The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., SoundWaves moves to Mills Hall to present a FREE and PUBLIC discussion and performance of inventions and music from the 1920s.

October 20, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), a professor of horn at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and a friend of The Ear, writes:

Daniel Grabois 2012 James Gill

I’m not sure if you know about my FREE and PUBLIC series SoundWaves. But I’d like to tell you about it because we have our first-ever presentation in the UW-Madison School of Music next week. It is part of the statewide Wisconsin Science Festival.

The basic idea is this: I choose a theme and get four scientists from different disciplines (or sometimes academics from the humanities) to explore the theme — for the layman — in short 15-minute talks.

I then give a short talk about the theme as it relates to music.

Then, there’s a related music performance.

To make this concrete for you, our program coming up is about The Roaring ’20s.

Now in its fourth year, the SoundWaves series is underwritten by Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF, below with founder Prof. Harry Steenbock), which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. So it seemed fitting to explore the decade of its creation for our first event of the year.

Harry Steenbock WARF bldg

Accordingly, we will have a historian of science speaking about Vitamin D, which was discovered and synthesized by Steenbock,  explaining things like “What the hell IS a vitamin, anyway?”

Vitamin D

Then, a dermatologist will talk about bandaids (invented in 1920). Kids love them, but do they work? How? Why does someone invent a bandaid?


Next, a law professor will discuss the lie detector, also invented in 1920. We see them on cop shows, but do they work? Is their evidence admissible in court? How do they work?

lie detector

Then, an industrial engineer will speak about automotive breakthroughs from the 1920s that have shaped our driving experience. Power steering, the traffic light, the car radio (invented by Motorola, hence the “motor” in the company name) — all were invented in the 1920s and all have had a broad impact on cars and driving today.

traffic light

Then I’ll be talking about music of the 1920s. I’m particularly interested in what was then the recent invention of the 12-tone system by Arnold Schoenberg (below). If you are a composer, how on earth do you respond to that? Do you reject it, and if so, what do you do instead? How is the musical aesthetic reshaped by such a radical (and difficult to listen to) idea?

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

At the end, there will be a performance of the String Quartet No. 1 (subtitled “Kreutzer Sonata,” based on the short story by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy) by Czech composer Leos Janacek (below top), written in 1923, played by the Rhapsodie String Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made of Madison Symphony Orchestra players including Suzanne Beia, our own second violinist of the Pro Arte Quartet. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leos Janacek

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

We’ve been getting around 175 people for our programs at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, including lots of people who come back over and over.

For me, doing this series is hugely stimulating — being able to collaborate across traditionally rigid academic boundaries is one of the reasons I was excited to come to Madison.

Here are the specifics:

Date: This Saturday, Oct. 24, at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Speakers and performers:

Kevin Walters, WARF historian-in-residence

Klint Peebles, Department of Dermatology

Keith Findley, UW Law School

John Lee, Department of Industrial Engineering

Daniel Grabois, School of Music and SoundWaves curator

Rhapsodie String Quartet

For more information, visit:–events/soundwaves/soundwaves.cmsx

Sales pitch over!

Hope to see you there.


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison flutist Stephanie Jutt will survey Spanish and Latin American music at her two recitals with pianist Thomas Kasdorf this weekend in Madison and Richland Center. Plus pianist Mark Valenti performs music by Ives, Bach, Beethoven and Debussy for FREE on Friday at noon.

January 30, 2014
1 Comment

ALERT: Pianist Mark Valenti will perform this Friday at the weekly FREE Noon Musicale in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. His program includes: “The Alcotts” movement from the “Concord” Sonata by Charles Ives; Four Preludes and Fugues (three from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier) by Johann Sebastian Bach; Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, by Ludwig van Beethoven; and “L’Isle Joyeuse” by Claude Debussy.

Mark Valenti

By Jacob Stockinger 

This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music flute professor Stephanie Jutt will perform recitals that survey flute masterpieces from Spain and Latin America. 

Jutt (below, in a photo by Paskus Photography) will perform her program for FREE on Saturday at 8 pm. in Mills Recital Hall; and then again on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Richland Center, where it is presented by the Richland Concert Association. The address is: 26625 Crestview Drive, Richland Center. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students and FREE for students with UW-Richland ID.

Stephanie Jutt CR Dick Ainsworth

Jutt — who is also known as the principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and as the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- has sent the following notes and background.

“I have received a grant from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) to record Latin American and Spanish masterpieces for flute and piano. Recording will take place in New York in August of 2014, with Venezuelan pianist Elena Abend and Uruguayan pianist Pablo Zinger. The music was collected and researched during my sabbatical to Argentina in 2010.

“The pianist for my recitals is the impressive Thomas Kasdorf (below), a Middleton native who studied at the UW-Madison with pianists Christopher Taylor and Martha Fischer.

“While at the UW, he won many award and prizes, and was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio. He has also studied at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Martin Katz and been very active in Madison-area concerts including being a vocal coach for the University Opera and working in dozens of productions of musical theater, especially works by Stephen Sondheim.

“Thomas is the co-director and musical director of the Middleton Players Theatre’s production of “Les Miserables” and has performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra. He has also performed and appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

“The theme of my concert is “Evocaçao” (Evocation), and it features music from Argentina, Brazil and two distinctive ethnic regions of Spain. 

“The program includes works by South Americans: the “the Schubert of the pampas” Carlos Guastavino (below top, 1912-2000), whose popular and beautiful song “The Dove Was Confused” s on the program and can he heard as a song with guitar accompaniment in a YouTube video at the bottom); Heitor Villa-Lobos (below middle, 1887-1959); and the “New Tango” innovator Astor Piazzolla (below bottom, 1921-1992):

Carlos Guastavino

Villa-Lobos BW

astor piazzolla

Also included are the Barcelona Catalan composer Salvador Brotons (b. 1959) and the Basque composer Jesús Guridi (1886-1961).

Salvador Brotons

Jesus Guridi sepia

For more information, here is a link to the UW-Madison School of Music’s website. Click on events calendar and then click on Feb. 1 and the concert by Stephanie Jutt:

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Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor wins a rave review from the New York Times for his performances of works by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski. But Taylor also invents pianos as well as plays them.

May 20, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

You really could not wish to have better review than the one that New York Times music critic Zachary Woolfe last week gave University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor for his performances of music by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski’s massive theme-and-variations on “The People United Can Never Be Defeated.” 

How often do you get words like “dazzlingly virtuosic” or “lively yet magisterial” or “passionate precision” or “masterly” or “pianistic fireworks” applied to your performance?

And how often do you get praised for programming that is different from the way some pretty famous pianists including Ursula Oppens, have programmed the same pieces? (Below is a concert photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)

Here is a link to the Times’ review:

And here is a link to the entry on the UW-Madison School of Music’s new website blog Fanfare — a great idea since so much great music (and so much FREE music) is going on at the UW-Madison — with more about the concert:

Christopher Taylor at Miller Theater in NYC CR Richard Termine of the NYT

But Christopher Taylor does not just PLAY the piano with world-class mastery and artistry.

He is also inventing a piano, a two-keyboard Steinway much like a harpsichord and the rare piano he inherited from the deceased Danish native and UW-Madison Artist-in-Residence Gunnar Johansen (below) and has performed on many times in many works, including J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

VT-Compress (tm) Xing Technology Corp.

First, Taylor informally wrote to The Ear about his project:

“After some delays I’ve finally finished getting made a little documentary about the latest progress with the new double-manual piano I’m in the process of developing — quite the mammoth project.   I think the film covers the basics OK.  I thought you might be curious to see what I’ve been up to.

“There’s still a long road ahead, but I’m encouraged to think that a complete instrument may yet emerge one day.  I’ve also been learning a lot of unexpected skills and having fun in the process …”

And then, on my request the ever-busy but generous Taylor (below), who is always teaching and performing as well as inventing, wrote a more formal introduction:

“About four years ago now, while working with the existing double-manual Steinway that the UW owns, I began to develop my first ideas about a possible successor instrument, one that would use modern technology to overcome some of older piano’s practical limitations.

“As it has turned out, developing this invention has provided an excellent opportunity for me to synthesize many of my preexisting interests, not only in music, but in mathematics and computer science as well.


“Since submitting a patent application in November 2011 (with the aid of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)), I have worked extensively to turn the diagrams on my hard drive into a reality, with assistance from many people, particularly the engineers and machinists at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and my piano technician Robert Hohf.

“In the process I’ve had to learn about many fields that were new to me, including some basic electrical engineering, printed circuit board design, computer-assisted 3D modeling, and CNC machining.

Christopher Taylor playing two-keyboard

“It’s hard to predict when a completed instrument may emerge — having built my proof-of-principle models, I’m hoping I may eventually get some assistance from a piano manufacturer.

“Whatever happens, I am fairly determined to get it built one day, and when I do, I intend to promote it in the way I have promoted the existing instrument, traveling the country with it (taking advantage of what I expect will be its greater portability), performing works like J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, making new arrangements of existing solo or chamber literature, and commissioning brand new compositions from adventurous composers.”

So after all that build-up, here is that YouTube video with UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor explaining the new piano and how he will use it:

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