The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianists Peter Serkin and Julia Hsu will play works for piano-four hands by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms this Saturday night at Farley’s House of Pianos.

March 31, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at Farley’s House of Pianos write to the blog with news of a noteworthy piano concert this Saturday night:

Renowned American pianist Peter Serkin (below top) and Julia Hsu (below bottom) will perform piano, four-hand pieces by Schumann, Bizet, Mozart and more, as part of the Salon Piano Series concerts held at Farley’s House of Pianos at 6522 Seybold Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Peter Serkin

Julia Hsu

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday night, April 4 and will include an introduction by Karlos Moser (below), a retired University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of music and former longtime director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Karlos Moser

The program includes: Six Etudes in the Form of Canons for Pedal-Piano, Op. 56, by Robert Schumann; Three Pieces from “Jeux d’Enfants” (Children’s Games) by Georges Bizet; the Sonata in B flat Major, K. 358, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Allegro ma non troppo in A minor (the dramatic and lyrical “Lebenssturme” or “Lifestorms” that you can hear in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom), D.947, and the Rondo in A Major, D.951, by Franz Schubert; and Four Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms.

Tickets are $45 and are expected to sell quickly. They are available online at and or at Farley’s House of Pianos, (608) 271-2626.

For more information about the Salon Piano Series, visit:

The distinguished American pianist Peter Serkin has performed with the world’s major symphony orchestras with such conductors as Seiji Ozawa, Daniel Barenboim, George Szell, Claudio Abbado, Eugene Ormandy and James Levine. A dedicated chamber musician, Serkin has collaborated with artists including violinist Pamela Frank and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

An avid exponent of the music of many contemporary composers, Serkin has brought to life the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Michael Wolpe, and others for audiences around the world. He has performed many world premieres written specifically for him, in particular, works by Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen and Peter Lieberson. Serkin currently teaches at Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Longy School of Music. Serkin became friends with the Farleys in 1994 when he was in town for a concert and visited the Farley’s showroom (below).

Farley Daub plays

Originally from Taiwan, Julia Hsu received scholarships to study at The Purcell School for young musicians at the age of 14. She has also studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at the Hannover Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Germany. Julia has collaborated with conductors Fabio Panisello, Lutz Koeler and cellist Ivan Moniguetti. She was a Festival Fellow at Bowdoin Music Festival, and a scholar at the Banff Centre, Canada before she became a Piano Fellow at Bard College Conservatory of Music in 2013.

The Salon Piano Series is a non-profit founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Upcoming concerts include the internationally acclaimed Czech pianist Martin Kasík (below top), who will play the “Moonlight” and “Les Adieux” Sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and Sonata No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev, on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. Jazz pianist Dick Hyman (below bottom) will perform on May 30 and 31, 2015, at 4 p.m. both days.

Martin Kasik w piano

dick hyman

For ticket information and concert details see

All events will be held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison, on Madison’s west side near the Beltline, and plenty of free parking is available. It is also easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.

Classical music news: Maurice Sendak loved classical music, especially Verdi and Mozart, and, yes, he was gay.

May 12, 2012
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ALERT: Just a reminder that today 2-6 p.m. is the FREE and PUBLIC “Curtain Down Party” and Open House at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Here are links to news releases and stories about the event. My own thoughts about the WUT’s history and future were in yesterday’s posting:

By Jacob Stockinger

Ever since he died this week at 83 of complications from a stroke, the famed children’s book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak (below) has been featured in many tributes in the old and new media — and rightfully so.

I love listening to his voice, his articulate conversation and quick thinking. Just listen to the hour that Terry Gross and “Fresh Air” on NPR devoted to old interviews he did.

And The Huffington Post compiled some of Sendak’s most memorable and self-effacing quotes:

But other sources, with less of a high-profile, also discussed other aspects of Sedak and his art.

One is the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City, where Sendak was born and lived his whole life.

Sendak told a blogger at WQXR how much he loved classical music, especially Mozart and Verdi. He even collaborated on various musical projects including one with contemporary British composer Oliver Knussen.

Here is a link:!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2012/may/08/classical-music-fueled-maurice-sendak-muse/

And the question I kept hearing was whether Maurice Sendak was gay.

Well, it took him a long time to make a public statement, but he did it recently on The Colbert Report. Take a listen not only to Sendak’s wit and humor but also to absolute candor.

Here is a link to Be sure to listen to the blog but especially to listen to the clip from the Colbert Report at the bottom:

That kind of emotional honesty, I am convinced, was also one of the qualities that permeated Sendak’s own books and accounted for his popularity and prestige.

We adults are The Wild Things and we are sad at his passing,

Even more than children, it is adults who will miss Maurice Sendak.  He embodied the kind of cosmopolitan intelligence and tolerant creativity that we see too rarely in our increasingly anti-intellectual society.

In honor of Sendak and his musical taste, here is the finale from Verdi’s opera “Falstaff,” a character who seems as lusty for life and as larger-than-life as Sendak himself:

Classical music Q&A: Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations are modernistic like new music by Toru Takemitsu, Charles Wuorinen and Oliver Knussen, says pianist Peter Serkin, who will perform all four composers this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

May 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Few pianists have such a long history of playing both revered classics and untested new music as Peter Serkin, who has won major awards for both.

This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Serkin (below) will return to the Wisconsin Union Theater with exactly the kind of mixed old-new program that has become his signature.

The first half of his recital features three modern or contemporary works by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, the American composer Charles Wuorinen and the British composer Oliver Knussen – the last two were written for him – and the second half features Beethoven’s epic “Diabelli” Variations.

Having taught at Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute, Serkin, who lives in Massachusetts near the Berkshire Mountains, now teaches  at Bard College in addition to playing 50 to 60 concerts a year. He says he loves teaching because of the interaction. Learning from students, he adds, is like learning from rehearsals.

Serkin also says he drawn to out-of-the-way repertoire and rarities. These days he is working on solo piano pieces by Bizet and Carl Nielsen.

Tickets for his Madison recital cost $10-$42 and can be purchased through Campus Arts Ticketing by phone at (608) 265-ARTS or in person at the Union Theater Box Office or the Vilas Hall Box Office and online at:

For more information plus videos, visit:

Just back from concert tours to Scotland and Vienna, Serkin spoke to The Ear about the works on his upcoming recital, his approach to new music and to Beethoven, and his philosophy of programming:

Do you have new recording projects in the works?

Not really. I enjoy the recording process a lot, so I do home recordings. But they’re not for sale. These days I’m playing on a piano synthesizer and a clavichord.

You have performed in Madison several times. Do you have a reaction to the city and its audiences?

I always find it a very responsive audience, very musically informed to begin with. It is also very open to new things. There is a curiosity there about unusual music.

You have been a lifelong champion of new music. Why on this program do you mix new music with old music, especially such an iconic masterpiece as Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations?

For me, it’s somewhat natural to be up on and interested in the music of our own time. For me, new music isn’t exclusive of older music, although I tend to avoid the enshrined classics.

Some older music is very modernistic. That is the case with the “Diabelli” Variations by Beethoven (below). I included them because they are challenging and outrageous in a way. The work by Beethoven had and still has the intensity and adventurousness of new music. You need to impart some sense and coherence to it. Something that can be that daunting can be very exciting and appealing.

Is there some special approach or perspective you have on the Beethoven?

With the Beethoven, I try to come to it as something new. I have no particular take on it. I just jump in and meet the unexpected. I have played it for many years, but it always a new and fresh experience. I try to stay in touch with the outrageous aspects. Beethoven had distinct compositional ideas that were outlandish for then and are still outlandish.

There is an immensity to the Beethoven. One has a sense of the whole piece all at once, but at the same time there is a sense of jumping into the theme and variations and taking them one step at a time. There is a whole world for each one.

How do the “Diabelli” Variations compare to other works by Beethoven?

It is one of my favorite Beethoven pieces, but then there are so many. Of course, we venerate the piece because it is a remarkable achievement. But there is a fun-loving and mischievous quality that runs throughout it. It has humor and depth too, but it isn’t all deadly serious. There is a sense of lightness and possibilities, things you just can’t do but he does. That sense of playfulness really appeals to me.

How do people response to the new music you play?

There are no guarantees about how people will respond. It takes openness and good will. You have to allow for the possibility of relating to it.

Can you briefly walk us through the new music you will play from your point of view?

Oliver Knussen’s Variations, Op. 24 (1989): I have commissioned a piece of piano and orchestra from him. This is the 60th birthday year for Knussen (below). I also love to play his solo pieces, and these variations were written for me. They are very concise. He studied the “Diabelli” Variations when he was composing his own.

Charles Wuorinen’s “Adagio”: This was also written for me. It is a follow-up to a wild and energetic scherzo he wrote for me. This piece has a stillness and spaciousness to it. It lasts about 14 minutes. He is going to write a third piece for me, and then I can play them all as a suite or play sections individually.

Toru Takemitsu’s “For away”: This was written in the 1970s for Roger Woodward. But he also wrote many pieces for me. I have a real connection to Takemitsu (below) and his music. He was a great friend, and I love to play much of his music – orchestral, chamber music and solo works. It’s gratifying to keep coming back to such good music. It is it compelling and evocative.

Do you think there is more acceptance of new music today?

I’ve noticed that with many of the new composers I play that there is more acceptance. When I was young (below, Peter Serkin in 1976), Arnold Schoenberg had just died. His music was considered a forbidden difficulty. The same thing happened with the music of Messiaen, whom I have played a lot of. People didn’t know how to deal with it. Now music like that gets much more support. It is interesting to see the change.

Take Takemitsu. Only recently has he been declared a national treasure in Japan. Familiarity comes as one gets to know them. It is hard to say, but in some ways they will become standards. Now we are hearing a lot more of their music and it is performed well.

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