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.
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 89.9 FM. For many years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Last Wednesday night, in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave what was billed as its “Holiday 2016 Concert.” Fortunately, it had no seasonal connection whatsoever—just a lot of good music.
Opening the program was a sequence of three Slavonic Dances (Nos. 1,4 and 8) by Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear the zesty and energetic first Slavonic Dance, performed by Seiji Ozawa and the Vienna Philharmonic, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The conductor this time, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below), was able to point up lots of instrumental details that could be easily lost, and the orchestra played with a lusty vigor appropriate to the folk flavor of this music.
After that, Knox’s wife, Naha Greenholtz (below) — who happens to be the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, among other things—joined the MCO in Felix Mendelssohn’s beautiful and very popular Violin Concerto in E minor.
Greenholtz played from the score, and some occasional technical blurrings suggested that she does not yet have the piece securely in her fingers.
Still, she clearly understands the work’s shape and contours, and I particularly appreciated her flowing tempo for the middle movement, not as slow as we too often hear it. Her overall effect with this concerto was handsome and colorful.
The main work was the Second Symphony by Brahms, which you can hear n the YouTube video at the bottom. This is a challenging work, especially when the important exposition repeat in the long first movement is honored, as Knox did.
Knox showed a thorough grasp of the score, and brought out its structures superbly. I found myself appreciating anew the wondrous way the composer is able to make his themes evolve to reveal unexpected beauties.
Well done, this is a richly satisfying work, and Knox drew out of his players (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) a truly satisfying performance.
The Middleton Community Orchestra continues to develop and progress. Just now, it is rather violin-heavy with 14 firsts and 18 seconds against only 9 violas and 13 cellos. These fiddlers need to blend better, and experience in working together will doubtless move them in that direction.
In general, the orchestra sounded quite healthy, fully supportive in the concerto and really accomplished in the symphony. All that is clearly the result of hard work, and Knox deserves a good deal of the credit for it.
Notable also was the large audience turnout. Middletonians can clearly be proud of their orchestra, and more and more of the Madison public is learning that a trip to the west side can be most rewarding.
The MCO is by now, in its seventh season, a valuable and appreciated component of our area’s musical life.
By Jacob Stockinger
A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.
The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:
The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:
But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.
There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).
Here are two relevant links:
WISCONSIN UNION THEATER
Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).
Here is a link to shows for the second semester:
And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.
Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.
Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.
Here are two links:
And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.
Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.
Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?
Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?
Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice from one of his favorite classical musical groups in the area:
String players: This is your chance to join the largely amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in photos by Brian Ruppert).
We need string players for our upcoming season, and we’ll hold short, informal auditions in August.
There are no openings in the other sections right now, but please spread the word to your string-playing friends.
For more information, contact us through our website at http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/contact_us.
ALERT: The Ear reminds you that TODAY is the monthly “Sunday Live From the Chazen” chamber music concert. The program today features UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer, violinist Tyrone Greive (retired concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Michael Keller in music by Edvard Grieg and other Norwegian composers, including songs and sonatas. The live concert starts at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. Admission is FREE. You can also stream it live by using this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Probably the premiere musical event of 2015 was the summer debut of the new group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below).
The critics and audiences agreed: The programs and performances were simply outstanding. Many of the players perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, there Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians and other acclaimed local groups.
Now the second season of five concerts – including one noontime lunch concert — will begin on this coming Friday night, July 8, at 6 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Madison’s near east side.
The first program features regular members and guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below).
Beia plays second violin in the Pro Arte Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and also serves at concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition, she performs in the Rhapsodie Quartet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The program includes the lovely “Souvenir of Florence” (1892) by Peter Tchaikovsky and the haunting Entr’acte for String Quartet (2011) by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Dashon Burton). You can hear the Entr’acte in the YouTube video at the bottom. (The Ear hopes one day the group will do Shaw’s “By and By” with strings and a vocalist.)
It’s too bad that the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition is on the same night. You would hope that such conflicts could be avoided in the summer.
Theoretically you can make it to both concerts since the aria competition starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. But it will probably be a hectic scurry from one to the other.
Here is a link to more information about the Handel Aria Competition:
In any case, here is the schedule of the entire second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players.
It is varied and impressive, especially in how it combines old masterpieces with modern and contemporary works. It features pieces by Philip Glass, Arnold Schoenberg, UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger, George Crumb, Dmitri Shostakovich, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arcangelo Corelli and Georges Enescu :
A season subscription is $50. Individual concerts are $15 except for the Black Angels video art concert, which is $20.
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 for 12 years hosted 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. He also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) finished its fifth season with a concert on Wednesday night that was a kind of brass sandwich—that is, a brass filling between two noisy slices of bread.
The opener was the popular “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak, the closest this composer ever came to producing a cheap crowd-pleaser.
(I wish that the enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below), had chosen instead one of the other two overtures in Dvorak’s trilogy of “Nature, Life and Love,” which are much more substantial.)
The orchestra gave the overture a lusty performance, revealing some interesting wind details that one does not often hear.
There were two sandwich fillers.
The first was a concerto for tuba, dating from 2015. The composer, local musician and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus Pat Doty (below), was also the soloist.
Of its three movements, the first was clearly in the idiom of music for marching band, in which Doty has had long UW experience. The second movement was an attempt at a waltz, while the finale had Latin American odors and featured a prominent part for marimba. What to say? The program bio made the sensible point that Doty’s music “never takes itself too seriously.”
A more substantial score was the other filling, the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, Op. 91, by Russian late-Romantic Reinhold Glière, also in three movements. (Sadly, the program booklet failed to list the movements for each concerto.)
While this score may not be really great music, it is a splendid, if difficult, vehicle for the soloist.
Another UW-Madison grad, Paul Litterio (below), a player in many area orchestras including both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (and with a sideline in handbells), was the soloist. Playing with perfect technique, an elegant style and just a touch of teasing vibrato, Litterio gave a fascinating demonstration of his instrument in a solo capacity that we do not often hear.
The closing bread for the sandwich was another example of near-vulgar bombast by one of its masters: Tchaikovsky (below). If that was the kind of music to be written, he was the one to do it, and still make you admire him.
The Capriccio Italien, Op. 40, was the composer’s reaction to a visit to Rome. He evoked his neighborhood and, above all, the riotous sounds and songs of a Roman Carnival. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tchaikovsky’s capacity for making bombast sound like fun creates a really delightful score, and the Middleton players poured all their energies into it.
(An interesting footnote: Tchaikovsky’s other musical product of his visits to Italy is a very different work, the gorgeous string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Memory of Florence), which is less about Italy itself and more a picture of the composer’s homesickness. As it happens, that masterpiece will be played on July 8 by the Willy Street Chamber Players.)
By Jacob Stockinger
The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO, below), which has gotten better and better and rarely disappoints even in ambitious and difficult music, will wind up its fifth anniversary season this coming Wednesday night with a brass extravaganza.
The performance is at 7:30 p.m. in the modern, comfortable and spacious Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.
Tickets are $10; students get in for FREE.
Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West. The Box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the doors open at 7 p.m.
The program includes The “Capriccio Italienne” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Carnival Overture by Antonin Dvorak; the Horn Concerto by Reinhold Glière with soloist Paul Litterio (below); and the world premiere of the Tuba Concerto by University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate Pat Doty, who will also be the soloist.
Steve Kurr (below) will conduct.
Here is a link with more information about the MCO and how to join it and support it:
Composer and tuba performer Pat Doty (below, in a photo by Steven Thompson) answered an email Q&A for The Ear:
Can you tell us briefly about your background, including your education and performance history?
I grew up in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. I hold a master’s degree in tuba performance from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where I was a member of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band for four years, including three trips to the Rose Bowl.
While at the UW-Madison, I performed with the Wind Ensemble (including a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City), Concert Band, Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble, the Middleton Community Orchestra, Low Brass Ensemble, 4BA Tuba Quartet, Madrigal Singers and the Lumberjack Brass Quintet.
My solo tuba performance credits range from solo recitals to guest appearances at schools across southern Wisconsin.
When and how did you start composing? What works have you written in the past?
I first started writing music when I was in high school and I was very interested in singer/songwriters like Elton John and Billy Joel. During my time at Mount Horeb High School, I wrote more than 500 songs, most of which never made it past the grand piano in the living room.
When I started graduate school, the tuba studio at UW-Madison was treated to a guest performance by Øystein Baadsvik, who really inspired me to start writing for tuba. I was also heavily influenced by my undergraduate professor, John Stevens (below).
My catalogue now includes dozens of works for solo tuba, chamber ensembles and large ensembles. It probably comes as no surprise that I compose rather frequently for tuba quartet and brass quintet.
Additionally, I write a great deal of music for my wife Brigid, who holds a degree in vocal performance from UW-Madison, to sing with me accompanying her on the piano.(You can hear them in a YouTube video at the bottom in a song by Pat Doty.)
How would you describe your compositional style — tonal or atonal, accessible, melodic and so forth?
My music is tonal, accessible, melodic and so forth. I jest, but I really do strive to write music that is very fun, beautiful and accessible to a wide-ranging audience.
My major influences are not famous classical composers, but rather those musicians who I listened to when I was growing up.
For example, I draw a lot from pop music and classic rock. I know that might seem like an odd connection — pop music and the tuba — but I have always fallen back on my vocal training to instruct my tuba playing, and I see no reason why the same connection shouldn’t exist in my compositions.
To put it simply, I approach writing for solo tuba (with any sort of accompaniment) in quite the same way that I approach writing a song at the piano. I always have a poem, an idea, something in mind that inspires me. For example, my tuba duet “Mendota” is based on a poem that I wrote for a pop song, but it works beautifully for an instrumental piece.
