enthusiastic. (Below is a photo by James Gill of Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom in his studio.)

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

–We also can send concert announcements to school newsletters and music teachers, and emphasize the fact that 99% of ours are free.

–What ideas do you listeners have? I sure can’t think of everything!

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

Well, I’m only one person, so I can’t say that I’ll be able to pull all of this off. However, I do feel committed to UW, committed to music in general as it has done so much for me and my sons, and I enjoy a good challenge.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,101 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,736,550 hits
%d bloggers like this: