ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Ann Arbor Ensemble. The group consists of Berlinda Lopez, flute; Marie Pauls, viola; and Stacy Feher-Regehr, piano. The all-French program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy and the Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op. 34, by Cecile Chaminade.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their 2016-2017 season with a concert titled Looking Within on this coming Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m.
The concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.
Here are notes to the eclectic and unusually noteworthy program:
In 2011, American composer Byron Adams (below top) wrote a piece to honor the notable Czech-American composer Karel Husa (below bottom), who was also his composition teacher at Cornell University. The Serenade (Homage de Husa) not only illuminates Husa’s Czech heritage through musical references but also captures the essence of his positive influence in a piece that shows musical charm and wit. With the death of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Husa this past December, the intended tribute is particularly appropriate.
The Notturno (Nocturne) by Arnold Schoenberg (below) is a sweetly atmospheric, late Romantic work for harp and strings. After premiering in 1896 to an appreciative audience, this lovely piece of music was lost for decades and not rediscovered until 2001.
Originally written by French composer Maurice Ravel (below) in 1914, Kaddisch was set as a song using Aramaic text from the Jewish prayer book. The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform an evocative arrangement by David Bruce for a mixed ensemble of strings, winds, harp and English horn.
Music by British composer Gabriel Jackson (below, in a photo by Joel Garthwaite) is written with directness and clarity. In the Mendips, written in 2014, depicts the natural beauty of limestone hills in Somerset, England. The influence of generations of British composers, such as Vaughan Williams who was also inspired by pastoral beauty, is deftly woven into this piece for flute, clarinet, string trio, and harp.
Composer Frances Poulenc (below) was surrounded by the impressionist influence of his fellow French contemporaries Debussy and Ravel.
However, known for humor in how he approached his compositions, his creativity is resoundingly experienced in the high-energy Sextet for piano and woodwind quintet.
The listener will experience quicksilver shifts from the zesty vivace opening to glimpses of introspection to a dazzling high velocity finale. (You can hear the opening of the Sextet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Oakwood Chamber Players are joined by guests Geri Hamilton and Maureen McCarty, violins; Brad Townsend, string bass; Aaron Hill, oboe and English horn; and Mary Ann Harr, harp (below).
This is the third of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday, I posted a disconcerting story from the Columbia Journalism Review about how most mainstream newspapers and traditional media are cutting way back on art coverage.
After all, runs the conventional wisdom, how can the arts compete with sports, politics and crime for attracting readers?
Here is a link to that post:
Well, that kind of mistaken thinking is one reason why The Ear likes to watch PBS and national Public Radio or NPR. Especially on the PBS NewsHour, you find terrific stories about and interviews with major figures in the fine arts and the performing arts.
PBS treats the arts as vital and essential, not ornamental or secondary.
A wonderful example happened this week on the segment called “Brief But Spectacular” in which people offer their thoughts about their own lives and careers.
In this case, it was Jean Stark — a 90-year-old Belgian-born woman who was an accomplished concertizing classical pianist. She performed in Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York City, and in halls around the world, and who talks about her life and career for PBS.
In the four-minute interview, she laments how classical music isn’t promoted these days and emphasizes how wonderful it was to be alive during the golden years of classical music with such great figures as composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.
But, she confesses, for all her accomplishments she was unsatisfied with how she played slow movements of sonatas by Classical-era masters Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Until she came to the U.S. and went with a friend to a concert by Ray Charles.
Charles, she says, taught how to play slowly.
The Ear only wishes she had been more specific about the lessons she learned. Was it phrasing? Tempo? Accents? “Rubato,” or flexible timing?
It is a great, heart-warming story and typical of the kind of human interest arts coverage that you generally do not find on other television news channels, whether traditional networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX or cable TV channels such as CNN and MSNBC.
So The Ear offers it as both an enjoyable and informative arts story, and as an endorsement of the PBS NewsHour and especially reporter Jeffrey Brown, who does such a terrific job of reporting on the arts.
Here is the segment, which you can find on YouTube, along with other recordings by Stark:
An after-thought: To the best of his knowledge, The Ear thinks that the music you hear her playing is the “Aeolian Harp” Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin and part of the suite “Pour le piano” (For the Piano) by Claude Debussy.
What do you think of arts coverage on the mainstream media and on PBS?
What do you think Jean Stark learned from Ray Charles?
If you saw this story, how did it affect you?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear got a message from an old friend who gave him a link to a story about the decline of arts criticism in the mainstream media.
“This is not big news to you, but an interesting update that puts the value of your blog in context,” the friend said.
The Ear thinks that the cutback in arts critics hurts local performing artists and also hurts readers who consume the arts as audiences. That is especially important in a city as rich in the arts for its size as Madison. (Below is the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing for a full house.)
Here is a link to the article from the Columbia Journalism Review:
The story earned an interesting response, sort of a constructive dissent from most judgments, from Anne Midgette (below), an arts writer and arts critic who used to work for The New York Times and now works for The Washington Post. Here is a response she posted on Facebook:
“There’s one thing missing from this thoughtful valedictory on newspaper arts writing – the outrage about cutting critics is all very well, but one reason they get cut is that they don’t always have the readership papers want/need (which can be quantified now better than it used to be).
“I think newspapers could help remedy that by putting in more resources and figuring out a strategy for raising the profile of arts writing (and I think arts writers need to focus on thinking about fresh innovative ways to write about their fields, but that’s another story).
“In any case, I think those of us who love the arts need to recognize this as a big factor in the cuts, rather than simply wringing our hands about living in a world of Philistine editors.”
What do you think of Anne Midgette’s response? How would you like arts coverage changed and improved?
How good a job do you think the local media do in covering the arts?
What do you think about the overall reduction in arts coverage?
Have you found alternative sources for news and for information, and what are they?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The “Grace Presents” series of FREE monthly Saturday noon concerts has been suspended indefinitely.
The series presented folk music, jazz, ethnic, country and other genres in addition to classical music.
Over several years, he has heard memorable performances of sonatas and suites, cantatas and preludes, of vocal, string and piano music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms and other composers. Included here are some photos of past events.
The concerts – held in the wonderful interior (below) of Grace Episcopal Church on the downtown Capitol Square — always attracted a large, friendly and appreciative crowd, and the series became a showcase to spotlight some performers who have a lower profile, including graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
No specific reason for the action was given, and The Ear wonders if it had to do with finding financial sponsors or perhaps with the difficulty of booking performers in a city with such competitive programming of music.
It was not an easy job to set it up and keep it running. So The Ear offers congratulations and thanks to the many people who made the series successful for many years. (Below are violinist Laura Burns, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Rhapsodie Quartet, and pianist Jess Salek, who teaches and performs with the Mosaic Chamber Players and the Madison Youth Choirs.)
Here is the official statement:
Dear Grace Presents Community:
After six seasons of offering free community concert programming monthly at the historic Grace Episcopal Church, the Grace Presents Concert Series has been suspended indefinitely.
From performers such as Yid Vicious, Kenn Lonquist, The Dang-It’s, the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and so many others we have enjoyed presenting these concerts free of charge to the Madison community and the thousands of downtown Madison visitors.
It is our hope that this concert series may find a champion in the near future, but until then, the red doors will no longer be open on Saturdays for free concerts to the public.
Thank you for your support of this series and local musicians. (Below is pianist Yana Groves who played music by Bach and Rachmaninoff at Grace Presents).
Grace Presents Board Members
PS: Thank you to the following:
– Bruce Kasprzyk for recording dozens of our concerts and providing his services free of charge
– Oakwood University Woods for printing our programs each month
– Bruce Croushore for initiating the Grace Presents Concert Series seven years ago
– folks who have served on the Grace Presents board
– over 100 musicians who performed for a Grace Presents concert
– all of you who have attended and supported live music at Grace Church
We especially thank our many donors and supporters over the years, and in particular Dane Arts, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, the Madison Arts Commission, and the Wisconsin Arts Board
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti playing music by Szymanowski, Brahms, Debussy and Mendelssohn. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
It isn’t new research.
But The Ear stumbled on it and finds it no less compelling or convincing because it is a couple of years old.
Researchers say that musicians run four times the normal risk of hearing loss.
But they also point to things that can be done to lessen the risk.
Whether you are a professional musician, an amateur musician or an avid listener, you might want to read about this research.
So here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Are they warhorses?
Or are they simply great, surefire masterpieces of classical music that have meaning to many, many people even after repeated listening?
Can they be both?
Can one critic’s warhorse be another listener’s masterpiece?
Think about it and then decide for yourself.
Here is some help.
Every year, WQXR-FM, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, asks its listeners to nominate the Top 100 pieces of classical music. From the holidays through New Years’ Day, Jan. 1, the radio station then airs those pieces in a countdown format. (You can also check out and stream much of WQXR’s regular and special programming by going to: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/
Here is a link to this year’s selections:
Many, if not most or even all, of the titles will seem quite familiar.
But before you dismiss them as too easy or too popular or overperformed, The Ear reminds readers of what the famed American playwright Edward Albee, who died last year, once observed.
Albee said something to the effect: Great art should move you and make you feel different. If it doesn’t do that, then forget it. You’re wasting your time. Find art that does.
How many of these pieces would fit that criterion for you and how many would you also have named? For The Ear, an awful lot.
How many have you heard, live or on a recording?
How many do you look forward to hearing again – on the assumption that repeated listening brings repeated pleasure and deeper appreciation and understanding?
It is also useful to remember what the great and, at the same time, popular pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) once said: “Classical music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for classical music.”
So much music!
So little time!
Enjoy the list and the music, and leave your thoughts about these selections or about what is missing in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume this week after a break for Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays. This Friday, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., pianist Olivia Musat will perform music by Olivier Messiaen, Isaac Albeniz and Paul Constantinesco.
By Jacob Stockinger
It seems a tradition throughout the media to offer a roundup of the Year’s Best with a local slant.
The Ear already offered a national and international roundup. Here is a link to that, especially to the surprisingly rich roundup that he unexpectedly found on Wikipedia:
For a more local perspective, The Ear trusts and generally agrees with critic John W. Barker (below), who writes frequently for this blog and more often for Isthmus.
Here is a link to Barker’s list of memorable concerts in the Madison area, Because Isthmus mixes classical with other genres like pop, folk and jazz, you have to scroll down to “Classical cornucopia”:
Although I agree with all the concerts that Barker mentions, he left out some that The Ear really loved. One was the absolutely riveting and moving performance in November by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain of the momentous Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich.
For example just about everything that the Pro Arte Quartet does at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is first-rate and memorable, whether they play in Mills Hall or on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen Museum of Art.”
But this past fall, a free noontime concert by the Pro Arte with legendary pianist Leon Fleisher especially stood out. Together (below), they performed the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms – an unquestionable masterpiece in an unforgettable performance.
The Ear would also add two events, both violin recitals, at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Last spring Hilary Hahn (below top, in a photo by Peter Miller) turned in a stunningly superb recital. Then this fall, superstar Joshua Bell (below bottom) did the same. Both artists displayed terrific musicality combined with terrific virtuosity in generous and first-rate, ambitious programs.
He would add several summer concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, especially the sizzling dueling violin concert (below) where the BDDS interspersed “The Four Seasons” buy Antonio Vivaldi with “The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.
The Ear would also add an experimental concert at which UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) unveiled his reworked two-keyboard “Hyperpiano.” While the concert, which featured the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach, wasn’t successful musically, it certainly was intriguing, unusual and highly memorable, even with imperfect digital technology.
And The Ear also recalls a fine concert by the Rhapsodie Quartet (below) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the Overture Center.
And let’s not forget the University Opera’s production of “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi that was impressively and successfully updated to Hollywood by director David Ronis.
The Ear is sure there are more memorable concerts that escape him right now. Madison just features so much wonderful music-making in the course of a year.
Moreover, The Ear is also sure you have your favorites – whether they are individual plays; small chamber music groups such as duos, string quartets and piano trios; larger ensembles like the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater; or entire events like the UW Brass Festival.
I am sure that fans of the innovative percussion group Clocks in Motion and the acclaimed Madison Choral Project have a concert or two to nominate.
So please use the COMMENT section to tell us what were your most memorable classical concerts in Madison during 2016.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that several days ago, The Ear named the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
He also mentioned that although there were not yet any YouTube videos of the group, which will have its third season this summer, the alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 has broadcast recordings of live performances.
Here is a link to that posting:
If you haven’t yet heard the Willy Street Chamber Players live, you can hear them this Thursday morning on WORT FM 89.9.
Here is what Rich Samuels, radio host and friend of the Willys, writes:
“Thursday morning, Jan. 5, at 7:28 a.m. on my WORT “Anything Goes” broadcast, I’ll be airing the Willy Street Chamber Players performing the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which I recorded last July 29 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church.
(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the opening movement of Mozart’s beautiful Clarinet Quintet performed by the Emerson String Quartet with clarinetist David Shifrin of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Players in New York City.)
“Michael Maccaferri is the clarinet soloist (below). He’s a member of the eighth blackbird ensemble of Chicago. He’s participated in four eighth blackbird Grammy-winning releases on the Cedille label, the local nonprofit recording label that is also in Chicago and that recently turned 25.
“Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), who presently freelances in Chicago, recruited Maccaferri for this event. In addition to Eleanor, this performance features Willy Street violinist Beth Larson, violist Rachel Hauser and cellist Lindsay Crabb.
“It was my privilege to record most of the first two seasons of the Willy Street Chamber Players for broadcast on WORT.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that tradition in 2017.”
Here is a link about upcoming strong quartet concert on Jan. 21 and 22 and about the Willy Street Chamber Players in general:
By Jacob Stockinger
Is there a better way to greet the New Year than to take a look back at the past year?
2016 was a year of big losses: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below top), conductor Sir Neville Marriner (below middle) and early music pioneer and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below bottom) among the many whose names you might recognize.
What better way to start 2017 than to recall the figures we lost and hope that the coming year is kinder.
And here is an entry from, of all places, Wikipedia that includes an exhaustive and detailed list of important events, performances and compositions as well as of classical musicians who died.
It seems as good a summing up as any that The Ear has seen, and demonstrates just how prolific the composers of new classical music are:
We remember and we revere.
Which is why The Ear has included the Funeral March movement from the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven on a YouTube video below that features an intriguing graphic arts representation of the music.
We are lucky: We have the music even when we no longer have the musicians.
By Jacob Stockinger
It can’t be easy to start a new classical music group in a city that already has so many outstanding classical music groups and events.
Yet that is exactly what The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) have done – and with remarkable success.
To be honest, The Ear thought of awarding the same honor to them last year.
But that was their inaugural year. And launching a new enterprise is often easier than continuing and sustaining it.
But continue and sustain it they have – and even improved it.
The main season for The Willy Street Players is in July,, usually around noon or 6 p.m.
But they also usually offer a preview concert in the winter, and will do so again at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22, when they will perform string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla and Daniel Bernard Roumain at A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street. Admission is $20.
For tickets and more information about that concert as well as the group in general, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org
The Ear finds so much to like about The Willy Street Chamber Players.
To start, the quality of the playing of the mostly string players and pianists — most of whom are products of the UW-Madison — is unquestionably superb. So are their guest artists such as Suzanne Beia. They have never disappointed The Ear, and others seem to agree.
The programming is ideal and adventurous, combining beloved classics, neglected works and new music from contemporary composers. And it all seems to fit together perfectly.
The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the Baroque era through the Classical, Romantic and modernist eras to today. They have performed an impressively eclectic mix of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Pietro Mascagni, Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb, Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger.
The concerts are very affordable.
The concerts are short, usually running only about an hour or 75 minutes. That allows you both to fully focus or concentrate on the performance but then also to do something else with your precious leisure time.
The group of sonic locavores stays true to its name and mission, playing at various venues on or near Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side – including the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street and at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. But they have also collaborated with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the post-concerts receptions, they even offer outstanding snack food from local purveyors in the Willy Street area. And it’s there that you can also meet the performers, who are fun, informative and congenial whenever they talk to the public, whether before and after a performance.
Most of all, The Ear has never heard anything dull or second-rate from the Willy Street Chamber Players. They are a fantastic breath of fresh air who invest their performances of even well-known works, such as the glorious Octet by Mendelssohn, with energy and drive, zest and good humor.
They are exactly what classical music – whether chamber music or orchestral music, choral or vocal music –needs to attract new and younger audiences and well as the usual fans. They have just the right balance of informality and professionalism.
The many musicians, all of them young, work hard but make the results seem easy. That is the very definition of virtuosity. Small wonder that many of them play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups. But this group seems special to them, and it shows.
If you don’t already know the Willy Street Chamber Players, you should get to know them. You should attend their concerts and, if you can, support them. They are a new gem, and constitute an outstanding and invaluable addition to Madison’s music scene.
NOTE: The Ear offers one piece of advice to The Willy Street Chamber Players: Since he can’t find a sample of you in action, please post some of your outstanding performances, which have been recorded by radio host Rich Samuels and broadcast on WORT-FM 89.9, on YouTube. The public needs a way to hear them and whet its appetite for your live performances.
In any case, The Ear wishes them well and hopes that, despite the inevitable personnel changes that will surely come in the future, The Willy Street Chamber Players stay on the Madison music scene for many years to come.
The Ear sends his best wishes for the New Year and another great season, the group’s third, to The Willy Street Chamber Players as Musicians of the Year for 2016.