The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As superstar Itzhak Perlman turns 75, a critic assesses his virtues and shortcomings in playing both the violin and his audiences

September 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Monday, Aug. 31, superstar violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Yael Malka of The New York Times) turned 75.

To celebrate, Sony Classical released a boxed set of 18 CDs (below) with many performances by Perlman – solo, chamber music and concertos – recorded over many years.

On the occasion of Perlman’s birthday, critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim of The New York Times wrote a retrospective review of Perlman’s long career. (You can hear his most popular performance ever — with more than 6 million hits — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear finds the opinion piece both brave and truthful, pointing out Perlman’s mastery of the Romantic repertory but also criticizing his stodgy treatment of Vivaldi and other Baroque music that has benefitted from the period-instrument movement and historically informed performance practices

Yet the essay, which also touches on ups and down of Perlman’s career, always remains respectful and appreciative even when discussing Perlman’s shortcomings.

Offering many historical details and photos as well as sample videos, the critical assessment of Perlman seems perfectly timed.

The Ear hopes you enjoy it as much as he did. Here is a link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/arts/music/itzhak-perlman-violin.html

If you have heard Itzhak Perlman either on recordings or live – at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the old Civic Center or Overture Hall — let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The amateur, acclaimed and affordable Middleton Community Orchestra suspends its new season until further notice

September 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when many concert schedules are getting complicated due to virtual online concerts and other alternatives because of the coronavirus pandemic and Covid-19, the message couldn’t be simpler.

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) has suspended its new season until further notice.

You can check for additional information by going to the website: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

There it says: “Concerts are postponed until further notice. Check back here and join our email list for updates to the season.”

It’s too bad.

The season took a lot of organizing. It was going to take place in alternative venues because the Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School, is undergoing renovations. (In the YouTube at the bottom, you can hear the MCO performing the Overture to Wagner’s opera “Die Meistersinger.”

It was also to feature new soloists including violinist David Perry of the UW-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, and two guest conductors from Edgewood College and the UW-Whitewater.

It could also mean another cancellation of the new teenage concerto competition and concert as well as the cancellation of conductor Kyle Knox’s inaugural season as the MCO’s new music director (below).

Here is the largely amateur, well planned, unquestionably ambitious and very affordable season that was scheduled: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-announces-an-ambitious-2020-21-season-with-new-soloists-and-conductors-but-with-no-middleton-venue-for-the-season/

Do you have comments for the MCO?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Here is how the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) plan to continue lessons and performances this fall despite the coronavirus pandemic

August 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has just received the following updates from an email newsletter about the upcoming season of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Over more than 50 years, WYSO has served tens of thousands of middle school and high school students in southcentral Wisconsin and northern Illinois. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the WYSO Youth Orchestra play a virtual performance from the past season of the famous finale from Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture.)

After many weeks of planning, and in consultation with Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) and the McFarland School District, WYSO is excited to announce a fall semester plan that will mark a safe return to in-person music-making—and our first season at the McFarland Performing Arts Center (below) https://www.wysomusic.org/the-wyso-weekly-tune-up-april-17-2020-wysos-new-home/

We had a brief delay last Friday when PHMDC released Emergency Statement #9 delaying in-person start dates for all schools in Dane County. We checked in with the Public Health agency and they re-affirmed that WYSO is not a school —and the 15 students maximum-sized groups outlined in this plan are absolutely perfect. It is time to set up the tents!

The WYSO season will begin on the weekend of Sept. 5, when the winds and brass students from all three full orchestras (Youth, Philharmonia and Concert) will begin their fall rehearsals outside under two enormous tents in the McFarland High School parking lot (below). The 60 winds and brass students will be divided into approximately nine or 10 cohorts, who will meet in two-hour blocks on Saturdays and Sundays.

With a single cohort of masked and socially distanced students spread out within the 40′ x 60′ tent, with “bell covers and bags” for their instruments, the season will not look like any previous WYSO Fall.

If you’ve not been involved in the new science of aerosol transmission, this whole scenario might seem very curious. The reasoning is simple: The winds and brass instruments have been singled out as more problematic since you have to blow into them to make music. The blowing releases more “aerosols,” the tiny droplets that can transmit the coronavirus.

However, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have recently released the first results from a five-month study and have found that the following actions bring down the transmission risk considerably:

  1. Social distancing 9 to 15 feet apart.
  2. Adding bell covers and bags (below) for the instruments (essentially the instruments have to wear masks as well as the students).
  3. Playing outside, which reduces risks due to the increased air circulation.

Because we are in Wisconsin, the “outdoor” location shortens the season for the winds and brass players so by beginning the season on Sept. 5 and ending on the weekend of Oct. 24, they can just squeeze in an 8-week cycle.

Meanwhile, the WYSO string and percussion players, approximately 300 in number and representing all five orchestras, will begin their fall season indoors on Oct. 17, after McFarland moves to a hybrid model for the school year.

The string players will be divided into 15-student cohorts by orchestra, with a wonderful mix of violins, violas, cellos and basses in each group, and with the groups spread throughout one wing of the high school in large music rooms and atriums.

The percussionists have been scheduled into the new Black Box Theater and they are excited to begin playing on the brand new marimbas and timpani so recently acquired by WYSO through a gift from an incredibly generous anonymous donor.

Everything has been carefully scheduled so that at any given time there will not be more than 125 students, conductors and staff in the building.

Start and end times have been staggered. The large beautiful spaces at McFarland will easily hold the socially distanced and mask-wearing players. And the orchestras will again be scheduled into Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons. Even the WYSO Chamber Music Program (below) has been scheduled into the intricate puzzle.

The rest of this exciting fall story has to do with adding incredibly talented professional musicians to lead some of the cohorts and the amazing repertoire available for groups of 15 musicians, whether they play winds, brass, strings or percussion.

From Mozart’s “Gran Partita” to Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 2 and 6; from Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite” to Bartok’s Divertimento, and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings — there is almost an “embarrassment of riches” of exciting, seldom-played repertoire, to quote WYSO Music Director Kyle Knox (below). And this fall, that repertoire will be right in WYSO’s wheelhouse.

WYSO will video-capture this year’s Fall Concerts of students playing in the beautiful McFarland Performing Arts Center to 800 empty seats and let you know the exact Fall Concert dates as we get closer. Click here for additional information.

While WYSO is incredibly excited about our in-person plan for rehearsals and playing music together, we have also drawn up two alternate plans, and know that not everyone will be able to participate in-person.

WYSO Registration is underway, and we are asking those who cannot participate in the McFarland experience to let us know their needs through the registration process, so that we can create the best virtual experience possible for those involved. Tuition payment is not due at registration.

To register, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org/members/wyso-registration-form/

 


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Classical music: Meet Alexander Gonzalez, the new assistant band director at the UW-Madison who is also a UW alumnus

August 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release from the UW-Madison about its new assistant band director. Like many of his musician colleagues at the UW-Madison, he is likely to see his duties curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19.

After the completion of a national search, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music is pleased to announce the hiring of Alexander Gonzalez (below, in a photo by Robb McCormick) as the new assistant director of bands.

Gonzalez will conduct the Tuesday Night University Band, assist the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, direct the Men’s Hockey Band, and teach courses in conducting.

Gonzalez comes to Wisconsin after studying conducting at Ohio State University as a Doctorate of Musical Arts candidate, where he worked with all concert ensembles and the marching band. Alongside his studies, he was the director of the Professional School Orchestra and taught conducting at Capital University’s Conservatory of Music.

“We are thrilled to welcome Alexander and his wife Haley to the University of Wisconsin Marching Band family,” said Associate Director of Bands Corey Pompey (below). “Alexander is a supremely gifted musician and pedagogue whose role is integral to the success of our band program. He is thoughtful, engaging and direct. Our students will benefit in immeasurable ways from what he has to offer.”

Prior to his studies in Ohio, Gonzalez was a public school educator in Colorado and Florida, where he taught an array of courses at middle school and high school levels.

While participating in his Master’s degree in Wind Conducting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was the director of the Middleton High School Symphony Orchestra’s Wind Octet and worked in education and community outreach with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Alexander Gonzalez conducting the UW-Madison’s University Band in Michael J. Miller’s “Tribute for Band” in Mills Hall in 2014.)

