The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The second LunART Festival will spotlight women in the performing and creative arts. Here is Part 2 of 2 with more about new music, comedy and a full schedule

June 3, 2019
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ALERT: The second Van Cliburn Junior Piano Competition resumes today — Monday, June 3 — in Dallas at 2:20 p.m. CDT. The young players range from 13 to 17 and come from around the world, and they are terrific. Plus the quality of the live streaming is outstanding, especially for the camera work of the keyboard. It’s all FREE. If you want to see it, here is a link: You might also be interested to know that among the jurors are Alessio Bax, who has performed in Madison at Farley’s House of Pianos, and Philippe Bianconi, who has soloed several times with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.  All that and you get to vote for the Audience Award too! 

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received a long and detailed announcement about the upcoming second LunART Festival. Here is Part 2 of two parts with more information about new music, comedy and a schedule of events. Yesterday was Part 1 — a link is below — with background and participants.

The LunART Festival, co-founded and co-directed by Iva Ugrcic and Laura Medisky, is back for its second season from this Wednesday, June 5, through Sunday, June 9, and will continue its mission of supporting, inspiring, promoting and celebrating women in the arts.

The 2019 season brings 10 events to eight venues in the Madison area, providing accessible, high-quality, engaging concerts and events with diverse programming from various arts fields.

The festival will showcase over 100 artists this season, including many familiar local artists and performers as well as guest artists hailing from Missouri to Texas, Minnesota to Florida and as far away as Peru.

LunART’s 2019 call for scores was open to women composers of all ages and nationalities, and received an impressive 98 applicants from around the globe. Scores were evaluated by a committee of 17 LunART Festival musicians and directors, and three works were selected to be performed at each of the Gala concerts.

The winning composers are Eunike Tanzil (below top), Edna Alejandra Longoria (below middle) and Kirsten Volness (below bottom). All three will be in attendance at the festival. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a piece for cello and piano, with the composer playing the piano, by Eunike Tanzil.)

The “From Page to Stage: Emerging Composers” educational program also returns, bringing six composers to Madison to work with flutist and composer-in-residence Valerie Coleman (below).

During the festival she will mentor participants in developing practical skills to express their creative ideas, cultivate relationships with performers and master the art of collaboration. The program culminates with a free public concert featuring their music on Saturday, June 8, at 2 p.m. in the Capitol Lakes Grand Hall, 333 West Main street, downtown and two blocks from the Capitol Square.

On Friday, June 7 at Overture Center in Promenade Hall, Meaghan Heinrich (below) presents her pre-concert lecture, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman,” which explores what it means to be a woman artist in the 21st century, and how women’s experiences shape their artistic expressions.

Following the Friday gala concert is “Holding Court,” this season’s Starry Night event at Robinia Courtyard. This all-women comedy show features Midwestern comics Vanessa Tortolano (below top), Chastity Washington (below bottom), Vickie Lynn, Samara Suomi and Cynthia Marie who are blazing a trail of funny that will leave you gasping in their wake.

“The Multi-faceted Artist” panel discussion is for anyone interested in the ongoing trend and need for artists to wear multiple hats to succeed and thrive.

Coleman (composer and flutist) and Dr. Linda DiRaimondo (psychiatrist and aerial dancer, below top on top) serve as panelists along with Katrin Talbot (violist, poet and photographer, below bottom in a photo by Isabel Karp), and will lead the discussion on Saturday, June 8, at the downtown Madison Public Library’s Bubbler Room.

The festival wraps up on Sunday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to noon at Common Ground, 2644 Branch Street in Middleton, with “Mooning Around” poetry reading and artist mixer, featuring a performance of “One for Mileva Maric (Einstein)” by Andrea Musher, with special guests Sarah Whelan and Jackie Bradley, and poetry readings by The Line-Breakers: Andrea Potos (below), Eve Robillard, Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva and Katrin Talbot.

Everyone is welcome to come enjoy their morning coffee and pastries while making creative connections with other artists.

LunART Festival is supported by Dane Arts, the Madison Arts Commission, the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Open Meadows Foundation; it also won first place at the 2018 National Flute Association C.R.E.A.T.E. Project Competition and second prize at the 2018 UW Arts Business Competition.

Schedule of 2019 Festival events:

Wednesday, June 5

  • 6-8 p.m.: “Women Against Hate United by Love” exhibition opening reception @ Rotunda Stage, Overture Center for the Arts (free event)

Thursday, June 6

  • 9 a.m.-Noon From Page to Stage composition master class with Valerie Coleman @ First United Methodist Church (free event)
  • 7 p.m.: Opening Gala Concert @ Maiahaus (402 E. Mifflin St.) (Tickets: $20 general/$10 students)

Friday, June 7

  • 6 p.m.: “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman” pre-concert lecture by Meaghan Heinrich (free event)
  • 7 p.m.: “Portraits of Josephine” Gala Concert @ Promenade Hall, Overture Center for the Arts (Tickets: $20 general/$10 students)
  • 9 p.m.: Starry Night: “Holding Court” All-Women Comedy Show @ Robinia Courtyard (Tickets: $7 in advance/$10 at the door)

Saturday, June 8

  • 10 a.m.-Noon: “The Multi-faceted Artist” Panel Discussion @ Madison Public Library Bubbler Room (free event)
  • 2 p.m.: From Page To Stage: Emerging Composers Concert @ Capitol Lakes Grand Hall (free event)
  • 7 p.m.: “Gaia” Closing Gala Concert @ First Unitarian Society of Madison Atrium Auditorium (Tickets: $20 general/$10 students)

Sunday, June 9

  • 10 a.m.-Noon: “Mooning Around” poetry reading and artist mixer @ Common Ground, 2644 Branch St., Middleton (free event)

More information can be found at


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Classical music: Pianist Philippe Bianconi returns to solo in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend. The MSO premiere of the Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski is also on the program

April 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Pianist Philippe Bianconi (below, in a photo by Bernard Martinez) returns this weekend to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in one of the most challenging works written for piano, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

The program opens with Schumann’s dramatic Manfred Overture, followed by the MSO’s premiere performance of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Concluding the program is a performance of the notoriously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1973-1943). The performance features French pianist Bianconi, who won a silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition and who has performed frequently with the MSO.

The concerts take place in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night, April 7 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, April 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 9 at 2:30 p.m. Ticket information is further down.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856, below) composed the Overture to Manfred in 1848 during a time of many revolutions throughout Europe, with political feelings running high across the continent.

In Bryon’s mystical poem, Manfred, Bryon’s hero, a “freedom fighter who is tortured by guilt and melancholy” perfectly suited the time and political environment of Europe.

Schumann once wrote in a letter to Franz Liszt (who directed the complete version in 1851): “I feel that it is one of the strongest of my artistic children, and I hope that you will agree with me.”

Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994, below), began work on Concerto for Orchestra in 1950. This is the first time this piece will be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the dramatic opening of the work, performed by Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the YouTube videos at the bottom.)

Originally from Warsaw, Poland, the Lutoslawski family fled to Russia to escape the German occupation of World War I. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Lutoslawski’s father and uncle were executed by the Bolsheviks for their political activism and the family returned to Warsaw. Lutoslawski had studied piano and composition between the wars, but was then drafted into the Polish army and captured by the Nazi’s in 1933.

He escaped captivity and found his way back to Warsaw where he worked as a cabaret pianist. Lutoslawski fled Warsaw a second time, just months before the Nazis leveled the city in 1945 – “losing most of his scores in the process.” He then returned to Warsaw when it was controlled by the Soviets.

Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra is based in part on folk styles – apparently at the request of conductor Witold Rowicki, to whom it is dedicated.  It is his most popular piece.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) composed his Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1909. He spent the summer in the Russian countryside, relaxing on his wife’s family’s estate, while also writing one of the most challenging works for piano in the repertoire. This piece is a “fiery display of piano technique” that has been called “The Mt. Everest of piano concertos.”

One hour before each performance, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the MSO, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, visit the Program Notes, written by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot), at:

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call 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 visit,

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 $15 tickets. More information is at: Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

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

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

Exclusive funding for the April concerts is provided by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.

For more information about the Madison Symphony Orchestra, go to

Classical music: Give the gift of LIVE music. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater are offering holiday discounts.

December 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.

The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:

The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:

But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.

There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.


Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).

Here are two relevant links:


Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics


Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).

Here is  a link to shows for the second semester:[329]=329

Gabriela Montero


And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.

Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.

Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here are two links:

And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.

Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.

Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?

Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?

Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013

REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).


And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).


Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!

Classical music: How YouTube vaulted pianist Valentina Lisitsa to fame and fortune. Plus, here are reminders about concerts today by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

October 20, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

First, some reminders and alerts.


