By Jacob Stockinger
The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.
Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.
First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.
This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”
The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).
In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.
His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).
Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).
As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).
In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.
What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.
Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.
But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.
In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.
For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s the weekend — a good time for another reader poll.
Last weekend, The Ear heard the Violin Sonata No. 1 by the French composer Gabriel Faure (below), in a wonderful performance by UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor, who make an outstanding partnership that The Ear hopes to heard more often.
The Ear has long thought that Faure, who was the teacher of Ravel, has been neglected. His work, especially his solo piano pieces and chamber music, is subtle and appealing but unjustly overshadowed by the Germanic school.
Yet Faure seems to be getting more performances, although still not as many as he deserves.
So maybe The Ear will switch to say that the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi (below) is now his favorite neglected composer.
You can hear Finzi’s haunting and exquisite “Eclogue” for piano and strings, which was originally the slow movement for a piano concerto, in the YouTube video at the bottom.
But The Ear also likes Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto and his Five Bagatelles — especially the “Romance” movement — for Clarinet and Piano.
There are so many composers who deserve a wider hearing — including big mainstream composers like the prolific master Franz Joseph Haydn whose name is better known than most of his works.
Recently, on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard rarely performed solo piano works by the Czech Josef Suk (below top) and really liked them. Same goes for some solo piano works and violin works by Clara Schumann (below bottom).
There are so many other composers, including ones from Scandinavia, Asia and the United States, who fly under the radar but deserve better recognition and more performances.
So here is what The Ear wants to know:
Who is your favorite neglected composer?
And what is your favorite piece by that composer and why?
Please tell the rest of us, with a link to a YouTube performance, if possible, and help us expand our horizons.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.
So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:
What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?
There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.
There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)
So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?
And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?
The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Was it the Baroque trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)
Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.
Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.
And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.
Take this weekend.
At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.
But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.
Here is a roundup:
From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.
All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:
At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.
You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the program and the group’s history. Here is a link:
For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:
And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:
Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.
At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.
Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:
At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.
Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.
Here is a link with more information:
Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:
Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.
Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.
Admission is $45.
Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.
Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.
You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.
But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.
Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.
But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.
Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”
Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert.
Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.
Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.
Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.
In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).
And there were many other events.
But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.
This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.
Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.
Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.
The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Like so many young pianists, when The Ear was young he wanted to project strength. He wanted to play BIG virtuosic pieces and play them FAST and LOUD — even though they were usually way beyond his ability.
Pieces such as the “Appassionata” Sonata and “Emperor” Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Tchaikovsky.
The “Great Gate at Kiev,” from “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Modest Mussorgsky.
The ”Military” Polonaise and the “Revolutionary” Etude by Frederic Chopin.
You know, the kind of piece that can easily descend into pounding and banging, but that makes an impression on listeners and people who don’t play — and on the player too!
Back then, doing that kind of muscular music-making seemed the task of a real virtuoso.
But no longer.
Maturity brings an appreciation of subtlety and softness, which are much better hallmarks of musicality. Softness is definitely NOT weakness. In fact for The Ear, softness has become a kind of test of mature musicianship.
The past year or so has been a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that the mark of a really great and mature virtuoso artist is the ability to play softly.
The most recent example came this past Sunday afternoon when The Ear heard pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) play the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of MSO’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.
To be sure, the MSO performed absolutely superbly on its own in the 2011 Symphony by Steven Stucky and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss.
But the second half of the concert, devoted to the concerto, was both ear-opening and heart-rending.
The first concerto is a product of Brahms’ youth and is dramatic. Ohlsson, who possess both power and great technique, has no problem getting a huge sound out of the piano when he wants to or playing the most virtuosic passages with absolute fluidness and complete command.
But here is what really mattered: Ohlsson took away the bombast and bluster you so often hear in this early work. You felt as if you were hearing the concerto for the first time or at least hearing it anew.
What emerged was a uniquely convincing and beautifully poetic reading of this famous work – and not just in the slow movement but also in various interludes during the first and third movements. Plus, Ohlsson was joined by DeMain and the MSO whose accompaniment bought into his interpretation and also emphasized subtlety. It was complemented perfectly by the quietly songful encore, which was the lyrical Nocturne in D-flat major by Chopin.
There have been other occasions like that over the past year or so.
Here are just a few.
The duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos played an all-Schubert recital and proved how seductive quiet and restrained playing can be.
UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) can compete with the best when it comes to forceful playing. But what lingers in The Ear’s mind is hearing Taylor’s seductive playing of the slow movement from the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms as a great example in how playing softly draws in listeners but requires great virtuosity and control.
Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who played the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also demonstrated an uncanny ability to play softly with deep tone.
There were other examples in various kinds of music. The Ear recalls beautifully soft singing in some songs by Franz Schubert during the Schubertiade (below) at the UW-Madison in late January.
He also remembers some fantastic quiet playing of Johann Sebastian Bach and Brahms in the debut recital by UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt).
There are many other examples from other individuals and groups, including the violinist Benjamin Beilman with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; the UW Choral Union in the Gloria by Francis Poulenc; the Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Mark Adamo’s “Little Women”; pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and the Pro Arte Quartet among others.
But you get the point.
It isn’t easy to play softly. In fact, it can be downright hard.
But it makes music so beautiful.
As listener or player, try it and see for yourself.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming week has some big musical events, including the Madison Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” on Friday night and Sunday afternoon; and the annual two days of fall concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on Saturday and Sunday. Both of those events will be previewed at length later this week.
But there is also some very appealing music on a smaller scale, including a solo piano recital, a violin and piano recital, a guitar recital, and a chamber music concert that features piano trios.
Here are the four stand-out events:
On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Canadian-born pianist Joel Hastings will give a FREE guest artist concert.
His program features five transcriptions by Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Il m’aimait tant – Mélodie; Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha – Lied von Herzog Ernst, zu Sachsen-Coburg- Gotha; Spanisches Ständchen – Melodie von Graf Leó Festetic Romance du Comte Mikaïl Wielhorsky; Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth – Elegie/ Also included is piano music by Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) including Barcarolle No. 1, Chant de l’Aube, Sonorités and Rythmes; and Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).
Joel Hastings (below), who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was the winner of the 2006 Eighth International Web Concert Hall Competition and the 1993 International Bach Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. After his performance at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one reporter designated Hastings the “audience favorite” while another declared, “the kinetic fingers of this young Canadian reminded me strongly of his late countryman, Glenn Gould.”
Hastings will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from noon to 2 in Morphy Hall.
For more information about events at the UW-Madison including student performances, visit:
The UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble (below) will perform a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall under director Javier Calderon. Sorry, The Ear has received nothing specific about the program.
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), the new professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will make her local debut. (She is seen below teaching in a photo by Michael R. Anderson.)
Her must-hear program features the Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005, by Johann Sebastian Bach (which you can hear performed by Hilary Hahn in a YouTube video at the bottom); the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by Johannes Brahms; the Romance, Op. 23, by American composer Amy Beach; and the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by American composer Charles Ives. UW professor of collaborative piano Martha Fischer will perform with her. Admission is $12 for the public; free for all students.
For more information, visit these sites:
For a Q&A:
For a fine background story and preview about a “world-class talent” from Isthmus:
This Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, at 3 p.m., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), located at 1833 Regent Street in Madison, will host a performance by participants in The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music.
Parking is on the street and admission is a free-will offering.
The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music (ICM) offers a concentration in chamber music performance for advanced level graduate students and young professional musicians. The program is based at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is directed by violin professor Bernard Zinck.
The program prepares students for careers in performance with a combination of weekly masterclasses, coaching and private lessons as well as financial and facility support. ICM students enjoy a rehearsal space and office dedicated to their use, mentors on self-management or advice on seeking professional management, and contest travel finances in addition to generous fellowships which pay tuition plus a modest stipend.
Typically, individual students form chamber ensembles such as string quartets or piano trios, give one group recital each semester, and use the repertoire from these recitals in outreach presentations, concerts and competitions.
The program to be performed at St. Andrew’s is: Piano Trio, Op. 33, in E-flat major by Louise Farrenc; Sonata for Cello and Violin by Maurice Ravel; and Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms.
For more information and biographies of the performers, go to an scroll down: