The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: American music is in the spotlight this weekend as pianist Olga Kern returns in a concerto by Samuel Barber and the Madison Symphony Orchestra performs Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony

October 18, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers), with music director John DeMain conducting, will present its second concert of the season, featuring music “From the New World.”

“From the New World” features the return of soloist Olga Kern in her take on an American classic — Samuel Barber’s only Piano Concerto — for her fourth appearance with the MSO. This piece is accompanied by Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and is followed after intermission by Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, know as the “New World Symphony,” inspired by the prairies of America.

The concerts take place in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 22, at 2:30 p.m.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was originally written as a suite of “Five Children’s Pieces for Piano Four Hands” and was later orchestrated by the composer and expanded into a ballet in 1911. The piece by Ravel (below) is comprised of 11 sections, many of which are based on five fairy tales of Charles Perrault, most specifically those of his Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Tales).

The Piano Concerto was written in Samuel Barber’s mature years, and is characterized by a gain in depth of expression and technical mastery from his earlier lyrical style. The piece was met with great critical acclaim and led to Barber (below) winning his second Pulitzer Prize in 1963 and a Music Critics Circle Award in 1964. (You can hear the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)


Russian-American Pianist Olga Kern (below) is recognized as one of her generation’s great pianists. She jumpstarted her U.S. career with her historic Gold Medal win at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas as the first woman to do so in more than 30 years.

Winner of the first prize at the Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition she was 17, Kern is a laureate of many international competitions. In 2016, she served as jury chairman of both the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition and first Olga Kern International Piano Competition, where she also holds the title of artistic director.

Kern has performed in famed concert halls throughout the world including Carnegie Hall, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. She has appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra three times — in 2009, 2010 and 2014.

Composed in 1895 while Dvorak (below) was living in New York City, his Symphony No. 9 (often referred to as the “New World Symphony”) is said to have been inspired by the American “wide open spaces” of the prairies that he visited during a trip to Iowa in the summer of 1893.

The “New World Symphony” is considered to be one of the most popular symphonies ever written, and was even taken to the moon with Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below, in a  photo by James Gill), Wisconsin Public Radio host of “Sunday Brunch,” will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen (below), at:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert Prelude Discussion (free for all ticket-holders) one hour before the performance.

The October concerts also coincide with UW-Madison’s Homecoming Weekend celebration — another reason that MSO patrons are advised to arrive early for the concerts this weekend, especially on Friday.

Single Tickets are $18-$90 and are on sale now at, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, got to:

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets.

You can find more information at:

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

The first “Club 201 Concert and After-Party” of the season takes place on Friday, Oct. 20. The $35 ticket price includes one concert ticket ($68-$90 value), plus the after-party with hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and one drink ticket. Club 201 Events are an opportunity for music enthusiasts 21 and over to connect with each other, and meet MSO musicians, Maestro John DeMain, and special guests.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Here is a direct link to find more information and to purchase tickets online:

Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain discusses the 2017-18 season with critic John W. Barker

May 11, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, an interview with the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s music director John DeMain about the next season, conducted and 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 FM 89.9 FM. For 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 month, I had a welcome opportunity to sit down with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, together with his marketing director, Peter Rodgers, to discuss the orchestra’s recently announced 2017-18 concert season. (NOTE: Today is the deadline for current subscribers to renew and keep their seats. You can call 608 257-3734 or go to

This meeting allowed me new insights into the various factors that go into selecting a season’s repertoire. It also gave me further appreciation of Maestro DeMain’s personality and talents.

It further revealed the unfairness of some criticism made that the coming season is “conservative” and repetitive of familiar works. In fact, his programming involves very thoughtful awareness of the differing expectations of the varied audience.

It has become customary to make the season’s opening concert a showcase for talented members of the orchestra, rather than for guest soloists.

The September program thus offers a masterpiece I particularly relish, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola obbligato — featuring the orchestra’s principal violist, Chris Dozoryst (below).

But the inclusion of the neglected Fifth or “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was decided as a link to this year’s 500th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther’s launching of the Lutheran Reformation in 1517. Also on the program is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The October program contains a notable example of a familiar and popular “warhorse,” Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” This was indeed performed by the MSO two seasons back as part of the “Beyond the Score” presentations. DeMain indicates that the close repetition is made deliberately to connect with that past event, to expand further the audiences’ understanding of the work.

He is also juxtaposing the symphony with the appearance of the acclaimed Olga Kern (below), playing the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber and with the “Mother Goose” Suite by Maurice Ravel.

The November soloist is guitarist Sharon Isbin, in two concertos, one new (“Affinity” by Chris Brubeck) and one old (Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo)  She plays with her instrument electronically amplified, something very off-putting in my experience. But DeMain notes that all guitarists do that now in concert work, and he wanted to include the guitar to bring in new and different audience members.

Inclusion of suites by Aaron Copland and Manuel de Falla – “Billy the Kid” and “The Three-Cornered Hat,” respectively — also represent popular appeal.

January will bring a triumph for DeMain: the appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below), after 15 years of efforts to secure him. Shaham will perform the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The all-Russian program also allows DeMain to venture for the first time into “The Love for Three Oranges” suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Third Symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The issue of “warhorse” repetition is raised by the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms in the February program. But DeMain points out that it has been 10 years since the MSO played the work, a significant one that richly deserves performance by now.

He is also proud to include with it the outstanding Rossini opera overture (Semiramide) and the rarely heard Cello Concerto, with German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), by the 20th-century British composer William Walton.

DeMain admits to mixed feelings about the “Beyond the Score” presentations of music and background context, but he is confident that the one offered (one night, outside subscriptions) on March 18, about the monumental Enigma Variations, by Sir Edward Elgar, (below) will work well.

The combination in April of Benjamin Britten’s powerful Sinfonia da Requiem and Robert Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) with Antonin Dvorak’s sadly neglected Violin Concerto has special meanings for the maestro. It allows the return of the greatly admired Augustin Hadelich (below) as soloist.

But it also allows DeMain’s return, for his first time since 1974, to the Schumann score, with which he had a crucial encounter in a youthful appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Finally, the May program is an unusually exciting combination of Mozart’s too-little-appreciated Piano Concerto No. 22 with soloist Christopher O’Riley (below) of NPR’s “From the Top” with the roof-raising Glagolitic Mass, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, of Leos Janacek.

DeMain has made important commitments to the orchestral music of Janacek (below) before this, and his advance to the composer’s great blockbuster choral work is a landmark.

Amid savoring DeMain’s thoughts on the season – which also includes the MSO’s traditional Christmas concert in early December — and his wonderful recollections of past experiences, I came to recognize more than ever the remarkable combination of talents he brings to his Madison podium.

Beyond so many conductors, DeMain has had deeply engaging phases of his career in orchestral literature (large and small), in opera and musical theater, and in chamber music, while being himself an accomplished pianist.

With the breadth of his range, he brings a particular sensitivity to the contexts and diversities of what he conducts. He has become to his musicians not only a skilled guide, but also a subtle teacher, deepening their understanding without any hint of pedantry.

It cannot be said enough how truly blessed we are to have him with us in Madison.

For more information about the 2017-18 season, including specific dates and times, and about purchasing tickets for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra, with guest soloists, offered a welcome trio of rarely heard works.

November 29, 2014
1 Comment

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 20 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

Well, last weekend was another train-wreck weekend with too many good things in competition with each other: pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater (Thursday, Nov. 20), the Madison Opera’s Fidelio at the Overture Center (Friday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Nov. 23), the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (Saturday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 23), and the intimate Solo Dei Gloria concert at Luther Memorial Church (Saturday, Nov. 22). I won’t mention the basketball game, as well.

I was able to revel in Beethoven’s Fidelio on Friday evening, enjoy the SDGers on Saturday, and catch the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) on Sunday evening. And a rewarding finale that was.

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Conductor and director Beverly Taylor (below) wisely avoided any seasonal associations and gave us the chance to hear music that we are rarely likely to hear otherwise.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

There were three pieces.

The “filler” in the middle was a lushly exotic curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below), his Flos campi (or “floss campy,” as a Wisconsin Public Radio announcer identified it) — “Flower of the Field,” inspired by lines from the Biblical Song of Songs, and scored for the unusual combination of solo viola, wordless chorus and orchestra.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

It is a rhapsodic affair, in six interconnected sections, exploring the sonorities and novel colors that his scoring allows. While it evokes a perfumed “eastern” ambiance, much of its musical character really derives from the composer’s steeping in folksong and folk spirit.