The final performance of the second concert of the season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) is today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall.

MSO playing

The program, conducted by longtime MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) features Benjamin Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme on Purcell (also used for the popular ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra); Claude Debussy’s “La mer” (The Sea); and Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2 with guest artist Philippe Bianconi.

John DeMain conducting 2

Here is a link to a Q&A I posted earlier this week with pianist Philippe Bianconi (below) about the Brahms concerto. It also contains other information and useful links about the entire program, including program notes and ticket prices:


So far, the concert has received critical acclaim – and there is still time to catch it this afternoon.

Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (below) in Isthmus:


And here is a link the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

greg hettmansberger mug


Also, tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Guest Artist series will present clarinetist Michael Norsworthy (below), who will perform a FREE concert of modern and contemporary works.

The program includes “Pastoral” by Elliot Carter;
 Three American Pieces by Lukas Foss; 
nebraska impromptu by Marti Epstein; 
”SchiZm,” by Derek Bermel; “Black Anemones” by Joseph Schwantner;
 and Souvenirs, by Robert Beaser.

Michael Norsworthy

Michael Norsworthy, professor of clarinet at the Boston Conservatory, is one of the most celebrated champions of the modern repertoire. To date, he has given over 125 world premieres with leading contemporary music groups, including Klangforum Wien, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Manhattan Sinfonietta, Fromm Players at Harvard, Boston Musica Viva, Callithumpian Consort in Boston, Ensemble 21 in New York and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble. His current discography numbers over 15 releases and can be found on the Albany, Mode, Gasparo, Canteloupe, BMOP/sound, ECM, Nonesuch, Cirrus Music and Cauchemar labels.


Finally, speaking of pianists, as I did above, this past week, The New York  Times featured a comprehensive story about the pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below), who has performed in Madison at least three times – twice in solo recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos and once at the Wisconsin Union Theater as the accompanist for violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn.


What makes the story so fascinating is how Lisitsa used the popular website YouTube to launch her career the way that pop stars, not classical stars, so often do. From her success on YouTube she even got a contract with a major record company, Decca Records.

Usually, YouTube features videos of performing artists who have already established their careers. But this time, it worked vice-versa. (At the bottom is a YouTube video of Valentina Lisitsa playing a live performance in Seoul , Korea, of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s popular Prelude in G Minor. It has more than 3.5 million hits!)

The story is a terrific testament to the power of new media in the performing arts.

Here is a link:

Classical music: UW-Madison tenor James Doing and his students continue to explore classical “standards” on Saturday night in a FREE song recital.

October 16, 2013
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ALERTS: French pianist Philippe Bianconi (below in a photo by Bernard Martinez), who is in town this weekend to play three performances of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain, will be the guest on Norman Gilliland’s “The Midday” program on THURSDAY from noon  to 1 p.m on Wisconsin Public Radio WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area. And on Friday from 12:15 to 1 p.m., guitarist Steven Waugh plays Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Isaac Albeniz, Charlie Parker, Errol Garner and more for the First Unitarian Society’s weekly FREE FRIDAY Noon Musicale at 900 University Bay Drive.

Philippe Bianconi by Bernard Martinez

By Jacob Stockinger

Three years ago, University of Wisconsin-Madison tenor James Doing (below) launched an ambitious and much appreciated project that helps to acquaint classical music fans – especially fans of singing – with some basic and well-known repertoire and basic vocal techniques. The format is much like a master class to acquaint the general public with the music from the inside and to help non-musicians understand the process of learning how to sing.

The second installment of the series of four recitals will be this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Here is how Doing recently explained the special concert to Kathy Esposito for “Fanfare,” the terrific new blog at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

It is the kind of reinventing of the classical music recital that The Ear thinks should be done more often to attract new audiences, younger audiences and non-specialty audiences. I was there and it was terrific. It was especially moving to see teacher and students sing together as partners, which is in fact what they: master and apprentice. It is the oldest educational method in the world — and it still works.

Here is a letter that Doing has sent out via email to his many friends and fans and to The Ear:

James Doing color

“Three years ago I presented a “Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio” recital complete with program notes about vocal technique, diction and so on, and it was well received.  (A YouTube video with a lovely sampling from that first concert, of James Doing singing Reynaldo Hahn’s song, is at the bottom.) 

Jacob Stockinger had some nice things to say in his blog The Well-Tempered Ear:

The songs I sang on that recital are posted on my YouTube Channel, which has a link at the bottom.

On this Saturday night, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, my students and I are going to be singing another “Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio.” The pianist will be UW professor Martha Fischer (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

Admission is FREE. And I would love to have many singers and teachers from the community come and share the evening with me and my students.

I’ll be performing 18 songs and five of my female voice students will assist by singing eight selections. (The students are: CatieLeigh Laszewski, Jenny Marsland, Olivia Pogodzinski, Melanie Traeger and Sheila Wilhelmi.)

The generous and varied program of English, Italian, German and French art songs and opera arias includes:

“Strike the Viol” by Henry Purcell (1659?-1695) from “Come, ye Sons of Art”; “Se Florinda è fedele” by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) from “La donna ancora è fedele”; “Total eclipse” by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) from “Samson” and “V’adoro pupille” from “Giulio Cesare”, with CatieLeigh Laszewski, soprano; “Sebben, crudele” by Antonio Caldara (1670?-1736) from “La costanza in amor vince l’inganno”; “Và godendo” by George Frideric Handel (below) from “Serse” (Xerxes)  with Melanie Traeger, soprano; “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert (1797-1828); “Das Veilchen” (The Violet) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); “Du bist wie eine Blume” (You Are Like a Flower) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); “Sonntag” (Sunday) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); “Auch kleine Dinge” (And Small Things) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); “Ständchen” (Serenade) with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).

handel big 2

And that is just before intermission. Then comes the second half.

The second half features: “Plaisir d’amour” by Johann-Paul Martini (1741-1816); “Lydia” by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924); “Claire de lune” and “L’heure exquise” by Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947); “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If mY Word Had Wings) and “Les Papillons” by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899); and “Apparition” with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918); from “Le Nozze di Figaroby Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), “Giùnse alfin il momento . . . Deh vieni, non tardar” with CatieLeigh Laszewski, soprano, and “Voi, che sapete” with Sheila Wilhelmi, mezzo-soprano; “Go, lovely rose” by Roger Quilter (1877-1953); “The Green Dog” with Jenny Marsland, soprano, by Herbert Kingsley (1858-1937 … I think!); “Love’s Philosophy” with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Roger Quilter; “At St. Patrick’s Purgatory” from “Hermit Songs” by Samuel Barber (below, 1910-1981); and “When I have sung my songs” by Ernest Charles (1895-1984).

barber 1

Historical notes are being provided by Chelsie Propst (below), a fine young soprano who completed her Masters of Music in voice with Paul Rowe and is now a PhD candidate in Musicology. I add some Performance Notes/Suggestions and Diction pointers.

Chelsie Propst USE

For this concert of 26 songs we will provide the full notes on about 10 songs and I will provide my own translations and International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcriptions for all of them (except the final set of English songs).

This concert is the second in a series of four with number three taking place April 3, 2014 in Mills Hall and number four taking place during the 2014-15 school year.

The goal or plan at this point is to eventually complete a book tentatively entitled 100 Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio. The book will begin with some chapters on vocal pedagogy, diction, ornamentation, and other issues followed by the 100 songs. Each song will have historical background written by Ms. Propst, followed by performance and diction pointers, translations and IPA.

Would you be so kind as to spread the word and announce this concert at your choir rehearsal?

Thank you so much. If you are able to attend please come and say hello after the performance.

Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone you like:)

All the best,

Jim Doing, Tenor, Professor of Voice, University of Wisconsin School of Music, NATS National Voice Science Advisory Committee

Classical music Q&A: What makes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 so great? French pianist Philippe Bianconi discusses his upcoming performances of it this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, the memorial performances for singer Ilona Kombrink are this Sunday afternoon.

October 15, 2013

ALERT and REMINDER: Ilona Kombrink (below), UW Emeritus Professor of Voice, passed away on Friday, August 9, 2013 in Stoughton, Wisconsin, at the age of 80. A Memorial Concert and celebration of Ilona’s life will be held on this Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 3 p.m. in the Grand Hall at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, Madison. The public is invited with no formal reservations necessary.

A member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison voice faculty from 1967-2003, “Ms. K” counted among her students hundreds of singers and teachers working all over the world today. She performed frequently in her own recitals and collaborated often with many of her UW faculty colleagues on and off-campus. She was beloved in the wider Madison community for her uncompromising vocal artistry, and was featured in appearances with Madison Opera, Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Capitol City Band, and others.

