The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW pianist Christopher Taylor gets raves for his performances of Olivier Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards” in Milwaukee and New York City.

December 15, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) was educated at Harvard, where he graduated with top honors in theoretical math; studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music; and won a bronze medal at the 1991 Van Cliburn Competition. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for the past decade, and normally gets rave reviews whenever performs in Madison.


Taylor’s local highlights includes performing the cycle of 32 Beethoven sonatas plus concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, chamber music with other UW faculty members and the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, with Taylor, performing the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 last spring), and his annual solo recitals.

PAQ and Christopher Taylor Bolcom Piano Quintet 2

Still, Madisonians don’t always appreciate the degree to which local talent is also appreciated elsewhere in the country and the world.

Take this past week. Taylor, known for his interpretations of such modern and contemporary composers as Olivier Messiaen (below), Gyorgy Ligeti and Derek Bermel, received raves first in Milwaukee and then in New York City – at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Medieval Sculpture Gallery — for his performances of Olivier Messiaen’s epic and technically demanding sequence of “Vingt Regards sur L’enfant Jesus” (“Twenty Meditations on the Infant Jesus,” an impressive specialty of Taylor.

Olivier Messiaen#1#

Here is an advance conversation with Taylor on WUWM, Milwaukee’s public radio station:

Then here is a review of the performance in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

And here is a review by former Milwaukee journalist, reviewer Tom Strini, who now has a terrific Milwaukee-based blog for Third Coast Digest:

Tom Strini

And here is the review of Taylor’s performance in the Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall (below in a photo for The New York Times by Hiroyuki Ito) by critic Vivien Schweitzer that appeared in The New York Times:

Christopher Taylor at the tht Med Sculture Hall Hiroyuki Ito NY TImes article

Finally, here is the posting that appeared on this blog last week about the out-of-town performances by Christopher “Kit” Taylor”:

One final word: We will get to hear Taylor in recital for FREE on Thursday, March 14, at 7:30 in Mills Hall. No word yet on the program. But it could well be the Olivier Messiaen, which he has performed excerpts from here, but never the complete and lengthy work in its entirety.

Taking somebody to that performance sure would make a nice holiday gift, along with one of his recordings – say, the “Transcendental” Etudes by Franz Liszt or the Etudes by William Bolcom – that are available from the on-line CD store at the UW School of Music:

Classical music: Acclaimed Van Cliburn Competition prize winner, UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen’s COMPLETE “Twenty Looks at the Infant Jesus” in Milwaukee on Friday night, then in New York City on Tuesday night. Could a New Holiday Tradition be in the making?

December 6, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in Milwaukee, the acclaimed University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the COMPLETE sets of  Olivier Messiaen‘s work, “Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus,” at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, 914 East Knapp Street.


Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for students. They are available at the door and online at or by calling 414-255-0801.

In addition, Timothy Benson, organist at Saint Paul’s Church will present a lecture and performance of Messiaen’s work on TONIGHT, December 6 at 7 p.m. at Saint Paul’s. Admission is free with a ticket to the December 7 concert.

Composed in 1944, “Vingt Regards” (Twenty Looks at the Infant Jesus”) by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1982, below) is a collection of 20 short contemplations on the infant Jesus by “God the Father,” “the Mother Virgin Mary,” the angels, wise men, birds from the heights, silence, time, the stars and the cross.

The music is a kaleidoscope of radiant colors, bird songs, mini-orchestral sounds, Christmas bells and Hindu drums. It is a difficult work technically and interpretatively, and is a specialty of Taylor, who won a bronze medal at the 1991 Van Cliburn Competition and can be heard playing an excerpt at the bottom of this posting.

For more information about the Milwaukee performance, visit:

Olivier Messiaen#1#

Based in Milwaukee, PianoArts’ mission is to foster appreciation and performance of classical music by identifying and mentoring a new generation of pianists with exceptional musical and verbal communication skills and by presenting them to diverse audiences. It also sponsors a major international competition every two years.

This concert is a timely performance of a work that has obvious ties to the holidays, Taylor will also perform the same daunting program in New York City next Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. as a holiday-related concert at the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be performed in its Medieval Sculpture Hall.

For information about the New York performance, visit:

Could Christopher Taylor performing Messiaen become a New Holiday Tradition?

We could sure use one.

How about a performance here in Madison next year?

Classical music education: You can hear for yourself how University of Wisconsin music students have improved by going to the UW Chamber Orchestra’s FREE opening concert of Maxwell-Davies, Ravel and Schubert on Saturday night.

October 5, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

To those of us who have been in Madison a while, the difference is obvious to hear.

The University of Wisconsin student orchestras – the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra  – have always been good. But over the years they only seem to have gotten better. The same can be said, I think, for solo pianists, chamber musicians and singers.

It seems to The Ear that the UW is recruiting more accomplished musicians. Is that due to the reputation for the UW School of Music? To better teachers and teaching methods in the lower grades? To more appreciation for the performing arts at home, in school and in society? I honestly don’t know.

I suppose if I had access to academic transcripts and admission audition notes, I would know for sure.

But the most recent proof I had was last Sunday, when I heard the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) perform an outstanding program of Messiaen, Berg and Berlioz.

In the late “Smile for Orchestra” by Olivier Messiaen (below), they showed off their ability to create color, follow complex rhythms and follow abrupt  and extreme shifts in dynamics.

In the late Romantic (not atonal) “Seven Early Songs’ by Alban Berg (below) – which featured the outstanding faculty soprano Julia Faulkner as a soloist, although unfortunately she went unannounced in pre-concert publicity – the orchestra proved a fine accompanist.

True, some of the songs seemed unbalanced and the singer was a bit drowned out. Was that the resonant hall? The fact that Faulkner (below center), who possesses a big and beautiful voice, sang sitting down? The large size of the orchestra? It’s impossible for me to say, but I did want to hear more of the singing.

Then came the landmark “Symphonie Fantastique” — a long and difficult but seminal and programmatic Romantic work by Hector Berlioz (below) that is much like Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in that if puts the spotlight on all sections. In one, it was the percussion and brass; in another the winds and strings, and so forth. All passed with honors.

So congratulations to conductor James Smith (below) and his players.

If you missed that concert, you have another chance to hear Smith with student players tomorrow, on Saturday  night, when at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs under James Smith its first concert of the 2012-13 season.

The concert is an appealing one; Smith always chooses an eclectic program. It features 19th and 20th century music: the “Ojai Festival Overture, J. 305” by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; “Ma Mere L’Oye” (“Mother Goose” Suite) by Maurice Ravel; and Symphony No. 6 in C major, D. 589, by Franz Schubert (at bottom).

The concert is FREE.

Parking might be a problem, especially on a football day. But I have been told by the UW Parking Authority that there is some inevitable confusion because the UW system is moving to automated gates with pay machines rather than human cashiers.

The bottom line, they said, was that if the gate arm is open to let you in for nothing, you will be able to leave – and not be ticketed or towed. All day Sunday is FREE parking in nearby Grainger Hall, they said.

We will see.

Be sure to let The Ear know about your Adventures and Misadventures in UW Parking Land.

Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College student orchestras go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

September 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

In yet another sign of the growing conflicts and competition that inevitably occur when with a city the size of Madison has a classical music scene that keeps growing, two of the major academic institutions in Madison — the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College — go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

(And that doesn’t even include Wisconsin Public Radio’s live concert broadcast of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which runs from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and this week features pianist Michael Mizrahi, below, in a program of an early Beethoven sonata, Chopin’s last Mazurka and rarely heard works by newer composers such a Burke, Greenstein, Dancigers and Burke.)

The Ear bets there are many individuals, groups and families especially who would like to support both schools, both music departments. But, alas, that seems impossible.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with the UW Choral Union) under conductor James Smith (below bottom in a photo by Jeff Miller) will perform a FREE concert. The unusual program includes “Un Sourire pour Orchestra” (A Smile for Orchestra) by Olivier Messiaen, “Sieben fruhe Lieder” (Seven Early Songs) by Alan Berg and Hector Berlioz‘s famous “Symphonie fantastique,” Op. 14.

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Edgewood College, the: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra Concert will perform a concert under conductor Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci)  in the Saint Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is $5; free with Edgewood College ID.

Included on the program is the Overture to “Il Viaggio a Reims” by Rossini, Granville Bantock’s “Old English Suite” and Haydn’s Symphony 99 in E-flat major.

This concert is presented as part of the Year of the Arts at Edgewood College, a celebration of music, theatre and art for 2012-2013. Supporters of our Year of the Arts programming include the Kohler Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts with additional funds from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Native Capital Investment, and the Ahrens-Washburn Community Fellows Program.

Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Christopher Taylor will be the only pianist to play next season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. But this month he performs in Perm, Russia and in August in Sarajevo.

May 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two weeks ago, buried in a New York Times review by Anthony Tommasini of a recital by the Turkish pianist Fazil Say – the only solo pianist to perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art recital series this reason — was news of local interest:

Christopher Taylor, the well-known and widely acclaimed University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and piano virtuoso, will be the ONLY solo pianist on the concert schedule next season at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here is a link to The New York Times story about Taylor and the Met:

Taylor (below) is known for his advocacy of new and modern music. This past semester, he performed the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 with the Pro Arte String Quartet, as part of the Pro Arte’s centennial season. He will record that work with the Pro Arte this spring.

At the Met, Taylor – who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in theoretical mathematics while pursuing piano studies with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music — was described as “brilliant” and “brainy” in the Times review.

Taylor — who won the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 1993 — will play one of his specialties: The very long and very difficult work “Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus” (Twenty Meditations on the Infant Jesus) by the French composer Olivier Messiaen (below). The performance — only Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. — will be themed to the holiday season and held near the Met’s Medieval Sculpture Hall.

Taylor performed the same work before in New York City in February of 2001, and the same New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini called it one of the 10 best concerts of the year. And that is against some pretty stiff competition. (A sample is at bottom.)

If you are interested in attending, here is a link with information about tickets and the ocncert:

As I recall, Taylor has played parts of the same work in Madison but not the whole series straight through and from memory – an impressive feat, indeed.

Also of related interest: The busy Taylor will NOT be performing at this summer’s Aspen Festival, as he often does.

But he will be busy nonetheless.

Instead he will do a week-long concert tour to distant Russian industrial city of Perm, Russia, near Siberia – it takes some 11 hours to fly the 4,500 miles one-way — where he will play May 17-24.

He has a solo recital of Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards” plus a joint recital a few days later in which his  contribution will be some of the Messiaen; J.S. Bach’s Duetto in A minor; Schumann’s “The Prophet Bird” from the late “Forest Scenes”; and the Ligeti etude “Autumn in Warsaw.” Then there will also be a performance of a new work called “Gereven” by Vladimir Nikolaev, which is scored for an ensemble similar to the one used in Stravinsky’s “Les Noces.”

Then in late August, Taylor will travel to Sarajevo (below) – dates are not fixed yet – to perform a solo recital with the last Schubert Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, and the second book of Brahms’ “Paganini” Etudes plus some chamber music.

The Ear would love to hear Taylor perform that same program here, maybe with some his exceptional Bach thrown in – some duets or a partita: Bach and Brahms, then Schubert. Could it get better?

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