The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear listens with eyes open and finds interesting photos at concerts

August 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was the famous 20th-century composer and pioneering modernist Igor Stravinsky (below) who advised us to listen to music with our eyes open.

For one, it fosters our appreciation of the sheer physicality of making music. Musicians are, as the pianist Vladimir Horowitz once observed, athletes of the small muscles.

If you listen with your eyes open you can see a lot of things.

You can see how musicians give each other cues.

You can see the expression on their faces, the joy and pleasure that making music gives them.

You can observe how different members of the audience react differently to different music.

You can appreciate the many kinds of instruments with the eye-catching shapes, sizes and colors.

And you can see patterns that make for good photographs – if taking photos is allowed.

Of course even if it is, there are rules to follow so that the musicians and other audience members are not disturbed: no flash and no shutter sound are the main ones besides the rule of intellectual property and the forbidding of taking photographs – kind of a difficult one to enforce these days, what with all the smart phones out there.

But some musicians and groups are very friendly and open to photographing, especially if the photos are strictly personal and not for commercial use to earn a profit.

At the last regular concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber players a little over two weeks ago, The Ear found two that showed patterns for good composition.

It’s just fun. But productive fun that can capture the fascination with music and musicians, especially if you sit close to the performers.

Here they are.

First is “Three Clarinets,” a portrait of guest artist Michael Maccaferri, from the Grammy-winning chamber music group eighth blackbird, with the three clarinets he used in the Argentinian-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” The black verticality of the clarinets is heightened by the same quality of the music stands.

The second is “Two Cellos and One Violin,” taken during the bows after the string sextet version of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” The shapes and shades of brown wood draw the eye.

Tell The Ear of you like this kind of photo essay and want to see more of them on the blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players wrap up their third season this Friday night at 6 with music by Mozart, Schubert and Osvaldo Golijov

July 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below) wrap up their third summer series.

The 90-minute performance is at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., on Madison’s near east side.

A post-concert reception will be held with snacks from the Underground Food Collective and the Willy Street Coop.

Tickets are $15 at the door.

The program is typical for the relatively new group – a small ensemble making big waves — in that it features regular members with a guest performer, and also mixes old music and new music, sometimes with an unusual twist.

The program offers three works.

The dramatic “Quartettsatz” (1820), or “quartet movement,” by Franz Schubert (below) was intended be a part of another string quartet. It never found that home, and now exists as a popular work on its own. (You can hear it played by the Amadeus Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994), by the eclectic contemporary Argentinean-American composer Osvaldo Golijov (below, in a photo by Kayana Szymczak for the New York Times), has proven to be among contemporary music’s more popular works. (It has been performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

As you can gather from the title, it has Hebraic or Yiddish elements typical of Golijov, who is Jewish and has lived in Israel, and it possesses an appealing klezmer sound. The featured soloist is guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (below)

Ending the concert is the popular and supremely beautiful “Sinfonia Concertante” for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was composed originally for a string orchestra and is usually performed that way.

But The Willys, always inventive, will use an anonymous “house music” reduction for string sextet that was done in 1808, almost 30 years after the composer’s death.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has done many similar reductions of piano concertos by Mozart and symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn with great success.

So The Ear is very anxious to hear this transcription or arrangement, which could make yet another great masterpiece even more accessible with smaller forces at less expense.

To The Ear, it has all the makings of yet another MUST-HEAR concert by a MUST-HEAR group.

See you there.

Classical music: From Big 10 oboe music to Big Beethoven sonatas to a maestro’s final bow, this is a varied and busy week at the UW for faculty, guest artists and students

April 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear doesn’t see a unifying theme to this week’s events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. But there is a lot of varied and appealing music and events — by acclaimed faculty members, guest performers and prize-winning students — on tap.

All concerts are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Here is the lineup by day:


At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, oboist Aaron Hill (below) will give a recital featuring “Oboe Music From the Big 10.” The program includes works by three contemporary composers: Theresa Martin, Teddy Niedermaier and Daniel Black. Also performing are his UW colleagues bassoonist Marc Vallon and pianist Christopher Taylor.

For more information about the performers, the composers and the music, go to:


From 11:30 to 1:30 in Music Hall, guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow (below), who will conduct the Madison Opera’s upcoming production of “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, will give a public master class. Singers from the University Opera and the UW opera program will be featured.

For more information, go to:

At 7:30 in Mills Hall, clarinetist Amy McCann (below) will perform a recital featuring two works: the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by Argentinean composer Carlos Guastavino; and the Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms. Pianist Martha Fischer and pianist Parry Karp will perform with McCann.


At 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the all-student Perlman Trio will perform its annual recital.

The program includes the Piano Trio in D Major, Hob. XV/7 by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Piano Trio N. 4 in E Minor (“Dumky”), Op. 90, by Antonin Dvorak; and the Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms.

Members of the Perlman Trio, which is funded by a gift from Dr. Kato Perlman, are (below, from left, in a photo by Katherine Esposito): cellist Michael Cheng, pianist Chan Mi Jean and violinist Adam Dorn.

For more information about the performers, go to:


At 3:30 in Morphy Recital Hall, the winners of the 32nd annual Beethoven Sonata Competition will perform. The program is: Kangwoo Jin playing the Sonata in C Major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”); Leah Kang playing the Sonata in E Major, Op. 109; and Alberto Peña-Cortes playing the Sonata in A Major, Op. 101.

For more information, go to:

At 7:30 in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform its last concert under professor of conducting James Smith (below), who is retiring after 34 years at the UW-Madison.

The program includes the Overture to “Romeo and Juliet” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the music from “Fancy Free” by Leonard Bernstein.

For more information go to:

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

For information about the many student degree recitals that were scheduled, go to:


Classical music: The Ear names the Middleton Community Orchestra and adult amateur music-makers as Musicians of the Year for 2014.

December 31, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is New Year‘s Eve, 2014.

Each year, I close out the old year and greet the new year by naming a Musician of the Year.

I heard a lot of great music this past year.

Much of it you can relive in the year-end roundup by John W. Barker, the regular classical music critic for Isthmus who also contributes so much to this blog.

Here is a link that that roundup:

One of the ways in which John and I agree –- and in fact, we usually do agree — is regarding the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) for its admirable achievements in only four seasons.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

As loyal readers know, I am a big supporter of music education. In fact, for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I sit on the board of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And music education for young people and young students is about a lot more than music, as so much social science and psychological research continues to prove.

But this year I want to recognize ADULT amateur musicians.

These days, adult amateurs may seem unusual or an exception. But the historical fact is that for centuries, classical music was primarily the domain of amateur rather than professional performers.

So I am singling out the Middleton Community Orchestra, which uses some professional talent, but relies mostly on amateurs.

I have already written about how they point the way to the future for larger ensembles with the shorter programs; with the kind of music that is programmed; with the low price of admission ($10 for adults and FREE for students); and with the post-concert socializing with musicians and other audience members (below) — all of which adds up to a laudable community service that integrates a performing art into everyday life and society. That is a mission worth supporting.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a older review that I did. In it I talk about some of what I admire by giving nine reasons to attend the MCO:

But the MCO, founded by members Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, is as much about hearing great and accessible music as it is about community service.

I will long remember piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg played by UW-Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who will perform the famously popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor — the signature concerto of Van Cliburn — by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the MCO this spring.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

I will also remember Madison-born, UW-trained and Juilliard-trained violist Vicki Powell (below) in shorter and unknown works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Max Bruch.

Vicki Powell at MCO

I will long remember former MCO concertmaster Alice Bartsch, who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music, in a wonderful interpretation of a Romance by Antonin Dvorak before she left for graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The same held true for Alice’s gifted violinist sister, Eleanor Bartsch,when she was joined (below) by fellow UW-Madison grad Daniel Kim in Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

And I will remember the most recent performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra’s amazing principal clarinetist Joe Morris performing a rarely heard concerto by the under-appreciated 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

I will also remember fondly performances of symphonies by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms done by the MCO under the baton of conductor Steve Kurr (below), who teaches music at Middleton High School. (The MCO performs in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school.)

Steve Kurr conducting

As with so many groups, including professional ones, booking great soloists seems to push the performers in the group to an even high level of playing. But the MCO takes care to book soloists with local ties, including soprano Emily Birsan who recently was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which adds an element of local pride to the event.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The MCO has some appealing concerts coming up in 2015. It deserves to have even larger audiences at its mid-week concerts.

Here is a link to their website, where you can see photos and learn about how to support the group and how to join the group as well as what concerts and program the MCO will perform during the rest of this season.

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other ways that are outlets for adult amateur musicians.

They include the University of Wisconsin Choral Union (below) and many other local choirs, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Opera Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Symphony Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Festival Choir -– to say nothing of the many church choirs, secular choirs and adult amateur performing groups in Madison and the surrounding area.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

So leaving 2014 and heading into 2015, The Ear -– who is himself an avid amateur pianist — proclaims the new year to be The Year of the Adult Amateur.

If you want to sing, join a choir.

If you want to play an instrument, start practicing or sign up for lessons. It is never too late, even after retirement.

And if you want to perform and share the joy and love of music with others, find an outlet, including the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Nothing beats the thrill of experiencing music from the inside.

So don’t just listen to music.

Make it!



Classical music education: Superstar violinist Joshua Bell talks about the importance of music education and reaching people in unusual places — like subways. Plus, his terrific new all-Bach CD merits your attention.

October 4, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

The perennially boyish Joshua Bell, now a veteran of the concert stage and recording studio for more than 25 years, is in his third season as the artistic director of the famed British chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

joshua Bell

Sony Classical has just released his new recording – which has a program that is all by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It features two violin concertos plus three arrangements, including the famous Chaconne from the Solo Partita No. 2, for violin and orchestra. (His previous release as conductor and concertmaster of the ASMF players was a fine reading of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

And despite his Pretty Boy status, Bell — who has performed recitals here at the Wisconsin Union Theater and concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — once again shows himself to be a gifted and serious musician. The Ear finds that he makes sense of notes that often get passed over by other violinists. Bells finds patterns in scales of climbing notes that help give the music momentum and melodic appeal. When he wants, Bell can be absolutely revelatory.

The Ear is not alone in his admiration for Bell at his best. Read the review by New York Times critic Steve Smith when Bell performed the glorious Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at this past summer’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival.

Joshua Bell Bach CD cover

But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.

Joshua Bell with students

In that capacity he recently was featured in a 30-minute HBO special program about master classes with 9 students.

The Ear recently heard and saw him defend music education as a means not just to raise musicians but to give student more self-esteem and self-confidence. Playing music also brings other benefits, he adds, from better grades and a better sense of teamwork to a lower likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.

But it is best to let Joshua Bell speak for himself.

Here is a link to an interview his did with NPR or National Public Radio:

And here is a link to a television interview Bell did with reporter Jeffrey Brown of PBS’ The NewsHour as well as to the second, and final, subway appearance. (You may recall how his first anonymous appearance, at the bottom in a popular YouTube video with more than 5 million hits, made such a splash and even won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.)

Here is a 10-question video interview Bell did with Time magazine, in which he also discusses his love of gambling, his $5-million violin and possible alternative career choices:

And here is the original “anonymous” “Stop and Hear the Music” subway busking “concert” with more than 5 million hits:

Do you have any thoughts about Joshua Bell?

The Ear wants to hear. 


Classical music: Are you listening, Richard Simmons? Classical music is great for exercising and improves our health. It lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, lowers stress and makes us more relaxed. And guess which piece by which composer does all that best? Plus, there is a FREE trombone recital, with two U.S. premieres, at the UW-Madison tonight.

January 28, 2013
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ALERT: TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, guest trombonist Dylan Chmura-Moore (below), who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, will perform a FREE recital fetauring “Subadobe” by Frederik Högberg; “Last Judgment” by Frederic Rzewski; “Saturniana” by Miguel Basim Chuaqui; the U.S. premiere of “BaKaTaKaBaKa” by Daniel Moreira; and the U.S. premiere of “Rouse” by Neal Farwell.

Dylan Chmura-Moore

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about Sweatin’ to the Oldies!!!!

Campy fitness guru Richard Simmons (below) has nothing on Longhairs! And Golden Oldie Hits from the Sixties have nothing on Romantic-era composers from 200 years ago.


Can listening to classical music improve your health? And which part of which piece by which composer might do that the best? Check this out.

According to researchers and experts, it seems that classical music can indeed reduce your blood pressure and heart rate (or pulse).


So you might just want think about bringing some sweatpants, a tank top and workouts shoes to the upcoming concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) on Feb. 8-10 when the MSO will perform the less frequently heard Fourth Symphony (the annotated fourth and final movement is in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Beethoven as well as Ravel’s “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and Prokofiev’s rarely heard “Sinfonia Concertante” with cello soloist Alban Gerhardt.


