The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Personal experience, artistic excellence and historical importance drew pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel into planning next year’s centennial season at the Wisconsin Union Theater

March 30, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break is over and subscription tickets are available for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s special centennial celebration next season – which includes superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax — here is an email interview that pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco), the wife-and-husband consultants and planners of that season, granted to The Ear.

For more about the season and tickets, go to two websites:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/classical-music-superstar-soprano-renee-fleming-and-pianist-emanuel-ax-headline-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-concert-series-next-season/

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Could you briefly introduce yourselves to readers and tell them both your past and current activities?

We have been performing on the world’s many concert stages for almost our entire lives. In addition to our careers as concert performers, we serve as the founding Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, the premier chamber music festival in Silicon Valley, as well as the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) in New York City.

Our main responsibility as concert performers is to give the best concerts we possibly can, and we are constantly striving to achieve the highest possible level of artistry in our performances.

In our roles as artistic directors, our responsibilities lie in the programming, casting and designing of concert series and chamber music projects for our organizations. At CMS, this includes designing the programming for our seven different satellite series around the country, plus international partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Europe.

We are also involved in chamber music programming endeavors beyond Music@Menlo and CMS, having just completed a first-ever chamber music residency at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Wu Han is serving as Artistic Advisor to Wolf Trap Chamber Music at the Barns, which entails thematically programming eight concerts per season for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons.

As artistic directors, we spend much of our time putting ourselves in the shoes of our listeners, measuring their experience and receptivity to chamber music of all periods and styles, and putting together the best programs and artists who will move our audiences forward into ever-increasing engagement with and love of the art.

David was the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet for 34 seasons, and we have been performing together as a duo for about 35 years, and continue to do so as one of our main performance activities.

What are your personal relationships to the Wisconsin Union Theater, and what do you think of it as a concert venue?

Our engagement with the Wisconsin Union Theater goes back quite a few years, but certainly not even close to the beginning of the Theater’s distinguished history. For any performer setting foot on its stage, there’s a sense of slipping into an ongoing tradition of artistic excellence that makes us feel both privileged and obligated to do our best.

The Wisconsin Union Theater and its story in American cultural life is larger than any of us; only the music we play rises above and beyond it all, and as performers, our lucky moment is to represent that incredible literature in a venue as significant and storied as the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Below is the theater’s main venue, the renovated and restored Shannon Hall.)

Why did you agree to be artistic advisors and artists-in-residence for the centennial season? Did your personal experiences in Madison play a role in that decision?

As seasoned artists, we deeply admire and respect the very special place in the classical music tradition and history that the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) inhabits, and the invitation to participate in the Theater’s 100th anniversary was an honor for us to receive. Our experiences playing on this distinguished stage and forming a relationship with the local audience have made our pursuit of the common goal of artistic excellence in the centennial season incredibly fulfilling.

Of course, having performed there in the past gave us a hint of confidence through our familiarity with the place, but we must say we have learned perhaps double what we knew originally through this planning process. Without interfering, but at the same time sharing our uncompromised commitment to artistic excellence, we hope that our presence during the process has been useful, and we know that we look so much forward to seeing the careful thought and hard work of all involved come to fruition.

Is there a unifying or guiding principle to the season you have put together?

The guiding principle behind our work on this historic season is artistic excellence, which in our opinion is what most inspires audiences and best serves the art form of classical music.

Our area of expertise is chamber music, and, as we wanted to share the best of what we can do with the Theater, our focus has been on ensuring that the chamber music offerings during this historic season, and hopefully beyond, reflect the best of the world of chamber music.

In our suggestions, we looked for variety of instrumentations, of composers and periods—in other words, giving as much of an overview of the art as we could within a season.

What would you like the public to know about the Wisconsin Union Theater and the upcoming centennial season?

In the Theater’s centennial season, the audience will have the opportunity to savor a variety of different genres of chamber music, from solo piano to vocal music, as well as a sampling of the very best works of the chamber music canon. Between these various genres, the great composers left a wealth of chamber music that could sustain the art form on its own, but that’s still only the tip of the iceberg.

Our chamber music offerings will include the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which has a long history of performing for the Madison audience. Their December program will include celebrated cornerstones of the piano trio repertoire, including Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio. (You can hear the opening of the Archduke Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Both pieces have achieved monumental historical significance through their influence in propelling the art form forward from the Classical period to the Romantic period.

The Escher String Quartet performance in January represents the best of the next generation of young string quartets. Their program includes a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn—the father of the string quartet genre—and the sole quartet of none other than revered violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who performed in the Wisconsin Union Theater nearly a century ago. Kreisler set foot on the Theater’s stage numerous times, and his rarely heard string quartet nods to the Theater’s long, distinguished history. David will join the Escher Quartet for the beloved Schubert Cello Quintet, which is the “desert island” must-have piece for many music lovers.

Furthermore, in March, we will bring two of the most fantastic musicians in the world to join us for a program of Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk and Johannes Brahms. This multigenerational cast of musicians includes the incredible young French violinist Arnaud Sussmann (below top, in a photo by Matt Dine) as well as the most important violist of our generation, Paul Neubauer (below bottom). This program is all about the passing down of the baton and the continuous investment in the next generations of artists: Brahms was the one who discovered Dvorak, and Dvorak in turn discovered Suk.