“I am beyond excited to return to a place I consider home,” said Gonzalez (below). “The bands at UW-Madison were integral in forming the educator I am today. And I am equally excited to create a musical environment where present and future students can feel as loved, challenged and respected as I did.”

Gonzalez holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Florida and is an active member in the National Association for Music Education, the College Band Directors National Association, the National Band Association, Phi Mu Alpha, Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma.

“Professor Gonzalez brings with him a wealth of knowledge from his background in teaching music at the public school and college levels,” said Director of Bands Scott Teeple  (below). “He is an extraordinary musician, pedagogue and individual. Alexander’s contributions to the UW Band program and the Mead Witter School of Music will deepen the musical experiences of our students. We consider ourselves fortunate to have him as a member of our team.”

 


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Classical music: Meet Mariana Farah, the new choral director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

August 17, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Following a national search, Mariana Farah (below) has been chosen to succeed Beverly Taylor as the new director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Due to prior commitments, Farah cannot start her duties until the fall of 2021. But the delay is understandable given that the coronavirus pandemic continues and group singing remains a particularly hazardous or high-risk activity during the public health crisis. (See her comments about choral singing during Covid-19 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

(In case you are wondering, Taylor, who retired from the UW-Madison last spring, will continue as director of the Madison Symphony Chorus. One wonders if she will still have a chance to do performances of the requiems by Verdi and Dvorak, both of which were canceled due to Covid-19.)

At a time when more focus is being placed on diversity, the Brazilian-born Farah (below) seems an especially apt choice.

Here is the official UW press release about Farah’s appointment along with much biographical material:

“Mariana Farah is the Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, where she teaches courses in graduate choral literature and conducting, directs the university’s Concert Choir and Women’s Chorale (below bottom), and helps oversee all aspects of the choral program.

Born in Brazil, Farah received her Bachelor of Music degree from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas; her Master’s degree from the University of Iowa; and her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Her choirs have successfully performed at the Missouri and Kansas Music Educators Association conventions and at the 2008 and 2018 Southwestern ACDA conferences.

Farah’s research focuses on Brazilian choral music, particularly the a cappella choral works of Ernani Aguiar (b. 1950, below). Her edition of Aguiar’s “Três Motetinos No. 2” has been published by Earthsongs, and she expects to introduce more of his music to the United States through performances, recordings, editions and future publications of his unknown choral literature.

In addition to her work at KU, Farah (below) maintains an active schedule as a clinician for festivals in Brazil and in the U.S., where she is often sought out for her expertise in Brazilian choral music.

Farah has presented at several conferences for the National Association for Music Education and the American Choral Directors Association.

Recent engagements include appearances as a conductor at the 2019 Northwest Kansas Music Educators Association High School Honor Choir; the 2018 Southwestern ACDA conference, 2016 and 2014 Kansas Music Educators Association Convention; Universidade de São Paulo-Ribeirão Preto; Universidade Estadual de Campinas; Universidade Estadual de Maringá; Festival de Música de Londrina; Adams State Honor Choir Festival; the 2015 Kantorei Summer Choral Institute, a residency with the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum; and the 2014 Idaho All-State Treble Choir.

Farah is the music director at First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, where she directs the Chancel Choir and oversees a thriving music program. She also serves as the interim 2019-20 conductor for the Wichita Chamber Chorale (below) and as a board member of the National Collegiate Choral Organization.

She has served as the president elect (2018-2020) and R&R Chair for Ethnic and Multicultural Perspectives (2014-2018) for the ACDA Southwestern Division.

As a singer, Farah performed with the Kansas City Te Deum Chamber Choir (2015-2018) and participated in their 2016 recording of Brahms’ “A German Requiem” (Centaur Records). The recording was recognized by The American Prize, naming Te Deum a semi-finalist for best Choral Performance (community division) for the 2019-20 contest.

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Classical music: Meet Conor Nelson, the new flute professor at the UW-Madison

August 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music has a new flute professor who follows Timothy Hagen in taking the place of retired longtime predecessor Stephanie Jutt, who continues to perform locally with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society..