Among the performers will be former students: Kathleen Otterson (Edgewood College), Margaret (Peggy) Walters, and Daniel Johnson-Wilmot (Viterbo University); UW colleagues: Professor Howard Karp (piano) and Professor Parry Karp (‘cello); Professor Karlos Moser (opera); and Professor Tyrone Greive (violin). Participating pianists include Michael Keller, Bruce Bengtson, Michael Ross, Janet Smith, and Melinda Moser. UW Professor Mimmi Fulmer, former student Marcia Roberts McCoy, and Professor James Latimer will offer remembrances. A reception will follow in the Capitol Lakes Encore Room.

Ilona Kombrink color

By Jacob Stockinger

French pianist Philippe Bianconi (below), a favorite of Madison audiences, returns this weekend for three performances, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, of the towering Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 82, by Johannes Brahms.


The program also includes Claude Debussy’s famous tone poem “La Mer” and Benjamin Britten’s “Variation and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell,” which the composer also used in the popular “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” (that will be performed at the MSO’s fall school concerts) and which will mark the centennial of the composer’s birth.

Performances, under the baton of MSO music director John DeMain, are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday; 8 p.m. on Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $13.50-$82.50. For more information, visit:

For program notes by J, Michael Allsen, who plays trombone in the orchestra, visit:

For more about Philippe Bianconi, who was born in Nice in 1960 and is the new director of the famed American Conservatory in France, visit:

To The Ear, Bianconi – who won a silver medal in the Seventh Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1985 – is a rare find: an outstanding virtuoso pianist who is also a poetic and complete musician in almost any repertoire, not just French music. I find his Rachmaninoff Rhapsody as convincing as his Debussy Preludes.

Bianconi (below) recently agreed to an email interview:


How do you rate the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 among the other standard or popular concertos in the repertoire and in your own preferences?

I am not so sure that the Brahms Second Piano Concerto belongs to the most standard repertoire or to the most popular concertos, but it is certainly considered one of the great masterpieces of the kind.

In my own preferences, it stays at the very top. As a matter of fact, if I were pressed to choose one piano concerto for a desert island, my choice would be Brahms second. (Of course, I’d be devastated to leave behind a number of other great concertos!)

What makes it do great or special for you? What role has it played in your career? Do you play a lot of other Brahms and what do you like about Brahms?

There are many reasons that make it so special in my own pantheon, but the main one will seem a little odd: to me this concerto is not really a concerto – it is really a symphony with principal piano.

It has four movements, like a symphony, and everything about it — the structure, the texture, the way the piano is integrated into the orchestral fabric i– s very symphonic. And that is what I love about it: I have the feeling I’m playing in a Brahms symphony !


I don’t think it has played a particular role in my career, but every time I had the opportunity to play this piece was a great moment of happiness.

The sheer beauty of this music is simply overwhelming. And I don’t know many concertos that have such a great range of moods and emotions.

There is such grandeur and majesty in the first movement, it’s like climbing a mountain in the Alps, and when you get to the top, you discover a panorama of breathtaking beauty. Then there is the dark and violent passion burning in the second movement.

Then comes the sublime slow movement with the unforgettable solo of the cello that brings tears to my eyes every time. And finally, the lightness, the grace, the spirit of the last movement, in great contrast with the other movements, in the pure tradition of Haydn, even with the gypsy touch of the second theme.

This concerto is like a fabulous journey.

I have played a lot of other music by Brahms (below), including most of the chamber music with piano, and among the music for solo piano, I have a deep love for his late cycles. To me, Brahms is a true romantic at heart. He explores such a variety of feelings: passion, lyricism, dreamy intimacy, stormy conflicts, and it is all molded in classical form, and that is what gives his music such emotional power.


I know that one very well-known pianist said he had to perform it more than 200 times live before recording it. What makes the Brahms Second so challenging? Technical difficulties? Interpretive difficulties? What would you like the audience to listen for in your performance?

This concerto is very challenging for many reasons.

It is very long, between 45 and 50 minutes depending on the tempi chosen. It requires great strength, especially in the first two movements. Of course you must find a natural and relaxed strength in order to maintain a large, singing tone all the time. If you force or bang, the sound becomes ugly and it’s just unbearable.

The technical difficulties are numerous: the horrendous chords and jumps, the runs in double notes. There are also very “un-pianistic” things too. Because the piano is really part of the orchestra, and conceived in orchestral terms, in “coloristic” terms, and in relationship with the other instruments, certain things are technically very strange and awkward. Alfred Brendel (below) used to talk about the “pianistic perversions” of Brahms’ Second Concerto.

