The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma turns 60. NPR offers a capsule biography and generous sound samples from throughout his varied career.

October 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Have cello. Will play.

Any style. Any place.

Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.

The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.

After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.

yo-yo ma CR Jason Bell:Sony Classical

Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.

And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.

The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.

An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.

He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)

Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.

One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.

You surely will appreciate the eminently readable and listenable post that Tim Huizenga wrote for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?

Leave it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What piece first hooked you on classical music?

October 9, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

So there we were.

Riding in the car and listening to music.

“What piece do you remember first getting hooked on and loving?” The Ear asked The Friend.

Turned out it was Soviet composer Reinhold Gliere’s “The Red Poppy” Suite. (You can hear that work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That seemed a pretty sophisticated and rarefied work, compared to The Ear’s more predictable choices.

He recalls two first works, both of which he was exposed to through a budget set of vinyl LPs that his mom brought back each week from the A&P grocery store way back when.

One was the sweeping tone poem about the Bohemian river and landscape called “The Moldau” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, which you can hear below  performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic in a YouTube video that has more than two million hits.

The other was the popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor Op. 18, by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff as performed by Artur Rubinstein (now generally spelled Arthur, as he wanted, although The Ear prefers the more exotic Artur) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Fritz Reiner. (I think copyright and licensing agreements were a lot less restrictive and less expensive back then, which may help explain the larger audience for classical music and classical recordings in those days.)

Here is that work and that historic performance in a YouTube video:

And The Ear still loves both works passionately. And all three works testify to the largely Romantic taste of young listeners.

Anyway, it was a fun recollection to have and got The Ear to thinking:

Maybe readers of this blog would be willing to share their first memory of the classical music that they loved first and got hooked on?

The Ear would love to hear from the general public but also from professional musicians. Especially professional musicians.

You can  leave the title, composer and performer in the COMMENTS section along with a link to a YouTube video if possible.

Classical music: It’s a busy week for the Pro Arte Quartet of the UW-Madison with concerts on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night. Plus, Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino performs at Farley’s House of Pianos on Sunday afternoon.

October 3, 2015
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REMINDER: The Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos opens this Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. with a performance by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino. The program includes music by Felix Mendelssohn; the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue at Cesar Franck; and the 12 Etudes, Op. 10, by Frederic Chopin. For more information, visit:

By Jacob Stockinger

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) has a busy concert schedule ahead of it this week.

Members of the Pro Arte Quartet, the longest active string quartet in the history of music, are David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

On this Sunday, starting at 12:30 p.m., the Pro Arte will open the new “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series, as it has done for close to 40 years.

The program includes: the String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 1 (1799-1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Langsamer Satz (slow movement) for String Quartet (1905) by Anton Webern; and the String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428 (1783) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But for the second year in a row, the program will be streamed live on the Chazen Museum of Art’s website rather than over Wisconsin Public Radio, which pulled the plug on the venerable and acclaimed live concert series that presented chamber music and recitals by individuals and ensembles around the state.

You can attend the concert in person in Brittingham Gallery 3 for FREE. And here is a link, embedded in an image, for streaming it live:


Then at 7:30 p.m. on this coming Wednesday night, the Pro Arte will perform a FREE concert with the acclaimed and prize-winning violist Nobuko Imai (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve) as the special guest artist.

Nobuko Imai photo: Marco Borggreve always credit name photographer

The program is the String Quintet in C Minor, K. 406, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 87, by Felix Mendelssohn. Both works are scored for string quartet plus an extra viola. (The Mozart string quintet is a transcription of an earlier Wind Octet. You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link with more information about Nobuko Imai who will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.


Classical music: Why are most artist bios and program notes such snoozers?

September 26, 2015

ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, writes:

Dear Friends: The Madison Bach Musicians begins its 12th season next weekend on Saturday night (8 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church on the near east side) and Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m., at Holy Wisdom Monastery on the far west side on County M) with a marvelous program of four Baroque concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Biber, Leonardo Leo and Antonio Vivaldi! Soloists will be MBM concertmaster violinist Kangwon Kim, and guest artist Steuart Pincombe baroque cellist. I’ll give pre-concert lectures at both events (at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively).

I’ll be discussing these upcoming concerts on two radio programs here in the next couple of days. This Sunday morning, Sept. 27, from 10:30 to 11 a.m. on WORT FM radio (89.9), I’ll be Alan Muirhead’s guest on the Musica Antiqua program. On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Kangwon Kim, Steuart Pincombe and I will all be Norman Gilliland’s guests on the Midday program noon-12:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM). I hope you can tune in. Tickets are available online at (, at our ticket outlets, and at the door. I look forward to seeing you at the concerts!!

By Jacob Stockinger

The new concert season is here.

That means many of us will spend too many minutes reading second-rate program notes and inferior artist biographies as we wait for a concert to take place — even though I think many local groups and local program note writers do quite well.

But why do so many of those predictable and formulaic artist bios seem such surefire ways to bore an audience or put it to sleep? (Below is a photo from istock.)

sleeping audience istock

That is the question raised by reporter and critic Anastasia Tsioulcas (below) for the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio or NPR.

anastasia tsioulcas

It’s a good piece and raises a lot of questions as well as provides some suggestions. It has been long overdue.

Here is a link:

Leave your own reactions, criticism and suggestions about program notes and artist bios in the COMMENTS area.

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: Michael Keller and Martha Thomas will perform a FREE recital of music for piano-four hands this Sunday afternoon.

September 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Sunday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m. pianists Michael Keller and Martha Thomas (below) will be presenting a FREE piano, four-hand program at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, in downtown Madison.

Martha Thomas is faculty member of the University of Georgia Hodgson School of Music.

Michael Keller is a retired professor of piano at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who is now based in Madison.

Michael Keller and Martha Thomas

The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach (“Sheep May Safely Graze”); Muzio Clementi (Sonata No. 1); Franz Schubert (Rondo in A Major); Johannes Brahms (Waltzes, Op. 39) and the “Gazebo Dances” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the Overture to the “Gazebo Dances” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program is FREE and open to the public.

Both pianists were students of the late Howard Karp at the UW-Madison School of Music. When they reunited at his memorial last fall, they planned this program.

Classical music: Unitarian Society’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales start a new season this week. And the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra opens its new season with music by Handel, Haydn, Beethoven and Saint-Saens, this coming Sunday afternoon.

September 24, 2015

ALERT: The weekly FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the historic  First Unitarian Society of Madison, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and located at 900 University Bay Drive, begin the new season this week. This coming Friday at 12:15-1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium, mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sanuda and pianist Jeff Gibbens will perform songs by Gustav Mahler, Gabriel Faure, Manuel de Falla and Jeff Gibbens.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below, in a poster from 2012) will open its new season this coming Sunday afternoon.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

Under the direction of conductor Blake Walter (below), the orchestra will perform works by Beethoven, Haydn, Handel and Saint-Saens on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

blake walter john maniaci

Included on the program are the Overture to The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Concerto a Due Cori, H. 332, in B-flat Major by George Frideric Handel; the Suite for Orchestra, Op. 49, by Camille Saint-Saens; and Symphony No. 69 in C major, “Laudon,” by Franz Joseph Haydn (heard at bottom in a YouTube video featuring the Grammy-winning performance by conductor Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica.)

Admission is $5 to benefit music scholarships, or free with an Edgewood College ID.


Music education: This coming Friday night, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) opens its 50th anniversary celebration with a FREE reception for a retrospective art display at Dane County Regional Airport. On this Monday night, mezzo-soprano Allisanne Apple sings a FREE recital.

September 20, 2015
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ALERT: This Monday night, Sept. 21, mezzo-soprano Allisanne Apple (below) and pianist Jane Peckham will present a FREE concert with the theme of  “Home/Travels/Longing/Return” that features songs by Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, Aaron Copland, Hugo Wolf and others. The recital is at 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

Alisanne Apple BW mug

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to distribute the following public invitation from Bridget Fraser, the executive director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO).

He is happy to do it in the belief that there is no better local investment in music education or in the future of classical music than WYSO, which has educated and trained thousands of area students and their parents over the past half-century.

WYSO Logo blue

Fraser writes:

“This coming Friday, Sept. 25, from 5 to 7 p.m. opens the year-long celebration of our 50th anniversary.

“I hope our friends, former conductors and staff, alumni and faithful supporters will join us as we pay tribute to the amazing impact that WYSO has had and continues to have on hundreds of young musicians each season.

“Local artist and devoted WYSO board member, Andree Valley has captured the true essence and importance of WYSO in a stunning visual display.

“You are invited to attend the opening celebration of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras retrospective exhibit, featuring 50 years of compelling history, captivating photographs and intriguing Art of Note painted violins (below) in an extensive display at the Dane County Regional Airport.

WYSO AoN violins 2015

Here is WYSO founder Marvin Rabin conducting the Youth Orchestra during the 1966-67 season:

WYSO Youth Orchestra Marvin Rabin conducting 1966-7

And here is UW-Madison professor and current WYSO music director James Smith conducting the Youth Orchestra in 2015:

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

And at bottom is a YouTube video of the WYSO Youth Orchestra playing the rousing opening of Georges Bizet‘s Overture to his opera “Carmen.”

“The opening reception will feature music by WYSO’s premier quartet and light refreshments and hors d’oeuvres. Please join us in this tribute to the first 50 years of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

This exhibit was organized by Tandem Press, in collaboration with WYSO.
 For more information, click on our reception invitation, or  contact WYSO at (608) 263-3320 or

Classical music: Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media?

September 19, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Are concert halls and opera houses becoming refuges and shelters from the on-line world of the Web and social media?

New York Times senior music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) thinks so. He published a long essay this week justifying his view.


Along the way he also offers other suggestions, from alternative venues to informal dress, for how to increase audiences and attendance. And he thinks that live performances might help regain shortened attention spans.

In terms of the digital world, Tommasini even goes so far as to think that providing a refuge from social media could be selling points for the survival of live performances in concert halls and opera houses.

(Below bottom is an iPad in Carnegie Hall, below top, is a photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times. Tommasini also discusses smart phones and cell phones.)


iPad photo in Carnegie Hall Karsten Moran NYT

The Ear hopes Tommasini might be right, but fears he might be naïve – especially when it comes to younger audiences.

The Ear thinks that the new media may well end up being more powerful than such old media as opera and classical music. He suspects that concert halls and opera houses will end up accommodating and incorporating new media.

But he hopes he is wrong.

What do you think?

And how do you view Tommasini’s arguments or ideas?

The Ear wants to hear.

Here is a link to the essay:

Classical music: Farley’s House of Pianos announces its Salon Piano Series for this season and offers subscription tickets for the first time. It opens on Sunday, Oct. 4.

September 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Farley’s House of Pianos write:

The Salon Piano Series offers inspiring performances in an intimate salon setting. Each concert is followed by an artist’s reception and some performances include introductions by music scholars and commentators.

Farley Daub plays

Season tickets are being offered for the first time this year and they provide substantial savings as well as the assurance that you won’t be left out. You can buy tickets at

Here is the lineup:

DANIEL DEL PINO  – Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, 4 p.m.

Daniel del Pino (below) returns to play music by Felix Mendelssohn, Cesar Franck‘s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and Twelve Etudes, Op. 10, by Frederic Chopin. (You can hear him perform a transcription of the “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla during a concert at Farley’s House of Pianos in January of 2013.)

Daniel del PIno square

ALESSIO BAX and LUCILLE CHUNG (below) – Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 4 p.m.

This concert will include pieces for one piano-four hands and for two pianos. The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.

alessio bax and lucille chung

CELLIST AMIT PELED (below) – Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 7:30 p.m.

Hear the exact program that famed cellist Pablo Casals performed 100 years ago, played on Casals’ own 1733 Goffriller cello with Noreen Polera accompanying on a 1914 Mason and Hamlin piano restored by Farley’s House of Pianos.

Amit Peled 1

DICK HYMAN, Jazz Clinic-Lecture, Saturday, May 7, 2016, 4 p.m.

Jazz legend Dick Hyman presents his third clinic at Salon Piano Series.

Dick Hyman – Jazz Concert – Sunday, May 8, 2016, 4 p.m.

Dick will play solo piano for half the concert. Then bassist John Schaffer and drummer John Lombardo will join Dick in a jazz trio.

Since he began his career in the early 1950s, Dick Hyman has been a pianist, organist, arranger, music director and composer while recording over 100 albums under his own name.

Hyman is a masterful improviser with a unique style of piano that spans from early jazz such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton to George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and beyond. He is one of the first people to record on the Moog synthesizer and his track “Minotaur” landed on the Billboard magazine’s US Top 40.

Hyman has served as composer, arranger, conductor and pianist for 12 Woody Allen films. He also won an Emmy for his original score to the daytime drama “Sunshine’s on the Way” and for musical direction of a PBS special on Eubie Blake. His recording, Dick Hyman’s “Century of Jazz Piano” is an encyclopedic series of solo performances that covers the last 100 years in jazz over the course of 121 performances.

dick hyman

All concerts are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west wide near West Towne.

See complete concert programs and more at

Salon Piano Series Tickets Available Online at

Tickets cost $45 in advance, $50 at the door. The Jazz Clinic is $20.

Buy the series for $160, and save $40. Tickets are also available at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports. Service fees may apply.

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

September 16, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

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

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

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

Amy Beach BW 1

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

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

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

Alec Wilder

Maurice Emmanuel in1930

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

James Stephenson composer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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