He is Conor Nelson (below) and he starts later this month at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here is the biography — impressive for both his performing and his teaching –that the university released: 

“Praised for his “long-breathed phrases and luscious tone” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Canadian flutist Conor Nelson is established as a leading flutist and pedagogue of his generation.

“Since his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, he has frequently appeared as soloist and recitalist throughout the United States and abroad.

“Solo engagements include concertos with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Flint Symphony, and numerous other orchestras.

“In addition to being the only wind player to win the Grand Prize at the WAMSO (Minnesota Orchestra) Young Artist Competition, he won first prize at the William C. Byrd Young Artist Competition. He also received top prizes at the New York Flute Club Young Artist Competition, the Haynes International Flute Competition as well as the Fischoff, Coleman and Yellow Springs chamber music competitions. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Conor Nelson perform the second and third movements of the Flute Sonata by French composer Francis Poulenc.)

“With percussionist Ayano Kataoka (below left, with Nelson), he performed at Merkin Concert Hall, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Hall and Izumi Hall. A recital at the Tokyo Opera City Hall received numerous broadcasts on NHK Television. Their CD entitled, “Breaking Training” was released on New Focus Recordings (NYC). His second CD, “Nataraja,” with pianist Thomas Rosenkranz, is also available on New Focus.

“He has collaborated with pianist Claude Frank on the Schneider concert series in New York City and appeared at numerous chamber music festivals across the country including the OK Mozart, Bennington, Skaneateles, Yellow Barn, Cooperstown, Salt Bay, Look and Listen (NYC), Norfolk (Yale), Green Mountain, Chesapeake, and the Chamber Music Quad Cities series.

“He is the Principal Flutist of the New Orchestra of Washington in Washington, D.C., and has performed with the Detroit, Toledo and Tulsa Symphony Orchestras. He also performed as guest principal with A Far Cry, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, and the Conceirtos de la Villa de Santo Domingo.

“A respected pedagogue, Dr. Nelson has given master classes at over 100 colleges, universities and conservatories.

“Prior to his appointment at UW-Madison, he served as the flute professor at Bowling Green State University for nine years and as the Assistant Professor of Flute at Oklahoma State University from 2007-2011.

“His recent residencies include Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea; the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, China; the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico; and the Associacao Brasileira de Flautistas in Sao Paulo.

“He is also a regular guest of the Texas Summer Flute Symposium and has been the featured guest artist for 11 flute associations across the country. His former students can be found performing in orchestras, as well as teaching at colleges, universities and public schools nationwide. They have also amassed over 60 prizes in young artist competitions, concerto competitions and flute association competitions.

“Nelson received degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University and Stony Brook University where he was the winner of the school-wide concerto competitions at all three institutions. He is also a recipient of the Thomas Nyfenger Prize, the Samuel Baron Prize and the Presser Award.

“His principal teachers include Carol Wincenc, Ransom Wilson, Linda Chesis, Susan Hoeppner and Amy Hamilton. Nelson is a Powell Flutes artist and is the Assistant Professor of Flute at UW-Madison where he performs with the Wingra Wind Quintet.”

 


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Classical music: How can classical music be made less white? Nine Black artists suggest changes. Which ones will work best?

July 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

With all the attention given to and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement — and other demonstrations and protests against personal and systemic racism as well as white privilege — it comes as no surprise that questions are being raised about the overwhelmingly white world of classical music and how to change it.

Most of the local classical music groups The Ear knows of have posted statements of solidarity.

If he recalls correctly, they include the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), the Middleton Community Orchestra, the Willy Street Chamber Players and many others.

But beyond declarations of solidarity with people of color, the music groups face deeper issues that require action, not just words, and remain more difficult to solve: How to attract more Black  classical musicians? How to foster more Black composers? And how to attract more Black audiences?

Diversity and equity are long-term issues, and quite a number of possible solutions loom.

Would performing more pieces, both historical and contemporary, by Black composers (below) work?

Would hiring more Black resident musicians help?

Would booking more Black guest artists and soloists help? (Below is the young and upcoming British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason.)

