The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This weekend, prize-winning pianist Joyce Yang solos in Prokofiev’s most popular piano concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Works by Schumann and Aaron Jay Kernis round out the program

November 4, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, prize-winning pianist Joyce Yang (below) will return to Madison to join the Madison Symphony Orchestra in her local concerto debut and perform Prokofiev’s brilliant, bravura and tuneful Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26.

The concert opens with Kernis’ Newly Drawn Sky and concludes with Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday night, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 10, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $19-$95 with discounts available. See below for details.

Speaking about the program, music director and maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) says: “November brings us another Madison Symphony debut, that of the amazing pianist Joyce Yang. She will perform the Prokofiev’s dazzling Piano Concerto No. 3, one of the great and most popular concertos, and certainly a favorite of mine.”

Adds DeMain: “I can’t wait for audiences to experience the hauntingly beautiful Newly Drawn Sky by Aaron Jay Kernis. And of the four symphonies by Robert Schumann, many regard his second as the greatest of them all.”

According to Aaron Jay Kernis (below), who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award and who teaches at the Yale School of Music, Newly Drawn Sky” is “a lyrical, reflective piece for orchestra, a reminiscence of the first summer night by the ocean spent with my young twins, and of the summer sky at dusk.”

The chromatically shifting three-note chords that begin in the strings and transfer to the winds are a central element in the creation of this work. The works last approximately 17 minutes and was premiered at the Ravinia Festival in 2005 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

To read more about Kernis and his successful career, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Jay_Kernis

Sergei Prokofiev (below) himself played the solo part at the world premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 3 on Dec. 16, 1921 in Chicago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Although he started work on the composition as early as 1913, the majority of it was completed in 1921 and the piece didn’t gain popularity until 1922 when it was confirmed in the 20th-century canon. (You can hear Prokofiev play the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.) The Ear thinks that the work has much Russian Romanticism in it and if you like Rachmaninoff, you will probably like this Prokofiev.

Originally a composer for keyboard, Robert Schumann (below with wife Clara) began writing symphonies around the time of his marriage to his virtuoso pianist and composer wife Clara Wieck, who encouraged his compositional expansions.

The uplifting Symphony in C major was created while the composer was troubled with depression and hearing loss; a Beethovenian triumph over pessimism and despair, the creation of this symphony served as a healing process for Schumann.

ABOUT JOYCE YANG 

Blessed with “poetic and sensitive pianism” (The Washington Post) and a “wondrous sense of color” (San Francisco Classical Voice), Grammy-nominated pianist Joyce Yang, who years ago played a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, captivates audiences with her virtuosity, lyricism and interpretive sensitivity.

Yang first came to international attention in 2005 when she won the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The youngest contestant at 19 years old, she took home two additional awards: Best Performance of Chamber Music (with the Takacs Quartet), and Best Performance of a New Work.

In 2006 Yang (below) made her celebrated New York Philharmonic debut alongside conductor Lorin Maazel at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center along with the orchestra’s tour of Asia, making a triumphant return to her hometown of Seoul, South Korea.

CONCERT, TICKET AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

One hour before each performance, Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by James Gill )will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msonov19programnotes.

  • Single Tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/joyce-yang-plays-prokofiev/through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • 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 $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 8-10 vouchers for 2019-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex
  • Subscriptions for the 2019–2020 season are available now. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20

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

Major funding for this concert is provided by Madison Magazine, Stephen D. Morton, National Guardian Life Insurance Company, Scott and Janet Cabot, and Peggy and Tom Pyle. Additional funding provided by Foley & Lardner LLP, Howard Kidd and Margaret Murphy, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts


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Classical music: This week at the UW-Madison highlights choral music

November 7, 2018
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, featurestwo local musicians: oboist Laura Medisky and pianist Vincent Fuh.

The program features solo works for oboe, oboe d’amore and piano by Johann Sebastian Bach, Grażyna Bacewicz, and Camille Saint-Saens. Food and drink are allowed. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. Due to construction, Friday Musicale concerts are being held in the Atrium auditorium through December.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two choral concerts are the big events this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here are the details:

FRIDAY

On this Friday night, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale, under director and conductor of Bruce Gladstone (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will present a FREE concert.

The program features “Lament of Gilboa” by Arthur Honegger (below top) and “Into the Silent Darkness” by Elizabeth Alexander (below bottom).

According to the School of Music’s website: “This concert explores opposites in a variety of ways (cold/hot, slow/fast, laughing/crying, life/death), inviting the listener to think about the gray areas in between.”

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, there will be a FREE concert of combined choirs. Participating groups are Masters Singers, University Chorus and Women’s Chorus (below).

The program, to be performed under graduate student conductors Michael Johnson and Andrew Voth, features traditional folk music as well as works by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Johannes Brahms (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland.

For a long listing of specific works to be sung, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/combined-choirs-concert-masters-singers-university-chorus-and-womens-chorus/


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Classical music: Grace Presents offers a FREE violin and piano concert of music by Mozart, Schumann and Fritz Kreisler this Saturday from noon to 1 p.m.

February 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A FREE concert this weekend by Grace Presents features violin and piano music played by local musicians.

The concert takes place from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church, where West Washington Avenue runs into the Capitol Square.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

The performers are violinist Kangwon Kim and pianist Seungwha Baek.

The program is: Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K. 526, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); and “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow, performed by Anne Akiko Meyers in a YouTube video at the bottom) and “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy) by Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).

Kangwon Lee Kim (below) is a versatile violinist with repertoire ranging from baroque to 21st century using both Baroque and modern violins. She performs with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Kangwon Kim earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also holds degrees from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Temple University.

Kangwon Kim close up

A native of Seoul, Korea, pianist Seungwha Baek (below) is currently working towards the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-­Madison under Professor Martha Fischer.

Seungwha Baek

For more information about upcoming concerts in a variety of genres and style, plus a chance to let Grace Presents know what you think of a specific concert or performers, go to:

http://gracepresents.org


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and piano soloist Ilya Yakushev excel in a varied program. But audience members should do better at observing concert etiquette. Plus, retired UW-Madison bass-baritone Sam Jones dies at 87.

January 26, 2015
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ALERT: Sad news has reached The Ear. Samuel M. Jones, a bass-baritone who was an exceptional performer and teacher at the UW-Madison School of Music for 37 years and who also served as the cantor at Temple Beth El and the Choral Director at Grace Episcopal Church, has died at 87. Here is a link to the obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://m.host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/jones-dr-samuel-m-jr/article_8a445e98-0cf3-5112-bd72-8840b58a0399.html?mobile_touch=true

Samuel M. Jones

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, The Ear couldn’t be in two places at once.

Being in the mood for some solo piano playing – because The Ear himself is an avid amateur pianist – he attended the solo recital of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, William Bolcom and Johannes Brahms performed by UW-Madison School of Music professor Christopher Taylor. But more about that will come in another post this week.

However, Larry Wells — a college classmate and good friend who is a longtime and very knowledgeable classical music follower and who has worked, lived and attended concerts in Rochester, San Francisco, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul — went to the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

He filed this review:

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

By Larry Wells

The program opened with a short introduction by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to the “English Suite” for string orchestra by the contemporary British composer Paul Lewis. (Sewell himself is a New Zealand native who also trained in England.)

Paul Lewis composer

Although the work was termed by Sewell as an obligatory form for British composers in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and the like, I found the rhapsodic opening and closing of the second section, “Meditation,” reminiscent of VW’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” But the remainder of the piece seemed trite and forgettable.

Following was the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case, a concert grand piano was used featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev, a Russian native who now lives in the U.S., who was making his second appearance with the WCO.

This familiar piece was played bouncily in the first movement, sweetly in the second, and really fast in the third. I enjoyed Yakushev’s playing, although from my seat the piano seemed slightly muffled and occasionally unheard over the orchestra.

ilya yakushev 3

The second half of the evening opened with the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg, which Maestro Sewell claimed to be in the manner of Richard Strauss. If so, Strauss was much more expressive and engaging.

The evening ended with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn, again featuring Yakushev. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and found it immediately engaging and enjoyable throughout. (You can hear Ilya Yakushev perform the Mendelssohn piano concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether, it was a good evening of music.

But it was unfortunately marred early in the aforementioned “Meditation” movement when a woman two seats down from me decided to answer a text. The bright light from her cell phone was distracting, so I pointedly stared at her until her seat mate nudged her, and she put away the phone. The seat mate clearly felt that I was in the wrong and glared at me.

I noticed that there is no caution in the program about turning off cell phones, so I believe it would be a good idea for a brief announcement to be made at the beginning of the concert and at the end of the intermission for people to turn off their phones. That simple courtesy has still not become a part of all concertgoers’ routines.

smart phone

And what is with the Madison tradition of giving everything a standing ovation? (Below is a standing ovation at a concert on the Playhouse by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

There have been perhaps a dozen times in my long concert-going life when I have been so moved by the moment that I’ve leapt to my feet. I think of a standing ovation as recognition of something extraordinary — not as a routine gesture that cheapens to the point of meaninglessness.

For purposes of comparison, here is a link to the review of the same concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Ilya Yakushev that veteran local music critic and retired UW-Madison medieval history professor John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44422&sid=6243d3d1e78139b69884d31c5c1126e2


Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


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
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By Jacob Stockinger

First, some reminders and alerts.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

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:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/classical-music-qa-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-orc/

bianconi_philippe

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:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41208

John-Barker

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

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/October-2013/Madison-Symphony-Program-Suggests-a-New-Normal/

greg hettmansberger mug

UW CLARINET RECITAL

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.

YOUTUBE AND PIANIST VALENTINA LISITSA

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.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/arts/music/valentina-lisitsa-jump-starts-her-career-online.html?_r=0


Classical music Q&A: Cellist Benjamin Whitcomb hopes to build classical music fans with his FREE concert of three cello masterpieces by Beethoven, Debussy and Rachmaninoff this Friday night at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education in Waunakee and on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.”

September 17, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. adults and students have a chance to hear a FREE concert of three unqualified masterpieces for cello and piano.

The concert is by cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is a member of the acclaimed Madison-based Ancora String Quartet. The pianist is Whitcomb’s longtime collaborator Vincent de Vries, who teaches at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea.

The concert is at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education (below)
, located at 1005 Quinn Drive in 
Waunakee, Wisconsin, 53597.

Wisconsin School Music sign

Wisconsin School Music Association building

The program includes: Cello Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102 No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-0827), a late work especially known for its final fugue movement; the Cello Sonata by Claude Debussy (1862-1918); and the Cello Sonata in G Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943, heard at the bottom in a YouTube video with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax ). 

Benjamin Whitcomb is an accomplished teacher and performer who does both solo recitals (more than a dozen recitals of the complete six Solo Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, some at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, below) and chamber music.

Benjamin Whitcomb playing Bach 1

Whitcomb recently explained his reasons for doing the free concert to The Ear:

benjamin whitcomb3

“Vincent and I get together a once or twice a year to do a series of performances, despite the distance between us — he is based in Seoul, Korea. We have been doing this since 2002.

“Every time we get together, we talk about how some concerts pay very well but are poorly attended whereas others are just the opposite, and we both agree that we prefer performing for more people (not surprisingly). So, for any given series of concerts, once we have lined up enough to “pay the bills,” we start looking for other venues that might reach more people and/or different audiences.

“Sometimes we end up performing for groups that don’t hear much live classical music, and it is very rewarding to have some of the audience members come up afterwards and express just how much our performance moved them and affected them.

“Vincent (below) and I are both of the opinion that there are many people who would be fans of live classical music if they but were exposed to it.

Vincent de Vries

“The idea of playing at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education springs primarily from the fact that part of their mission, too, is to spread and encourage the appreciation for music (including live classical music) in the region.”

A SECOND CHANCE

You should also know that if you miss this Friday night concert, the same performers and program will be featured in concert and in the live broadcast on this Sunday’s edition of Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” Museum in Madison (below). It runs from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3.

SALProArteMay2010


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