The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Get the new UW-Madison brochure for the School of Music concerts, faculty and students. It’s a MUST-HAVE and a MUST-READ, and it is FREE to anyone

September 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Although the UW-Madison officially opened yesterday, today is the first day of instruction. And this weekend will see the beginning of the new concert season at the Mead Witter School of Music.

On Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, faculty soprano Mimmi Fulmer and alumnus pianist Thomas Kasdorf will kick off the season with a FREE concert of music and songs celebrating the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland.

But that’s just the beginning to an event-filled school year that includes mostly free solo recitals, chamber music, orchestral music, opera, choral music and more.

And this year, there is a new guide to the concert season and the School of Music itself.

The short and usual glossy brochure of listings has given way to a booklet guide. It is 8-1/2 by 11 inches big and has 24 well-filled pages. It is printed on regular paper and has much more information about the events and the people who make them happen. It takes you behind the scenes as well as in the hall and on the stage.

It is less showy, to be sure, but so much more readable and informative. And it feels great in your hands.

On the right hand margin, you’ll find concerts with performers and programs. To the left and in the center, you will find news, biographies and other information about musicians, donors and an update about the new concert hall building.

The new guide, which you can get for FREE, is the brainchild of Kathy Esposito (below), the music school‘s publicist and concert manager.

Here is what Esposito has to say:

“Our School of Music website, which debuted in 2014, required resources that previously had been devoted to multiple print publications.

“So we dropped back to only one, a printed events calendar.

“I’m happy to say that for the 2017-18 academic year, we finally found time to enlarge the printed concert calendar into a true newsletter as well.

“We certainly have enough news to share. Much of what’s in there had not been, or still is not, placed on the website at http://www.music.wisc.edu.

“My personal favorites are the stories from students, both undergrad and grad. As a mom of two young musicians, I can, to some degree, understand both the challenges and the thrills of their careers. Learning about their lives is the best part of my job. Occasionally I can help them, too.

“A couple of other things to give credit where credit is due.

“My assistant, Brianna Ware, who is a graduate student in piano, caught and corrected many errors.

“The brochure was designed by Bob Marshall of Marshall Design in Middleton. He did a masterful job. Bravo!

“Printing was coordinated by the fabulous Sue Lind at DoIT (Division of Information Technology) Printing and Publishing, who helped me to choose a new paper stock, a lightweight matte.

“Lastly, upon request from our older readers, we increased the font size slightly.

“We mailed the brochure to all alumni, national and international. That also was new. And our feedback has been quite positive.

“I’m happy to send readers a FREE copy of this fall’s brochure – with the somewhat humdrum title “Concerts, News and Events” – to those who email their postal addresses to me. I’ll place you on the list for next year, too. Send your name and postal address to kesposito@wisc.edu

About twice a month, we also publish an e-newsletter in the form of a blog, which I also paste into an email for those on a Wisclist, who don’t get the blog. It is the same information, but I think the blog is prettier.

That’s available via this link: https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/


Classical music: Belgian composer Benoit Mernier talks about his String Quartet No. 3, which will receive its world premiere from the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet on this Saturday, March 1, in a FREE concert at 8 p.m.

February 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post is more of a reminder and an embellishment than something that is brand new.

It is a reminder that on this coming Saturday, March 1, at 8 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert that features the WORLD PREMIERE of the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The concert to celebrate the  historic centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet — which is now the long lived active quartet in history — had been postponed from the original date last Fall.

Benoit Mernier 1

The guest artist of the night is the former Juilliard String Quartet violist Samuel Rhodes (below, in a photo by Peter Schaaf). The program includes an early quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn (Op. 20, No. 4, in D Major) and the String Quintet in F Major by Anton Bruckner, which has a soulful and elegy-like slow movement that you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) commissioned the Mernier Quartet as part of its centennial celebration two years ago, and the group will take in on a tour to Belgium, the original home of the Pro Arte Quartet this May. It will even play again in the same royal court where the Pro Arte was once the official court quartet. (Its current members, below from left, are first violinist David Perry, second violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The outstanding blog “Fanfare” that is done by concert manager Kathy Esposito at the UW School of Music recently posted an interview, with historic background, that critic Mike Muckian, who often writes for Brava magazine, did with Benoit Mernier (below in a photo by Lise Mernier) and appeared on the terrific blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/mernier-pro-arte-quartet-march2014/

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

Also, I want to remind everyone that the concert will be preceded at 7:15 p.m. by a public  conversation-interview with the composer, also to be held in Mills Hall, in a home or living room environment with a light, carpet and cozy chairs – as was done to years ago with other composers (below, is music critic John W. Barker talking with composer Walter Mays on the left and cultural historian Joseph Horowitz on the right.) 

Barker, Mays, Horowitz

For more information about the various events and background, including an open quartet rehearsal with the composer on Thursday from 9 a,m. to noon in Mills Hall, and a “Sunday Afternon Live From the Chazen” Museum broadcast  12:30 to 2 p.m. of the quartet’s second performance on Wisconsin Public Radio, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (below): 

www.proartequartet.org

I hope to be there and I hope to see you there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geybyYGej1o

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Classical music: Don’t miss the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet in Mendelssohn’s wondrous Octet this Sunday afternoon or in a world premiere on Nov. 22 – the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

November 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

I am no expert about the music of Felix Mendelssohn (below), but for my money I don’t think he ever wrote a better piece than the early Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20, for double string quartets, composed when he was just 16.

Mendelssohn

This weekend you will have a chance you should not miss. It is a MUST-HEAR concert that features the Pro Arte Quartet  (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) – now 102 years old and still counting as the oldest surviving string quartet in the world ever – with the Hunt Quartet, which is made up of gifted graduate students from the UW School of Music.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The performance will take place on “Sunday Afternoon Life From the Chazen” this Sunday 12:30 to 2 p.m. and air live statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio. By the time you read this, it will probably be too late to reserve free tickets, and the Brittingham Gallery 3 (below) is sure to be full of loyal fans.

But just tune in the radio or stream it live on WPR (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) or through www.wpr.org

SAL3

The important thing is to hear the performance – and hear it live, if you can.

I have heard the Pro Arte play this Octet (at bottom in a YouTube video performed by the Borodin Quartet and the Fine Arts Quartet of the UW-Milwaukee) – which for me rivals or even surpasses Mendelssohn’s “Italian” and “Reformation” Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the Piano Trio in D Minor and the String Quartet in A minor, and the Overture to “A Midsummer Nights’ Dream” — once with other UW faculty members and once with the acclaimed original Emerson String Quartet (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And the Pro Arte made the Mendelssohn sizzle. Both times brought a firecracker of a performance that made you bolt upright in your seat. Such energy and such lyricism, such beauty! (Also on the program is the soulfully Romanic String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No.1, by Johannes Brahms, which the Pro Arte played exquisitely at their season-opening concert.)

Emerson

Now, speaking of the Pro Arte, you should also know that it will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission, the String Quartet No. 3 (2013) by the Belgian composer Benoit Mernier. (Belgium was the home of the Pro Arte Quartet before it was exiled in World War II in June of 1940 and accepted a stint as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison.)

Benoit Mernier 1

That concert will be FREE at  8 p.m. — NOT 7:30 as previously stated here and in some other materials — in Mills Hall on Friday, Nov. 22.

As you no doubt already know, that Friday night is also the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy or, simply, JFK.

WH/HO Portrait

The Pro Arte Quartet concert is not designed or intended to be a memorial to JFK, even though one of his favorite works was the soulful Adagio for Strings by the American composer Samuel Barber (below), which ironically was given its world premiere in Rome in 1936 by the Pro Arte Quartet.

barber 1

But even without the Barber work, there is much to recommend attending the concert. If you will be looking for a great place to bonded with other people in memory of a tragic event – The Ear remembers exactly where he was when he heard the news and bets that many of you do too — you can’t do better.

The concert includes guest violist Samuel Rhodes (below), now retired from the famed Juilliard String Quartet. Besides the Mernier, the program includes the String Quintet (1879) by Anton Bruckner and the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Samuel Rhodes photo by Peter Schaaf (lower res.)

Preceding the concert at 6:45 p.m. in Mills Hall will be an conversation-interview with composer Benoit Mernier.

And preceding that will be a savory and companionable cocktails and dinner event held from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in the lobby of the new building of the Chazen Museum of Art. Dinner is $35 per head and reservations must be made by SUNDAY, Nov 17. For more information, visit the Pro Arte Quartet website (www.proartequartet.org) or call (608) 217-6786.

SEE YOU THERE!


Classical music Q&A: Science and music will meet again this Friday night in a FREE lecture-concert at the second SoundWaves program at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

October 21, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, this season’s second SoundWaves event will take place. It is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The curator of the unusual program that combines science and music is University of Wisconsin-Madison horn professor Daniel Grabois. Besides teaching, he also performs in the Gretzler band with his colleague UW trombonist Mark Hetzler, the Meridian Arts Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

For some background about the program and the first concert-lecture in September, which featured songs by Gustav Mahler, here is a link to a terrific interview with Grabois on the UW School of music blog “Fanfare”:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

Grabois (below) recently offered The Ear a Q&A about this week’s lecture-concert and about the program in general.

Here it is:

Daniel Grabois 2012  James Gill

What is SoundWaves?

SoundWaves is a series I started last year. Each of our events takes on a theme, and explores it from various scientific angles (all aimed at the layman), then from a musical angle (I do that part), followed by a music performance relating to the theme.

The idea is for the public to learn about the world we live in, and to see how music fits in as well. Most of our presenters are UW faculty scientists and performers. At SoundWaves, they have an opportunity to share their knowledge in a non-technical way for people who are curious.

What kind of themes does SoundWaves tackle?

Our first event was called “Music to Our Ears.” We had a physicist talk about what sound is, a hearing expert talk about how the ear works, a neuroscientist discuss how the brain processes the ear’s signal, and a psychologist talk about how sounds affect our emotions.

We then performed the Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms (below), a patently emotional piece of music.

Doing that as our first event taught me that flow was really important: each lecture had to set up the next one. Other themes last year were Measurement, Tools, and Sequences. The theme of our October event is Groups and Their Behaviors.

brahms3

Who is speaking and performing this Friday?

An entomologist will discuss bee communication. A mathematician will introduce us to group theory. A researcher from the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (you have to love the UW!!!) will talk about his research regarding how groups of objects function in the physical world (through physics and chemistry), then what that tells us about group behavior in primates (including humans). And I’ll be talking about how musical groups function, specifically with regard to musicians’ body language.

After that, Linda Bartley (UW clarinetist, below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), Christopher Taylor (UW pianist, below bottom) and I will perform part of the Reinecke Trio for Clarinet, Horn (that’s me) and Piano. (A performance of Reinecke’s Trio on a YouTube video is at the bottom.)

Linda Bartley Talbot

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Where is this project going?

Good question. I got a wonderful grant from the Chester Knapp Charitable Bequest to put on eight events this year, which I have to admit is a lot. But I’m having no trouble finding scientists to collaborate with, and I’m having a great time.

The biggest benefit for me is meeting all these great new people and learning lots of interesting stuff from them. Also, we’ve been having big audiences, and I love getting our School of Music faculty out of our building for performances in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller of the UW). WID is located at the corner of Orchard and University and is an amazing building).

WID_extr11_1570

What other themes will you be taking on this year?

Color, newness, rhythm, wood, repetition and metal.

How do you come up with themes?

I just sit down and think, “What do I want to know?” It’s pretty easy, since there’s so much I don’t know! And, here at UW, there’s a scientist available to answer just about any question you could think to ask.

For example, the instrument I play, the French horn (below), is made out of metal, but when push comes to shove, I have basically no idea what metal is, how it is manufactured, why making instruments out of it is a good idea, and so on. The music for the event on metal is planned already, and when I am ready to start lining up scientists, I’ll head straight to the Materials Science department, then Chemistry, maybe Engineering, and so on.

Once the theme is chosen, my questions about the theme lead me straight to the right science people. And I have to tip my cap to Laura Heisler (the program director at WID), who knows tons of scientists and has put me in touch with many brilliant people.

French horn

Is the science hard to understand?

NO!!! Our basic ground rules are: no jargon, no technical stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary. Last year, a chemist explained what DNA really is, and I think we all got it!

Where can people get more information?

Go to http://www.warf.org/home/news-media/campus-programs/soundwaves/soundwaves.cmsx for a list of our events. They all start at 7 p.m. Everything is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. In the WID building, right in the middle of the giant ground floor is a big round space called the DeLuca Forum (below), where we have our events.

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Why should people come?

The UW-Madison has brilliant scientists and musicians. Come hear what they have to say and play, and learn about our world.


Classical music: It’s Homecoming Weekend at the UW-Madison. But the classical music scenes doesn’t miss a beat. The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs the music of Telemann, Monteverdi and Corelli plus other less well-known composers on Saturday night. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new season tonight at 8 with the Britten “Apollo” and Saint-Saens’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 plus Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – the best of all Fight Songs for Homecoming football

October 11, 2013
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A REMINDER: Going up against both the start of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ series and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Homecoming Weekend won’t be easy. But the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra shouldn’t be forgotten or dismissed. The WCO opens its new season tonight at 8 p.m in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater.

On the program, under the baton of the WCO’s longtime  music director Andrew Sewell and with guest piano soloist and synesthesiac Bryan Wallick (below and in the link to my Q&A) in his Madison debut, are Benjamin Britten’s “Apollo” and Camille Saint-Saens’ “Egyptian” Piano Concerto No. 5 plus Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony –- the best of all possible classical Fight Songs for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Homecoming weekend (as you can hear in the popular YouTube video with over 17 million hits at the bottom). Talk about winners!

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/classical-music-qa-american-pianist-bryan-wallick-talks-his-synesthesia-and-about-his-season-opening-concert-this-friday-with-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-under-andrew-sewell/

Bryan Wallick mug

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Homecoming Weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!!!

That mean Badger football and beer, and social gatherings and beer, and dinners out and beer.

But it also means some fine classical music.

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below top) opens its new season tomorrow night, Saturday, October 12, at 8 p.m. in the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below bottom) at 300 East Gorham Street, in James Madison Park in downtown Madison on the shore of Lake Mendota.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Gates of Heaven

Tickets at the door are $15 ($10 for students). Feel free to bring your own chair or pillow to soften hard wooden pews.

For more information 608 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaropque.org

Performers includes: UW School of Music alumnus Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor; UW professor Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Theresa Koenig, recorder; Monica Steger, traverso, recorder; Brett Lipshutz, traverse; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord and organ

Gerrod Pagenkopf

The program includes: Trio Sonata from “Tafelmusik,” TWV 42 DS, by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); Two madrigals, “La giovinetta pianta” and “Vattene pur crudel” (both form Book 3) by Claudio Monteverdi (below, 1567–1643); the Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, by Benoît Guillemant (1746-1757); Three Madrigals from Claudio Monteverdi, “Occhi un tempo” (book 3), “Poi che del mio dolore (book 1), and “Lumi miei cari” (book 3); the Airs et Brunettes by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (1674-1763); Sonata No. 3 for Recorder and Basso Continuo by Arcangelo Corelli; and “La Calisto,” Act 2, Scenes 1 and 2 by  Francesco Cavalli (1602 –1676).


Classical music Q&A: American pianist Bryan Wallick talks about his synesthesia and about his season-opening concert this Friday with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

October 8, 2013
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REMINDER: Do you suffer from stage fright or at least get nervous before a performance? Meet Noa Kageyama (below), a performance psychologist who teaches at the Juilliard School of Music. He will be in Madison at the University of Wisconsin on this Wednesday and Thursday to give free public talks and workshops. Here is his schedule and an illuminating Q&A with him by Kathy Esposito on the UW School of Music’s new blog “Fanfare”:
http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/kageyama/

Noa Kageyama

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday evening at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will open its new season with the piano soloist Bryan Wallick making his local debut.

WCO lobby

The program includes “Young Apollo” by Benjamin Britten, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of the most famous 20th-century English composer (below).

Benjamin Britten

Also on the program are two famous Fifths: the Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saens and the ever-powerful Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Single tickets are $15 to $67, and season subscriptions are still available.

For more information, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/68/event-info/

Pianist Bryan Wallick – who is known for his synesthesia – recent gave an email interview to the Ear in which he discussed his special gift of synesthesia as well as his career and the music of Saint-Saens:

Bryan Wallick mug

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati.  I began playing at the age of 4 and got quite serious about playing when I was about 13. I changed teachers to a couple of professors and duo-pianists at the University of Cincinnati (Eugene and Elizabeth Pridonoff, below) and they prepared me to go to The Juilliard School when I finished high school. The biggest competition I won was the Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, Ukraine.

Elizabeth and Eugene Pridonoff

I understand you have synesthesia, or the mixing or blending of the senses. Can you tell us specifically what that means for you and your playing, and for the listener?

In my experience, I see a color with each different notes (12 different notes and 12 different colors).  For example, E is green, C is white, G is red, etc.

synesthesia numbers, letters, colors

It’s a peripheral experience in my mind’s eye as I play, and it probably helps a little with memory retention as I have some another association (color) with the notes.

It doesn’t really have any impact on the audience, except in the case where I was given a grant by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Arizona to create a program that displayed some pictures depicting an approximate version of what I see in my mind when I play.

Bryan Wallick at piano

What do think about the role of Camille Saint-Saens (below) in music history? Is he too overlooked, neglected or underestimated? What do you think about the Piano Concerto No. 5 (performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) and how it compares to his other piano concertos as well as those of the standard repertoire?

Saint-Saens’ role in music history is enigmatic.  He was recognized as a genius prodigy from a very early age like Mozart and Mendelssohn, and he was also a virtuoso pianist who supposedly had fantastic fingers (which features prominently in most his piano works).

He lived a long life and his career and reputation changed perception a few times.  Early in his 30s he was criticized for championing the then “new” music of Liszt and Berlioz, but toward the end of his life in the early 20th century, he was fighting against the music of Debussy and most of the trends that took hold in modern music.

He knew his own music could lean toward the “sentimental” side, and even the famous “Carnival of the Animals” was only published after his death as he knew this kind of music could hurt his reputation in more “serious” circles.

I love his music, even the sentimental pieces, and this particular piano concerto has the best of Saint-Saens musical elements contained within it. The “Egyptian” element is felt mostly in the second movement where he uses oriental scales and some unusual harmonies to depict his “Egyptian” characteristics. It’s a very exciting and virtuosic work.

Camille Saint-Saens

What do you know of Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director/conductor Andrew Sewell (below). Will this be your Madison or Wisconsin?

I met Andrew in Oregon a few years ago when we were both performing out there.  We got on really well, and I was lucky enough for him to engage me to come and open this season with the orchestra. This will be my first time to play in Madison.

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment — a work or composer, a performance or performer– that made you want to be a professional concert pianist?

Perhaps, when I was about 12, I played in a master class of the teachers who then soon after I began to study with. The way they were able to bring music to life in a completely new and exciting way inspired me to want to practice and be able to create music and beauty the way they could.

What advice do you have for young music students, especially pianists?

I would say that one should not go into music unless that is really all they could see themselves doing one day. It is a very difficult career, with lots of bumps and bruises to the ego, but once the hard work is accomplished and one can turn a phrase 15 different ways, its such a joy to create, experiment, and play this instrument.

Many students miss the fun and joy of performing as they are so worried about playing “correctly” and I also had to deal with this in my own way. But the more I take chances with ideas and with sound, the more fun and inspiring the music becomes.

BATC2 Chuang student 2

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I can’t wait to perform in Madison next week!


Classical music: Critic John W. Barker reviews two rehearsals and gives a big thumbs up for the concert TONIGHT by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) featuring local soloists and music by Vivaldi, Haydn, Beethoven, Sibelius and a world premiere local composer Jerry Hui.

August 9, 2013
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Madison marimbist Nathaniel Bartlett (below) will perform a FREE concert to celebrate the release of his fifth album “TimeSpacePlace.” Computer-generated music and the theramin will be used during the concert. For more information, visit www.nathanielbartlett.com.

Nathaniel Bartlett 2

By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a “preview” review written by a 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The second of the two concerts offered this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will be given at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday evening, Aug. 9, at Music Hall (below), at the base of Bascom Hill on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Admission is $5, for students by donation.

MusicHall2

As the life of eternal schedule conflicts goes, I am unable to attend the concert itself. This is frustrating, for I have really come to enjoy what founder-conductor Mikko Utevsky (below) and his assemblages of student talent are able to achieve. But Utevsky very graciously allowed me to be a fly on the wall for rehearsals. He and his players have seven of them scheduled, on successive days (including a “dress” before the concert itself). I was able to sit in on two, and on them is this report based.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

The program will be a substantial one, culminating in Ludwig van Beethoven’s First Symphony.  It will include two concertos, one of them the delightful Trumpet Concerto by Franz Joseph Haydn, with the bright and superbly skilled Ansel Norris (below right) as soloist.

But there will also be a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, written originally for oboe, violin, strings, and continuo.  Following the dubious practices of trumpet egomaniac Maurice André, the oboe part has been hijacked and given to trumpet. That shift quite destroys the balance of solo matching, but has the positive effect of allowing Ansel to partner with his own brother, Alex Norris (below left), who is also the orchestra’s concertmaster.

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

That kind of familial closeness is almost a symbol for the larger connectiveness shared by all these players.

Two other works, quite contrasting, fill out the program.  One is the brief but suavely flowing “Andante festive for strings (with final timpani) by Jean Sibelius. The other is a completely new work, the world premiere of a composition, commissioned by Utevsky and the orchestra, by local composer and jack-of-all-musical trades, Jerry Hui (below).

Called “Glacies,” Hui’s composition was inspired by the imagery of ice, evoked in a score that combines both lyrical and polyphonic textures, blended in an expansive coloristic palette not without touches of Richard Strauss, but altogether a piece with a distinctive profile.

Jerry Hui

I have written before that rehearsals can be as enjoyable, in their own way, as the final performances, and many ways more illuminating. Rehearsals are where the real work is done by the performers and the conductor. Performances are essentially the topping on the cake, however inspired they may prove to be.  Among other things, attending rehearsals allows one to “get inside” a score, as its anatomy is laid bare and its details are worked out.

MAYCO Mikko conducting Steve Rankin

I have to say that, sitting next to the players, and following with a score, I learned more about the internal workings of the Beethoven First than a lifetime of listening to concert and recorded performances afforded me.

What most concerned me, however, was not my own intellectual improvement (however welcome that always is), but rather the chance to observe in its own element what a remarkable institution MAYCO is becoming.

Mikko Utevsky himself is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Music, working in viola and in conducting.  Precocious from childhood, he is already a very mature musician, with a clear talent, and passion, for orchestral conducting.  The rehearsals demonstrated that.  Still genial and boyish, he is nevertheless musically astute, able to correct and instruct the players in issues of rhythmic articulation, dynamic subtleties, and part balancing.  He clearly works hard at knowing the scores inside out.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

Having already had experience at conducting in high school, he has gone so far as to try creating an orchestra of his own, catching players in slow summer seasons.  This is its third season.

Utevsky recruits the orchestra himself.  He has a wide personal acquaintanceship with budding young musicians, at both high school and college levels, on his own experience. The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) is a particular source for players.  He regularly makes pitches at their rehearsals, and circulates printed information.

Utevsky also untiringly works the WYSO telephone listings to plead his case for participation. As a result, a majority of the players are WYSO veterans (as he is), mostly from the Youth ensemble of that organization. In some cases, players join after recommendations from friends.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Fewer than half of this year’s players are college students, the remainder at high school level. But almost all have had experience at one level or another with orchestra or ensemble playing–if in a couple of cases, only in high school bands. That is an important point, for the group is not an introductory Orchestra 101 for the players, but rather a chance to move on in their experience. (Utevsky likes to rotate chairs for the wind players to widen that experience.)

There is, inevitably, considerable turnover in the membership, but Utevsky finds a growing amount of continuity as well. For his first concert this season he mustered 32 members, of whom 12 were returning players. This time, out of 37 players, 21 are repeaters.

MAYCO playing

Utevsky toys with the idea of taking his group into performance during the regular season, but there is a serious problem with this: many of his players are residents of Madison, here in summers, but away as schooling elsewhere during the academic year. Still, the prospects for summer continuity seem now quite well-founded.

What Utevsky is creating is, on however modest a scale, a training-orchestra tradition in Madison. It not only gives him the opportunity to hone his own podium talents, but to give young musicians valuable opportunities for ensemble experience.

These players are all so young: they would look like ordinary teenagers if you saw them on the street. Yet, they are talented musicians. It is simply wonderful to watch them dig into their parts and make fine music together.

MAYCO Mikko rehearsing score Steve Rankin

Yes, it is not possible for them to work together at length, and really to evolve into a finely blended ensemble. But they do a fully plausible job — this is no “amateur” orchestra. And most of these players will go on into professional careers as musicians. These are the players who will join their nationwide peers to continue and renew our classical orchestral tradition.

One other special feature of this program is that it unites two of what I consider Madison’s superlative musical products–conductor Utevsky and composer Hui. How can Madison music-lovers fail to recognize and celebrate the nurturing we are giving to such prodigiously promising talent?

So I regret that I have to miss the actual concert.  But you can enjoy it – TONIGHT.


Classical music: UW oboist Marc Fink to retire in May and brass player John Stevens will step down as director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music this August, then retire as a composer and tuba professor in 2014.

October 28, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has learned that University of Wisconsin School of Music director John Stevens (below) will step down as director of the school next summer and retire completely from the university one year later.

Stevens is also a well-regarded composer and arranger. He is a tuba and euphonium player who performs with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in the middle of the photo by Katrin Talbot) which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season.

Stevens, who joined the UW in 1985 and directed the School of Music 1991-1996 before doing so again last year, announced his decision in an email late last week:

Dear School of Music Faculty and Staff,

My apologies for the general email but, after a great deal of consideration I decided that it was best to communicate the following to everyone at the same time.

I am writing to inform all of you of my intention to retire from the university/School of Music following the 2013-14 year.

I have also decided that I wish to go out the way I came in – as a musician and teacher. Therefore, I will step down from my position as Director of the School of Music at the end of August, 2013 and spend my final year on the faculty in my position as Professor of Tuba and Euphonium. I have discussed this with Dean Sandefur and Associate Dean Zaeske, and they are supportive of these plans.

By the end of this year I will have spent 25% of my time on the faculty as the Director. It has been a pleasure to do so, and I continue to be honored to serve the School of Music in a leadership role. Of course I will continue to work as hard as possible on behalf of the school and will do everything I can to facilitate a smooth transition to the next Director.

Due to the high volume of emails I receive daily in my roles as administrator and professor, I would very much appreciate it if you could not respond to this with an email reply.  Thank you very much.

John Stevens, Director, UW School of Music

For a full biography and discography of this impressive musician – who is also a very congenial and amiable guy — visit his profile at the UW School of Music website. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=2

My guess is that Stevens will continue to do guest appearances and especially to pursue composing (below, composing at him home). At bottom is  the Tuba  Quartet on YouTube playing his moving “Benediction,” which was played at the recent funeral for Paul Haugan, the late principal tubist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stevens’ retirement could also be part of the wave of retirements that will hit the UW School of Music – even with a new home for the school about to be built — as Baby Boomers age and as UW budgets become tighter and hiring freezes take curtail recruitment of new faculty. Many of the current UW faculty joined around 1985 and are approaching the 30-year mark.

This is the second retirement from the UW School of Music The Ear has earned of so far this year. Oboist Marc Fink (below), who performs with the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and in principal oboist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will retire at the end of this season. A non-tenure track, temporary instructor is slated to replace Fink.

The Ear worries what all this means for the quality of the teaching and performing at the UW School of Music, but time will tell.

John Stevens may not want an email reply, but you can leave a message for him or Marc Fink in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra will perform Brahms’ “German” Requiem this fall and Robert Kyr’s “Passion” in the spring.

August 8, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Just a quick note to share some information about an event, always much anticipated, at the University of Wisconsin School of Music:

The Ear has just learned that the campus-community group the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (below), both under the baton of conductor Beverly Taylor, will perform his Numero Uno favorite choral work: the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

It will be performed in Mills Hall on Friday, Dec. 7, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

It is a great work to my taste because it more secular and humanist than religious.

And the music is absolutely first-rate, by turns lyrical and dramatic and all simply gorgeous (at bottom.) Music just doesn’t come better than this masterpiece by Brahms (below).

The season brochure for the UW School of Music is at the printer, according to officials. It should be released to the public in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, to check out the season by date you can go to the Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu

And know that auditions for the Choral Union will be held on Sept. 3 and 4 with the first rehearsal on Monday Sept. 10. More details, including a phone number for questions, can be found at:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/choirs

During the spring, the UW Choral Union will also perform a work  by  the acclaimed contemporary American composer Robert Kyr (below), “The Passion According to Four Evangelists,” with UW Chamber Orchestra in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 27 and 28.


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