The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra impresses in a concert of “non-holiday” music for the holidays. Plus, what music is best to greet the Winter Solstice today?

December 21, 2018
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ALERT: Today we turn a  corner when the Winter Solstice arrives at 4:23 p.m. Days will start getting longer. What music would you celebrate it with? Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” section of “The Four Seasons”? Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey”? Let The Ear know in the COMMENT section with a YouTube link if possible. Here comes the sun!

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) proudly presented an alternative Christmas program of music, none of which had any connection whatsoever with that otherwise inescapable holiday.

It was a program of great variety, full of novelties.

It began soberly with Gustav Mahler’s early song cycle, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). This venture into German orchestral song (with a folk song background) provided symphonic inspiration for his First Symphony, the so-called “Titan,” so it unites many strains in the composer’s work.

Baritone Paul Rowe (below), of the UW-Madison’s music faculty, sang these songs. Rowe has a strong feeling for German, and he used clear diction to capture the dramatic meanings of the four song texts.

A contrast then, and a particular novelty, was the appearance of Matthew Coley (below), of the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion, playing the cimbalom, the intensely Hungarian version of the hammered dulcimer. 

He was joined by the orchestra for a fancy arrangement of the Hungarian dance, the popular Czardas by Vittorio Monti. (You can hear Matthew Coley play the same piece on the cimbalom in the YouTube video at the bottom.) He followed this with an encore, a hand-me-down arrangement of a movement from one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo cello suites.

More contrast came with the mini-ballet score by Darius Milhaud Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof) of 1919. This was one of the French composer’s trailblazing introductions of American jazz styles into European music.

It really works best with a small orchestra, so Middleton’s was a bit overblown for the assignment. But the elaborate solo role for violin was taken by Naha Greenholtz — concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wife of the evening’s guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who is the music director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the Associate Conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. There are some fiendish passages in the solo work, and Greenholtz brought them off with unfailing flair.

The final part of the program was devoted to the orchestral suite that Zoltan Kodaly derived from his Singspiel of 1926, Hary Janos, in which a comic Hungarian soldier upstages even Napoleon.

This is a satiric and highly colorful assemblage that offers wonderful opportunities for all of the instruments and sections to show off. And Coley was back with his cimbalom for Hungarian spice. The players clearly were having a great frolic, and conductor Knox drew the best out of them in a bravura performance.

Ah yes! Christmas without “Christmas” music. A wonderful idea to refresh the ears in December!

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Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra performs a non-traditional “holiday” concert of Mahler and Kodaly this Wednesday night

December 17, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

During the holiday season, many — maybe even most — classical music groups program music that goes with the theme of the holidays from Christmas and Hanukkah to Kwanzaa and the New Year.

But some groups wisely give listeners a respite from holiday fare.

That happened one week ago when the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Beverly Taylor, performed a memorable program that featured the brassy “Te Deum” by Zoltan Kodaly and especially the calming Requiem by Maurice Duruflé.

Something similar will happen again this Wednesday night, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center, attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol St.

That is when the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) will perform its “holiday” concert that is holiday-ish more as a matter of timing than of content or theme, since you won’t hear any carols or sing-alongs or the usual or traditional holiday fare. The Ear thinks it’s a smart approach and a welcome break.

The non-holiday “holiday” program includes “Songs of a Wayfarer” by Gustav Mahler, sung by UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below).

Also on the program is “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” (The Steer on the Roof) by Darius Milhaud with violinist soloist Naha Greenholtz (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), who is the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Matthew Coley (below top), a member of the acclaimed Madison-based percussion group “Clocks in Motion,” will perform two pieces of Hungarian music that use the rarely heard cimbalom (below bottom): the “Czardas” by Vittorio Monti and the “Hary Janos Suite” by Kodaly. (You can hear Monti’s familiar “Czardas” in a version for violin and piano in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kyle Knox (below), who is the new music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the new associate conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who is also the husband of Naha Greenholtz, will once again be the guest conductor.

Admission is $15 for the general public with students and young people getting in for free. Tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Co-op West and at the door. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and doors to the hall open at 7 p.m.

As usual, there will be a meet-and-greet reception (below) – complete with Christmas cookies, you can be sure – at the end of the concert.

For more information about future MCO concerts, reviews of past concerts and details about how to join the orchestra or support it, go to:

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Classical music education: Report 2 about the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra tour in Europe: Days 3 and 4 include extensive sightseeing and a successful performance in Budapest.

July 11, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Madison-based Youth Orchestra (below), the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, conducted by James Smith, is on a concert tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO pus a link to this blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s second report, with photos and videos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser, covering the concert and sightseeing in Budapest. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


Monday began with a tour of the city by bus, including stops in Heroes’ Square and the Vajdahunyad Castle (below). The latter was actually designed for Hungary’s millennial celebration as a cardboard model, featuring a hodgepodge of architectural styles borrowed from other famous buildings, but was so popular that a real brick-and-mortar copy was later constructed. (And yes, you read that right — millennial. The Hungarian state was founded in 896. America is just a toddler on the world stage next to nations like this.)

After lunch in the Great Market Hall, a cavernous building full of local vendors (I hear Madison is considering something like it – it’s great!), we headed up to the Military Museum for a rehearsal before our first concert.

The performance at the Military Museum (below) was a smashing success with the audience, who applauded furiously after every piece.

Receiving the European unison clap was a puzzling experience for many used to the American custom of random, discordant applause. Personally, I rather liked it. The applause continued long enough that the orchestra actually simply left the stage down the center aisle while the ovation continued. It was a very cool feeling. (Below is a snippet of an encore, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 1, taken by Bridget Fraser.)

Monday night ended late, finishing with dinner at the Citadella Restaurant (below top) overlooking the Danube, serenaded by a trio (growing into a quintet) of Gypsy musicians. The cimbalom (below below) player was especially impressive, in my opinion, as was the first violinist. They played a broad range of music, including colorful renditions of two pieces of imitation Gypsy music — Vittorio Monti‘s “Czardas” and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 — probably more authentic than the originals.

Tuesday was an early start, beginning with a long drive in the country out to the Esztergom Basilica (below), a beautiful edifice that serves as the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary. It is the tallest building in the country, holding the reliquaries of two martyrs. It also contains a massive organ, which we did not get to hear, which was played by Franz Liszt.

There were a couple of musicians outside the church busking – a young cellist delivering some lovely Bach in the open air, and a recorder player dressed as a jester with an immense repertoire ranging from Mozart and Handel to the themes from “Star Wars” and “The Pink Panther.” I confess to singing along with a few of them.

We then drove to Visegrád Castle (below), which unfortunately did not weather a 1544 siege by the Ottoman Turks terribly well; the building is more or less in ruins, and was indeed totally buried for many years before a recent excavation uncovered much of it. It is set up somewhat like a museum now, with rooms exhibiting reconstructed suits of armor and weapons and, of course, a gift shop.

Another little culture shock for today — I’m still not used to the total lack of bubblers or public toilets; those of the latter at museums and such are invariably only accessible for a fee. It’s a slick racket.

After Visegrád, we drove a bit more to the town of Szentendre, where we stopped for lunch. We were then turned loose for an hour or two to shop and explore the town in small groups.

It’s a lovely little place: hilly, with winding cobblestone streets and some admittedly touristy shops. Notably, the rather reckless Hungarian drivers are no less so in a small town than in Budapest, although they’re a bit slower. Not a good place to be in the habit of jaywalking, Hungary; I don’t know that anyone would slow down for you.

For the evening, we split up — half explored Moscow Square (below), near the Hotel Budapest where we’re staying (a big, cylindrical building in which every room, true to form east of the Iron Curtain, is exactly the same size), and half went to the Széchenyi Baths in City Park. I chose the latter option, which I do not regret in the slightest.

The bath complex (below) is built on two hot springs rich in minerals, which are reported to possess prodigious medical properties. I can’t report to their efficacy, but I can testify that the waters, which can be sampled at a wide range of temperatures in pools of varying size, are wonderfully relaxing. I checked out almost every pool and two of the saunas. The water did wonders for a sore neck and shoulders — totally worth the admittedly steep price of admission (about 15 euro, or 4,300 HUF).

Tomorrow is another early start, driving into Vienna (below). I can’t wait for our next concert!



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