Then of course, the interpretative challenge is great too, and also because of the integration of the piano in the orchestra. You cannot think as a “soloist” when you play it. From beginning to end, you must have in mind the structure of the whole piece and the full orchestral texture, even in the solo passages. As a matter of fact, the collaboration with the conductor is absolutely crucial in this piece.

Brendel playing BIG

You have become a favorite pianist of Madison audiences and the Madison Symphony Orchestra and conductor John DeMain? How do you feel about the city and its audiences as well as about the orchestra?

I am so happy to come back to Madison. It’s a beautiful, lively city, and I love coming here. And I love the audience too. They are always so warm and enthusiastic.

I have played a number of times with the Madison Symphony and John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), and every time has been a great musical and human experience. I feel a little bit like I’m coming back home to my family.

As I said, when you play Brahms Second, collaborating with the conductor is very important, so you can imagine how I look forward to performing it with John DeMain. I know it’s going to be one of the best experiences of my life with this piece.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

What are your current projects and plans for concert performances, recordings, etc.?

In the next few months, I have some recitals planned in Europe, and in February I will be back in the States for a series of concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Joann Falletta, playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in Buffalo and then on tour in Florida. Then I will be playing the Grieg Concerto in Santa Rosa, California, with the Santa Rosa Symphony and Bruno Ferrandis. It will be a great month of February for me.!

Last week, I recorded my first Chopin CD, which should be released in 2014. It’s with the same label (La Dolce Volta) I recorded the complete Debussy preludes (below, in a YouTube video) last year. It’s a new and energetic label and I’m really happy to work with them.

Classical music news: Michigan-born composer Kevin Puts wins the Pulitzer Prize for his World War I opera “Silent Night” two weeks after the Madison Symphony Orchestra performs his “Inspiring Beethoven.” Listen to excerpts of both here.

April 19, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Some people in Madison complain about not hearing enough contemporary or new music.

But the reality is that we get to hear a fair amount of new music.

The acclaimed Lincoln Trio last week performed works by living women composers, including UW composer Laura Schwendinger, on the UW School of Music’s Guest Artist series.

And this week, the Pro Arte String Quartet (below) will perform the fourth world premiere – John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 — of a commission this season. (The FREE concert is this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.) The Pro Arte will have done two string quartets (Walter Mays and John Harbison, who is another Pulitzer prize winner) and two piano quintets (Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.)

Then there is the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, which this week performed the music of John Harbison (below) and UW alumnus Steven Burke. And this weekend the Madison Chamber Choir is giving the world premiere of a vocal work by San Francisco composer David Conte.

Plus, the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution and New Music Everywhere (NEW MUSE) have already played contemporary works this season.

I’m sure there are more I haven’t mentioned.

But perhaps the most newsworthy or timely performance occurred over the first weekend in April when the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain gave three performances of “Inspiring Beethoven” – based on Ludwig’s famous Symphony No. 7 — by the young Michigan-born, Yale-trained composer Kevin Puts (below).

And now – just this week — comes news that Puts has won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music for his opera “Silent Night” (below, in a photo by Michal Daniel for the Minnesota Opera) about the temporary, unofficial Christmas Truce between the Germans and the Allies during World War I.

Talk about being timely!

So here is link to a story with excerpts, about the work and the composer:

And here is link to another story about Puts and his Michigan roots:

So, here is a shout-out by The Ear to Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra for making such a prescient and pertinent choice.

Congratulations to all.

And maybe the Madison Opera, where DeMain is the artistic director, will stage a production of “Silent Night” in the not too distant future.

Unfortunately, it was during spring break and I wasn’t able to attend the concert, at which French pianist Philippe Bianconi soloed in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and then the new MSO Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz turned in a reportedly outstanding performance of Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life).

(The other local connection, of course, is that Allan Naplan, the former general director of the Madison Opera, was at the helm of the Minnesota Opera as president and general director when it gave the world-premiere performance of Puts’ opera, but just recently announced his resignation from the post after only one year.)

Puts sure knows how to choose his material. The Christmas Truce is a popular and timely topic in a time of war and severe partisanship. You might recall when the all-male vocal group Cantus performed a similar piece, quite movingly, during the holiday season at the Wisconsin Union Theater two seasons ago. And World War I (below) plays a big role in the popular PBS Masterpiece drama series “Downton Abbey.”

Now the fact that Puts has won the Pulitzer Prize makes me all the more sorry I missed the MSO concert. But it is the kind of piece – a short curtain-raiser that is a good prelude to a real Beethoven symphony or concerto – that I expect to hear again and see programmed soon.

The performances of “Inspiring Beethoven” (below) were generally well reviewed and received, though there were some exceptions:

Here is Lindsay Christians’ review for 77 Square:

Here is Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine and his blog “Classically Speaking”:

Here is John W. Barker’s review of the Puts work for Isthmus:

Here is a link to Bill Wineke’s review for

What did you think of the Puts piece that tried to capture Beethoven’s creative process?

How did you find his music?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music Q&A: Violinist Naha Greenholtz talks about being the new concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and performing Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” this weekend.

March 30, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

You might even say that this weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer an ambitious program featuring not one but TWO soloists.

The program includes American composer Kevin Puts’ “Inspiring Beethoven”; and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, which is famous for the interplay between the piano and the orchestra and which will feature the return of prize-winning French pianist Philippe Bianconi.

But also on the program is Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) with major solos by the new MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below), who started in her post at the beginning of this season and who was recently featured on the cover of “Symphony” magazine in a  story about six new concertmasters.

Performances are in Overture Hall on tonight, Friday night, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $13.50 to $78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. Or visit:

For more information about the concert and soloists, including videos, videos, visit the MSO at :

To read or download program notes by J. Michael Allsen, visit:

Greenholtz, who keeps a very busy schedule, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

What special skills and responsibilities did you learn in concertmaster school to do that other violinists in the orchestra do not have to do?

The concertmaster’s primary responsibility, beyond the obvious — playing the first violin parts and all solos — is to help facilitate a smooth rehearsal process.  While there is some historical precedent for the concertmaster’s “jurisdiction” to be more comprehensive and orchestra-wide, the standard in modern orchestras has limited that role to oversight of the strings generally, with special emphasis on the violin section (below).

I’ll give two ordinary examples of what I mean: Say a particular conductor is not a string player. When they make a musical comment that requires something specific from the strings, perhaps a certain “color” of sound or a particular kind of articulation or phrasing, then that person often will defer to the concertmaster for a solution. In these instances, the concertmaster then will speak up and address the group, offering specific technical advice as to how the strings can achieve this goal.

Another example: In a professional orchestra rehearsal time in any given week is limited to only a few hours, so every second counts.  Sometimes in the heat of battle, the conductor might only have time to address larger scale issues at the expense of some smaller detail-like stuff like ensemble accuracy, intonation, and things like this.  As a concertmaster, one must always be ready fill in these gaps, cleaning up the little imperfections whenever possible so the conductor can focus on the big picture.

Walking this line between being both a leader and also an equal member of the section is always challenging. But the position has obvious artistic rewards and so the effort (and stress) is really worth it.

How has your first season gone with the MSO? Do you have an opinion of Madison and its audiences? 

I should start by saying that I just love Madison. I’m preaching to the choir, I know, but it really is a gem of a city with an exciting and vibrant music scene.  It never ceases to amaze me that the MSO can do triple performances on any given weekend and nearly fill the house for each show.  Many larger market cities cannot make this claim.

This audience clearly loves its orchestra and we at the Madison Symphony Orchestra are lucky to have such knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans.  Again, not every orchestra has this!  Their energy and love of the music really bring out the best from the group.

As for the orchestra, I consider myself very fortunate to have such dedicated and skillful colleagues. I’ve really enjoyed my time here, meeting so many lovely musicians and of course working with John DeMain (below) who is such a charismatic leader and artist. I have felt “at home” here from the first day.

What can you tell us about Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben” and especially your role as a soloist in it? Was it part of the tryout for your position? Can you tell us something about the piece and what it means to you or what the audience should listen for? 

This really is the premiere concertmaster solo as far as I’m concerned and, yes, it was part of my audition.  In fact I’ve rarely taken a concertmaster audition where it was not asked!  It’s really a violinist’s dream – Strauss (below) gives so many colorful descriptors to the performer like “Hypocritically Languishing,” “Sweet and Sentimental,” “Naggingly,” etc.  He wrote this solo to musically depict his wife and to show her many moods.

My teacher from the Concertmaster Academy Bill Preucil (below right, with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra conductor Franz Welser Moest on the left) once told me, “when I play this spot I think of that look on my 11-year-old daughter’s face when she’s about to ask for something expensive.” The solo is just filled with such dramatic opportunities, it’s almost like acting. The composer really invites the performer to explore these many moods and to indulge in the whole range of expression the music requires, including an explosive “temper tantrum” where Strauss says to get ever “Faster and Angrier.”  After preparing the solo for auditions over the last few years, it’s exciting to now perform it with orchestra.

Next season you will solo in the Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn (below). What can you tell is about that work and any others in which you will play a special role? 

To be honest, I haven’t looked that far ahead yet, so the specific orchestral repertoire is still slightly off my radar.  The Mendelssohn, of course, will be a blast.  Everyone knows that violinists are positively spoiled with great repertoire, but even for us, Mendelssohn’s concerto stands out as a special treasure.  It really is one of the greatest concerti ever written for any instrument.

Also, it has special significance to me as it was the first solo concerto I played with orchestra, when I made my debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra when I was 14.  It has been over 10 years since then, so I’m looking forward to re-learning it as an adult.  And of course working with John on it will be a delight. He is always a wonderful and sensitive concerto accompanist.

Classical music Q&A: French pianist Philippe Bianconi explains why his favorite Beethoven piano concerto is No. 4 – which he performs this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and conductor John DeMain.

March 26, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the acclaimed French pianist Philippe Bianconi, who took a silver medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 1985, returns to Madison to perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The program includes American composer Kevin Puts’ “Inspiring Beethoven”; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58, which is famous for the interplay between the piano and the orchestra; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) with solos by the new MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below).

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $13.50 to $78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. Or visit:

For more information about the concert and soloists, including videos, videos, visit the MSO at :

To read or download program notes by J. Michael Allsen, visit:

Bianconi, who last turned in an enthralling, rhapsodic performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” two years ago with the MSO, and who just started a U.S. tour, recently gave The Ear an email interview:

Many consider Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 the best of his five piano concertos and perhaps the greatest piano concerto ever composed. Why do you think that is, and what speaks to the public so strongly about it?

Well, I also know a lot of people whose favorite Beethoven piano concerto is No. 5, the so-called “Emperor.” The Fifth is a larger concerto in scope. It is really majestic and has more brilliant virtuosity. And it has a gorgeous slow movement too. I can see why many people love it: It is a great piece!

But No. 4 is a more intimate concerto and a very poetic piece. (See the video at bottom.) The poetry you find in the slow movement of No. 5 pervades the entire Fourth, from beginning to end. The themes have such a melodic quality that really touches the heart.

It does have its share of virtuosity, but most of the time it is not virtuosity per se. Most of the runs and arpeggios are much more integrated into the orchestral texture. They are like arabesques floating around the main themes played by the orchestra, which gives the piece its unique luminous quality. I guess people who favor more intimate, chamber music-like concertos over bombastic pieces prefer No. 4 of course.

How do you yourself place it among other piano concertos and Beethoven’s work in general?

It is definitely my favorite Beethoven concerto for the reasons I explained above. Even though I love Nos. 1, 3 and 5 for different reasons, No. 4 is the one that touches me the most.

There is also the short but incredible slow movement with its opposition between the ruthless statements of the strings and the pleading cantilena of the piano.

There are so many beautiful moments in this piece, and one of my favorites is the end of the first movement after the cadenza, when the orchestra comes back: to me this is some of the most poetic and soothing music ever written.

I love the big romantic concertos like Rachmaninoff’s, but I place them in a different category. I place the Fourth by Beethoven (below) among the most beautiful concertos ever written, together with the late Mozart concertos, Schumann A minor and the two Brahms concertos.

This is a return appearance for you in Madison. What do you want to say about playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain and about Madison audiences?

This is my fourth appearance with the Madison Symphony and my third time with John DeMain (below).

I feel like I have developed a special relationship over the years with that orchestra and I’m always very excited to come back. And I’ve always received a very warm and enthusiastic welcome from the audience.

From the very first time, I have been impressed with the quality of the orchestra and I love working with John DeMain. He is the kind of conductor who makes a soloist feel very secure and he is such a wonderful musician. I am so looking forward to playing this magnificent concerto with him.

Do you know the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, and do you prefer No. 4 or No. 5?

How do you rank No. 4 among Beethoven’s five piano concertos and among all piano concertos?

What do especially like about it?

The Ear wants to hear.

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