The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Personal experience, artistic excellence and historical importance drew pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel into planning next year’s centennial season at the Wisconsin Union Theater

March 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break is over and subscription tickets are available for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s special centennial celebration next season – which includes superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax — here is an email interview that pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco), the wife-and-husband consultants and planners of that season, granted to The Ear.

For more about the season and tickets, go to two websites:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/classical-music-superstar-soprano-renee-fleming-and-pianist-emanuel-ax-headline-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-concert-series-next-season/

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Could you briefly introduce yourselves to readers and tell them both your past and current activities?

We have been performing on the world’s many concert stages for almost our entire lives. In addition to our careers as concert performers, we serve as the founding Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, the premier chamber music festival in Silicon Valley, as well as the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) in New York City.

Our main responsibility as concert performers is to give the best concerts we possibly can, and we are constantly striving to achieve the highest possible level of artistry in our performances.

In our roles as artistic directors, our responsibilities lie in the programming, casting and designing of concert series and chamber music projects for our organizations. At CMS, this includes designing the programming for our seven different satellite series around the country, plus international partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Europe.

We are also involved in chamber music programming endeavors beyond Music@Menlo and CMS, having just completed a first-ever chamber music residency at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Wu Han is serving as Artistic Advisor to Wolf Trap Chamber Music at the Barns, which entails thematically programming eight concerts per season for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons.

As artistic directors, we spend much of our time putting ourselves in the shoes of our listeners, measuring their experience and receptivity to chamber music of all periods and styles, and putting together the best programs and artists who will move our audiences forward into ever-increasing engagement with and love of the art.

David was the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet for 34 seasons, and we have been performing together as a duo for about 35 years, and continue to do so as one of our main performance activities.

What are your personal relationships to the Wisconsin Union Theater, and what do you think of it as a concert venue?

Our engagement with the Wisconsin Union Theater goes back quite a few years, but certainly not even close to the beginning of the Theater’s distinguished history. For any performer setting foot on its stage, there’s a sense of slipping into an ongoing tradition of artistic excellence that makes us feel both privileged and obligated to do our best.

The Wisconsin Union Theater and its story in American cultural life is larger than any of us; only the music we play rises above and beyond it all, and as performers, our lucky moment is to represent that incredible literature in a venue as significant and storied as the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Below is the theater’s main venue, the renovated and restored Shannon Hall.)

Why did you agree to be artistic advisors and artists-in-residence for the centennial season? Did your personal experiences in Madison play a role in that decision?

As seasoned artists, we deeply admire and respect the very special place in the classical music tradition and history that the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) inhabits, and the invitation to participate in the Theater’s 100th anniversary was an honor for us to receive. Our experiences playing on this distinguished stage and forming a relationship with the local audience have made our pursuit of the common goal of artistic excellence in the centennial season incredibly fulfilling.

Of course, having performed there in the past gave us a hint of confidence through our familiarity with the place, but we must say we have learned perhaps double what we knew originally through this planning process. Without interfering, but at the same time sharing our uncompromised commitment to artistic excellence, we hope that our presence during the process has been useful, and we know that we look so much forward to seeing the careful thought and hard work of all involved come to fruition.

Is there a unifying or guiding principle to the season you have put together?

The guiding principle behind our work on this historic season is artistic excellence, which in our opinion is what most inspires audiences and best serves the art form of classical music.

Our area of expertise is chamber music, and, as we wanted to share the best of what we can do with the Theater, our focus has been on ensuring that the chamber music offerings during this historic season, and hopefully beyond, reflect the best of the world of chamber music.

In our suggestions, we looked for variety of instrumentations, of composers and periods—in other words, giving as much of an overview of the art as we could within a season.

What would you like the public to know about the Wisconsin Union Theater and the upcoming centennial season?

In the Theater’s centennial season, the audience will have the opportunity to savor a variety of different genres of chamber music, from solo piano to vocal music, as well as a sampling of the very best works of the chamber music canon. Between these various genres, the great composers left a wealth of chamber music that could sustain the art form on its own, but that’s still only the tip of the iceberg.

Our chamber music offerings will include the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which has a long history of performing for the Madison audience. Their December program will include celebrated cornerstones of the piano trio repertoire, including Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio. (You can hear the opening of the Archduke Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Both pieces have achieved monumental historical significance through their influence in propelling the art form forward from the Classical period to the Romantic period.

The Escher String Quartet performance in January represents the best of the next generation of young string quartets. Their program includes a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn—the father of the string quartet genre—and the sole quartet of none other than revered violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who performed in the Wisconsin Union Theater nearly a century ago. Kreisler set foot on the Theater’s stage numerous times, and his rarely heard string quartet nods to the Theater’s long, distinguished history. David will join the Escher Quartet for the beloved Schubert Cello Quintet, which is the “desert island” must-have piece for many music lovers.

Furthermore, in March, we will bring two of the most fantastic musicians in the world to join us for a program of Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk and Johannes Brahms. This multigenerational cast of musicians includes the incredible young French violinist Arnaud Sussmann (below top, in a photo by Matt Dine) as well as the most important violist of our generation, Paul Neubauer (below bottom). This program is all about the passing down of the baton and the continuous investment in the next generations of artists: Brahms was the one who discovered Dvorak, and Dvorak in turn discovered Suk.


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Classical music: After this year’s success, “Bach Around the Clock” will return next year on March 10, 2018

March 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The revival of “Bach Around the Clock” (below) this past Saturday proved so successful to listeners, performers and organizers that it will return again next year in March 2018. (Below are violist Stan Weldy and his mandolinist son Alex.)

“It went so well, we will do it again,” said the chief organizer, violist Marika Fisher Hoyt (below), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Ancora String Quartet. She not only was the main host for BATC, she also played in more than half-dozen performances.

As you may recall, the marathon event to mark the 332nd birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) took place from noon to midnight, wisely revised to 9:30 p.m. after too few performers signed up, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 Regent Street.

Plans for next year are already being made and meetings have already been held. And next year will bring major some changes, Fischer Hoyt told The Ear.

For one, the date will be March 10, 2018 – not March 17 or March 24 – which means it will come well before the usual timing of the Saturday nearest to Bach’s birthday of March 21. But, unlike what happened this year, this earlier date avoids the UW-Madison spring break plus the Easter break for public schools. That could reap big benefits in terms of audience and performers.

Because of the immense amount of work involved, Fischer Hoyt said, a non-profit organization will also be formed and more volunteers will be recruited to help spread out the workload of lining up performers and donors, and of organizing and hosting the event.

As for lining up performers, Fischer Hoyt is extremely optimistic.

“There’s a lot of talent in this town I’ve never heard of,” she told The Ear. (Below is impressive pianist Tim Adrianson performing three Preludes and Fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book II.)

The Ear, who spent an enjoyable six hours or so attending the event, has to agree. He took a lot of photos and will be posting more about the event in the coming days.

Right now, he wants to give a big shout-out to Fischer Hoyt for some of the innovations she brought to this year’s revival of a traditional event that was held for three years, and then abandoned, by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here are a few of the changes she made, which The Ear thinks proved all for the better, for BATC 4.

1) There were multiple hosts, which breaks up the event and helps avoid monotony.

2) Prior to playing, performers, some of whom traveled from as far away as Dubuque, Milwaukee, Chicago and Waupun, were briefly interviewed and asked what they liked about Bach’s music and why they chose a particular piece to perform. (Below, flutist Casey Oelkers, left, talks with Hoyt.) That adds personal interest.

3) Free quality snacks of fresh fruit and cheese, not just delicious sweet things like cookies and kringle, were available, as were bottled water, tea and coffee. Good food translates into longer and more comfortable attendance.

4) The church’s venue, especially its woody interior (below), seemed much more suited to Bach’s music and friendly to the audience than the Pres House. And thanks to donations, in addition to a fine church organ there were fine instruments to play, including a Kawai grand piano and a hand-built clavichord from Farley’s House of Pianos. There were also birthday cakes donated by Clasen’s European Bakery of Middleton.

5) The entire event was recorded by Rich Samuels (below) — Madison’s chronicler of live music. He is from WORT-FM 89.9 and he will air BATC in increments on his “Anything Goes” program on Thursday mornings. In fact the broadcasts started this past week with a performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on Thursday morning.

6) The event was streamed live via four different places or portals: the St. Andrew’s website, the Bach Around the Clock website, the Audio for the Arts website and WORT website.

7) There was an impressive variety of performers on all levels and of repertoire. It ranged from student to amateur to professional; from solo and small chamber groups to larger choral and orchestral ensembles, plus faculty members from the UW-Madison, UW-Whitewater and UW-Oshkosh as well as the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. The Ear expects the lineup will get even better as word of next year gets out and spreads. (Below are students from the Suzuki Strings of Madison.) Time to get out the music and start practicing!

8) There might a 9-CD boxed set from Audio for the Arts, depending on getting authorization from all the performers.

In short, Bach Around the Clock 4 was a remarkable community event to honor both a remarkable composer and a town with a remarkable commitment to and a remarkable amount of classical music.

To keep current with BATC news, check the event’s website: https://bacharoundtheclock.wordpress.com

Cheers to Bach Around the Clock.

And special cheers to Marika Fischer Hoyt.

Bravissimo tutti!

Did you go?

What did you think?

Do you have something to say that you can leave in the COMMENT section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: As the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music heads into Spring Break, there is a lot of good news to report: music education students organize a local chapter; pianist Christopher Taylor get a patent; top prizes go to high school piano students; University Opera’s retiring director Bill Farlow rehearses his farewell production; a first-place singing prize goes to a UW-Madison a cappella group; and cellist Uri Vardi prepares a fusion concert of Arab and Israeli music to take place April 5.

March 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Wisconsin!

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison of Music, Spring Break officially begins this Saturday, although The Ear is betting that a good number of students and faculty members are already on their way to spring break destination — or are already there.

All the more reason, then, to make sure that the students who remain or are just heading out get a last dose of good and even impressive news before they take off for a week or more.

And there is indeed a lot of good to news to report.

More than 40 UW-Madison students (below) in music education have established a Madison chapter of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).

UW music education students 2014

The news includes a faculty member, virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who was granted a federal patent for a special double-keyboard piano.

Christopher Taylor playing two-keyboard

The prizes that were awarded to high school students during inaugural Piano Vortex on the first weekend of March have also been announced.

UW high school piano contest winners

For background and the repertoire that all students, including the winners, played, here is a link to my previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/classical-music-a-piano-vortex-will-descend-this-friday-and-saturday-on-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-all-free-and-open-to-the-public-on-friday-night-classical-virtuoso-chr/

Retiring University of Opera director Bill Farlow (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito, who is the concert and publicity manager at the School of Music) has also been deep in rehearsals for his final production, Hector Berlioz’ “Beatrice and Benedict,” which will be staged on April 11, 13 and 15 in Music Hall.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

The UW a cappella singing group Fundamentally Sound (below) took first prize in a regional composition.

Fundamentally Sound 2014

UW baritone Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) and UW alumna Julia Foster with UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer are also preparing and rehearsing for their March 26 concert of Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Song Book.”

The Music of Franz Schubert

Longtime cello professor Uri Vardi (below) will be featured in a concert on April 5 that is a fusion event of Arab and Israeli music.

Vardi

And Brian Gurley, a UW-SOM alumnus who is now the organist and music director at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, New York, is featured in a news story about how he handled the potential disaster of a snow-laden, leaking roof during this harsh, this very harsh winter in the Snow Belt.

Brian Gurley

For the full stories on all of these -– including audio clips, numerous links as well as news photos — here is a link to Fanfare!, the MUST-READ outstanding blog that the UW School of Music has started this year under the direction of Kathy Esposito, who writes the text and takes the photos.

Check it out.

Be proud.

Then go enjoy a week or so of silence and spring break.

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/acappella_taylorpiano_beatriceopera/

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Classical music news: UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra to make their Overture Hall debut in Verdi’s dramatic and moving Requiem on Friday, April 20, at 8 p.m.

April 10, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break has ended and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is back in session, this will be just a quick post to remind you that a special event coming up.

One week from Friday, at 8 p.m. on April 20, the combined forces of the 175-voice UW Choral Union – a campus and community singing group that is nearly 120 years old – and the 85-piece UW Symphony Orchestra (both are below) will make their debut in the Overture Center’s Overture Hall performing Verdi’s Requiem.

The soloists (below from top to bottom) are soprano Shannon Prickett, mezzo-soprano Marion Dry, tenor Aldo Perrelli and bass Tony Dillon.

The work is understandably dramatic and operatic, coming late from Verdi (below) whose many operas prove how well he had mastered composing for both the human voice and for various instruments.

The large-scale work both pleases and impresses. It promises to be a major event of the concert season – a ONE–PERFORMANCE ONLY event for a group that usually offers two performances each semester.

It a special, sure-to-please piece, under the direction of conductor and choral director Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who has turned in stunning performances of the same work many years ago in the acoustically inferior Stock Pavilion, here all the hay provoked allergies of chorus members, soloists, orchestra players and audience members alike.

For the official UW press release about the work, with information about the soloists and the choice of the venue, visit:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/20498

This is also a chance to be an arts booster. It is a special concert that has taken a year to arrange; a concert that is expensive to stage in the beautiful and acoustically state-of-the-art concert hall rather than the usual Mills Hall on campus. So through hard work, major donations have been secured.

But in addition, for that reason the public should also be aware that tickets are more expensive than they usually are, costing $10, $15, $20 and $25 depending on the seat location. But the glorious music and performance should be well worth the expense.

Here is a link for buying tickets:

http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventList?groupCode=UW&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode=

You can also call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.


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