Would changing the music curriculum in schools help? (Some important Black composers are explored in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Would generating more support to and from the Black community help?

Last week The New York Times did a fine piece of work in addressing these issues.

The reporter and music editor asked nine different accomplished Black conductors, instrumentalists, singers, critics and administrators in classical music about how to solve the inequity. The interviews were condensed and edited into very readable statements.

Here is a link to that story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/black-classical-music-opera.html

Please read it.

Then let us know which suggestions you think should be attempted first and which solutions are most likely to work.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Festival is CANCELED. Plus, a teenager’s piano “practice journal” on Instagram is instructive, entertaining and encouraging

July 17, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: This summer’s Token Creek Festival (TCF) — with the chamber music theme of Legacy to run from Aug. 21-Sept. 6 –has been CANCELED. Organizers say they hope to launch a virtual online season of archived performances at the end of the summer.  Also, once modestly sized gatherings are safe again, the TCF hopes to hold an off-season event. For more information and an official statement from TCF, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Somewhere in New York City is a young Chinese piano prodigy who can help you get through what is often the most challenging and discouraging part of piano lessons: practicing.

His name is Auston (below) – no last name is given – and you can find him, in T-shirts and shorts, on Instagram at Auston.piano.

Auston is quite the prodigy. A 13, he plays difficult and dramatic repertoire: the Nocturne in C minor, the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, all by Chopin.

You can also hear him play the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the fiendish Toccata by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

One day, The Ear expects, Auston might well be among the impressive amateurs and, later, professionals who compete in international competitions.

But more than listening to him playing, his frequent social media entries – sometimes he posts two or three times a day — allow us to hear him practice. We even hear him practicing scales – so-called Russian scales that combine scales in parallel and contrary motion.

This week, he hit 100 video posts. Just yesterday Auston started sight-reading the “Winter Wind” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 11, which many consider to be the most technically difficult of all Chopin’s etudes. (You can hear the etude – played by Maurizio Pollini – and see the note-filled score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Starting out, he often plays hands separately (below) and sight-reads the score very, very slowly, making mistakes and working out fingering. He also uses a metronome at a very slow tempo. He gets frustrated but he never gives up. He just starts over again and provides an excellent role model for aspiring piano students.

But this young man is also fun to read. In his one-minute or less entries of his “practice journal” – which he also calls his “practice journey” — he is witty and self-deprecating in his commentaries about the music and especially about himself when he makes mistakes. As seriously as he takes the piano and practicing, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

All in all he can even encourage others – including The Ear –to persevere and go through the same frustrations of practicing and learning a new piece.

In this case, it is the piano, but the postings could easily apply to practicing any other instrument or even to singing.

Check it out.

You will be impressed.

You will admire him.

You will laugh along with him.

And you just might practice more.

If this practice journal is a pandemic project, it succeeds way beyond what you — and probably Auston himself — might expect.

Happy listening!

And patient, productive practicing!

 


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Classical music: On Fridays in July, the critically acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players will offer both past performances and some new performances to be live-streamed

July 13, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following public announcement to post from the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a terrific chamber music group that he named as “Musicians of the Year” in 2016.

For more details and to subscribe to their email list, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

WE MISS YOU!

Today —  July 10 – would have been the day of our first concert of 2020.

Although it’s sad to think about what could’ve been, we look forward to new beautiful experiences with all of you in the years to come.

In the meantime, we have some exciting news!

We didn’t want you to go without your weekly Friday evening Willy Street Chamber Players fix this July, so we have put together some video memories that we’ll be sending out over the next few weeks.

Check your inbox on Fridays this month — you may want to add us to your email address book — for a weekly archived performance.

This week would’ve been one of our favorite events: our annual admission-free Community Connect performance at the Goodman Community Center.

In honor of that, we’d like to share a fun tidbit from 2017’s performance – Astor Piazzolla’s invigorating “Four, for Tango!” (Editor’s Note: You can see it and hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

We hope this short preview will get you excited for archived performances from Immanuel Lutheran Church in the coming weeks.

We’ll also be announcing some special live-streamed performances happening later this summer. We can’t wait to share what we have in store!

 


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