The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Native daughter violist Vicki Powell returns from her globe-trotting career to solo this Friday night in music by Vaughan Williams with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

March 21, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.

Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).

More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.

And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.

She then attended the Juilliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. (You can see her typical day at Curtis in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.

It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.

The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.

For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:

And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:

Classical music Q&A: The Madison-born Naughton Twins – Christina and Michelle – talk about their performances of Poulenc gorgeous and witty Concerto for Two Pianos this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 29, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend was Homecoming at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This weekend, it will be a homecoming of sorts at the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center.

That’s when the twin Naughton sisters – Christina and Michelle (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) – return as professionally now fully launched into their career as duo-pianists.  They are even official Steinway Artists.

In the past, they have both won the MSO’s concerto competition for young artists. They studied privately with UW pianist Christopher Taylor before completing their undergraduate work at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where they both won a prestigious prize. They now live in New York City, have released their first CD for the German label Orfeo and concertize around the world.

Here is a link to their webpage at their agent, Columbia Artists Management Inc. with a full biography, video and clips, and laudatory reviews:

And here is a link to the Naughtons’ own webpage:

In Madison they will perform Francis Poulenc’s neo-Classical style Concerto for Two Pianos. Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” and Schubert’s last Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944, “The Great” are also featured on the program to be conducted by MSO music director and conductor John DeMain.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland will lead the prelude discussions an hour before each performance. Tickets are $16.50-$78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, visit the MSO website:

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen, visit:

The Naughtons (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, Christina is on the left and Michelle is on the right) recently took time to give an email Q&A to The Ear:

What is it like to be twin sisters as a professional duo-piano team? Is it easier or harder as family?

We love being a duo-piano team. One of the best things about it is that we are never alone when we are touring. It makes it so much more fun.

It is hard to say whether it is easier or harder as family.

Perhaps the thing that is best about this arrangement is also the thing that sometimes makes it difficult: we are so close that we are completely open and honest with each other. There is nothing more helpful than a brutally honest opinion from the person one trusts the most, and sometimes there is nothing tougher to hear than a brutally honest opinion from the person one trusts the most.

We are also realizing more and more that our shared musical lives growing up together have given us a kind of private, shared “musical language” that lets us communicate even complex ideas with very few words and sometimes with no words. That might be hard to duplicate if we had not grown up together (below, the Naughton twins in 2007).

Do you ever you have disagreements about repertoire or interpretation or other matters, and if so how do you resolve them?

We absolutely have disagreements about repertoire, interpretation and all things musical; but we have come to regard this as a very positive thing. In the end, we believe these conflicts produce a result that is more meaningful than what either of us could come up with individually.

What would you like the audience to know about the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos? What should they listen for especially?

The Poulenc Concerto is a delight to share with audiences. One aspect of this piece is its remarkable combination of keen wit and good humor — two traits that apparently showcase the personality of the composer himself.

Though we are unfortunately too young to have experienced Poulenc’s sense of humor first-hand, we did have the wonderful opportunity to study this piece with pianist Evelyne Crochet, who performed this concerto with the Poulenc himself (below).

We are so grateful for this opportunity because of course with most of the concerti that we play (Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn), there is no possibility of discussing the work with anyone who has performed it with the composer. (At the bottom, Poulenc and another play the poignantly melodious second movement of the two-piano concerto in the YouTube video.)

What do you think of working again with John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra and returning to your hometown to perform?

We are so looking forward to this coming performance with Maestro DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. More importantly, we feel the aspiration to perform is very much cultivated on stage, not in a practice room, not in one’s living room, and our desire to become performers was born with this conductor and this symphony.

Was there an Aha! moment – a certain performer or performance or piece of music — for you individually or together when you realized you wanted to be a professional pianist or professional duo-pianists?

We vividly remember when we were under 10 years old performing the Haydn D major concerto (Christina) and the Mozart A major concerto (Michelle), hearing the beautiful orchestra, feeling our awakening desire to collaborate, with soloist, orchestra, and conductor reaching to speak to the audience — it was something very spontaneous, yet something that was possible only after many, many hours of serious practice.

When we experienced the thrill of hearing music come to life in such a way, the burning wish to say something through music was planted in our hearts.

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