The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which one of five trains will you ride into the upcoming super-wreck on this Sunday afternoon?

September 25, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.

And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!

Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.

The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking —  falls into place.

There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.

A-l-l-l-l aboard:

Here, in timetable order, we go:


The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle).  It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to on the day of the concert for a link.

The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a link:

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer


Pierre Jalbert


Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are,  from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

Wes Color CR Barry Lewis


At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1



At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci


At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris  and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.

Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.

He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. 
Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot


At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.

All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber  Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:—ve-never-seen-a-concert-like-this-sep-12-2014



Classical music: Here’s bad news — There will be NO string orchestra this season to replace the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra this year – or maybe next or maybe ever.

September 3, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Some bad news reached The Ear yesterday, on the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The following is an official announcement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It comes from the administration via Professor James Smith (below), who heads the program in orchestral conducting.


Writes Barbara Mahling: “I have some disappointing and sad news from Jim Smith. There are not enough string players for this new string orchestra, not enough violas or basses to make it work.”

“It is currently listed on the timetable, so that will need to be changed. It will not exist either term. We can hope for next year.

“Barb Mahling
UW-Madison School of Music”

You may recall that a string orchestra seemed to be a temporary solution to the unexpected dissolution of the UW Chamber Orchestra (below, in 2012, and at bottom on YouTube in the opening of the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with student conductor Kyle Knox on the podium) will continue to exist and will give its first performance on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall The program features UW visiting voice professor, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, from Vienna, (below bottom) in Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Songs. The orchestra will also perform the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Here is a link to the UW School of Music (SOM) Calendar of Events:

And here are two links to background stories about the UW Chamber Orchestra and the string orchestra that was supposed to replace  it and do some impressive repertoire, including Mahler’s orchestra version of the famous “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as well as intriguing works by Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok.

The Ear finds that the announcement leaves him with some important and disturbing questions.

What is the solution to the problem? More scholarships to attract more talented students, as one source has said.

How will the lack of some smaller ensemble – either a chamber orchestra or a string orchestra – means for the prestige and national ranking of the UW School of Music?

How will the move affect recruiting of new players in strings and other areas?

Will the UW Symphony Orchestra end up doing double duty for the campus and community UW Choral Union (below), which usually alternates between the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra, depending on the work they are singing? (Below is a photo of the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra performing the “Missa Solemnis” by Ludwig van Beethoven in 2010.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What small orchestral group will perform smaller-scale orchestral works, either by itself or in collaboration with others?

And does the concluding phrase “We can hope for next year” mean that the chamber orchestra is dissolved forever? That the best we can hope for is another chance at an all-string orchestra?

No doubt details will emerge in the coming days and months.

But it is all too bad.

What do you think of the decision?

The Ear wants to hear.

Classical music: SUNDAY afternoon Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson will perform a recital of songs by Schubert, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Berlioz, Rossini, Gershwin, Alec Wilder, Andre Previn and others. Plus, Ilona Kombrink memorial is set for Oct. 20.

September 10, 2013

ALERT: Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, a loyal reader and friend of The Ear, writes: “There will be a memorial concert for the UW-Madison soprano and voice professor Ilona Kombrink (below), who died last month and with whom I was privileged to study, on Sunday, October 20, at 3 p.m., at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community’s Grand Hall. We are very early in the planning stages, but we hope that former students and colleagues will perform or speak on the program. More information will follow soon.”

Ilona Kombrink color

By Jacob Stockinger

Edgewood College mezzo-soprano and voice professor Kathleen Otterson will perform a song recital this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. Admission is $7 to benefit the music scholarship fund at Edgewood.

Otterson writes:

“I am dedicating this concert to my former teacher, the UW-Madison soprano Ilona Kombrink who died last month. But the program is a collage of things I performed on two concerts in Bayfield this summer — hence its title: “What I Did With My Summer Vacation.”

The pianist is Edgewood College coach and accompanist Susan Goeres (below top, on the right with Otterson on the left) . Flutist Elizabeth Marshall (below bottom), who performs in the Black Marigold wind quintet, teaches at Edgewood College, UW-Platteville and Madison Area Technical College and who is the second flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, will also participate.

Kathleen Otterson (l) and pianist Susan Goeres

Elizabeth Marshall flute

Describing the major works to be performed, Otterson continues: “Of particular interest, I think, is the Andre Previn piece: “Two Remembrances,” written for Sylvia McNair and first performed by her at the Tanglewood Festival in 1995. The intermingling of the alto flute and the voice is really remarkable, with the flute providing the second voice in the evocative dialogue. 

andre previn color


“Ilona had a special fondness for the “Rueckert-lieder” of Gustav Mahler (below top), and I was fortunate to work on these wonderful songs with her for my graduate recital.

“The poems of Friedrich Rueckert held deep personal meaning for Mahler, and these songs are very much more intimate than the better-known “Wunderhorn Songs.””Ich atmet einen Lindenduft” is included in the program, paired with a song by Alma Schindler Mahler (below bottom) composed at around the same time: “Laue Sommernacht” (performed in a YouTube video at the bottom with some good listener comments.)

Gustav Mahler big

Alma Mahler

“Rossini’s song cycle “La Regatta Veneziana” tells the story of the historical Venetian Regatta, which takes place each year on the waters of the Grand Canal (below) at the beginning of September (this year it was on Sunday, September 1).

“Along with a spectacular procession of elaborately carved boats and costumed participants, there is a race – the subject of the song cycle, as the young girl Anzoletta watches anxiously for her lover Momolo, offering scorn if he fails to win and kisses if he succeeds.

Grand Canal, Venice

“Three songs from the beautiful “Nuits d’été” (Summer Nights) by Hector Berlioz (below) round out the program. They are not specifically about “summer” but instead seem to be summertime musings, both sweet and bitter, settings of texts by Théophile Gautier. Musically, they are everything from playful to melancholy in character.


“Parking at Edgewood is free and the Chapel is accessible to all.”

Classical music: Critic John W. Barker tells his sideswiped “Tale of Two Concerts” as he reviews the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and pianist Frank Glazer.

August 6, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.


By John W. Barker

A funny thing happened on my way to a concert commitment—a funny and increasingly all-too-familiar thing.

I agreed to do this review of the concert by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below top) last Sunday.  (It had to be Sunday afternoon, because another cultural commitment prevented me from attending the first performance of their program on Friday.) But then I discovered that Farley’s House of Pianos was presenting a recital by the seemingly immortal Frank Glazer(below bottom), that same afternoon.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Frank Glazer

That opened the wound I carry from having had to miss his last appearance in Madison two years ago—again, for the same reason of schedule conflict!  That’s Madison’s musical life for you, over and over again, now even in the summer.

Fortunately, however, this situation was less the usual head-on collision in schedule and more of a side-swipe. The choral concert was at 3 p.m., the piano recital at 4:30 p.m. That fact made it almost possible to be at two places at once, thank goodness.

Attending each concert has had personal reasons for me.  In the case of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the issue was my recognition of guilt.

The group’s director, Scott MacPherson (below) — a credit to UW School of Music background — founded the organization in 2002, drawing together some 35 passionate devotees of choral singing for the sole purpose of presenting a concert in Madison each summer.

Scott MacPherson older BW

That allowed MacPherson to maintain an important tie to this city, while holding professional positions elsewhere, and it gave wonderful performing experience to singers here devoted to him.

It also created an annual audience in Madison that allowed the group to move from one performance to two of each year’s program.

And yet–here comes the guilt–through all these seasons, for whatever reasons (excusable or otherwise), I have failed to attend any one of the IVE’s concerts.  Clearly it has been a loss on my part, one to be made up.

Both performances this years were in ample church venues: the Friday night one in Luther Memorial Church, the one on Sunday afternoon, which I attended, at Covenant Presbyterian.

The first half of the program offered what might be called a “classical” sequence.  The opener was a three-section setting for eight voices of Psalm 150, in French, by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), who compose and published polyphonic settings of all the Psalms.

MacPherson deliberately positioned the singers in the usual SATB (soprano-alto-tenor-bass) spread, rather than dividing them into two distinct choirs, to stress eight-voice integration over the antiphonal effects Sweelinck used so flexibly. But for the next two units the singers shifted about in fact into separate choirs.  And the resulting antiphonal effects were simply glorious.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

The motet “Ich lasse dich nicht” is a beloved and much-recorded work long attributed to Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), a relative of Johann Sebastian Bach. The latter is known to have used the piece in his Leipzig repertoire, and scholars now are inclined to award its composition to J.S. himself.  (Personally, I am still inclined to the older attribution.)

Among its fascinations are the juxtaposition of a chorale sung by one section against the contrapuntal workings of the rest of the choir.  Hearing that wonderful effect after the Sweelinck work gave a clear contrast in the seductive elegance of the Calvinist Psalm idiom as against the four-square assertiveness of the German Lutheran chorale style.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble women

The latter style was given a new twist in a rarely heard work for double choir by Brahms (below), the “Fest und Gedenksprüche,” composed in thanks for an honor accorded him by his natal city of Hamburg.  Brahms was not only a professional choir director, but a pioneering booster and editor of early Baroque choral music, whose style he could assimilate and recast in his own distinctive way in these settings of three Scriptural texts.


The first half of the program ended–after another shift in the singers’ positions–with an arrangement for 16 voices made by one Clytus Gottwald of a single one (“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”) from the  “Rückert-Lieder” for solo voice and orchestra by Gustav Mahler (below).  The texture for, in effect, four four-part choirs, resulted in a density of sound that virtually obliterated the all-important text, producing a purely choral sound that completely left behind anything of Mahler’s intentions or musical character.  This should have been called a “motet after Mahler” rather than identifed as somehow still his music.

Gustav Mahler big

The concert’s second part shifted to music of our times. One does not even require the fact that 2013 marks the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth to justify presenting any of his important choral contributions.  This one, his “Hymn to Saint Peter,” sets a combination of English and Latin Scriptural texts celebrating Peter as the “rock” on which the Church was founded–an echo of the claims of the Roman Church that might not have been expected someone grounded in Anglican Church background.

Benjamin Britten

The Anglican tradition (also involving organ accompaniment of the choir) was even more directly evoked by “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” a text attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and colorfully set by British composer Grayston Ives.

By way of intermezzo, the organist Kathrine Handford (below top) played a lively Dance-Rondo for her instrument.  Then came a composition of a UW-trained Wisconsin composer, Linda Kachelmeier (below bottom), in which words of the Good Friday responsory “O vos omnes and of the “Stabat Mater” Sequence were glommed together in a great choral blur, to some extent surmounted by the lovely voiced mezzo-soprano Sarah Leuwerke in the piece’s solo part.

Kathrine Handford

Linda Kachelmeier

The official finale was a setting by Haitian-American composer Sydney Guillaume (below) of a text about competing drummers.  Nominally in French, this text really serves onomatopoeic purposes in suggesting the exuberant rhythms of Caribbean dance. As an encore, the choir sang a nostalgia-drenched arrangement of “Shenandoah.”

Sydney Guillaume

As may be concluded, not all of the program choices were ones I would have made.  But I am grateful to MacPherson for allowing me the chance to hear them.  Even more, I am delighted to express admiration for his extraordinary group.  For this pair of concerts, he doubled its normal number to 70, in view of the demands of the selections.  (I could spot a number of familiar Madison musicians among his “ringers.”)

Whether he will continue this practice remains to be seen.  But it is clear that he has a core group that is totally dedicated to working with him.  Each year they spend a busy week of rehearsals leading to the concerts. From him they have learned remarkable discipline and flexibility in ensemble singing and in stylistic range.  Perhaps above all, they just love working with him, and their joy in performance is quite evident.

In addition, I must express admiration for Scott MacPherson himself (below, conducting a rehearsal).  Now based at Kent State University in Ohio, he has achieved a national reputation in choral music–as a conductor of great skill, a choir-builder of magnetism, and an enterprising explorer of choral literature old and new.  An all-Wisconsin product, he was in his UW-Madison days an assistant and colleague to the revered Robert Fountain.  I can imagine the time when Scott MacPherson’s reputation will at least equal that of Fountain, if not eclipse it.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

Now, as the final applause for the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble swelled at 4:35 p.m., I dashed to my car and was able to arrive at Farley’s House of Pianos, having missed Haydn’s Sonata in E Minor and the bare beginning of Beethoven’s rarely heard “Phantasie,” Op. 77.  That was followed by one of Beethoven’s “late” Piano Sonatas, No. 31 in E major, Op. 109.  Both of these works display Beethoven’s constant straining of the forms and mentalities he inherited from his predecessors.

The second half brought a series of shifts.  Samuel Barber’s four “Excursions display a clever ability to inhabit convincingly the differing styles of jazz, blues, cowboy song, and ragtime.  Then came the glittering world of Franz Liszt (below): his free-ranging “Petrarch Sonnet No. 104,” followed by the nature-picture of St. Francis preaching to the birds (“Franziscus Legende” No. 1).  [St. Francis thus, coincidentally, linked the two concerts!]

And a final Lisztian showpiece, his “Paraphrase” on the quartet from Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto.”

After that, still more contrasts, in one of Liszt’s adaptations of dances by Schubert, No. 6 of the former’s Soirées de Vienna” sets, as an encore.

Liszt at piano 2

Now, to the pianist.  Frank Glazer (below) really one the most remarkable American musicians.  Again, he is a Wisconsin native.  Born in 1915, he is accordingly now 98.  He has developed a sideline in writing and lecturing.  He is still artist-in-residence at Bates College in Maine.  And he is still actively performing!

Frank Glazer at the piano

I began collecting his early LP recordings in my student days, so for me he is a living legend.  His tastes in repertoire have always been voracious, and they still are.  He has been a continuing player in chamber-music groups, while his repertoire of solo piano music is astounding in its range.  A list, circulated at this latest appearance, of a series of eight performances this past season at Bates demonstrates that range vividly.  And it ends with a concert this past April in which he played, back-to-back, Beethoven’s cosmic “Diabelli” Variations and the herculean “Hammerklavier” Sonata–a feat comparable to doing two Mahler Symphonies on the same program (something, in fact, that Simon Rattle tried in his rambunctious earlier years).

Glazer’s attributes his resilience to exercise and mental self-discipline, but also to an early study of anatomy, so as to understand how to play with the least strain on his hands.  I was able to watch his hands, if from a distance, and I think I could observe something of his very straight and level hand positions, which nevertheless allowed his fingers to range securely from the dazzling runs of Liszt to the power of Beethoven.

With the aid of a page-turner, Glazer played from printed music rather than from memory, but one could hardly fault him for that.  Yes, here and there, a very tiny suggestion of a faltered note, but the technique was confident, and the stylistic sense always on point in whatever he played.

If you heard Glazer (below) blindfolded, you would take him for a player of maturity and insight.  Up close, his complexion gives clues to his age, but, seen from a distance, his appearance and movements make him look hardly a day over fifty-five.

Frank Glazer

Frank Glazer is, in sum, a phenomenon.  The ability of Tim and Renee Foley to fit him into their lineup of star performers for their incomparable recital events is a remarkable testimony to their reputation. And the splendid 1885 Steinway, so lovingly restored by the Foley technicians, and played by Glazer, was certainly no small draw to him, I would guess.

In all, it proved a memorable experience, allowing us to ponder over which is more remarkable — Glazer’s artistry or his longevity.

Frank Glazer at piano


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