The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day. What music would you play for her? What music would she like to hear? Tell The Ear. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the final, critically acclaimed concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season with Beethoven’s Ninth on the program. Read the reviews here.

May 10, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of  the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.

Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/mso-closing-with-a-bang/

And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/review-big-voices-and-beethoven-bring-mso-season-to-a/article_ea23e056-f5bb-11e4-8b8f-5780d0daa395.html

And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/news/opinion/Symphony-review-MSO-ends-season-on-exuberant-note/32912810

Naha Greenholtz 2014 CR  Chris Hynes

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2015.

Mothers Day clip art

And nothing says love like music.

So what music would you like to play for your mother?

And what music would she like to hear?

They aren’t necessarily the same.

So here are The Ear’s choices.

For the first I am torn between a work by Antonin Dvorak and one by Johannes Brahms.

The Dvorak work is “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear below in a YouTube video by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman playing a transcription from the original for voice.

The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:

And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.

And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.

What are your choices in each category?

Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.


Classical music: Is there more to say about Beethoven and his music? Acclaimed musicologist Jan Swafford thinks so, and says so in his new biography of The Ludwig.

August 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.

All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:

The “Eroica” Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony.

The “Pastoral” Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”

The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.

The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.

The “Ghost” and  “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.

The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.

The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.

The “Missa Solemnis.”

“Fidelio.”

And on and on.

Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!

Beethoven big

What more is there to be said about Beethoven?

Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jan Swafford color

Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”

It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.

Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/05/337857557/ask-us-anything-about-beethoven

And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/03/336656578/beethovens-eroica-a-bizarre-revelation-of-personality

Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.

But nobody is ignoring it.

Jan Swafford Beethoven cover

Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-beethoven-anguish-and-triumph-by-jan-swafford-1406927297

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/beethoven-by-jan-swafford.html?_r=0

Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?

What do you think of his music histories and biographies?

Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?

And what is your favorite  work by Beethoven?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plus the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers and pianist Stewart Goodyear left you wanting more –- which is exactly what a season-closing concert should do.

April 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I have noted in other postings earlier this week, I am doing some badly needed catching up. April has been just a hectic and even crazy month for classical music in the Madison area. And previews generally take precedence over reviews.

For example: A week ago last Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) closed out its current Masterworks season with the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal singers and Canadian piano soloist and composer Stewart Goodyear.

WCO lobby

The concert left The Ear impressed with all parties and wanting to hear more, perhaps including a one Stewart Goodyear’s Beethoven piano sonata marathons as well as more known and neglected works from the chamber orchestra. And isn’t that exactly what a great season-ending concert should do?

For The Ear,  there were two unqualified masterpieces.

The concert opened with the ‘Ave Verum Corpus” of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a short but sublime late work for chorus and orchestra. And it was performed sublimely by the WCO and the WCO Chorus, which is made up of the Festival Choir of Madison (below) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers. (A popular YouTube video, with over 2 million hits and featuring conductor Leonard Bernstein, is at the bottom.)

festivalchoir

That was followed by the often neglected “Choral Fantasy,” by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is an interesting and engaging piece, a sketch of the famous final “Ode to Joy” movement of the iconic Ninth Symphony and one that features the kind of piano part that makes you realize what an exciting keyboard improviser the young Beethoven (below, in 1804) must have been.

young beethoven etching in 1804

Is the “Choral” Fantasy a masterpiece? Stewart Goodyear thinks so.

I do not. I think it is a good dramatic work, with its own excitement for orchestra, chorus and especially pianist. But it is a work that simply doesn’t stand up to Beethoven’s greatest symphonies, concertos or even sonatas.

But Goodyear was all business and all Beethoven. After all, he performs all 32 piano sonatas in a single-day 10-hour marathon and has recorded them all.

I know from personal experience that Beethoven is hard to play. He always seems to be challenging or even daring the player. But such difficulties do not faze Goodyear (below), who has the power and the chops. He is an impressive player, without doubt.

stewart goodyear playing sideways

Even in his own piano concerto that followed, Goodyear was impressive in his playing. This concerto, which he revised especially for chamber orchestra, seems to play into his personal and technical strengths, which is right in keeping with the great virtuoso tradition that ran from Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart through Beethoven and Johannes Brahms to Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But is the concerto by Goodyear a great concerto? Unfortunately, I think not. It reminds me of the 50 or so big and difficult piano concertos in the Hyperion series of recordings of neglected Romantic Piano Concertos by Ignaz Moscheles and Moritz Moszkowski and the like. All of them were impressive showpieces in their day, composed by and performed by the biggest piano virtuoso names of the day.

Here is a link to the Hyperion series:

http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/s.asp?s=S_1

And yet in the end, they only require one to two listenings to get the most out them. You soon realize that they are neglected for good reason. They served their purpose in the day, but then couldn’t stand up to history as first-rate.

I felt the same way about Goodyear. It had its moments, especially in the slow movement. In its use of Caribbean rhythm and harmonies, it reminded me of the jazz-like qualities brought to the concert hall by Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and Heitor Villa-Lobos, maybe even George Gershwin of the “Cuban” Overture. I am glad I heard it, but am not anxious to have repeated hearings.

The concerto was an interesting, impressive and entertaining oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. Goodyear would be wise to keep his day job -– or, should I say, his night job -—as a concert pianist who masterfully plays Beethoven and other major composers, and not to rely on composing as a living.

Stewart Goodyear2

After intermission came the big treat: Beethoven’s mammoth Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” Now, I love the overwhelming sound of a big, full orchestra. But there is undeniable value to hearing the transparency and clarity of the work in its chamber music version.

The “Eroica” Symphony just never gets old, and easily stands up to the Fifth, Sixth (Pastoral), Seventh and Ninth symphonies as a candidate for Your Favorite Beethoven Symphony.

The balance and tempi were perfect, especially in the moving and complex Funeral March. The horn played flawlessly as far I could tell. The strings were crisp, not gooey. And sections provided great voicing and counterpoint.

Conductor Andrew Sewell (below) seemed in total command and looked completely satisfied as he proved again what incredible progress the WCO has made during his tenure.

andrewsewell

Sewell has an abiding and well realized interest in unearthing interesting music, both new and old, as you can see from the next season, which will features three pianists in works as diverse as rarely heard two piano concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn, the Suite for Strings by Paul Lewis, the Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge as well as another work by Vittorio Giannini.

Here is a link to the new season. Click on “For more information” to see programs:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And here are links to other reviews so you can compare and draw your own conclusions, especially if you were part of the full house:

Here is a link the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42498

John-Barker

Here is a link to the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Before-Going-Home/

greg hettmansberger mug

 

 

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new 2014-15 season. It includes programs from Bach to Hollywood exiles from Hitler and the Nazis, acclaimed soloists and ticket prices with only modest increases.

March 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) has just announced its next season for 2014-15.

MSO-HALL

It strikes The Ear as both deeply interesting and tightly cohesive, a good blend of sure-fire hits and unknown or rarely heard repertoire. It also features some fine local talent and some unusual repertoire, though, unlike the past several seasons, no new or contemporary music is included. After all, this is a business with seats to fill, not some theoretical exercise in programming.

“You can’t have everything, especially when you are playing only eight concerts,” lamented MSO maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) when he discussed the new season with me.

But, DeMain added, the MSO is exploring doing another Chicago Symphony Orchestra “Beyond the Score” format concert — like this season’s presentation of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which sold out — probably in January and probably with more than one performance, if they can find a sponsor to front the $50,000 cost. Then he will decide on what work out of more than 20 possibilities would be right.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Concerts take place in Overture Hall in the Overture Center on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

The deadline for subscriptions renewals and keeping your current seat is May 8.

Here is the official press release that unveils the new season. The Ear also talked at length one-on-one with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain. Since the announcement is long enough for one post, DeMain’s insightful comments will appear a bit later in another post.

mso from above

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES 2014-15 SEASON

Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will deliver a diverse and exciting season of composers and guest artists for 2014-2015.

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly-talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season.  Russia, Scandinavia, and Golden-Age Hollywood are just a few of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Olga Kern, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Ingrid Fliter and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor.

SEPTEMBER 19, 20 and 21, 2014

“Orchestral Splendor,” John DeMain, Conductor

RICHARD STRAUSS, “Also sprach Zarathustra”

FRANK MARTIN, Concerto for Seven Winds

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS, Symphony No. 3 (“Organ” Symphony)

German composer Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra was once among his least performed works, but it is now firmly established as standard orchestral repertoire.  The trumpet theme and thunderous timpani entrance (heard in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) are unmistakable.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds was written in 1949.  It features seven solo instruments, exploring differences in sonority and expression.  The virtuosic and conversational writing in these piece results in a playful, sportive character.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, known also as the “Organ” Symphony, draws on elements of both the conventional symphony and the tone poem. Formally unusual in its own time, yet popular from its conception, the work features virtuosic piano and organ passages and a masterful display of the vast colors possible in the symphony orchestra.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

OCTOBER 17, 18 and 19, 2014

“The Russian Spirit” with John DeMain, conductor, and Olga Kern (below), piano

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, Suite from “Swan Lake”

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, Symphony No. 6

The Suite from “Swan Lake” tells the magical tale of a young prince enchanted by a swan maiden under the moonlight.  Peter Tchaikovsky’s charming work utilizes haunting melodies, captivating waltzes, Russian and Hungarian folk themes, and a Spanish dance.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano displays a youthful freshness and an assertive, extroverted personality.  Indeed, the composer began this work when he was 17!  For audience members who delight in keyboard fireworks, this piece will thrill.

Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written as war clouds were gathering in Russia, was quite a contrast to Symphony No. 5.  Lopsided movement lengths, a lack of obvious theme, and characters of anxiety and desolation reflect the intriguing political situation of the time, as well as Shostakovich’s own remarkably wide emotional compass.

Olga Kern, Mogens Dahl Konsertsal 26.1.2009

NOVEMBER 7, 8 and 9, 2014

“Scandinavian Wonders” with John DeMain, conductor, and Sarah Chang (below), violin

EDVARD GRIEG, Lyric Suite

JEAN SIBELIUS, Concerto for Violin

CARL NIELSEN, Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Over the course of his long career, Edvard Grieg composed 66 Lyric pieces for piano, strongly rooted in the songs, dances, mythology, and spirit of Norway.  He selected four of these fragrant and diverse miniatures for an orchestral suite, premiered in 1906.

 “…For…10 years it was my dearest wish to become a great virtuoso.” wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his diary.  Unfortunately the composer never reached great proficiency on the instrument, and his Concerto for Violin, awash in Nordic textures, expresses a melancholic farewell to that childhood dream.

As a philosophical guideline to his often raging Symphony No. 4, Danish composer Carl Nielsen said, “Music is life, and, like life, inextinguishable”.  Four interlinked movements of frequently agitated energy lead to a climax of ultimate triumph and grand 19th century symphonic tradition.

Sarah Chang playing

DECEMBER 5, 6 and 7, 2014

A Madison Symphony Christmas

With John DeMain, conductor; Alyson Cambridge (below), soprano; Harold Meers, tenor; the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director; the Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, artistic director; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Leotha Stanley, director.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

Alyson Cambridge

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

FEBRUARY 13, 14 and 15, 2015

“Fliter Plays Chopin” with John DeMain, conductor, and Ingrid Fliter (below), piano

BENJAMIN BRITTEN, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge

FREDERIC CHOPIN, Concerto No. 2 for Piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN, Symphony No. 4

Frank Bridge, one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest composition teachers, was certainly responsible for the surpassing clarity, individuality, and discipline in Britten’s most cherished works.  Britten’s “Variations” on Bridge’s theme range from passionate to playful, capturing the heartfelt musical admiration of a pupil for his teacher.

From the moment he arrived in Paris at age 21, Frederic Chopin drew the admiration of both the public and esteemed critics, alike.  Concerto No. 2 was in fact his first concerto, displaying the composer’s prolific improvisatory and imaginative style.  

In composing Symphony No. 4, Robert Schumann departed significantly from the standard Classical form he previously employed, connecting all four movements with recurring musical ideas–a novel proposition at the time.

Ingrid Fliter playing

MARCH 6, 7 and 8, 2015

“Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” with John DeMain, conductor, and  Daniel Hope (below), violin

FRANZ WAXMAN, Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani Ride of the Cossacks from “Taras Bulba”

MIKLÓS RÓZSA, Theme, Variations and Finale;  Parade of the Charioteers from “Ben Hur”;                          Love Theme from “Ben Hur”; Love Theme from “Spellbound”

ERICH KORNGOLD, Concerto for Violin and the  Suite from “Captain Blood”

This unique concert features the works of great classical composers before they fled Nazi persecution and also showcases their later brilliant contributions to Hollywood film scores.

Franz Waxman (below) is responsible for a long list of memorable Hollywood scores, including “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Rebecca.”  His Sinfonietta, written for only strings and timpani, is comprised of three wildly different movements. Waxman also composed the soundtrack for the 1962 epic, “Taras Bulba.”  “Ride of the Cossacks” is the exhilarating theme to which Taras and his army gallop to Dubno.

Franz Waxman

According to Miklos Rózsa (below), his “Theme” was conceived in the manner of a Hungarian folk song, then treated in variations of contrasting feeling, and summarized in a wild and swift finale.  The 1934 work earned him his first international success. By the late 1940’s Rózsa was an Oscar-winning, film score composer, and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.  His thrilling score for the 1959 film “Ben Hur” is one of his lasting achievements, earning him his third and final Oscar.

Miklos Rozsa

The Concerto for Violin, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (bel0w top) in 1945, perfectly blends the two musical lives of the composer, unapologetic in both its rigorous craftsmanship and its Hollywood charm. “Captain Blood” was a milestone for Korngold, as it was his first fully symphonic movie score.  Produced in only three weeks, the music evidences his most professional and imaginative effort.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

savannah_french

APRIL 10, 11 and 12, 2015

“Piano Genius” with John DeMain, conductor, and Christopher Taylor (below), piano

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, Concerto No. 4 for Clavier

FRANZ LISZT, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

ANTON BRUCKNER, Symphony No. 7

Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach is part of a set of six concertos, dated to 1738.  The piece was originally written for harpsichord and is ripe with movement and ornamentation. Bach’s concertos laid a crucial formal and harmonic groundwork for centuries of composition to follow.

Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano is more than a century-long leap forward in time. Liszt’s Romantic genius is unabashedly on display, with thick orchestration, cadenzas that range from delicate to thundering, and lush harmonies.

Anton Bruckner was a country man, transplanted into bustling cosmopolitan Vienna, and he and his music were unlikely successes with audiences and critics. His music was said to “compel the element of the divine into our human world”.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

MAY 8, 9 and 10, 2015

“Ode to Joy” with John DeMain, conductor; concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top), violin; Melody Moore, soprano; Gwendolyn Brown, contralto; Eric Barry, tenor; Morris Robinson (below bottom), bass; and the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)

Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, resulted from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, “The Symposium.”  The music dances through a series of inter-related “speakers” at a banquet (Phaedrus, Aristophanes, Erixymachus, Agathon, and Socrates), praising love.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s last and monumental Symphony No. 9 stands apart from his other symphonies by virtue of its humanistic message, enormous scale and organic unity of design.  The mammoth fourth movement, operating like a symphony in miniature, is like nothing else in symphonic music.  Four soloists, full chorus, the entire orchestra, and the famous “Ode to Joy” theme will conclude the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season. (You can hear a populist flash mob version of the “Ode to Joy” at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that had almost 4-1/2 million hits.)

Morris Robinson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Single tickets for individual concerts have increased slightly and are $16 to $84 each, and go on sale Aug. 16. They are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive savings up to 50%.  For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

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

You can also check out the official MSO website announcement of the new season by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/14-15

The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

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