What would you like the public to know about your new Tuba Concerto, which you will perform and premiere with the Middleton Community Orchestra?
First and foremost, my Tuba Concerto doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is a recurring theme in my music. I am very excited for the premiere with the Middleton Community Orchestra, which is sounding great by the way, and I really hope that people have as much fun and find as much joy in listening as I do playing this music.
A couple of interesting quirks to note are that there is a large, essential euphonium part in this piece, and that there is a marimba solo in the third movement. These are both things that, I think it is safe to say, are not particularly common in orchestral music.
I used a euphonium (below) and no tuba in the orchestra because I want this to be a piece that an orchestra could use to feature their own tubist if they so choose. Also, I am friends with quite a few euphonium players.
What else would you like to say?
First, I would like to say thank you to the Middleton Community Orchestra for premiering my Tuba Concerto. I am very much looking forward to the performance for many reasons, not the least of which is that this will be my first chance to present my compositions to a broad classical music audience.
I would also like to mention my new record label, Merp Entertainment, which I co-founded with my wife Brigid last year. Our debut CD “Dare to Entertain” has found national success, particularly on the internet streaming service Spotify, where it has amassed more than 3 million song streams to date.
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 for 12 years hosted 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
It was a short program — lasting under an hour — but an outstanding one, that the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave on Wednesday evening.
There were only two works, but profoundly challenging ones, and associate conductor Kyle Knox (below) really put his amateur players’ feet to the fire.
That creates a uniquely etherial sound, but one that takes great effort to bring off. The MSO has been developing a surprisingly fine string band. Its violinists met the demands of tone and balance beautifully, producing a performance of transcendent beauty.
The other, longer, work was a symphony heard far too rarely. This was the Symphony No. 3 of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (below).
I say quite frankly that it is my favorite among the symphonies of Sibelius. After the post-Tchaikovsky bombast of the First and Second, it was in this Third that the composer first found his own orchestral voice, establishing how to make his instruments and their ensembles work in ways that were totally his.
In its use of variations, and especially of thematic evolution, the Third also drafted the blueprint for the Fifth Symphony, which conductors and audiences adore, but to the cruel eclipse of the Third.
This Third– which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom– is not an easy work to bring off. Its orchestral textures are full of tricky intricacies. No surprise that, here and there, one might hear quick moments in which the tension slackened. But Knox drew the players through a performance of beauty and power, finely honed and sonorously rendered.
The players clearly relish working under Knox. (The orchestra’s founding father, Steve Kurr, was sitting modestly in the viola section for this concert.) Knox’s own growth as a conductor is paired with his guiding of the orchestra to higher and higher achievements. Just for programming the Sibelius Third, I award him strong praise, but for bringing it off so well I must multiply my accolades.
I take this as a landmark event for the MCO—a genuine achievement. It is sad that the audience was not larger. Madison music-lovers, where are you when music and artistry like this is available to you?
I anticipate ranking this as my “concert of the year” when the final returns are in!
By Jacob Stockinger
Just a reminder today from Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, co-founders and co-directors of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which has provided The Ear with many more memorable musical moments than he would have ever expected from a mostly amateur group.
On this coming Wednesday night, April 13, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present an early Spring Concert.
It features our regular guest conductor, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below bottom) in a performance of the Prelude to Act 1 of the opera “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner and the too rarely heard Symphony No. 3 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose centennial was last year.
(You can hear the Wagner overture, performed by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom. The Ear generally loves Wagner’s orchestral writing — so shimmering and so sensual — much more than his vocal writing, which often seems likes protracted shouting. Is The Ear alone in that?)
This music is gorgeous, and we promise you a short and very sweet evening–great music with a reception (below) to follow.
The concert is at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School at 2100 Bristol Street.
General admission is $10. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy St. Coop West.
All students are admitted free of charge.
The box office opens at 7 p.m.
For more information about the rest of its season and about how to support or join the Middleton Community Orchestra, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Take children’s fairy tales – such as “Sleeping Beauty” (below) — and recast them through adult reinterpretations. You can get some pretty weird and dark and humorous results.
This weekend and early next week, University Opera – the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – will give three performances in Music Hall of the work on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as first posted here mistakenly) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: An ad on Wisconsin Public Radio erroneously lists the performance times on Friday and Tuesday nights as 7 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.)
Admission is $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.
Members of the cast even posted an invitation video on YouTube:
For more information, visit the A Tempo blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which features remarks from interim opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is based in New York City, and details about the pre-concert discussion on Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will also be talk back sessions after each performance.):
The music director is graduate student in conducting Kyle Knox (below), who recently conducted Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” for the Madison Opera and who conducts ensembles at the UW-Madison and the Middleton Community Orchestra.
For even more background, visit:
Here is a sample, a YouTube video of the “Hansel and Gretel” section of “Transformations”: