The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Violinist Henning Kraggerud, who solos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend, speaks out against perfection and for improvising and composing

October 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud plays beautifully, even flawlessly, but always expressively.


You can hear that for yourself tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon when he solos in the popular Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor by Max Bruch with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain. (The famous Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale” by Ludwig van Beethoven is also on the program.)

Here is a link to more about the MSO concerts:

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

But Kraggerud is also a serious thinker about music and musicians.

He recently appeared in a blog posting. There he praised the use of improvising and composing as ways to explore and expand one’s musicality. And he practices what he preaches: three of his own compositions are on the MSO program this weekend. (You can hear more about his own training in the YouTube interview with Henning Kraggerud at the bottom.) He also improvised Thursday afternoon on The Midday program of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Kraggerud laments the loss of well-rounded musicians who know more about the world than just music.

He puts the use of metronome markings in a subjective perspective by quoting famous composers like Johannes Brahms and Claude Debussy. He believes that expression, rather than precision, should be the ultimate goal.


And he condemned various practices, including teaching methods, recordings  and competitions, that place technical perfection above personal, subjective interpretation as a goal. He praises the use of informed interpretative freedom from Johann Sebastian Bach onwards.

Henning Kraggerud playing

Here is a link to Kraggerud’s remarks and observations, which take on added interest and relevance due to his appearances in Madison this weekend:

Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players open its new season with “Weekend Stroll” this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

September 16, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will give the kickoff of their 2015-2016 concert series when they present their first concert of the season: Weekend Stroll on this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The program will include a two-movement trio from early 20th-century American composer Amy Beach (below), Pastorale and Caprice, for flute, clarinet and piano, subtitled “Watersprites.”

Amy Beach BW 1

Also on the program is the jazz-influenced Suite for horn, clarinet and piano by American composer Alec Wilder (below top). You can hear the work in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Norwegian composer and famed violinist Ole Bull’s best known work, Dairy Maid’s Sunday, arranged by Edvard Grieg, will be performed on violin, viola and cello.

Sonata en Trio for flute, clarinet and piano by French composer Maurice Emmanuel (below bottom, in 1930) takes listeners from a movement of folk-like melodies to a contemplative theme to a dazzling scherzo close.

Alec Wilder

Maurice Emmanuel in1930

Chicago-based composer James Stephenson (below) wrote five short movements for his chamber piece Thinking in 2007. He gives the performers clever and creative musical lines that link to his whimsical movement titles such as: “Outside the Box,” “Twice” and “It’s Over.” The music is vital and virtuosic and at times a bit jazzy. It showcases violin, cello, clarinet, bassoon, piano and trumpet.

James Stephenson composer

The concerts are this weekend: Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20 at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

This is the first of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-2016 season series titled “Play.” Remaining concerts include Holiday Fun on Nov. 29 (two performances), Fairy Tales and Other Stories on Jan. 16 and 17 (2016), Children’s Games on March 5 and 6 (2016) and Summer Splash on May 14 and 15 (2016).

For a previous post abut the Oakwood Chamber Players’ new season, see:

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.

Tickets are available at the door and $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. Visit for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.

Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players announces its new season of serious “Play” for 2015-16.

August 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) has announced its new season for 2015-16. It has the theme of serious “Play.”

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

As usual, the eclectic programs feature well-known masterpieces but also neglected repertoire and new music. Notice that you don’t see anything by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and many other standard composers on this season. That is unusual — and most welcome!

All concerts take place on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Oakwood Village West auditorium (below) – now known as the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education — at 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

For more information about the players, the programs, the group’s history and individual or season tickets, visit:

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

Here is the press release:

“The Oakwood Chamber Players welcomes you to our 2015-16 season, which promised to be FUN! We often refer to our work in music as “play,” and this season we look forward to sharing the fun with you.

“Our concerts will stir memories of fun and games in the outdoors! Join us for musical performances that contemplate the beauty and pleasure of nature. This season will lift your spirits and please your ears. We love to play for you … now come play with us!

Oakwood Village Players on playground


Saturday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20, at 1:30 p.m.

Amy Beach (below) – Pastorale and Caprice for flute, cello and piano

Ole Bull/Edvard Grieg – Dairy Maid’s Sunday for violin, viola and cello

Alec WilderSuite for clarinet, horn and piano

Amy Beach BW 1


Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

Annual Christmas Lights Concert



Saturday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m.

Malcolm Arnold (below) – Quintet for violin, viola, flute, horn and bassoon

Elisenda Fábregas – Voces de mi Tierra (Voices of My Land) for flute, cello and piano

Robert Schumann — Fairy Tales, Op. 132 for clarinet, viola and piano

malcolm arnold


Saturday, March 5, at 7 p.m. and Sunday March 7, at 1:30 p.m.

Irving Fine (below, at Tanglewood in 1956) – One Two Buckle My Shoe for oboe, clarinet, violin and cello

Georges BizetJeux d’Enfants for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn

Jack GallagherAncient Evenings & Distant Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn

Irving Fine at Tanglewood 1956


Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m.

Franz SchubertTrout Quintet for violin, viola cello, bass and piano

Samuel BarberSummer Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (heard at bottom in a YouTube video)

Craig Bohmler – Six Pieces After Shakespeare for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bass

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs charming Mozart and overpowering Shostakovich in ways that impressively demonstrate how much it has grown over the past 20 years under music director and conductor John DeMain. Plus, the MSO is looking for a Principal Tuba player.

March 12, 2013

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) announces auditions for the Principal Tuba position. Auditions will be held by appointment on Thursday, June 13. Qualified candidates are encouraged to sign up for an audition time by emailing a one-page resume to A list of excerpts and a season schedule are also available.  All musicians qualifying for a position will be expected to attend all rehearsals and concerts as instrumentation demands. The MSO is a professional, fully orchestrated ensemble comprised of 91 contracted per-service musicians, offering approximately 80 services per season. 


By Jacob Stockinger

Later this week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will announce the programs and soloists for its next season. It is sure to be noteworthy, since the 2013-14 season marks the 20th year of the tenure of music director and conductor John DeMain (see below in a photo by James Gill.)

And it will surely be a season loaded with special events, DeMain has that Italian flavor for both drama and festive celebration, which is now doubt why he is also great opera conductor.

John DeMain HeadShot color by James Gill

But in a way, the Madison Symphony didn’t wait for the 20th anniversary season to announce just how accomplished it has become under DeMain and his team. In short, they upstaged themselves.

This past weekend in Overture Hall  we saw in this season’s penultimate concert aspects of the performance that highlighted what next season can only underline: that the programming has become more ambitious; that the soloists have become more predictable (perhaps too predictable in some ways, but that is a topic for another posting and another time); and that the players have become terrifically accomplished, consistent and precise in a thoroughly professional ensemble way.


The concert, which I heard Sunday afternoon, started with the opening half devoted to Mozart, whose music is the ultimate test of refinement, taste and charm. The first half started with a wonderfully upbeat rendering of the Overture to “The Impressario.” Some might have found the tempo a bit fast; I loved the brisk tempo and found it close to what I think the early Classical period was about. I particularly loved the way DeMain emphasized counterpoint and the subtle influences of Bach and the Baroque on Mozart.

Then came the youthful Violin Concerto No. 4 with the gifted Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud (below). One of the real finds made by the MSO during The DeMain Years, Kraggerud once again did not disappoint. True, the music is early Mozart and in some ways immature Mozart, compared to the late works that are deeper and more bittersweet.

Henning Kraggerud MSO 2013

And it is also true that Kraggerud could not have, and should not have, tried to turn the Mozart concerto into the kind of dramatic vehicle for his virtuosity that his past performances of concertos by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky offered.

But virtuosity matters in understatement too. And Kraggerud excelled there. His playing was clear and precise, yet also lyrical and charming. Transparency is what makes Mozart difficult, and the art of the virtuoso is to make the difficult seems easy. Kraggerud did that in spades. Both he and DeMain seemed to exult in the George Szell approach, somewhat clipped but clear in manner, that made the performance a model of Mozartean music-making. And talk about tone! (Hear Henning Kraggerud playing a Telemann Fantasie at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

And the audience to loved him, offering Kraggerud a standing ovation that brought him to play an impressive encore: one of his own improvisations on a theme by Ole Bull (below), the famed Norwegian violinist who also just happened to live in Madison, at 130 West Gilman Street, during the 1870s with his younger second wife Sarah Thorpe. He also established ties to the Scandinavian Studies Department at the UW-Madison.

Here is a link to a story I once posted  with references about Ole Bull and Madison as well as a previous performance with Kraggerud:

Ole Bull_playing

Clearly, when it comes to Kraggerud, this Nordic violinist has many sides to him, and we can hope we have not heard the last of him. I would love to hear Kraggerud in the violin concertos by all those B’s –- Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok and Barber — as well as some of the rarities, like violin concertos by Ludwig Spohr, that he has recorded for Naxos.

The concert concluded with one of the titanic works of the 20th century: The Symphony No. 10 in E minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (below), who wrote to celebrate the death of the mass murderer and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin who had so oppressed the composer and censored his work.

dmitri shostakovich

Once again, you might justly expect the massive Shostakovich to overwhelm to Mozart, And in a way it did, from sheer power and scale.

But some of the same qualities that made for great Mozart playing made for great Shostakovich, Music, after all, is music.

That is, DeMain had his ensemble perform with clarity, but always with the right momentum and drive. The precision matched and even enhanced the moodiness, no small feat. And the fact that all the principal chairs performed so well as speaks volumes about the DeMain tenure.

John DeMain conducting

If Kraggerud demonstrated the less-is-more kind of virtuosity, the orchestra exuded the more-is-more kind of virtuosity. Little wonder, then, that as the composer whipped up a coda and finale – he had a knack for that – the end left the audience jumping to its feet in an enthusiastic and prolonged ovation.

(PS: Was the subtle but obtrusive background noise –- that almost seemed like a falsetto overtone of the piccolo — during the third movement of the symphony feedback from a hearing aid? A cellphone? Does anyone know?)

I will be honest: I generally prefer the smaller scale, more intimate Shostakovich, especially the string quartets. But there was no denying -– and no resisting — the power of this large-scale work, especially in the capable hands of DeMain and the MSO players.

Of course not all critics agreed with my takes.

John W. Barker (below) of Isthmus had reservations about DeMain’s Mozart just as he did about DeMain’s Haydn. But I really like DeMain in both and wish the MSO would program more Mozart and Haydn. Here is a link to Barker’s review:

John Barker

Here is a link to a review by Greg Hettmansberger (below), who didn’t like the juxtapositional contrast of Mozart and Shostakovich as much I did, for his “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine: 

greg hettmansberger mug

Unfortunately, I cannot link to a review, as I usually do, by critic Lindsay Christians in 77 Square, The Capital Times or The Wisconsin State Journal. The newspapers’ new policy is NOT to review music performances with rare exceptions (like big rock shows maybe?).

It seems odd, irresponsible and maybe even “shameful,” to quote one local classical music fan, for a local paper to forgo reviewing a local cultural event that draws 5,000 to 6,0000 listeners over a weekend – especially in such an arts-rich city as Madison.

But times are tough for the print media, which must do more with less. And it is hard to cover local culture when staff and budgets have been cut. So apparently there will be more trend pieces and previews that links different performing groups.

Hey, maybe some TV station could pick up the slack and offer a two-minute classical review segment on a weekend broadcast, or something similar.

Anyway, what did you think of the performances by MSO and Henning Kraggerud?

The Ear wants to hear.

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