The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland, thanks to an interview with Paul Baker on the “Only Strings” blog.

August 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is hard to imagine a more well-rounded classical music fan. He is a listener for all seasons.

He is Norman Gilliland (below).


He hosts The Midday show on Wisconsin Public Radio every weekday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The show includes recorded music, historical anecdotes, a daily quiz and, increasingly, guests — especially young people — who perform music live in the studio.


Gilliland more than holds his own with professionals and veterans such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director and conductor John DeMain and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s music director Andrew Sewell and various soloists that come to the two orchestras and the Madison Opera and the Wisconsin Union Theater. (You can hear Gilliland interview members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But The Ear thinks he really shines when it comes to hosting young people and encouraging them to talk and perform -– not an easy task.

He writes notes for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s indoors season and serves as the announcer for the WCO’s Concerts on the Square.

He has written three novels and two collections of music anecdotes.

And on top of all that, he is a really nice, friendly guy.

You can see for yourself, thanks to a terrific interview that local writer Paul Baker (below) did for his “Only Strings” blog that is attached to the program of the same name that he hosts for the UW-Madison radio station WSUM.

Paul Baker at WSUM

Here is a link:

Classical music: The famed Westminster Choir will perform with organ in Overture Hall this coming Saturday night.

January 7, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not being a close follower of choral music, I do not know a lot of choruses or choirs around the nation or world by name.

Like most Americans my age, I of course know about the mammoth and impressive Mormon Tabernacle Choir since I grew up on recordings and TV appearances by the group based in Salt Lake City.

And like most Madisonians, I know the name of the Festival Choir, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Madison Opera Chorus, among other local groups.

But the nationally known choir that I remember mostly fondly is the same one I heard decades ago with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Leonard Bernstein and with pianist Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and his “Choral Fantasy,” which is a preliminary sketch-like work for the Ninth Symphony with a piano part thrown in.

The name of that first-rate choir is The Westminster Choir (below).

Westminster Choir 1

And it is REALLY good, as I was reminded again recently when I listened to their CD of holiday music.

No surprise, I suppose. After all, it is composed of specialists: of student from Westminster choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Every summer it is in residence at the internationally renowned Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.

Its 40 members form the core of the 175-voice Westminster Symphonic Chorus that still performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other major European orchestras.

In any case, sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Westminster Choir is coming to town and will perform this Saturday night in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information about the performers and a complete program, visit

The concert’s generous program includes vocal music from the 15th through the 21st centuries, including works by J.S. Bach, Debussy, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten and Morten Lauridsen among others, and will also feature several works for solo organ, some quite virtuosic, played on the impressive custom-built Klais concert organ (below) in Overture Hall.

overture organ

Decide for yourself. Here is a sample, the most visited one on YouTube, with such lovely quality singing, of the Westminster Choir:

Classical music: Holiday Gift-Giving Guide Part 5: Does Christmas these days bring fewer classical music albums to mark the holidays and offer as holidays gifts?

December 20, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

In the midst of the holiday gift-giving season – well, at least in the last-minute throes of it anyway – NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence” has raised an interesting and intriguing question that should engage all classical music fans at this time of the year.

Are recording companies offering the public fewer holiday-themed classical albums? (Below is a collage sampling of some classical holiday albums from recent years.)


Some individuals (vocalists especially) and ensembles (choirs and orchestras especially) still do seem to offer holiday treats often, if not every year – though nowhere near the number of holiday albums that more popular genres such as pop and country manage to produce. Nevertheless, The Ear still thinks there is something to the accusation.

However, I would also add that in general, the industry probably has too many old-time recordings of Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” or Handel’s “Messiah” or J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto – to take four prominent or well-known examples — to do some new ones. (below is a remastered classic 1959 version of Handel’s “Messiah” with Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir.)

Messiah 1959 older version

Increasingly, I wonder, maybe the answer lies in more specialty titles of less well-known repertoire – perhaps pre-Bach early music or else Arvo Part-type contemporary music — that are not likely to be duplicates from the archives of earlier analogue and digital recordings.

Anyway, here is a link to the NPR story, with audio sample and links to holiday classical albums that make great gifts as well as reader comments:

What do you think about the state of holiday recordings issued for the holidays?

The Ear wants to hear.

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