The chorus’s size gave its sound a good carrying power, helping the wordless ah-ing and humming to come through well against the orchestra, while viola soloist Sally Chisholm (below), a UW-Madison professor who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, made a beautifully ecstatic web of sound that only the viola can really achieve. When have you last heard such a dreamy novelty, and when again are you likely to?

UW Choral Union Sally Chisholm

On other side of that music came two different settings of the familiar Latin canticle, Te Deum laudamus, by two different composers. This all-purpose liturgical text has been set many, many times by a procession of composers over the centuries, but it would be difficult to imagine two more utterly contrasting treatments than the ones we heard.

The better known (or less unknown) one of the two was that by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (below), among his very last compositions and now reckoned as the fourth of his Quattro pezzi sacri or “Four Sacred Pieces.”

Verdi 2

It is in a style familiar from his only other important setting of Latin liturgical texts, his Requiem. It is straightforward but noble, monumental and powerful music, and it was brought off with eloquence. (You can heard it, accompanied by the art of Michelangelo in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That was the closing work.

The opening one was the other Te Deum. Antonin Dvorák (below), though a devout Roman Catholic, composed very little sacred music in Latin. Setting aside a purely functional Mass setting, his only familiar and recognized examples are his Stabat mater and his Requiem. Both of those are deeply felt, but are grandiose concert works.


The only other such work is his setting of the Te Deum, cruelly neglected and unappreciated. It was composed in 1892 as a debut work for Dvorák’s new residence in New York City, and was intended as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Against Verdi’s solemnity, Dvorák’s setting is festive. It is patterned along the lines of the traditional four-movement symphony, with a “slow movement” of folksong-like lyricism and a passionate “scherzo,” framed by flanking outpourings of extraordinary exuberance — all in unbroken succession.

For anyone who loves the music of this composer — as I do — or who is still discovering it, this work is an exciting revelation.

There were solo passages in the two Te Deums, beautifully sung by undergraduate soprano Emi Chen (below right) and graduate student baritone Joel Rathmann (below left).

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

The UW Choral Union itself, 123 singers strong, sang with appropriate sonority. There were some rough spots in the opening of the Dvorák, with its off-putting rhythmic eccentricities, but the UW Symphony Orchestra played quite well otherwise — even if it sometimes was allowed to overshadow the other participants.

In sum, this proved an evening of truly refreshing choral experience, and another tribute to Beverly Taylor’s enterprise.

Classical music: Conductor John DeMain takes listeners behind the scenes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural “Beyond the Score” concert of Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony this Sunday afternoon. Plus, flutist Kirstin Ihde plays a FREE concert of Saint-Saens, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Bach this Friday at noon.

January 23, 2014

ALERT:  This Friday’s Free Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the historic the First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Dawn Lawler and pianist Kirstin Ihde in music of Camille Saint-Saens, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Dawn Lawler

By Jacob Stockinger

Ever since he arrived in Madison from Houston 20 years ago, maestro John DeMain has never ceased to innovate and try new things to boost the fortunes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, where he is the music director and the artistic director, respectively.

His many efforts have included new audition procedures for players; opening up rehearsals to the public; helping to procure and build the Overture Center; expanding educational programs and community outreach programs; and tirelessly promoting his efforts through Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT-FM, Wisconsin Public Television and commercial TV network affiliates.

He also tried a special New Year’s concert that didn’t work out, and going to triple performances, which did work out.

So it seemed only natural that The Ear should asked DeMain about his latest effort in both music education and concert performance: Doing the “Beyond the Score” version of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Tickets are $15-$60 and are selling fast towards a sell-out; they can be bought through the Overture Center box office or by calling at (608) 258-4141.)

Here is a link with more details about the production and concert:

And here is an email Q&A with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) about the background and future of the Beyond the Score series, which was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

How and when did the idea for this kind of concert or special event come to you?

Actually some of our patrons witnessed “Beyond the Score” in Chicago several years ago and brought it to our attention. We immediately investigated the program and found it fascinating and wonderful. We felt it was something that Madison should have.

The “Beyond the Score” concert on Sunday afternoon is almost sold out. What do you attribute its popularity to? When did it start, and how has it been received by the public and the musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

I think the public loves the “New World” Symphony by Dvorak (below) and is anxious to get deeper into this great symphony and it’s connection to America. “Beyond the Score” is in its ninth season in Chicago and has been wildly successful with their audience. This year they’re adding three more symphonies to their canon of works for this program.


Why did you decide to program this event, and can you give us some background to it? Do you think it will help build new audiences? Deepen the appreciation of current audiences? How so?

I hope this will attract new listeners and deepen the experience of our current audience. This is not a musicological or theoretical analysis of the symphony, although many examples are cited to illustration certain aspects of the music. Rather it is a multi-media presentation that is highly entertaining as well as informative look into the creative process.

What makes this symphony American, Czech and Beethovenian all in one? This is what “Beyond the Score” examines as it conjures up the wonderful historical context in which this work was written. (Below is a photo of the manuscript score of the “New World” Symphony.)

Dvorak ms Symphony nO 9 New World

If this format is popular and well received here, might the MSO (below) do another one next season, or maybe even more performances? What other works are available in that format and have you considered?

We hope that if the performance is well received here and that other underwriters step forward, we can possibly see more of these in the future. Currently, there are 22 works in the “Beyond the Score” canon.

MSO playing

Are there parts about the Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony program that particularly attract you, or parts that you want to draw the public’s attention to?

I know that after the intermission, when we perform the symphony in its entirety, the audience will listen to it in a whole new way. (Below is a YouTube video, with more than 1.5 million hits of the soulful slow movement, which borrows from Negro spirituals, of the “New World Symphony as performed by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It is The Ear’s favorite movement of this wonderful symphony.)

Editor’s note: Here are the official program notes by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist J. Michael Allsen for the “New World” Symphony:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music Q&A: The 13th annual week-long Madison Early Music Festival starts Saturday will focus on Canadian and early American music from the Colonial period and Revolutionary War to the Civil War, and includes a FREE public lesson in Shape Singing. Part 2 of 2.

July 6, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus from this Saturday, July 7, though next Saturday, July 14. (And this year, the public All-Festival concert on July 14 will NOT compete with the Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park concert, slated for July 21.)

Continuing the theme it started last year of Early Music in the Americas, the festival will turn its attention as it travels from south to north. It will change its focus from South America and Latin America to the United States and Canada. Specifically, “Welcome Home! An American Celebration’’ will focus on music from the Colonial and the Revolutionary War periods through the Civil War.

For complete information about the many lectures, master classes and public concerts, visit the festival’s homepage:

Co-director and soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below) recently gave The Ear an extended interview about the festival, its events and its participants, which includes the acclaimed singing group Anonymous 4. Today is the last of two parts:

What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in the part of the world you will cover this summer? Are there highlights you want to mention?

We will have a wide variety of music starting with the early Colonists in the 1600s, and the music they brought with them to this country from England, all the way through the Civil War era, and a bit of Canada.

The traditions of the Singing Schools, directed by singing masters, started around 1720, were started because the clergymen wanted to eliminate “an horrid Medley of confused and disorderly Noises” created from all the local and individual variations of hymn tunes that the congregation was singing from memory.

Many Moravian clergy and lay people were well trained in music, and came to the New World from what is now the Czech republic, fully conversant with the taste and practice of European classicism. In Moravian life there was no distinction between what we now call “sacred” and “secular,” and many of the composers were also teachers and pastors — music was an essential part of everyone’s education and daily life.

Other religious communities brought or developed their own music including the Shaker community, originally from England, who used music and dancing as part of their spiritual revelations. Their best-known tune is “Simple Gifts,” which Aaron Copland (below) used in “Appalachian Spring” and his “Old American Songs.”

The Harmony Society, under the spiritual leader George Rapp, emigrated from Iptingen, Germany in 1804 to found a Utopian communal society, greatly influenced the economic and cultural life of early Western Pennsylvania.  They built three towns and operated prosperous factories and farms. Using their wealth they satisfied their enjoyment of music by establishing one of the first orchestras in the United States, building a large music hall, training musicians, commissioning original works, and holding frequent concerts.

We will also be studying and performing music from the Thomas Jefferson Library. For a preview, visit:

Jefferson (below top) was a devoted violinist, who continued to practice three hours a day, even when he was the President of the United States. He had a big collection, which includes works of Handel, Pergolesi and Corelli as well as songs and chamber music. (Below bottom is his violin and sheet music he used.) It’s fun to check out the link I’ve included to see what’s in there.  One of the faculty members will be teaching a class focusing on some of the chamber music from the collection, and we will be performing several pieces from this collection on the All-Festival Concert.

Why has that music and those composers been neglected by historians and performers?

Sometimes I think that Americans can be a bit snobby, and feel that what is in Europe is better.  Even in the orchestral world, there is a glamor factor about the European conductor. That’s why I was so happy to see that Alan Gilbert was hired as the principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Actually, there has been a broader interest in this repertoire. Anonymous 4 (below and at bottom) one of the most popular early music ensembles recorded three CDs dedicated to this repertoire: “Gloryland,” “American Angels” and “The Cherry Tree,” as do the Rose Ensemble, The Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, Boston Camerata, Hesperus, Boston Baroque and Paul Hillier’s group His Majestie’s Clerkes, to name a few.

I haven’t heard a lot of the choral repertoire performed in Madison, so I hope we will spread the word, and that singers and conductors from the area will come to the concerts to hear what a great wealth of repertoire comes from our own musical history.

What will be the program for all-festival program?

We are presenting a whirlwind tour.  Starting with a short set of pieces from England, before the earliest colonists left the shores to come to North America, Shaker Hymns, a Federal Overture by Benjamin Carr, William Billings anthems, music of the Moravians and the Harmonists.

The music from the Thomas Jefferson Music Library that we will present includes several songs dedicated to George Washington by Francis Hopkinson (below, a signer of the Declaration of Independence), and “An Ode: The Dying Christian to his Soul,” adapted by Alexander Pope to the principal airs of the hymn “Stabat Mater,” composed by Pergolesi.

I spent a lot of time and detective work finding this piece, which has not been published in a modern edition!  The book was so fragile that is could not be copied from the original which is in the Special Collections library at the University of Virginia.  Luckily, it was on microfilm, which could be copied, so we will be able to present the work at MEMF.

Are there other concerts, performers (new or returning), sessions and guest lectures you recommend for the general public?

This is a difficult question to answer.  Everything is accessible for the general public.  Check out the web site I’m sure people will find many topics and concerts of interest:

The new artists we are presenting include: Anonymous 4 on Saturday, July 7; Chris Norman performing French Canadian chamber music with Chatham Baroque on Sunday, July 8; and the Newberry Consort with banjo player Michael Miles, pianist David Schrader and actor Paul Hecht on Friday, July 13.

But the returning ensembles are also wonderful, on Sunday night The Rose Ensemble  (below) will be singing early American Hymns and Ballads, and the Faculty Concert which is musical reflections of the lives of the first settlers who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, includes the first known American ballad, a true tale of the struggles of day-to-day life, New England’s Annoyances, “… We have pumpkins at morning and pumpkin at noon; If it was not for pumpkins we should be undone …”

All of the lectures are free and open to the public, and each lecture focuses on topics from “Early American Vocal Music” (Lawrence Bennett) to French Canadian history (Michelle Bray Wilson); Colonial and Federal American Art (William Keyse Randolph from the Milwaukee Art Museum); “From Colonies to States” by John Barker, who, as you know, writes for your blog and is the music critic for The Isthmus; “The Librarian and the Banjo” by Jim Carrier; and “An Early American Sampler” by Mike Allsen, well-known to Madison Symphony goers for his program notes.

Besides the lectures and the special events — I talked about the Four-Shape note music event earlier — we also have a dance event, “Jigging Across North America,” on Monday, July 9, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Great Hall at the Memorial Union.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’ll only add a great quote from the “Sacred Harp Singing” documentary about Shape Singing (below) that  I mentioned above: “The earliest American music is neither dead nor dying: it’s standing right in front of you, singing.”

So we hope that everyone in the area will attend a concert, lecture or special event, or become a workshop participant.  Besides the music, it’s a great opportunity to learn about many facets of the rich culture during this time in history: art, political history, geneology, dance, instrumental, and vocal and instrumental styles and musical composition.

Classical music Q&A: The 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival starts this Saturday and will focus on Canadian and early American music from the Colonial period and Revolutionary War to the Civil War. Part 1 of 2.

July 5, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The 13th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus from this Saturday, July 7, though next Saturday, July 14. (And this year, the public All-Festival concert on July 14 will NOT have to compete with the Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park concert, slated for July 21.)

Continuing the theme it started last year of Early Music in the Americas, the festival will turn its attention  from the south to the north. Specifically, it will change its focus from South America and Latin America to the United States and Canada. “Welcome Home! An American Celebration’’ will focus on music from the Colonial and the Revolutionary War periods through the Civil War.

For complete information about the many lectures, master classes and public concerts, visit the festival’s homepage:

Co-director and soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below) recently gave The Ear an extended interview about the festival, its events and its participants, which includes the acclaimed singing group Anonymous 4. Her interview will appear in two parts, today and tomorrow:

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? Is MEMF clearly established now nationally and internationally?

MEMF’s enrollment is a bit larger in participant numbers, although we are seeing more singers enrolled this year because of the tradition of singing in early America. We do have national recognition due to many factors, including ads and articles in the publication Early Music America: and the ensembles and artists we bring in to perform on the MEMF Concert Series.

For the first time this year we were the only festival from Wisconsin listed in the New York Times Summer Festivals for Classical Music and Opera:

Internationally speaking, we are contacted regularly by ensembles in Europe, Canada and the United States, who would like to perform at MEMF.  We have had several international students at our workshops, from Germany, France, Canada, several South American countries, and Puerto Rico. Like every arts organization, we have had to be careful about our budget, to write grants, to cultivate our donor base and to get the word out that we are here and have interesting and unique programming to offer the public.

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

Our format is basically the same as it has been for the past 10 years.  It seems to be working, so we don’t feel the need to tweak things at the point.  The workshop runs in conjunction with the concert series, and the teaching faculty is drawn from the ensembles performing on the concert series. We have brought in several new ensembles this year, including the rock stars of early music, Anonymous 4, the opening performers of the festival on Saturday, July 7. For background, see,

The baroque and wooden flute player Chris Norman (below top), who is a true crossover artist in both the early music and folk worlds: will be performing with Chatham Baroque (below bottom) on Sunday, July 8.

We also added another special event this summer, which will be free and open to the public.  On Wednesday, July 11, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. there will be “A Singing Introduction to Four-Shape Music.” It is an evening of shape note singing taught by specialist Jim Page, which is an early American a cappella choral folk music form that emphasizes participation, not performance. There is a great DVD documentary on this tradition that I’ve pasted in below if people would like more information:

On Friday night, audiences will hear Michael Miles (below top), the first banjo player to perform at MEMF, on the program by the  Newberry Consort (below bottom) “Beautiful Dreamer: The Music of Lincoln’s America,” with a pre-concert lecture by Madison filmmaker Jim Carrier, on his documentary “The Librarian and the Banjo Player.”

Another first, which pianists in the community will be happy to know, is the Chicago keyboard phenom, David Schrader (below top), will be playing works of Louis Gottschalk on the newly rebuilt 1879 Steinway Centennial Grand Piano (below bottom), lent to us by Farley’s House of Pianos for this concert.

Why was the topic of the New World chosen for an early music festival last summer and this summer? How will this year’s sequel pick up from last year’s topic and further the exploration?

We chose the New World theme because we had spent so much time over the past 10 years in Europe.  I have a great love for American music due to the five years I was a member of the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, where we performed works of early American composers, such as William Billings (below). See  (Another former member of that ensemble, Lawrence Bennett, will present the opening night lecture at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night.)

So, when were in the planning stages for 2011, we decided to group the two years together, beginning with the New World in South America, then traveling North to the United States and Canada. Three years ago the group Piffaro, who have been part of the festival almost from the beginning, had recently taken part in Bolivia’s most prestigious cultural event, the 22-town festival, Bolivia International Renaissance and Baroque Festival, so we had a wealth of ideas and repertoire to plan MEMF 2011.

All of the music presented for these two festivals has shown or will show the influence that immigrants brought to their new countries and how it mixed with indigenous cultures, especially the music from religious groups, which include the Catholic church in South America and Mexico, and the Moravians, Shakers, Harmonists and the great Singing Schools all over the United States that were created to help the congregation sing better in their churches.

Tomorrow: More specifics about the Madison Early Music Festival’s focus on early American and Canadian music.

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

    Join 1,245 other subscribers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,427,336 hits
    June 2023
    M T W T F S S
%d bloggers like this: