By Jacob Stockinger
Has March’s proverbial lion finally yielded to the lamb?
Here is Madison there is still some snow on the ground. But it should all be gone by the end of today, which, like yesterday, will reach into the 50s.
Just in time.
Today is the Vernal Equinox, bringing the first day of spring. It arrives at 5:29 a.m. this morning.
Spring has been an inspiration to many composers. So there is a lot of music to choose from when you want to celebrate season musically.
The Ear is fickle and his choice changes from year to year.
But lately, his favorite has been the “Spring” Sonata in F Major for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the opening of the famously tuneful and upbeat sonata, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of course there are violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn; chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; orchestral music by Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky; piano pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Edvard Grieg; songs by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. And there is more, so much more.
Yesterday, Wisconsin Public Radio programmed a lot of spring music, and The Ear expects the same for today’s programming.
But you can be your own DJ if you want. Here is a list of almost two hours of spring-related music:
And here is a springtime puzzler, or quiz, about flowers in opera from NPR or National Public Radio:
Plus, there are plenty of other guides and anthologies to music for spring that you can find online.
So here is what The Ear wants to know: What is your favorite piece of music to greet spring with?
Leave words in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.
And a Happy Spring to you!
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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
Despite nasty weather and icy conditions, a quite substantial audience turned out for the concert Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).
There was an unusual element to the program.
The mostly amateur orchestra opened with an exuberant performance of Rossini’s overture to his opera Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy).
Then the normal procedures were interrupted by a local writer, Matt Geiger (below), reading two of his short essays from a recently published collection, which was sold in the lobby.
This appearance was based on his long and valiant boosting of the orchestra in his journalism, but it would have been more appropriate at some community festival than in the midst of an orchestra concert. His essays were not without wit, but had absolutely nothing to do with music.
Back to business with guest soloist Andrew Briggs (below), a young cellist who played two miniatures for his instrument, with orchestra, by Antonin Dvorak.
Silent Woods, Op. 68, No. 5, is sometimes heard as a foil or filler for the composer’s great cello concerto, especially in recordings. Still less familiar is a Rondo in G minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 94. It is a work of charm and imagination.
Briggs played both of these with affectionate sensitivity. Currently finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, he is an artist with an already expanding reputation and a great future.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the “Reformation.” Composed to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, it was offered here as a gesture to this year’s 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of his Reformation movement with the posting of his 95 Theses. This is a score full of Lutheran symbolism, particularly with the prominent use of Luther’s chorale, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”).
NOTE: You can hear how Mendelssohn uses the Luther hymn in the symphony’s final movement by listening to the YouTube video at the bottom.
Commentators have sometimes shrugged off this work, and it has been overshadowed in audience favor by the composer’s popular third and fourth symphonies. But it is a well-wrought score, full of fine musical interest. Conductor Steve Kurr (below) led the orchestra through a sturdy and solidly played performance, ending the concert on a triumphant note.
By Jacob Stockinger
A friend of The Ear and a fan of this blog writes:
I want to alert you and your readers that in February we have two performances scheduled at The Malt House (below), 2609 East Washington Avenue, on the corner of Milwaukee Street.
The Yahara String Quartet (below) plays on this coming Saturday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. YSQ says they will play “among others … music by Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Holst, Haydn, Vivaldi … and more.” For information, go to:
The Cello and Bass Duo of Karl von Huene (cello, below) and John Dowling (contrabass) will play on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Adds Karl von Haene: “We play short pieces by Sebastian Lee (1805-1887) that are obscure enough that I will buy a beer for anyone who knows them. You see, there’s no opus number, they’re just “melodic studies/etudes.”
You can hear the first of Sebastian Lee’s “40 Melodic and Progressive Studies” in the YouTube video at the bottom. For information about Sebastian Lee, who performed and taught in France and Germany, go to:
For information, go to:
Performances are FREE, and the full bar is open for business. We open at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
For more information about the highly rated tavern that specializes in artisan beers and ales, and also presents other forms of music, go to:
Bill Rogers, The Malt House
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.
Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.
So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.
Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.
The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.
The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.
No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.
The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.
The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:
And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:
From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.
The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.
Here is a link to more information:
At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For information, go to:
At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.
The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.
Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:
Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?
Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?
Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.
The Ear wants to hear.
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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.
By John W. Barker
A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.
Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.
Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.
Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.
For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.
The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.
Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.
His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)
The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”
They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.
For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
Then click on concerts or events.
By Jacob Stockinger
The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.
Take this weekend.
At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.
But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.
Here is a roundup:
From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.
All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:
At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.
You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the program and the group’s history. Here is a link:
For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:
And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:
Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.
At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.
Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:
At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.
Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.
Here is a link with more information:
Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:
Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.
Admission is $45.
Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.
Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.
You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti playing music by Szymanowski, Brahms, Debussy and Mendelssohn. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
It isn’t new research.
But The Ear stumbled on it and finds it no less compelling or convincing because it is a couple of years old.
Researchers say that musicians run four times the normal risk of hearing loss.