Beethoven big

Putting the salutary effects of musical beauty aside – and The Ear doesn’t think that any beauty should ever be put aside — you just might ask: Why and how does classical I music improve health?

Go to this link and see what the latest scientific research has to say about classical music and human health – including which pieces by which composers seem the ideal choice, and what criteria you  should use to personalize your choices of classical music to listen to reap health benefits:


Classical music news: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2012-13 season – which features no increase in tickets prices and many local debuts of works and performers.

March 22, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a new report 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

The Madison Symphony Orchestra announced its 2012-13 season — its 87th season — at a press conference on Monday, presided over by the new Marketing Director, Madison native Henry Peters, and featuring a relaxed and engaging talk by conductor John DeMain, who will be marking his 19th season as the music director and conductor of the MSO.

There will be eight concert programs in the new season – DeMain said he hopes to return to nine concerts in 2013-14 — including the popular Christmas event. All performances will be in Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Next season, all the concerts will be conducted by maestro DeMain (below) and each program will contain his stimulating mix of old favorites with fascinating rarities.

The opening program (September 21-23) is a all-Russian feast, with Prokofiev’s witty “Classical Symphony” and Stravinsky’s dazzling “Firebird” Suite framing Tchaikovsky’s unfairly neglected Piano Concerto No 2, to be played, gloriously uncut, with the incomparable Garrick Ohlsson (below) soloing.

The October program (12-14) will open with the dazzling “Beatrice and Benedict” Overture of Berlioz, and close with Brahms’ richly autumnal Fourth Symphony. In between will be Bartók’s powerful Violin Concerto No. 2, with Canada’s rocketing star James Ehnes (below) as soloist.

For November (2-4), Schubert’s “Great” C-major Symphony will provide the monumental climax. Kodály’s coloful “Dances of Galanta” tribute to Hungarian folklore will be matched by Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto, featuring Madison’s own dazzling pianist twins, Christina and Michelle Naughton (below).

The Christmas concert in December will bring the usual local performers, including the Mt. Zion Gospel Chorus under Leotha Stanley, as well as new soloists soprano Emily Fons (below top) and Texas-Mexican tenor David Portillo (below bottom).

In January (18-20), the program will open with “Blue Cathedral,” a new work by the increasingly acclaimed contemporary American composer, Jennifer Higdon. Also included are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 6, both of which are extraordinarily fine scores–the first mature effort by each composer in those forms, and neither heard nowhere near often enough. The soloist will the acclaimed Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (below), famous also for her improvisational skills, which she will apparently demonstrate in some kind of encore.

Versatile German Cellist Alban Gerhardt  (below) will star in Prokofiev’s “Sinfonia Concertante“, a powerful combination of symphony and concerto, in February 8-10). Framing that will be Ravel’s moody “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.

A welcome return visitor to the MSO will be Norwegian violinst Henning Kraggerud, who will offer Mozart’s lovely Violin Concerto No. 4. It will be proceeded in the March program (8-10) by a Mozart overture (“The Impresario”) and Shostakovich’s mighty, impassioned post-Stalin Symphony No. 10.

The season finale in April (5-7) will feature the MSO’s new concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below, as the “cover girl” of Symphony magazine’s story on new concertmasters), as soloist in Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E minor.

Otherwise, the spotlight will be on the Madison Symphony Chorus. It will first be heard in choruses from Handel’s grand oratorio “Solomon”; then in Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony that sets Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Bells”; and, for a blazing climax, in a Vaughan Williams rarity, his early “choral song” entitled “Toward the Unknown Region,” which is set to a text by Walt Whitman. Vocal soloists include soprano Alexandra LoBianco (below top), tenor Harold Meers (below middle) and baritone Hugh Russell (below bottom).

As a whole, the season ahead is a balanced and stimulating one. There are old favorites alongside welcome discoveries. Interesting and exciting international soloists will contribute musicality and fireworks in both familiar and deserve-to-be-familiar items.

Another plus is that the cost of season tickets will remain the same, with no increase, though various discounts are given for new subscribers and for several customized series packages.

The MSO is now taking subscription orders, both new and renewed, with various series formats available plus attractive discounts. May 14 is the deadline for reserving current seats. For information, write to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, 222 W. Washington Ave., Suite 460, Madison 53703; call (608) 257-3734; or go online to


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