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Classical music: Here are playlists of the best classical music for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. What music would you choose?

December 24, 2018
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REMINDER: A well-edited one-hour excerpt of the recent Christmas concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra will air on Wisconsin Public Television at 9:30 p.m. this Tuesday, on Christmas Night. The Ear saw the first airing of the broadcast and highly recommends it. Both the programming and the performing are top-notch. It is a perfect way to wrap up your holiday.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas Day.

Some people celebrate tonight and some people celebrate tomorrow.

But no matter when you mark the holiday with gifts, gathering and special food, great music has an integral place in the celebration.

Indeed, music seems nothing less than a great gift to the entire world. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

To help you celebrate, here are playlists of the best classical music, from Medieval times through Baroque music up to living composers, for marking Christmas.

Here are two playlists, with a total of two hours of music, already compiled and available on YouTube. Be sure to hit SHOW MORE at the top to see the complete title, composer’s name and timing of the selections:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrFCdi7apV8&list=PLcGkkXtask_cCaCLkrmuDUfukHct9eut-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voIrzsxeE6w

And perhaps best of all, here are several lists in the same place from famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City. They not only have generous sound samples, but also allow you to choose what genre of music you prefer — say, choral music or brass music or piano music to string quartet chamber music:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/essential-christmas-recordings/

What music would you choose as favorite Christmas fare?

The Ear wants to hear.

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas to all!


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Classical music: African pianist William Nyaho gives FREE lectures, master classes and concert during his residency later this week at the UW-Madison School of Music.

April 7, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Ethnic diversity certainly matters to the current generation of music students who are helping to expand the field of classical music. Consider this letter sent to The Ear by a UW-Madison student:

My name is Ian Tomaz and I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. I am writing on behalf of our collegiate chapter of Music Teachers National Association which is hosting pianist William Chapman Nyaho on the week and weekend April 9-12 at the School of Music for a series of concerts, master classes and lectures. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Nyaho discuss what he does on campuses, this time at the University of Arizona.)

We are hoping to get the word out about the event. He is an excellent pianist and teacher, and he is presenting a program of traditional classical repertoire as well as African classical music plus lectures on African music and the music business. In addition to being a great pianist, he is a wonderful human being. I really think that the public would enjoy these events and the man behind them.

Nyaho at piano 1 Raised Hand

Here is the official blurb we’ve been using in other advertisements:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison MTNA Collegiate Chapter is planning a great event in April. We are bringing in the pianist and teacher William Chapman Nyaho for a three-day residency on April 9-11.

Here is the schedule of events:

Lecture: African Piano Music: Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 7 p.m. in Humanities Building, Room 2531

Lecture: Business Aspects of Music: Friday, April 10, 2015 at 4 p.m. in Humanities Building, Room 1351

Masterclass for Pianists: Friday, April 10, 2015 at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall

Piano Recital: Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall

Thursday night, April 9, at 7 p.m. in Room 2531: Nyaho will give a presentation and question-answer session about African piano music. He will discuss the melding of African and Western cultures found in classical piano music by composers of African descent.

William Nyaho portrait

On Friday, April 10, at 4 p.m. in Room 1351: Nyaho will give a presentation focused on several business aspects of music. He will draw from his own experience editing and compiling an anthology entitled “Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora.” He will also discuss the logistics of running his own private piano studio in Seattle.

Friday night at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, Nyaho will give a two-hour master class to four UW-Madison piano students.

On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Nyaho will give a solo piano recital of a mixture of Western and African classical music.

William Nyaho at piano 2

All events will be FREE and OPEN to the entire Madison community.

Here is more about Dr. Nyaho:

William Chapman Nyaho grew up in Ghana and studied music at Oxford University in England and in the United States. He is known around the world for his engaging piano performances of both Western classical music and piano music of Africa and the African Diaspora.

Nyaho compiled and edited a five-volume graded anthology of piano sheet music by composers of African descent published by Oxford University Press. This anthology represents a wide variety of newly published material and has become quite influential in the classical music realm by expanding the repertoire available to both students and concert pianists.

Nyaho has also released two critically-acclaimed CDs of his performances of solo piano music by composers from Africa and the African Diaspora.

William Chapman Nyaho

In addition to his performing and recording career, Nyaho is known for his sensitive and empowering teaching. Having served as Visiting Professor at many university campuses around the United Sates, he is universally praised for his authenticity, enthusiasm and artistry as a clinician and teacher.

You can read more reviews about Nyaho at his website http://nyaho.com/reviews.cfm, including one by Maya Angelou, who had this to say about him: “A talented young man with a rare mixture of youthful enthusiasm and mature reliability… intelligent, sensitive and possesses remarkable character….”

For his recital, he will be playing a mixture of Western and African piano repertoire, including the Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 3, by Ludwig van Beethoven. His specific program will be posted soon on the UW-Madison School of Music website at http://www.music.wisc.edu


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