But they also point to things that can be done to lessen the risk.
Whether you are a professional musician, an amateur musician or an avid listener, you might want to read about this research.
So here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
It can’t be easy to start a new classical music group in a city that already has so many outstanding classical music groups and events.
Yet that is exactly what The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) have done – and with remarkable success.
To be honest, The Ear thought of awarding the same honor to them last year.
But that was their inaugural year. And launching a new enterprise is often easier than continuing and sustaining it.
But continue and sustain it they have – and even improved it.
The main season for The Willy Street Players is in July,, usually around noon or 6 p.m.
But they also usually offer a preview concert in the winter, and will do so again at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22, when they will perform string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla and Daniel Bernard Roumain at A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street. Admission is $20.
For tickets and more information about that concert as well as the group in general, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
The Ear finds so much to like about The Willy Street Chamber Players.
To start, the quality of the playing of the mostly string players and pianists — most of whom are products of the UW-Madison — is unquestionably superb. So are their guest artists such as Suzanne Beia. They have never disappointed The Ear, and others seem to agree.
The programming is ideal and adventurous, combining beloved classics, neglected works and new music from contemporary composers. And it all seems to fit together perfectly.
The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the Baroque era through the Classical, Romantic and modernist eras to today. They have performed an impressively eclectic mix of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Pietro Mascagni, Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb, Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger.
The concerts are very affordable.
The concerts are short, usually running only about an hour or 75 minutes. That allows you both to fully focus or concentrate on the performance but then also to do something else with your precious leisure time.
The group of sonic locavores stays true to its name and mission, playing at various venues on or near Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side – including the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street and at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. But they have also collaborated with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the post-concerts receptions, they even offer outstanding snack food from local purveyors in the Willy Street area. And it’s there that you can also meet the performers, who are fun, informative and congenial whenever they talk to the public, whether before and after a performance.
Most of all, The Ear has never heard anything dull or second-rate from the Willy Street Chamber Players. They are a fantastic breath of fresh air who invest their performances of even well-known works, such as the glorious Octet by Mendelssohn, with energy and drive, zest and good humor.
They are exactly what classical music – whether chamber music or orchestral music, choral or vocal music –needs to attract new and younger audiences and well as the usual fans. They have just the right balance of informality and professionalism.
The many musicians, all of them young, work hard but make the results seem easy. That is the very definition of virtuosity. Small wonder that many of them play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups. But this group seems special to them, and it shows.
If you don’t already know the Willy Street Chamber Players, you should get to know them. You should attend their concerts and, if you can, support them. They are a new gem, and constitute an outstanding and invaluable addition to Madison’s music scene.
NOTE: The Ear offers one piece of advice to The Willy Street Chamber Players: Since he can’t find a sample of you in action, please post some of your outstanding performances, which have been recorded by radio host Rich Samuels and broadcast on WORT-FM 89.9, on YouTube. The public needs a way to hear them and whet its appetite for your live performances.
In any case, The Ear wishes them well and hopes that, despite the inevitable personnel changes that will surely come in the future, The Willy Street Chamber Players stay on the Madison music scene for many years to come.
The Ear sends his best wishes for the New Year and another great season, the group’s third, to The Willy Street Chamber Players as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
REMINDER: Had your fill of holiday music yet? The Ear sure has. Listening to too much Christmas music is a little like drinking too much eggnog or eating too much fruitcake.
So he is grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra, a mostly amateur but very accomplished ensemble that performs tomorrow night, Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School.
Happily, the MCO has a program that features conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. The music runs counter-intuitive to most seasonal programming and offers a break from all things Christmas except for beauty and joy: some Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak, the terrific Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn and the sunny Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.
Admission is $15 (NOT $10 as mistakenly stated earlier); free to students.
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
There is still time for giving and getting this holiday season.
So here are The Best Classical Recordings of 2016, as chosen by critics for The New York Times.
The Times listing has good discerning commentaries and even some audiovisual excerpts of the recordings named. And at least one of the recordings — a CD of Haydn and Ligeti by pianist Shai Wosner — has connections to Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
One can also use this list as a starting point.
The Ear likes to package a recording with a book and even a ticket to a live performance. And these choices offer much food for thought. For example. the recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar, recorded by conductor Daniel Barenboim, will be performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater this spring by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its outgoing director Edo de Waart.
Here is a link:
And here is a link to two other gift guides.
The second is the list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:
Enjoy and leave word of your agreement or disagreement along with other selections in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The acclaimed and mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present its holiday concert on next Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.
General admission is $15. Students are admitted free of charge. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West. For more information, call (608) 212-8690.
The box office opens at 7 p.m.
The husband-and-wife team of conductor Kyle Knox (below top) and violinist Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), will be the featured performers. Knox is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Greenholtz is the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The program includes selected “Slavonic Dances” by Antonin Dvorak; the popular Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn, with soloist Naha Greenholtz; and the Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, with Hilary Hahn, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
A free informal meet-and-greet reception follows the concert.
For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including its upcoming concerts and opportunities to join it and support it, go to: