The Well-Tempered Ear

See and hear The Cliburn piano competition for FREE via streaming. It runs through June 18

June 4, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition got under way this past Thursday, June 2, and will run through Saturday, June 18, when the winners will be announced.

2022 marks the 60th anniversary year of the competition, which the American pianist Van Cliburn founded at Texas Christian University after his 1958 Cold War victory in the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow,.

You can follow it all online. The complete impressive competition is being broadcast on medici.tv and on YouTube.

But The Ear has used the competition’s own streaming website and finds the videos, sound quality, contestant biographies and background information very professional and helpful. So far, it has been a thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and engaging experience. I highly recommendation it for students, amateur pianists and all music lovers.

For The Ear, one of the most impressive performances from yesterday was given by the 21-year-old Chinese pianist Yangrui Cai (below), heard in the YouTube video at the bottom. Such beautiful and subtly virtuosic but shaded Liszt and Brahms is not often heard.

Here is a link to the home page (below): https://cliburn.org

From there you can hear live performances, past performances and many facts , including the complete schedule, about The Cliburn, as it is now called. All times are Central Daylight.

Starting at 10 a.m. today — Saturday, June 4 — will see the final 10 performances (3 in the morning and night, four in the afternoon) of the preliminary round, which has featured 30 pianists in 40-minute solo recitals. Except for a specially commissioned “Fanfare Toccata” by Sir Stephen Hough, who is also on the jury, the choice of programs is entirely up to the individual contestants.

The road to the Cliburn is not easy.

It started with 388 applicants. That was trimmed down to 72 by preliminary judges. Out of 72, 30 were chosen by jurors to compete.

After today, it will be on to the quarter-finals with 18 contestants in 40-minute recitals with no repetition from the preliminary round; then the semi-final round with 12 contestants in a combination of 60-minute solo recital along with a Mozart piano concerto accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by the Nicholas McGegan, who is famous for his interpretations of Baroque and Classical era music; and the final concerto round with each contestant play two concertos with Fort Worth Symphony under famed conductor Marin Alsop, who is also the head juror.

The Ear will be posting his own thoughts as he experiences the extensive competition, maybe after each round or even each day.

But The Ear also wants to hear from you.

Do you have thoughts about the various contestants?

Who are your favorites and why?

Thoughts about the programs and repertoire being played?

Other thoughts about the competition in general?

The Ear Wants to hear.

 


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YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Too bad the Wisconsin Union Theater didn’t book a great pianist for next season

May 21, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

“We are living in a Golden Age of pianists,”  famed concert pianist, Juilliard teacher and frequent Madison performer Emanuel Ax (below) has said.

He should know. But you would never guess that from the recently announced next season at the Wisconsin Union Theater (below).

The WUT has not booked a solo pianist for the 2022-23 season.

Here is a link to the lineup for the next season:

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

Is The Ear the only one who has noticed and is disappointed?

Who else feels bad about it?

After all, this is the same presenting organization that brought to Madison such legendary pianists as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Percy Grainger, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Dame Myra Hess, Guiomar Novaes, Egon Petri, Robert Casadesus, William Kapell, Claudio Arrau, Alexander Brailowsky, Gary Graffman, Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Byron Janis, Misha Dichter, Peter Serkin, André Watts, Lili Kraus and Garrick Ohlsson

It is the same hall (below) in which The Ear has heard Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Angela Hewitt, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Valentina Lisitsa, Andras Schiff, Joyce Yang, Yefim Bronfman, Jeremy Denk, Ingrid Fliter, Richard Goode, Leon Fleisher, Simone Dinnerstein, Wu Han and so many other great and memorable names including, of course, Emanuel Ax.

What a history!

As you can see and as The Ear likes to say, the Wisconsin Union Theater is “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.” For over 100 years, it is where the great ones play.

One irony is that many of those former bookings of pianists took place when the University of Wisconsin School of Music had many more pianists on the faculty and provided a major alternative venue for piano recitals.

Another irony is that so many young people take piano lessons (below) and are apt to want to attend, probably with their parents, to hear a live professional concert piano recital. You would think the WUT would also see the advantages of having such community outreach links to the public and to music education, especially since the WUT has hosted Open Piano Day for the public. (See the YouTube video of a Channel 3000 story in February 2020 at the bottom.)

From what The Ear reads, there are lots of up-and-coming pianists, many affordable names of various winners of national and international competitions. They should be affordable as well as worthy of being introduced to the Madison public.

But that seems a mission now largely left to the Salon Piano Series.

Plus, so many of the new pianists are young Asians who have never appeared here, which should be another draw for the socially responsible and diversity-minded WUT.

But that is another story for another day.

What do you think of the WUT not presenting a solo pianist next season?

Maybe there will be a pianist booked for the 2023-24 season.

What pianists would you like see booked by the WUT student programming committee?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Does Wisconsin Public Radio play too much harp music?

March 26, 2022
7 Comments

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, the following commentary was posted briefly yesterday and then withdrawn. That also disabled the commentary function temporarily. Once the glitch is solved, The Ear will post it again. That means some of you will get it twice. I apologize for any inconvenience. And to the fans who have kindly greeted my return, heartfelt thanks. I will be posting more details about the use and frequency of this blog in the near future.

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can’t help it.

The harp always reminds The Ear of a giant egg slicer.

Still, The Ear loves the sound of the harp — in the right works.

That usually means when it is blended into orchestral works (Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mahler come to mind) and chamber music works (Debussy and Ravel come to mind).

But when it comes to solo harp and harp concertos, no thanks. Barring some Baroque music and Classical works — Handel’s concerti grossi and Mozart’s “Brunch” Concerto for Flute and Harp — he’ll pass for the most part.

So much harp music, both original and arranged, just sounds second-rate or worse. Can anyone name a masterpiece for the solo harp written by a great composer? And I don’t mean Louis Spohr who composed for his harpist wife.

The solo harp repertoire is very small, hence the need for so many transcriptions.

That’s a problem.

The harp tends to make music for other instruments sound so .. so … so pleasant! Even when the original is dramatic, it’s all pluck pluck, twang twang, zing zing. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of J.S. Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Organ played on the harp.

So, The Ear asks, why has Wisconsin Public Radio started playing so much harp music on almost every show? (Below is WPR host, accomplished harpist and harp evangelist Ruthanne Bessman, who often includes harp music in her Saturday Morning program “Classics by Request.”)

Is it because the public really loves hearing the harp so much?

Is it because the radio show hosts do?

Do listener surveys indicate a preference for the harp?

Does the covid pandemic play a role in seeking bland but soothing music?

What do you think?

Do you like or even crave harp music?

Do you think WPR is programming too much harp music these days?

Too little?

Or the right amount?

Leave a comment, please.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Music con Brio starts an annual Black Composers project with a FREE virtual concert

July 1, 2021
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Carol Carlson, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Madison-based Music con Brio (below), who is a violinist and holds a doctorate in music from the UW-Madison:

Hello friends,

Happy summer! I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun.

I am emailing you because Music con Brio embarked on an exciting new project this year, and I want to share it with you.

In an effort to diversify our repertoire and guest artists, we have launched our new “Music by Black Composers” project. Last winter, our staff chose four pieces of music by Black composers and made student-accessible arrangements of them. 

We then taught these new pieces during our online lessons this spring. On May 8, we gathered together outside at the Goodman Community Center, with four phenomenal local Black guest artists, to professionally record all four pieces.

And now, in lieu of our regular Community Concert Series this year, we are thrilled to present our first-ever Virtual Community Concert!

Click on the link to YouTube video at the bottom to watch and hear the 12-minute performance. Once there, click on Show More to see the composers, pieces and performers.

We are incredibly proud of our students and staff for all their hard work making this so successful. I’m sure you will enjoy their performance!

Please do feel free to pass the video along to anyone else you think might be interested in watching it.

And if you feel so inclined, we would really appreciate a donation in support of this work, which we plan to do every year from now on. To support Music con Brio and our Black Composers project by making a secure, tax-deductible donation, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org/donate/ 

Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you at a live concert again sometime soon!

If you wish to know more about Music con Brio, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org


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Just Bach free concert series seeks Interim Co-Artistic Director. Apply by July 5

June 23, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an interim job at Just Bach:

Do you love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)? 

Would you love to perform it every month in one of the most beautiful churches (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) in Madison?

Are you a professional instrumentalist with training and experience in period performance practice?

Do you have strong organizational skills?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then Just Bach needs you!

Because Co-Artistic Director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) will leave on a sabbatical starting in November, Just Bach is looking for an instrumentalist to join the Artistic Team. (You can check out the typical format by using the search engine on this blog or going to Just Bach’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel.)

 

The popular monthly concert series, which made it to the final round of the 2021 “Best of Madison” awards, seeks an Interim Artistic Co-Director for its upcoming fourth season.

POSITION SUMMARY

The Interim Artistic Co-Director works with the Just Bach team and the staff at Luther Memorial Church to program, produce, promote and perform monthly Bach concerts (below) from September through May.

The Interim Co-Artistic Director helps finalize the programming, contract any remaining needed players, schedule rehearsals and performances, perform in the concerts as needed, and upload the concert video to the Just Bach YouTube channel.

The Co-Artistic Director devotes about 4 hours per month to administrative tasks, on a volunteer basis.

The Co-Artistic Director rehearses and performs as needed in the monthly concerts — and is paid $100 per concert. (You can hear and see the closing concert of this past season in the YouTube video at the bottom. Click on Show More to see other instruments, players, singers and the program.)

The current Artistic Team will provide training for this position, and will be available for assistance once the season begins.

A detailed job description is available at:: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDis-RSY5FUnfUGCBvYunWZ1fR4EtyfzSo3xYiMyjUs/edit#

For more information, please contact and apply to Just Bach at: justbachseries@gmail.com

APPLICATION ARE DUE BY JULY 5.


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The Ear is back

June 10, 2021
20 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is back!

For the first time since the May 18 posting about the season’s last concert by Just Bach, The Ear can post a new entry.

For three weeks, The Ear struggled to correct the situation, but to no avail. But then yesterday everything suddenly seemed to fall into place and new postings became possible.

Some readers and subscribers have contacted The Ear to ask if he was ill or something disabling had happened. Thank you for your concern.

But let me reassure you. The absence and silence were due simply to the technological glitch on the WordPress.com platform.

In some ways, though, the involuntary sabbatical was welcome. It provided The Ear with an opportunity to consider whether he wanted to continue the blog after the past 13 years.

After much consideration, The Ear has decided to continue, at least for the time being.

But the blog will see some changes.

Stay tuned and The Ear will explain more in detail.

In the mean time, thank you for continuing to subscribe and read the blog. It has been gratifying to see both the loyalty of the readers, many of whom used the hiatus to explore the archives. 

And if you have any comments or suggestions to make about the blog, please leave them in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Today – Monday, March 29 – is World Piano Day. Here are links to free online recitals. What does the piano mean to you? Did it play a role during the pandemic?

March 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – March 29, 2021 – is World Piano Day.

That is because today is the 88th day of 2021.

Gotta have some kind of code or symbolic meaning, after all.

In any case, there are virtual online celebrations all over the world. Here is a link to the official welcoming website that also lists Spotify and SoundCloud playlists from past years and dozens of worldwide events this year, running from March 25-30: https://www.pianoday.org

You can also find more on Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The piano means a lot to The Ear, who listens to it and plays it. He loves, loves, loves the piano.

What has the piano and piano music meant to you in your life?

What role did the piano play for you during the past pandemic year?

Have you listened to or discovered newer, younger talent?

Do you have favorite pianists, either historic or current? What do you like about them?

Or maybe you have favorite piano pieces?

Please tell us all about you and the piano in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime you can listen to the World Piano Day “monster recital” by 17 pianists who record for Deutsche Grammophon. The “Yellow Label” – the first commercial record label — has signed a lot of great pianists in its time, and still does.

Here is a link to the YouTube DG recital, which lasts 2 hours and 50 minutes. If you go to the actual YouTube site, click on Show More to see the complete list of performers and pieces. Otherwise performers and programs are displayed on the screen:


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The Madison Early Music Festival joins the UW-Madison School of Music’s regular program and undergoes a major revamping. There will be no more separate summer events, and the two directors will retire next spring

March 10, 2021
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

After refining the format over the past 20 years, the Madison Early Music Festival (below) has grown into a popular event that is recognized regionally, nationally and internationally. It usually takes place for about 10 days in July.

But no longer.

The Ear has received the following updates from the two co-founders and co-directors, singers Cheryl-Bensman Rowe and UW-Madison Professor Paul Rowe.

Curiously, no reasons or causes are given for the major changes and revamping, or for the cancellation of the event this summer.

The Ear suspects it has something to do with the lack of funding and the reorganizations and consolidations being carried out because of the budgetary effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the UW-Madison, the whole UW System and the performing arts scene in general.

But that could be completely wrong. We will probably find out more details in the near future.

For more information and background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/2021/02/01/memf-school-of-music-announce-administrative-partnership/

And to sound off, please leave your reactions to the news in the comment section.

Here is the letter from the Rowes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot):

Dear MEMF Supporters,

It is difficult to believe that February is over and spring is on its way. We hope everyone is having luck scheduling coronavirus vaccines, and that you have all stayed healthy throughout this past year. 

We are writing to give you advance notice of the latest MEMF news before you read it in an upcoming press release.

Due to programming realignment in the UW-Madison Division of the Arts, the Madison Early Music Festival will become a program of the Mead Witter School of Music, which will be our new administrative home.

After much discussion with the Director of the School of Music and the Interim Director of the Division of the Arts, the details of the move have been finalized. 

The School of Music is excited to bring MEMF into its programming, and would like MEMF to be an integral part of the academic year so more students can have an opportunity to work with professionals in the field of early music.

At this point, in order to focus on this goal, the decision has been made to discontinue the summer festival in its current (pre-pandemic) format.(You can hear a sample of that in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We know this is disappointing news, but at the same time we are excited that MEMF concerts, lectures and classes will now be offered in some capacity throughout the year. 

Although MEMF will be taking a different direction than the one we have all known and loved over the past 20 years, we are thrilled that it will continue to provide early music learning and presentation opportunities through this new collaboration.

We also want to announce that the two of us will be retiring from MEMF in the spring of 2022 and new leadership will take the helm. 

Current plans are to present a celebratory MEMF concert and workshop next spring with School of Music students and faculty and former MEMF participants and faculty.

We want all of you to know that we appreciate everything you have done for MEMF. Some of you have been involved for 21 years! 

We are grateful for your support, the friendships we have made, and all the beautiful music we have heard and made together. The success of the festival would not have been possible without each and every one of you.

This is an exciting new journey for MEMF, although different from what we have known and experienced. We hope that you will continue to be involved in MEMF in its new format, and we hope to see you in the spring of 2022!

Thank you for all your generosity in so many ways,

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe and Paul Rowe, co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival


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