The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You’re invited to a FREE 12-hour marathon birthday party for Johann Sebastian Bach this Saturday. Plus, tonight’s concert of African-American music has been CANCELLED

March 14, 2017

ALERT: Tonight’s concert of African-American spirituals and songs has been CANCELLED because guest scholar and singer Emery Stephens is ill. The UW-Madison School of Music hopes to reschedule the event later this spring. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Guess who turns 332 on March 21?

This coming Saturday will bring a 12-hour, noon to midnight, marathon party for the Birthday Boy – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, seen below in a humorous poster for a similar event held several years ago).

The local event – now part of the nationwide “Early Music Month” — is being revived, thanks to Madison violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below), who performs with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Ancora String Quartet  and the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  and to many sponsors.

The party will take place at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below) on Regent Street. (Several years ago, the event, when it was sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, was held at the Pres House.) There will be live audio-visual streaming and free wi-fi, and the event will be recorded.

Here is a link to the updated schedule of performances:

Here is a link to an earlier post about the upcoming event:

If you love the music of Bach (below) – and The Ear doesn’t know anyone who is into classical music who doesn’t revere Bach — there will be a lot to love and to listen to at this FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC  celebration.

The event is modeled after a longtime similar event in New Orleans and those who attend it can come and go and come back again.

Local performers include groups and individuals who are professionals (Madison Bach Musicians and Wisconsin Chamber Choir), amateurs and students (Suzuki Strings of Madison).

The impressive program includes lots of variety.

There will be preludes and fugues.

Cantatas and concertos.

Sonatas and suites.

Obscure works will be performed.

But there will also be popular works such as two Brandenburg Concertos (Nos. 3 and 5), The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books I and II), the Magnificat, a Violin Concerto, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and some of The Art of Fugue. (You can hear Fugue No. 1  from “The Art of Fugue,” which will be performed at BATC, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

There will be music played on period instruments and on modern instruments, including the harpsichord and the piano; the baroque violin and the modern violin; older recorders and newer flutes, the viola da gamba and the cello. And of course there will be lots and lots of singing and organ music.

Given such a marathon undertaking, you should know that there will be refreshments (coffee, tea, bottled water and snacks), comfortable seating and special birthday cakes — served at midnight — provided by Clausen’s Eurpean Bakery in Middleton.

NOTE: You can find out more when several organizers and performers from Bach Around the Clock are Norman Gilliland’s guests on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” this coming Thursday from noon to 12:30 p.m.

For more information –including how to support the event with a donation and how to participate in it as a performer – go to the event’s homepage:

Here are some links to previous posts on this blog about attending earlier versions of Bach Around the Clock. Read them and look at the pictures, and you will see how enjoyable they are and how informative they are.

From 2010:

From 2011:“bach-around-the-clock”-concert-is-now-officially-a-tradition-in-madison-wisconsin/

From 2012:

See you there!

Classical music: Is American tenor Bryan Hymel the new King of the High C’s after the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very active Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez?

March 1, 2015
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

For tenors, High C’s are the brass ring on the carousel of opera.

The late great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the very busy Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez both earned fame and fortune with their singing of the astonishing nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera “La Fille du Regiment.”

In fact, Florez repeated the same nine high C’s as an encore and it brought down the house.

But it seems there may be another King of the High C’s in the making.

He is a native of New Orleans (isn’t that fitting?) and he is America tenor Bryan Hymel (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta for Warner Classics), who was recently featured on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” for NPR (National Public Radio).

You will surely be hearing more about him. The 35-year-old Hymel has already made his debut at the famed Metropolitan Opera, where he has sung in “Les Troyens” by Hector Berlioz — a role he also sang at the Royal Opera House in London. And he will open the Met’s 2018 season in “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.

Bryan Hymel CR Dario Acosta Warner Classics

Here is a link to that story by Tom Huizenga. It is complete with sound samples from Hymel’s debut album “Héroïque” — in particular the difficult aria “Asile héréditaire” from the opera “William Tell” by Giachino Rossini — and the CD features a total of 19 high C’s. That led Huizenga to proclaim: “This is why we listen to opera!”

The reader reviews of the new all-French album (below, with an audiovisual clip of the behind-the-scenes recording process) not only praise Hymel for his high C’s – and C-sharps and even D’s — but single out the quality of his singing.

You can hear that strong, pitch-accurate and seemingly effortless quality in one of The Ear’s favorite tenor arias: “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, which Hymel signs with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Classical music: What classical music goes best with Super Bowl 47 today since there are fewer live concerts to attend that conflict with the football game?

February 3, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Super Bowl Day.

Can you believe that tickets average $3,500?

Anyway, for Super Bowl 47 today in New Orleans — between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers — it seems like a lot of local music groups have learned the lessons of past years and not scheduled live concerts that conflict with the popular sports event.

Even if the Green Bay Packers aren’t playing in this year’s championship game –- which will start with a 5:30 p.m. CST kickoff on CBS tonight and can be watched on TV or streamed live on the CBS sports web site –- preventing or avoiding the loss of audiences to other events seems a wise choice.

So The Ear asks: Can you name a good classical piece that goes well with the Super Bowl?

Here is some of Aram Khachaturian’s score for the ballet “Spartacus” that seems to capture the right combative spirit:

And maybe Gustav Holst’s popular and dramatic “MarsThe Bringer of War” from his tone poem suite “The Planets” is another appropriate choice.

Can you name other works that capture the same spirit?

Let me know in  the COMMENT section, preferably with a link to a YouTube video.

I will appreciate it for this year – and I expect in future years, when maybe Green Bay will appear again.

And win.

Classical Music: Today is the last day in Madison to see the film “A Late Quartet.” It gets mixed reviews but brings classical music to the Big Screen and The Ear liked it a lot. What do you think?

December 18, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the second week that “A Late Quartet” (below is the film’s poster) is playing at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side. But its run will be curtailed and end today, unfortunately, to make room for all the new holiday film releases.

a late quartet poster

A friend reported that one showing had only two people in the audience. So it is not surprising that this art film about chamber music (the masterful late quartet, Op. 131, of Beethoven) and about a string quartet turning 25 won’t stay in Madison after today, as far as I know.

The Ear has heard both good things and bad things about the film. Then he went to see and hear it for himself.

For the most part, the cast is terrific and the acting by quartet members (below, from left) first violinist Mark Ivanir, second violinist Philip Seymour Hoffman, cellist Christopher Walken and violist Catherine Keener is very good and convincing.

A Late Quartet frontal

But the acting weakens, my musician friends tell me, during the scenes where they actually play music. Perhaps that is not surprising since even though, the stars were given lessons on their instruments professional musicians can be especially and deservedly picky about how the act of playing or making music is portrayed. It is kind of like watching TV shows about the law with a lawyer, or about medicine with a doctor, or about police work with an officer. “That’s not the way it really is” they invariably say. And they are correct, for the most part. That’s what makes it entertainment.

A Late Quartet rehearsing all 4

On the other hand, the script for the 1 hour and 45 minute-movie (the trailer or preview is at bottom) generally receives good reviews. Myself, I am all in favor of almost anything that brings serious attention and a relatively mass audience to classical music these days, even though certain scenes and plot points seem to me too melodramatic and predictable or banal, more worthy of opera than of chamber music. But that verdict is not unanimous, and reviewers don’t always agree on which scenes are the weakest. Still, I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Anyway, if you can manage to see it today, visit the website for Point Cinemas for showtimes and ticket prices (today’s are 1:25 p.m.; 4:05; 9:25 p.m.).  And for more info, visit:

In the meanwhile, here are several reviews to consider:

Here is one from The Washington Post (below is Philip Seymour Hoffman):

a late quartet-philip seymour hoffman

And here is a review from the New York Times:

Here is how the Chicago Tribune weighed in (below is Christopher Walken):

A Late Quartet Christopher Walken

And the rock magazine Rolling Stone reviewer took this view:

A New Orleans reviewer saw the film somewhat differently:

A Late Quartet toasting

Here is how the Huffington Post reviewer saw the film:

And Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, had this to say:

Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio has cancelled Bach Around the Clock 4 for March 2013 with no plans for a future revival.

November 8, 2012

Alert: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive from noon to 1:15 p.m., features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher, piano, in music by Copland and Bartok. For information, call (608) 233-1163.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has learned that Wisconsin Public Radio has cancelled, or at least indefinitely postponed, any plans for Bach Around the Clock 4, which would have taken place this March to mark the birthday — March 21, 1685 — of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Below is a photo of very young pianist at BATC 3 last March. If I recall correctly, he played one of the Short Preludes by Bach.)

The event was started four years ago by the Louisiana native Cheryl Dring (below), the former music director of WPR who left last summer to become Program Manager of KMFA, an Austin, Texas radio station, and who originated the Bach event and patterned it on a similar one held in New Orleans.

Usually in mid-March, student, amateurs and professionals all played tag-team Bach from noon until midnight at the Pres House off State Street to celebrate the Master’s birthday. The community event drew a loyal and sizable following, and was webcast (below) live by WPR.

Several factors have caused the cancellation of the event in March of 2013, according to WPR’s acting music director and radio host Lori Skelton (below).

One reason, Skelton said, is that so many other youth-oriented programs take place around the same time, including the Final Forte concerto competition with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition, also sponsored by WPR with the Wisconsin Union Theater.

An additional factor, Skelton said, was the fact that Dring had left but has not yet been replaced by a new music director, to be found through a national search, who would have the final say about whether BATC would to continue or abandon the event.

The Ear has also heard that due to retirements and state budget cuts, staffing at WPR has become thin and overworked to the point where planning and staffing the 12-hour marathon BATC would be a drain on human resources.

The Ear understands and appreciates the causes for the decision, but still feels that it is unfortunate. It is really too bad to see such a terrific community event that was just getting a solid foothold begin to lose ground and perhaps even to disappear. BATC had become a tradition that many people – including myself – practiced for months in advance, looked forward to, attended and learned from. It was especially welcome as winter gradually gave way to spring.

And of course it celebrated the music of J.S. Bach (below) the composer that many of us consider the greatest of all composers. Over four years I heard a lot of suites, preludes and fugues, chorales and other works, as interpreted from young students to seasoned professionals. I also heard a bagpiper and saxophonist perform Bach.  (At bottom is a YouTube video of bassoonist Cynthia Camerion Fix and flutist Casey Oelkers performing a Two-Part Invention in a transcription worthy of the Old Master humself.) How Bach, who himself loved transcriptions, would have loved the variety of homage!

The Ear had also heard the a similar event but focused on Romantic composers – so performers could play short works of Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and other composers – had been discussed.

“This is the first I ever heard about it,” said Skelton.

What do you think about Bach Around the Clock and its cancellation by Wisconsin Public Radio? Leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

What do you think about losing Bach Around the Clock 4?

Should WPR try to restore it or a similar event?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: When you go to one concert by Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you always end up wanting to hear more.

June 19, 2012
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It never fails to happen.

Every summer, I hear my first concert by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and I am so impressed and enthralled that I want to hear many more than I originally planned on.

For over two decades, BDDS has been a summertime fixture on Madison’s ever-expanding classical music scene. So I don’t know why that happens. I think it  has something to do with memory and interference, with so many other things and other concerts that take place over the intervening fall, winter and spring before BDDS revs up again.

I am not alone. After the final standing ovation (below) was over  at Saturday night’s concert in The Playhouse of the Overture Center, I heard a lot of other people saying the same thing.

Gotta go to more.

The theme of this concert was “Corpse Reviver” —  a New Orleans mixed drink designed to help cure a hangover that fits it with this summer’s overall theme of Mixology to mark BDDS’ coming of legal age and turning 21.

It might sound too cute. But it works, as BDDS themes usually do. On posters and programs is a great graphic of the Old Lutheran himself as  Bartender Bach (below) that was created by the Distillery Design Studio.

And there was music that also fit the description of the cocktail, works that started dark and hung over, so to speak, and ended up light and revived. It had to do with finishing a minor key work by Mozart in a major key, or adding a famous hymn-like chorale with the theme of redemption to the finale of a work by Mendelssohn.

And much of the usual show business transpired.

True, the crowd unfortunately seemed a bit smaller than in past years, perhaps because the free Cello Choir concert was going on down on the UW-Madison campus.

This summer, BDDS has booked more concerts downtown at The Playhouse. That’s a smart move in the long run, The Ear thinks. It’s the right space for chamber music  — good size (300 or so), good acoustics (bright), good space (for sets and seats).

But one can hope more listeners come. They certainly should.

Most other things about BDDS, happily, have stayed the same — including the ability to deliver chamber music, both well-known and neglected, with energy, conviction and consummate skill.

Hosts pianist Jeffrey Sykes and Stephanie Jutt , who are also the co-directors and co-founders of BDDS, were gracious and humorous, and put the audience at ease right away.

Beautifully ingenious but inexpensive installations (below) were created by UW-Madison artists Carolyn Kallenborn and Michael Villequette. The mood changed back and forth a lot as the color of the lights projected on them changed. Take a look.

There was an unannounced Mystery Guest – in this case the terrific three-woman Madison Hoop Team, which twirled illuminated hula hoops in the dark and brought festiveness to the serious but never sombre occasion.

Door prizes, some quite valuable, got handed out. 

But most of all, there was, as always, great music played greatly.

True, the concert opened with the “Song of Linos” (1944) by the French composer Andre Jolivet. It is a virtuosic piece designed to be a final exam for flute students at the Paris Conservatory.

It featured impressive and clearly difficult playing by both the flute and the piano, by Jutt and Sykes (below). But the music just never caught fire. When people call things “academic” and mean it disparagingly, this is what they are talking about. The work was all technique, with no discernible heart or soul, at least not for this listener. The performance seemed first-rate; better, in fact, than the music merits. And yes, Jutt, who is the principal flutist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and teaches at the UW-Madison, passed the test — with honors.

But then came one of those wonderful old-fashioned house music reductions of orchestral works – symphonies and concertos — that I love chamber music groups to rediscover and revive. Last year I asked for more and this year I got more. Thank you, BDDS.

In this case it was Johann Nepomuk Hummel‘s chamber version of Mozart’s sublimely beautiful Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466. It featured pianist Sykes along with, flutist Jutt, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau –- the last two from San Francisco where they perform with pianist Sykes as the San Francisco Trio.

But the heavy lifting was done by Sykes, who played both orchestra and piano parts, with embellished ornamentation and thematic variations by Hummel, who actually heard Mozart perform these works and knew first-hand how Wolfgang often wrote down just the skeleton and saved his astonishing improvisations for last-minute inspiration.

Have simple arpeggios and scales ever sounded more beautiful or more musical than in Mozart’s hands? And his gift for composing aria-like melodies for the piano and strings remains unparalleled. Plus, the small forces lent the work an intimacy as well as a clarity and transparency. All is all, it was both a revelatory and moving experience.

Then came intermission, when you could buy a genuine Corpse Reviver and brink it back into the Playhouse in an adult sippy cup so as not to spill it.

The program finished with a certified masterpiece that featured no transcriptions, arrangements or substitutions: Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor.

It was a ravishing performance. Sykes – who got no time to rest during this entire program — possesses a wonderfully light and fluid touch, just right for the lambent Mendelssohn. But the entire trio (below) blended together and gave the work an irresistible energy and lyricism, drama and drive.

I missed the opening “White Russian” program on Friday night and Sunday afternoon – but here is a glowing review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

This summer BDDS is playing six programs in three locations – The Playhouse, the Hillside Theatre at Frank  Lloyd Wright’s home and studio Taliesin in Spring Green, and at the Stoughton Opera House – plus a concert at the Green Lake Festival on Thursday, June 28. Four  programs over the next two weeks remain. This coming weekend features the “cocktail” concerts “B&B” (music by Bartok, Beethoven, Brahms and Kenji Bunch) and “Manhattan” (music by Bernstein, Barber, Rorem and Piazzolla).

So, yes, The Ear will be going to more BDDS concerts than he planned on.

You should too. 

Here is a link to the BDDS homepage and a complete schedule of works and performances with biographies of performers and ticket information:

Classical music news: Wisconsin Public Radio will hold the third annual Bach Around the Clock on Saturday, March 17. Start practicing now.

January 27, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This year, Johann Sebastian Bach (below) – by general consensus the greatest composer who ever lived and who affected all the composers who followed after him – turns 327.

Bach was born on March 21, 1685, he died on July 26, 1750, at age 65.

So why not celebrate?

Why not indeed!

Wisconsin Public Radio has sent out the following press release:

“Calling All Musicians:  Annual Bach Bash is Back”

It reads:

“Wisconsin Public Radio and the Pres House are once again planning a community-wide celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday and you’re invited to participate.

“Join us on Saturday, March 17, from noon until midnight.  We’ll be gathered at Pres House, 731 State St., near the Chazen Museum of Art, on the UW-Madison campus to perform the works of Johann Sebastian Bach for 12 straight hours.

“It’s our Third Annual BACH AROUND THE CLOCK!  We’ll mark the birthday at the stroke of midnight . . . and there may even be cake!

“We’re looking for musicians – amateurs, professionals, students, individuals, ensembles, choirs. If you love Bach, we want you to perform.

“This is NOT a radio broadcast.

“This is NOT a professional showcase.

“It’s a FUN, community event – so don’t be shy.

“Whether you are a performer or just a music lover, we hope you’ll join us!

“For more information and to schedule your performance, contact Cheryl Dring (below), WPR Music Director, at or call 608-890-2585.”

That’s pretty much it for the basic facts.

In the past, the performances have scheduled and webcast live so people – or your friends and family — in Wisconsin and around the country and the world too, I assume – can listen in. by going to Wisconsin Public Radio’s web site (

Two years ago, The Ear played movements of a Partita and the F minor Prelude and Fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 as well as the piano part of a Siciliano movement from a flute sonata. So let me just mention what a lot of fun it is both to perform and to listen to and mingle with the performers.

Bach is performed in all kinds of original scorings and transcriptions on all kinds of instruments ranging from the organ and voice, to piano and strings, to a saxophone version of a solo cello suite.

In the past you could also here period instruments such as baroque violin and harpsichord (below, baroque violinist Edith Hines turns pages for UW keyboard professor John Chappell Stowe) as well as modern instruments. Part of Bach’s genius is how well his music holds up in just about any arrangement.

Free refreshments and snacks are provided.

You can hear wonderful music performed by area church musicians UW faculty and students, young students from various piano and string studios, and much more.

To tease you and interest you, I have included some photos along with a video (at the bottom) of a live performance of the last movement of Bach’s English Suite No, 6 by John Chappell Stowe.

If you haven’t performed in  BATC before, consider doing it this time. (This year the UW spring beak won’t interfere.)

And if you have done it before, help it get better.

This is the beginning of a great local tradition, one hosted by the pleasant-voiced, quick-witted and cheerful Dring (below) – who also hosts WPR’s Morning Classics from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday — has imported and adapted from her native New Orleans, where I think it lasts for 24 hours and includes music by composers other than Bach, with laudable success.

Thank you, Cheryl.

And thank you, Johann Sebastian.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,097 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,663,590 hits
%d bloggers like this: