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Alumnus musicologist J. Griffith Rollefson publishes book on European hip hop

During his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, alumnus J. Griffith Rollefson embarked on several international research trips while writing his dissertation, “European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality.” Throughout Europe, he frequented hip hop shows, clubs, record shops, and open mic nights to observe and interview the people who consider this artform among the most politically conscious of all. Hip hop studies was then an emerging field in the United States, with institutions such as McNally Smith College in St. Paul, the University of Arizona, and Wellesley College in Massachusetts, offering coursework on the subject.

J. Griffith Rollefson. Image by Kathleen Karn.

After graduating in 2009 with his PhD in historical musicology, Rollefson began writing Flip the Script, a book based on his dissertation, examining how the children of immigrants from the former colonies of Europe imagine hip hop as a way to both understand and voice their relationship to society. Flip the Script (which Rollefson defines as “to upend a situation and/or rap a text”) was recently published by the University of Chicago Press and is now available for purchase. 

Rollefson is currently an associate professor of popular music studies at the University College Cork, National University of Ireland. The Mead Witter School of Music is pleased to feature the following Q&A with Rollefson about his increasingly relevant work in hip hop culture, a wide-ranging field that encompasses the studies of race, class, gender, nationality, and politics.  

Interview conducted by Kyle D. Johnson, a dissertator in piano performance.


You write that hip hop studies should “engage more directly and systematically with the tools of postcolonial theory.” What is postcolonial theory and why is it important to hip hop studies?

Postcolonial studies involves understanding how the past resonates in the present.  How the past is never past. In short, if the “colonial period” started when Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” over 500 years ago and ended a little over 50 years ago, we need to imagine how that period might have had some lasting impact.  And of course, we then need to think about what we should do if that impact is a negative one, as is overwhelmingly the case.  The resonances are profound and very real.  In the US, for instance, colonial processes have resulted in the world-changing beauty of the spirituals, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop, but they have also resulted in the seemingly endless systemic marginalization of the very people who created those most American of musics – marginalization “from the plantation to the penitentiary,” as Wynton Marsalis put it.

Hip hop is unique both in its directness and in the depth of its contradictions. We simultaneously laud hip hop as the ultimate politically conscious music and decry it as the most vapid commercial expression of materialism, sexism, homophobia, and violence.  Something’s gotta give with this contradiction – and I think I offer some good, and potentially illuminating answers in the book.

Postcolonial theory helps us assess and address historical impact by focusing on the continuities between slavery and commercial exploitation, from Georgia cotton, Jamaican sugar, and Honduran bananas to South African diamonds, Indian textiles, and Iraqi oil.  Of course, these theories also help us account for cultural fields like music.  The idea of “the forest and the school” is a good starting place to describe how processes of colonization remove “the forest” – that is, the natural resources (including, let’s remember, people) – and leaves “the school” – be it a missionary school or a grammar school, both of which are training grounds for assimilation into Euro-American ideologies.  There’s a famous quip attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of independent Kenya, that goes: “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible.  They taught how to pray with our eyes closed.  When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

How have current events in Europe, such as the refugee crisis, affected the state of modern-day hip hop in Europe?

Rappers will be the first to tell you that the “refugee crisis” is manufactured; they believe that Western Europe is slowly dying and needs immigration, but refuses to adapt for purely bigoted reasons.  Sound familiar?  I’ve talked to artists who’ve made this exact point – the Turkish German, Chefket and the Black Brit, Juice Aleem, for instance, who recognize foreign labor as a historical constant that gets conveniently forgotten in times of cultural navel gazing.  Syria had been in crisis for years before it got widespread European attention as families began fleeing for their lives en masse.  And notably, a quick look into the instability in Syria reveals deep and unresolved histories of colonization by France and the UK.  This is why I say we need to listen to these voices.  They really are on the front lines of history.

How is American hip hop related to European hip hop?

Through studying European hip hop we can see that “double consciousness”—the African-American feeling of “unreconciled” two-ness—is a particular American form of what is really a global postcolonial experience. This argument suggests that postcoloniality explains why hip hop was born in the South Bronx in the collaboration of African American, Puerto Rican, and other Caribbean communities.  In my class, Planet Rap: Global Hip Hop and Postcolonial Perspectives, I look not only at African-American artists, but at Puerto Ricans, Filipino Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to understand how the United States is a postcolonial nation – the first postcolonial nation, really.  And to underscore another point I make to my students – the “post” in postcolonial doesn’t mean that the colonial resonances are over.  In most cases, they’re just coming to the fore.  Germany, for instance, is just now beginning to own up to its colonial history.  And France and the UK are doing their darnedest to explain away, forget, or Brexit their way out of their colonial complicities.

 

You’ve asserted that hip hop artists have a better perspective on the conditions of their society, over governments or geopolitical authorities. What makes hip hop unique in its ability to offer that “frontline” perspective?

In the consensus view of the artists I interviewed, it’s political “consciousness” that attracted them to hip hop in the first place.  Something resonated with them – the music “spoke to them.”  Again and again, I heard rappers describe the artform as a “vehicle,” “channel,” or “opportunity” to grab the microphone and finally be able to say something to their own societies – societies that usually don’t want to listen. Hip hop is unique both in its directness and in the depth of its contradictions. We simultaneously laud hip hop as the ultimate politically conscious music and decry it as the most vapid commercial expression of materialism, sexism, homophobia, and violence.  Something’s gotta give with this contradiction – and I think I offer some good, and potentially illuminating answers in the book.  These artists are indeed humans and have all the complexities we all have.  They might play to stereotypes, but in doing so they force us to interrogate our own misconceptions.

If someone wanted to explore the current world of European hip hop, which artists would you recommend?

I’d recommend starting with some of the classics, like MC Solaar (France), Roots Manuva (UK), Advanced Chemistry (Germany), and Scary Éire (Ireland).  My current playlist includes more recent artists like Stromae, Les Nubians, Sidi-O, and Oxmo Puccino (France/Belgium); Juice Aleem, Lowkey, and Lady Leshurr (UK), Amewu, Chefket, and Samy Deluxe (Germany), and Lethal Dialect and Rusangano Family (Ireland).  FauxSounds.com has actually just invited me to annotate a “Flip the Script European Hip Hop” playlist for their website.  Check that out for a nice sampling and some brief background details: http://www.fauxsounds.com/faux-sounds/2017/10/18/professor-j-griffith-rollefson-flip-the-script-european-hip-hop

Now, for some background on you. How did you go from dissertation to Flip the Script? Why did the University of Chicago take an interest in your work?

Well, if you consider that I wrote my first seminar papers on European hip hop for UW-Madison Professors Susan Cook and Pamela Potter in 2003-2004, then we could say it took well over a decade.  Back then word was that Turkey would become an EU member any day.  Needless to say, a bit has changed since I started the research. At that time, the EU was providing an inspiring model of what an international community of the future might look like, and now we’re on the slippery slope to ethno-nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2006, after my coursework, I started a yearlong fieldwork project funded by the Berlin Program for German and European Studies.  That trip was centered in Berlin, but included multi-month trips to Paris and London where I worked with hip hop communities: going to shows, clubs, record shops, open mic nights, community centers, observing and doing interviews in any place where hip hop community happened. In 2008, I returned there with funding from the German Academic Exchange Service, known as DAAD, and then embarked on shorter trips until I moved to the UK and Ireland with my family in 2013.  In fact, although Flip the Script centers on Berlin, Paris, and London, the book concludes with a look at what I call the “postcolonial whiteness” of Ireland’s brilliant hip hop critiques about their colonial past and neocolonial present.  What’s interesting in this case is that it gets us thinking about race and colonialism together.  As you may know, racial difference was a centerpiece in the logic of British domination of Ireland.

Elizabeth Branch Dyson at the University of Chicago Press showed interest in the manuscript early on and then held my hand throughout, encouraging me to get the book exactly right over the last five years or so.  I suppose the lesson there is patience.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to be patient, and it has paid off.

Outside of your work on Flip the Script, give us an update on what you’ve been up to since earning your PhD.

I’ve become a dad, served as a church choir director and an adjunct professor in Southern California, won an ACLS New Faculty Fellowship (which was, essentially, the “Great Recession Stimulus Plan for Young Scholars”) which took me to UC Berkeley, held a lectureship at the University of Cambridge and, finally, landed a tenure-track job at University College Cork, National University of Ireland.  I should also say that spending the last four years as a European resident really helped me finish the research and added a level of personal understanding of the fragile realities of displacement and immigration.

Where can people go to get more information on you, Flip the Script, and possibly future projects you’re involved with?

The book’s companion website – EuropeanHipHop.org – is quickly becoming a clearinghouse for all sorts of links, syllabi, podcasts, and news.

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University Opera Presents A KURT WEILL CABARET – Oct. 27, 29 & 31

September 27, 2017

Contact:

Katherine Esposito 263-5615

David Ronis


University Opera turns to music and theater of the mid-20th century with A KURT WEILL CABARET

 This fall, University Opera takes a short break from strictly operatic offerings as it turns to the music of Kurt Weill (1900-1950).  A KURT WEILL CABARET, a pastiche of 21 solos and ensembles from Weill’s many diverse works, will be presented at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus on October 27 at 7:30pm, October 29 at 3:00pm and October 31 at 7:30pm.  University Opera Director David Ronis will direct the show.  Chad Hutchinson, adjunct professor of orchestras, will conduct.  Musical preparation will be by UW-Madison vocal coach, Daniel Fung.

Born in Germany, Weill achieved early fame through works created in partnership with the playwright Berthold Brecht, most notably, Die Dreigroschen Oper (The Threepenny Opera) and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny).  Forced into exile by the rise of Hitler in 1933, Weill spent a few years in Paris before eventually moving to New York.  In the United States, he found success on Broadway through collaborations with such lyricists as Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, and Ogden Nash on such shows as Lady in the Dark, One Touch of Venus, and the opera Street Scene.  Several roles in these productions were premiered by his wife, Lotte Lenya, the singing actress who championed his works even after their divorce and his death.

Kurt Weill image courtesy German Federal Archive.

A KURT WEILL CABARET is a unique production, assembled by Ronis, that contains no one dramatic through-line.  Instead, the pieces that comprise the evening, taken out of their usual context, are juxtaposed so as to create multiple mini-narratives.  There are no set characters; relationships develop and dissolve as the evening progresses.  The show is organized into three sections, each highlighting themes of Weill’s oeuvre. The first of these works its way through a series of dysfunctional yet comic relationships between men and women.  The metaphor of travel underscores the second section, which explores themes of longing, disappointment, and finally hope.  The characters involved are tough and world weary – their hopes and aspirations often dashed by swift doses of reality.  Nevertheless, there is a sense that all is not lost and redemption is possible.  The third and final portion of the show returns to lighter fare that affirms that true love and happiness is possible, especially when there’s ice cream involved!

The musical numbers of A KURT WEILL CABARET, sung in English, German, and French, include “The Saga of Jenny,” “Surabaya Johnny,” I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” “Whiskey Bar/Alabama Song,” “J’attends un navire,” “Foolish Heart,” “Youkali,” “Denn wie man sich bettet,” “A Rhyme for Angela,” “It Never Was You,” and “My Ship.”

The cast features one guest artist, Alec Brown, and twelve UW-Madison students: Matthew Chastain, Jake Elfner, Tim Emery, Talia Engstrom, Eliav Goldman, Courtney Kayser, Sarah Kendall, Miranda Kettlewell, Jeffrey Larson, Lauren Shafer, Emily Vandenberg, and Emily Weaver.

The production will be designed by Greg Silver with lighting by Aimee Hanyzewski.  Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park will be the costume designers, Laura Meinders the props designer, and the production stage manager will be Shelly Sarauer.  Others on the production staff include Thomas Kasdorf, rehearsal pianist; Courtney Kayser, operations manager for University Opera; and Ethan White, lighting board operator.

Following each performance of A KURT WEILL CABARET, audience members will be given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the performance during talk-back sessions with the cast and members of the artistic staff.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at the UW box office. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.

Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in the Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

Click here for parking information.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Band Mom” Phyllis Leckrone Passes

Contact: Jay Rath
(608) 438-0127

Phyllis Bechtold Leckrone, 81, wife of longtime UW Marching Band director Mike Leckrone, passed away early this morning following a long illness. She was surrounded by family.

A native of North Manchester, Ind., she and her husband met in junior high school and became childhood sweethearts. They were married 62 years.

A dedicated educator in her own right, Phyllis Leckrone taught with the Middleton-Cross Plains school district for more than 25 years.

Mike Leckrone joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969. Since then, Phyllis has served as “band mom” to thousands of marching band students. Though behind-the-scenes, her care, dedication and support touched generations of Badger Band members.

Mike and Phyllis Leckrone married in 1955. She is survived by five children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to her favorite charity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

www.stjude.org/donate

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The Carillon returns!

The Carillon returns!

May 26, 2017

For more information: kesposito@wisc.edu

We are happy to report that the UW-Madison Memorial Carillon concerts will resume on Sunday, May 28, 2017, at 3 pm, with Sunday afternoon concerts on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at least through the end of the summer (August). Lyle Anderson, carillonneur, will return after having retired from state employment in August 2016. Since that time, several safety, security and environmental issues in the 80-year-old tower have been addressed. The process is ongoing, so public access to the interior of the tower is not currently possible, but the carillon is best listened to in the area near the tower, on Observatory Drive across from Bascom Hall.

The History of the UW-Madison Memorial Carillon

Bells have been called man’s most universal musical instrument. The UW Memorial Carillon Tower and its bells have been a symbol of the Madison campus for over 80 years. Early in the 20th century, thought was given to provide the dome then atop Bascom Hall with a chime of bells (about a dozen bells that would play melodies). After the dome burned in 1916, ten years of graduating classes, from 1917 through 1926, contributed their senior gifts, called Class Memorials, to this purpose. By 1932 it was clear the dome was never going to be rebuilt, but the fund had accrued enough interest to consider building a free-standing tower and furnishing it with a 36-bell carillon, an instrument with a long history in the area of present-day Belgium, northern France and the Netherlands, where it had reached a high degree of perfection in the 17th century. But by the late 19th century, even the art of making a well-tuned bell was completely lost, to be rediscovered in England in 1899. The firm of Gillett and Johnston, of Croydon, England, became a leading bell foundry and began installing carillons in North America in the 1920s, providing a set of 25 bells in 1936 for the University of Wisconsin tower. The tower had been completed nearly a year previous, at a cost of about $30,000.

Although five additional small bells were added in 1937, by the late 1950s, four octaves of about 49 bells had become desirable to play most carillon music, so the carillon was expanded in 1963 to 51 bells, the additional bells cast by the French firm of Paccard, but with a keyboard that would accommodate 56 bells, paid for entirely by funds raised among Wisconsin alumni. The largest of the original bells cast in England weighs about 3,000 pounds, but it was always anticipated that eventually the carillon would be anchored by a bell weighing nearly 7,000 pounds. This was achieved in 1973 with the addition of five large bells made by the Royal Eijsbouts foundry of Asten, the Netherlands, who incidentally also replaced all of the French bells installed ten years earlier.

All the bells in the carillon are stationary, being rung by clappers inside each bell that are connected to a fairly simple, completely mechanical mechanism of wires and bars to a keyboard in the room just below the belfry. This is arranged much like a piano keyboard except that the keys are rounded wooden batons played with the ends of a closed hand instead of with fingers. The lowest 18 bells can also be played with the feet, to expand the instrument’s musical versatility. Since the instrument cannot ever be played in any sort of privacy, learning and practicing are accomplished by having a second keyboard with the same dimensions as the “real” one, but striking only small metal bars that are the same pitch as the bells.

Norris Wentworth ’24 led the committee that planned the tower’s construction and became the first “player of the bells,” serving until 1941. Then the carillon was played mostly on a voluntary basis by a series of students in the School of Music. In 1960 Professor John Wright Harvey became the first faculty appointed carillonneur, retiring in 1984, followed by Lyle Anderson in 1986, in a part-time academic staff position, until 2016.

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University Opera presents Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw”

January 31, 2017

Contacts:
David Ronis ronis@wisc.edu
Katherine Esposito kesposito@wisc.edu

 

Fresh from winning two major awards in the 2015-16 National Opera Association Competition, University Opera will present Benjamin Britten’s gothic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, to round out its season.  In this, Britten’s last chamber opera, based on the Henry James novella of the same title, terror takes unexpected forms.  Premiered in 1954, The Turn of the Screw tells of a young governess who is hired to care for two children in an isolated country house in late 19th century England.  She soon realizes that the children are haunted by secrets and spirits that harm them in very real ways and she takes it upon herself to defend them.  In so doing, she is forced to confront the demons she perceives as threats, as well as her own internal ones.

Benjamin Britten in the mid-1960s (photograph by Hans Wild).

Benjamin Britten in the mid-1960s (photograph by Hans Wild).

The Turn of the Screw will be presented in English for three performances, all with projected supertitles.  March 3 at 7:30 PM, March 5 at 3:00 PM, and March 7 at 7:30 PM at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus.  David Ronis, inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of University Opera, will direct and graduate conducting assistant Kyle Knox will conduct the 13-member chamber orchestra.  Musical preparation will be by University Opera’s new vocal coach, Daniel Fung.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online here.

Just as James’s novella is particularly notable for the ambiguity of its story, so is Britten’s opera.  Are the ghosts real?  Or are they creations of the Governess’s delusional mind?  Are the children as innocent as they originally appear, or are they part of a larger, scheme of evil?  What of Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, who reveals some information, but not enough to form a coherent backstory?  And the ghosts themselves – Peter Quint and Miss Jessel – what motivates them?  What do they have at stake?  All these questions hover as this compelling psychological thriller unfolds.

Following each performance of The Turn of the Screw, there will be a talkback session with the cast and members of the artistic staff. Audience members will be given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues raised by this opera.

Leading the cast and alternating the role of the Governess will be Katie Anderson and Erin Bryan.  Alec Brown will play the roles of the Prologue/Peter Quint, Anna Polum will be Miss Jessel and Cayla Rosché will be Mrs. Grose.  Elisheva Pront and Emily Vandenberg will alternate as Flora and guest artists Simon Johnson and Amitabha Shatdal will share the role of Miles.

The production will be designed by Frank Schneeberger with lighting design by John Frautschy.  Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park will design costumes, Meg Huskin will be the assistant director, Holly Berkowitz the dramaturg, and the production stage manager will be Meghan Stecker.  Other staff include Chan Mi Jean and Satoko Hayami, rehearsal pianists; Erin Bryan, operations manager for University Opera; Teresa Sarkela, scenic charge; and Ethan White, lighting board operator.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online here.

Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.  Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended.

If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.

The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.

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UW-Madison Musicians to present “Thank You” concert to Mead Witter Foundation

January 26, 2017

CONTACT:

Beth Larson, beth.larson@wisc.edu
Katherine Esposito kesposito@wisc.edu

UW-Madison Musicians to present “Thank You” concert to Mead Witter Foundation

The University of Wisconsin Mead Witter School of Music will bring two quintet ensembles to the Performing Arts Center in Wisconsin Rapids for a free concert on Thursday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m.  The concert celebrates the Mead Witter Foundation’s $25 million gift to the University of Wisconsin for construction of a new performance center in Madison. The PAC is located at 1801 16th St. South, Wisconsin Rapids.

Following an afternoon of clinic sessions with local students, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, the Wingra Wind Quintet, and Scott Teeple, UW-Madison conducting professor, along with the Lincoln High School Wind Ensemble will present the free public concert designed to educate as well as entertain.  The February 9 concert is open to the public free of charge.  Besides thanking the Foundation for its support, the concert furthers the UW mission of public service through spreading the “Wisconsin Idea.”  About 50 music students from area high schools are expected to attend the afternoon clinic sessions and evening concert.

In the fall of 2015, the Mead Witter Foundation commemorated a century-long relationship between the Witter and Mead families with the University of Wisconsin by providing major funding that enabled the UW-Madison to construct its new music performance building in one phase, rather than in multiple phases over time.  In appreciation of the gift, UW-Madison named its music school the Mead Witter School of Music, and the large concert hall within the performance building will be known as the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall. The new performance building will be sited at the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street adjacent to the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison.

Interior of Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall. Image courtesy of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture and Strang Architects.

Interior of Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall. Image courtesy of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture and Strang Architects.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Regarded as one of the “superb brass ensembles in the USA” (Musicweb International) and praised for “remarkable musicianship and versatility” (International Trumpet Guild Journal), the widely acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet (WBQ) has maintained a position at the forefront of brass chamber music since the group’s founding in 1972. WBQ is one of three faculty chamber ensembles in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. In addition to its regular concert series on the campus, the Quintet performs extensively throughout the Midwest and nationally, including appearances in New York at Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall. Current members of WBQ are John Aley and Matthew Onstad, trumpets; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and Tom Curry, tuba.

Wingra Wind Quintet

Since its formation in 1965, the Wingra Wind Quintet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music has established a tradition of artistic and teaching excellence.  The ensemble has been featured in performance at national conferences such as MENC (Miami), MTNA (Kansas City), and the International Double Reed Society (Minneapolis). In addition to its extensive home state touring, the quintet has been invited to perform at numerous college campuses, including the universities of Alaska-Fairbanks, Northwestern, Chicago, Nebraska, Western Michigan, Florida State, Cornell, the Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Paris Conservatoire, where quintet members offered master classes. New York Times critic Peter Davis, in reviewing the ensemble’s Carnegie Hall appearance, stated “The performances were consistently sophisticated, sensitive, and thoroughly vital. Current members of Wingra Wind Quintet are Stephanie Jutt, flute; Aaron Hill, oboe; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Joanna Schulz, horn; and Amy McCann, clarinet.

 

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Two More Awards for University Opera

University Opera scores again with national recognition

Awards for two shows in 2015-2016

UW-Madison’s University Opera is on a roll. Both shows from last year, Transformations and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, have won awards in the National Opera Association’s (NOA) Opera Production Competition for 2015-2016. It is the second year in a row that UW-Madison has garnered an award from NOA, and the first time that each production was separately recognized. University Opera produces only two operas each year.

October 2015’s Le nozze di Figaro, with orchestra conducted by James Smith, placed second in Division IV, and March 2016’s Transformations, conducted by graduate assistant conductor Kyle Knox, garnered a first place award in Division III.

Dress rehearsal for "Transformations." With Brian Schneider as Iron Hans (Cayla Rosche and Michael Hoke, background). David Ronis, opera director. Image by Michael R. Anderson.

Dress rehearsal for “Transformations.” With Brian Schneider as Iron Hans (Cayla Rosche and Michael Hoke, background). David Ronis, opera director. Image by Michael R. Anderson.

Both productions were directed by David Ronis, inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, who is now a six-time winner of the competition. His previous awards occurred while he worked at Queens College in New York.

The two winning UW-Madison productions carried casts and crew of different sizes and strengths and were produced at different budgetary levels, hence their separation into distinct categories.

In 2014-15, University Opera won third prize in NOA’s Division III for Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring.

Ronis accepted the awards at the NOA convention in Santa Barbara last weekend. “Needless to say, I’m very proud,” he said. “While last year’s award put University Opera on the national map in a very public way, these two wins firmly establish us among the premier collegiate opera producing organizations in the country,”

The competition is blind, meaning that performing companies are not identified to judges. Those eligible include small professional opera companies and opera training programs from academic institutions, music conservatories, summer opera training programs, and opera outreach programs. Entries are separated into seven divisions by the judges; the criteria include the size and scope of institution’s music and opera program and the level of vocal training of the singers in the cast.

Though judging is always subjective, Ronis says he isn’t surprised that both shows won awards. “I was very proud of Figaro – the production was elegant, the storytelling clear, and it was well-sung, well-played, and well-conducted,” he says. “Transformations was definitely more of a challenge artistically, but very rewarding to produce.  The students involved became quite personally engaged with telling Anne Sexton’s fairy tale settings, and the result was a wonderfully creative, funny, yet moving production which packed a deep emotional punch.”

Although both winning productions received praise in the local press, Transformations, a dark yet humorous opera based on Grimm’s fairy tales as re-imagined by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton, was singled out as being particularly imaginative.

“Ronis’s direction (he also serves as visiting director of the opera program) is richly inventive, with snippets of choreography throughout, including a conga line and a parody of the Supremes. The staging is delightful, using the full height of the set to frame and reframe action. This entire production would easily compare well to any professional opera company,” wrote author Jay Rath in Isthmus.

University Opera’s next production will be The Turn of the Screw, Benjamin Britten’s operatic setting of Henry James’s novella.  Premiered in 1954, the composer’s final chamber opera tells of a young governess who is hired to care for two children in an isolated country house in mid-19th century England. She soon realizes that the children are haunted by secrets and spirits that harm them in very real ways. University Opera’s telling of Britten’s gothic horror opera chillingly challenges audiences to consider the very existence of ghosts.

The production will be directed by Ronis and conducted by Kyle Knox, with musical preparation by Daniel Fung, assistant adjunct professor of vocal coaching.  Members of the cast will include Erin Bryan and Katie Anderson, who will split the role of the Governess, Alec Brown (Prologue and Quint), Cayla Rosché (Mrs. Grose), and Anna Polum (Miss Jessel).  The roles of the children in the opera will be played by Elisheva Pront and Emily Vandenberg (Flora) and Simon Johnson and Amitabha Shatdal (Miles).  Set design will be by Frank Schneeberger; lighting by John Frautschy, and costumes by Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park.  Additional staff include Greg Silver, technical director; Meg Huskin, assistant director, and Meghan Stecker, stage manager.

Performance dates are March 3-7, 2017.  Buy tickets online or at the Memorial Union box office.

 

 

 

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2017 Annual Schubertiade to feature acclaimed soprano Emily Birsan

ALSO IN JANUARY: Violinist Soh-Hyun Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor team up for an afternoon of exquisite sonatas from Fauré and Corigliano. Sunday, January 22, 4 PM. Learn more here.


Join pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, and friends on the stage and seats

of Mills Hall for January’s “Schubertiade,” an intimate homage to the music,

loves and life of Romantic composer Franz Schubert.

The concert will take place Sunday, January 29, at a new time, 3:00 PM.

Fischer is a UW-Madison professor of collaborative piano and piano and Bill Lutes is emeritus artist-in-residence.

Martha Fischer & Bill Lutes. Image by Katrin Talbot.

Martha Fischer & Bill Lutes. Image by Katrin Talbot.

The concert will be followed by a reception (included in the ticket cost) at the University Club. Tickets are $15 per adult and $5 for students. The concert is sponsored by Madison resident Ann Boyer, an admirer of Franz Schubert’s music and the musical talents of Fischer and Lutes.

Tickets may be purchased online, at the Memorial Union Box Office or in Mills Hall, one hour before the concert.

The evening will include a special guest, the much-acclaimed soprano and UW-Madison alumna, Emily Birsan. Among other works, she will sing Schubert’s Epistle to Josef von Spaun, D. 749 – a brilliant and humorous send-up of the Italian operatic style that was all the rage in Vienna during Schubert’s lifetime.

Emily Birsan.

Emily Birsan.

Other performers will include Mead-Witter School of Music faculty Mimmi Fulmer, soprano and Paul Rowe, baritone; School of Music alumni Daniel O’ Dea, tenor and Benjamin Schultz, baritone; and current graduate students Anna Polum, soprano, Rebecca Bechtel and Jessica Kasinski, mezzo sopranos, and Wesley Dunnagan, tenor.

Schubert was born on January 31, 1797, and lived only 31 years. In his day, his music was cherished, but mostly by his personal circle. UW-Madison’s “Schubertiade” extends that circle to include the entire seating chart in Mills Hall.

The theme for this year’s Schubertiade is “Circle of Friends,” says co-organizer Lutes.

He writes: “Moritz von Schwind, a important German painter of the 19th century, was a young man when he became part of the group that was present at the first Schubertiade — those social gatherings given over to charades, poetry reading, dancing and imbibing – but most particularly to the performance of Schubert’s music, often with the composer himself at the piano.

“These almost legendary occasions were immortalized by Schwind in his famous painting ‘A Schubert Evening at Josef von Spaun’s,’ created in 1868, when these glorious moments had become distant and cherished memories. Schubert is indeed at the piano, with the great baritone Johann Michael Vogel seated to the composer’s right. Depicted are many of the poets, artists, lawyers and civil servants, and close friends who first heard Schubert’s music. In some cases, they are individuals with whom Schubert collaborated in the creation of songs, and our program will include a many settings of poetry by Schubert’s friends: Schober, Mayrhofer, Spaun, Schlechta and others.

A Schubert Evening at the Home of Josef von Spaun on December 15, 1826. Sepia drawing by Moritz von Schwind (1804-1871), 1868.

A Schubert Evening at the Home of Josef von Spaun on December 15, 1826. Sepia drawing by Moritz von Schwind (1804-1871), 1868.

“In addition we will include a group of songs that Schubert assembled in 1816 and presented to Theresa Grob, a young soprano whom he had hoped to marry. Other highlights will be a Cantata written for the birthday of Vogl, for soprano, tenor, baritone and piano and a great piano duet composition, the Theme and Variations in A-flat major, D. 814.

“Emily Birsan will perform the ‘flower-ballad’ Viola, D. 786, and two Italian canzonas, D. 688 and the previously mentioned Epistle to Josef von Spaun. She will conclude the program with one of Schubert’s best-loved songs, Ellen’s 3rd Song from Scott’s The Lady of the Lake….also known as Ave Maria.”

“The concert will close with an audience singalong of ‘An die Musik.’

“We offer this program of musical collaboration in a spirit of camaraderie, good will, and love for Schubert and his music, in celebration of the composer’s 220th birthday on January 31. From Schubert’s Circle of Friends we reach out to our own Circle of Friends, including the sponsor of these Schubertiades: Ann Boyer.”

Tickets may be purchased online, at the Memorial Union Box Office or in Mills Hall, one hour before the concert.

Read this news story about our Schubertiade in 2015.

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2016-2017 Concerto Competition Winners Announced – Concert Feb. 12

Two violinists, one pianist, one trumpeter, and one vocalist will solo with UW Symphony Orchestra with conductor James Smith. In addition, the music of composition student Nathan Froebe will be performed.

The concert is in Mills Hall at 7:30 PM.  There will be a free public reception immediately following at the University Club, 803 State Street.

Ticketed: $10 adults; students & children free. Buy tickets here or at the door.

The winners are:

  • Violinist Shing Fung (Biffa) Kwok, a doctoral student of Prof. David Perry and recipient of a Collins Fellowship. He will perform Tzigane by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).
  • Violinist Matthew Lee, an undergraduate senior who studies with Prof. Soh-Hyun Altino. He will perform the cadenza from the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, opus 77 of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).
  • Trumpeter Matthew Onstad, a master’s student of Prof. John Aley. He’ll perform the Trumpet Concerto in F Minor, Op. 18 by Oskar Böhme (1870-1938).
  • Soprano Anna Polum, who will sing “Amour, ranime mon courage,” written by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) for his opera adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Anna studies with voice professor James Doing.
  • Pianist Shuk-Ki Wong, to perform the first movement of the Piano Concerto in G Major by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Shuk-ki studies with Professors Christopher Taylor and Jessica Johnson.
  • Composition student Nathan Froebe (not pictured) is the winner of this year’s composer’s contest. More information coming soon.
L-R: Shuk-Ki Wong; Matthew Lee; Anna Polum; Matthew Onstad; Biffa Kwok. Photograph by Hannah Olson.

L-R: Shuk-Ki Wong; Matthew Lee; Anna Polum; Matthew Onstad; Biffa Kwok. Photograph by Hannah Olson.

A native of Hong Kong, Biffa Kwok began his violin lessons at the age of ten, studying with Chu Tong Lo. In 2004, Kwok entered the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and graduated in 2013 with a bachelor of music degree in violin performance. Kwok also holds a master’s degree in violin performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Mikhail Kopelman, former leader of the Borodin and Tokyo String Quartets.

Kwok has received many awards, including the ExxonMobil Scholarship, Chan Ho Choi Enchanting Music Scholarship during his studies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts; the Eastman Graduate Assistantship during his master program at the Eastman School of Music, and the James R. Smith Orchestral Leadership award during his studies at the Mead Witter School of Music.

Kwok has collaborated with many artists such as Trevor Pinnock, Uroš Lajovic, Perry So, Kokman Liu, Neil Varon, Brad Lubman, Zhu Dan, Nobuko Imai, and John Demain. A strong advocate of chamber music, Kwok actively participated in many chamber performances, including masterclasses with the Chilingirian; the Endellion; the Penderecki; the Ying, and the Dover string quartets. Kwok also actively performed in orchestral performances including participation in the Academy (Hong Kong) Symphony Orchestra; Eastman Philharmonia; Eastman Graduate Chamber Orchestra; Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes (Elmira, NY), the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of Sound Out Loud, an ensemble based in Madison that specializes in performing contemporary music.

At UW, Kwok studies violin performance and arts administration. The ten-minute work he will perform, “Tzigane” by Maurice Ravel, is a Hungarian-styled rhapsody written in the early 1920s and first played by the Hungarian-English violinist Jelly d’Aranyi—a great-niece of the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim— in 1924. The name “Tzigane” is derived from the generic European term for gypsy, and it shows Ravel’s interest in violin showmanship in the manner of Paganini and Sarasota.

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Violinist Matthew Lee is a Madison native and former member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra is is majoring in music performance and biology. Matthew began playing the violin at age 6 and studied with Hiram Pearcy for eleven years prior to entering college. He performed with WYSO orchestras for eight years, serving as concertmaster for the Youth Orchestra from 2011-12, including during their Eastern European Tour in 2012. He was a winner of the Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition in 2013, received honorable mentions in the Madison Symphony Orchestra Bolz concerto competition. At UW-Madison, his teachers have included Eugene Purdue and Prof. Altino.

“I chose this piece because I love Shostakovich’s work in general,” says Matthew. “His violin concerto is significant because it was written during a time when Shostakovich was scrutinized carefully by the Soviet government, in a time of increased arrests of people who wrote in an anti-Soviet manner. The violin concerto was therefore hidden from the public until after Stalin’s death. I love the whole concerto, but the cadenza and fourth movement stand out because of the desolate, barren quality of the cadenza transitioning into the exaggerated, frenzied movement of the burlesque.”

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Trumpeter Matthew Onstad, who hails from Beaver Dam, is pursuing a master’s degree in trumpet performance, studying with Prof. John Aley. He is a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and recently won the post of principal trumpet with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, where he holds the Francis Neiswanger Memorial Principal Trumpet chair. Aside from his duties with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, Matthew has been a member of the 132nd US Army National Guard Band since 2012, and has performed with the Madison and Oshkosh Symphony Orchestras. Matthew received his bachelor’s of music degree at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where he studied with Marty Robinson and Robert Levy.

“The Böhme is one of the very few well-known trumpet concerti that was written in the Romantic era of music,” Matt says.”Although it is not a ‘standard’ in the trumpet repertoire, it certainly deserves the title, with all of the different colors it offers to the audience. It’s outer movements demonstrate virtuosic and acrobatic technique, while the inner movement possesses such beauty and sensitivity, thus making it one of my favorite pieces of music to perform.”

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Soprano Anna Polum is a native of Kodiak, Alaska, and is pursuing a master’s degree in voice performance, studying with Prof. James Doing. She holds degrees in music education and voice performance from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Anna has won or placed in competitions offered by the National Organization of Teachers of Singing in both Alaska and Wisconsin. Recently, she sang Contessa Almaviva in University Opera’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro, and next spring will sing Miss Jessel in University Opera’s production of The Turn of the Screw. For the 2016-2017 season, Anna is the soprano studio artist for Madison Opera and covered the roles of Juliet in the company’s performances of Romeo and Juliet; Chan Parker in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird; and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). She will also sing the role of Papagena in the same production of Die Zauberflöte.

Gounod’s operatic adaption of Romeo & Juliet premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for Faust, Romeo & Juliet was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.

“I covered Juliet with Madison Opera this past November, so this role is fresh for me,” Anna says. “The setting is quite dramatic, especially in the middle recitative section, where Juliet envisions Tybalt’s ghost coming for her and Romeo. Between her fear of losing Romeo and her love for Romeo, she decides to take the poison that Friar Lawrence gives her, claiming ‘je bois a toi!,’ meaning ‘I drink to thee (meaning Romeo).’ I love the dramatic flair to this piece, especially since the rest of the opera is quite mellow, flowing in and out of love duets and party scenes.”

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Hong Kong native Shuk-Ki Wong is a doctoral pianist who studies piano performance and pedagogy with Professors Christopher Taylor and Jessica Johnson. She was a winner of the 31st Annual Beethoven Piano Competition at UW-Madison as well as the Exhibition Award from Trinity College London, and has appeared as soloist at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong City Hall and Verbrugghen Hall in Australia. During her studies, Shuk-Ki was invited to perform at the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival and the Asia-Pacific Music Summit, and she has participated in master classes with Colin Stone, Sa Chen, Stephen Savage, Murray McLachlan and Jack Winerock. Shuk-Ki is also on the piano faculty at the School of Professional and Continuing Education in Madison Technical College, where she teaches students with diverse interests and abilities.

Shuk-Ki obtained her bachelor of music degree and diploma of music from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts with the support of the First Initiative Foundation Music Scholarship and Grantham Scholarship. She subsequently received the Molly McAulay Memorial Scholarship to fully support her graduate studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, under the tutelage of Mr. Clemens Leske.

“The brightness, energy, and the blend of ‘light-hearted and brilliant’ qualities and jazz music in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major have drawn my interest, and I am excited to perform this masterpiece with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra,” she says.

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Laura Schwendinger’s Opera “Artemisia” Slated for New York Premiere

New opera sheds light on Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Baroque’s most respected female painters

By Michael Muckian

Artemisia, the recently completed opera by the University of Wisconsin’s Laura Elise Schwendinger, has been scheduled for its world premiere performance January 7 in New York City as part of Trinity Church Wall Street’s 2016-2017 performance season.

Laura Schwendinger

Laura Schwendinger

A concert performance from the opera about 17th Century Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi by Schwendinger, professor of music composition at the UW’s Mead Witter School of Music, will be part of the ensemble’s Time’s Arrow Festival. Schwendinger’s composition will be one of four world premieres to be performed during the free concert series. Schwendinger has written large vocal works before, but this is her first opera.

“This is a magnificent group of musicians, and maestro Julian Wachner is a gifted composer and conductor who is always challenging himself,” Schwendinger said. “It is an honor to have my work presented by them.”

The annual festival, which features music spanning three centuries, will take place at St. Paul’s Chapel, located at 209 Broadway. The concert series will help celebrate the 250th anniversary of St. Paul’s, Manhattan’s oldest church whose doors first opened October 30, 1766.

The January performance of Artemisia, co-commissioned by New York’s Trinity Wall Street Novus and San Francisco’s Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, will feature mezzo-soprano Patricia Green as Artemisia, Marnie Breckenridge as Susanna, baritone Andrew Garland as Tassi and tenor Andrew Fuchs as Tomasso. The performance is free.

“The story of Artemisia hit me when I was an artist-in-residence in Rome (in 2009),” said Schwendinger, who herself paints. “I visited a lot of galleries and was struck by her works, including “Judith Slaying Holofernes.” There weren’t very many acclaimed women painters at the time.”

Schwendinger and librettist Ginger Strand, essayist and author of The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2015), hope that Artemisia will change the historical perception of Gentileschi, who lived from 1593 to 1656.

Schwendinger, the first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize, read a biography of the artist, who like many of her contemporaries worked in the style of Caravaggio. It was during discussions with Strand, a former college art history major who was aware of Artemisia and her work, that the idea of an opera based on her life began to gel.

“This is the kind of project that mixes my love of art with the story of an important women artist,” Schwendinger says. “It’s a nice connection.”

Artemisia Gentileschi - Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.

Artemisia Gentileschi – Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting. Public Domain.

While Gentileschi holds the high honor of being the first female member of Florence’s prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno and was a respected artist in her time, history books remembered her more as a teenage victim of rape by her tutor, fellow artist Agostino Tassi.

Following the assault and the older Tassi’s ultimate failure to marry the 16-year-old girl as promised, Gentileschi’s father, the Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi, pressed charges against Tassi for taking his daughter’s virginity. The lawsuit, highly unusual for the time, resulted in long, protracted proceedings, during which Gentileschi was subject to gynecological exams and torture to verify her testimony.

The proceedings also revealed a plot by Tassi to murder his wife, adding to the sensationalism of the lawsuit. Tassi eventually was sentenced to one year in prison, but never served any time.

Gentileschi would go on to have a long and successful career, rare for a female painter in her time. But later generations would obscure her contributions to the Baroque period, and some of her work was even attributed to other artists.

Artemisia Gentileschi - Judith Beheading Holofernes. Public Domain.

Artemisia Gentileschi – Judith Beheading Holofernes. Public Domain.

In recent years, that perception has begun to shift back, with Gentileschi again credited as one of the period’s greatest painters. Schwendinger hopes her opera can spread Gentileschi’s story, further righting the wrong done to her by historians.

Artemisia Gentileschi - Clio, The Muse of History

Artemisia Gentileschi – Clio, The Muse of History. Public Domain.

Born in Mexico City to a pair of U.S. foreign exchange students and raised in Berkeley, California, Schwendinger began making up melodies at age 4 and playing the flute at age 8.

When she applied to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study flute, her application included several compositions as well, which caught the eye of composer John Adams, best known for his operas Doctor Atomic and Nixon in China. He invited her to study composition with him, and she afterward went on to receive both her master’s degree and Ph.D. in music from the University of California-Berkeley, where she studied with her mentor and thesis advisor Andew Imbrie.

Her career has since seen her music played extensively both here and abroad, including at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall in London and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, and has been toured as well as recorded by some of the leading musicians of our time, including the singer Dawn Upshaw. She has been a professor at UW-Madison for more than a decade.

The University recently awarded her a $60,000 Kellett Mid-Career Award, a grant sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and awarded to nine other faculty members for the 2016–17 academic year.

Schwendinger also received $16,500 as part of OPERA America’s $200,000 Discovery Grants for Female Composers, awarded to seven women and seven opera companies, which she will use in addition to the Kellett Award to mount upcoming productions of Artemisia. The entire opera will be fully produced by the award-winning Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in San Francisco in 2018.

“I hope that Artemisia resonates with those there and beyond, but that is not something a composer can predict,” Schwendinger said. “The composer creates the best art she can and hopes that it will mean something to the public and move the people who experience it.”

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Wisconsin Day of Percussion–January 21, 2017

Wisconsin Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society Presents “Wisconsin Day of Percussion”

January 21, 2017 at the Mead Witter School of Music

Hosted by Anthony Di Sanza, professor of percussion, and the UW-Madison Percussion Studio

On January 21, 2017 the Wisconsin chapter of the Percussive Arts Society will present the all-day Wisconsin Day of Percussion in the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead-Witter School of Music. The Wisconsin DOP is an annual event, hosted this year by Anthony Di Sanza and the UW-Madison Percussion Studio, that showcases the diversity of percussion, including drum set, Brazilian drumming, marching percussion, orchestral percussion, timpani, cajon, keyboard percussion sight reading, drum circle, and much more.

UW School of Music

The day will include multiple performances, clinics, and presentations, starting at 8:30 AM and ending at 7 PM. Percussionists of all experience levels are encouraged to attend. In addition, there will be many sessions that non-percussionist band directors will find helpful to understand and teach the percussive arts. An all-day pass is available for $15 and are purchased at the door.

Headlining the day’s events will be Doug Waddell, who performs with the Chicago Lyric Opera and Grant Park Symphony, and Dave Stanoch, a percussionist with notable singers including George Clinton, Sheryl Crow, and Bonnie Raitt. Stanoch is an alumnus of UW-Madison.

Other concert performers will include the UW-Madison World and Western Percussion Ensembles; the Percussion Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra; the College All Star Percussion Ensemble, college soloists and selected high school percussion ensembles.

In addition, a high school and middle school Percussion Ensemble Festival will be held in conjunction with the DOP. University faculty will coach the participating schools in 30 minute sessions, providing each school with a meaningful and rich educational experience.

Each year the DOP is held on one of Wisconsin’s college/university campuses, inviting percussionists of all ages and experiences to attend and participate in the myriad clinics, concerts and presentations. Past DOP events have been held at UW-River Falls, UW-Whitewater, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Oshkosh. The last time the DOP was held on the UW-Madison campus was in 1999, with Professor Emeritus James Latimer serving as host. This was during professor Latimer’s final semester at UW-Madison prior to his retirement after more than three decades of service to the School of Music.

For more information regarding the Wisconsin Day of Percussion and the HS/MS Percussion Ensemble Festival, please visit the Wisconsin PAS home page:
http://community.pas.org/wisconsin/upcomingevents/daysofpercussion89

2017-dop-poster

 

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University Opera presents Verdi’s Falstaff, re-envisioned in Hollywood, 1930

As part of the worldwide commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, University Opera will present Verdi’s final masterpiece, Falstaff.  Based on material from The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV, and Henry V, Falstaff is a wild, comic romp.  In the UW-Madison production, updated to Hollywood in 1930, Falstaff is a has-been silent movie actor, out of work with the advent of the “talkies,” holding onto his former glory and living beyond his means at the Chateau Marmont.  Now a petty criminal, Falstaff puts the make on Alice Ford and Meg Page in an effort to bilk their husbands of money.  The ladies, incensed at his audacity, hatch a plot to give Falstaff his comeuppance.  But not before Mr. Ford, (a movie studio executive in the UW production) acting on his own ill-founded suspicions, gets involved and complicates matters.  At the end, all are reconciled as both men are taught their respective lessons.

falstaffad

Falstaff will be presented in Italian with English supertitles for three performances, November 11 at 7:30 pm, November 13 at 3:00 pm, and November 15 at 7:30 pm in Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus.  Directed by David Ronis with James Smith conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra, the production will involve over 90 UW singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew.  This production opens just one week after the national traveling exhibit of Shakespeare’s First Folio arrives at the Chazen Museum of Art.

Buy tickets here.

Following the success of the panel discussion before University Opera’s production of Transformations last spring, Ronis will again be assembling a panel of colleagues to discuss Falstaff on Friday, November 11 at 6:00pm in the Music Hall, admission free.  Featured panelists include:

Joshua Calhoun, Assistant Professor of English, UW-Madison

Cabell Gathman, Lecturer, Dept. of Gender and Women’s Studies, UW-Madison

Steffen Silvis, Dramaturg and Doctoral Candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, UW-Madison

David Ronis, Karen K. Bishop Director of University Opera, UW-Madison

Susan Cook, Pamela O. Hamel/Music Board of Advisors Director of the Mead Witter School of Music, Moderator

Paul Rowe, Professor of Voice at UW-Madison, will sing the title role amidst a cast featuring current students and a couple of guest alums.  The principal ladies’ roles will be filled by Yanzelmalee Rivera and Sarah Kendall (Alice Ford), Courtney Kayser and Talia Engstrom (Meg Page), Emily Weaver and Claire Powling (Nannetta), Rebecca Buechel and Jessica Kasinski (Quickly).  The men in the cast will be alum Brian Schnieder and guest artist Richard Schonberg (Ford), José Muñiz (Fenton), Wesley Dunnagan (Dr. Caius), Jiabao Zhang (Bardolfo) and alum Benjamin Schultz (Pistola).  Assisting Maestro Smith will be Kyle Knox, assistant conductor, with musical preparation by new professor of opera and vocal coaching, Dr. Daniel Fung, Chan Mi Jean, and chorus master, Christopher Boveroux.

The physical production will be designed by Greg Silver.  Costume design is by Sydney Krieger, and Hyewon Park, lighting design by Kenneth Ferencek, props design by David Heuer, and the production stage manager will be Alec Brown.  The production staff include Erin Bryan, operations manager for University Opera; Jimmy Dewhurst and Daniel Lewis, master electricians; and Ethan White, lighting board operator.

Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.arts.wisc.edu/ (click “box office”). Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 12:00-5:00 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings.  Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended. If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact opera@music.wisc.edu. Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.

 

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Christopher Taylor to Debut New Piano

From the Mead Witter School of Music
University of Wisconsin-Madison
September 13, 2016

In a marriage of the Baroque and the modern, celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor will debut his much-anticipated new electronic double-keyboard piano this October 28, performing J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”

The “Variations” is an 80-minute work once dubbed a “Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture” that Bach wrote around 1741 for a double-keyboard harpsichord.

Not by coincidence, Taylor will play Bach’s “Rubik’s cube” on a brand-new piano that could be described in much the same way.

Named the “Hyperpiano” by Taylor, it is actually three instruments – two of them ordinary concert grands, the third a special double-keyboard console designed by Taylor – connected by a riot of sensors and wires, with a mechanism that feels nearly normal for the performer but offers sonic possibilities that are unique.

Click here to view images of the “Hyperpiano” in development at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery “fab lab”

Taylor developed the piano over several years in a laboratory at the Morgridge Institutes for Research, assisted by many faculty and technicians who trained him to machine new parts using computers and guided him as he designed 60-odd circuit boards that make the instrument run. In addition, Taylor wrote several thousand lines of computer code that manage sensing and communications. In 2014, Taylor received United States patent # 8,664,497 B2 for the “Hyperpiano.”

Taylor entering the "fab lab" at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Taylor entering the “fab lab” at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

His inspiration to develop it came from another unusual instrument that he inherited shortly after coming to UW-Madison in 2000, a double-keyboard piano made by Steinway in 1929.

Johann Sebastian Bach was known as a composer who welcomed new concepts in musical instruments. Accordingly, Taylor says, Bach designed the Goldberg Variations for the most deluxe instrument of his day, a double-keyboard harpsichord with a four-and-a-half octave range. Today, musicians often perform the work on a regular piano, but must generally “resort to tricks, compromises, fudging or outright studio chicanery to play all the notes as Bach wrote them,” as writer Tom Huizenga wrote in his blog, “Deceptive Cadence.”

The Hyperpiano will allow Taylor to overcome those obstacles. “I can recreate effects more like what Bach imagined, even while producing at the same time completely novel musical results,” Taylor says.

Taylor was a bronze medal winner in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, at which he performed the Goldberg Variations, among other works, on a standard single-keyboard Steinway. He also holds a degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

The concert will take place on Friday, October 28, at 8 PM in Mills Hall, Humanities, 455 North Park Street. There will be one intermission.

Tickets for adults are $18; for students, $5. They may be purchased at Campus Arts Ticketing or in person at the Memorial Union Box Office.

Patrons are advised to arrive early.

Mills Hall seats 700, of which 100 seats will be reserved on a first-call basis for music students, staff and faculty.


Christopher Taylor’s “Hyperpiano” Creates New Musical Possibilities

By Michael Muckian

“I would never be content as a pianist to play the same half-dozen pieces the same way year in and year out,” Taylor explained. “In piano literature, we have a vast array of great compositions, but we are always questing for new variety.”

Christopher Taylor grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where his father taught physics at the University of Colorado and his mother was a high school English instructor. The family owned a piano and Taylor initially was taught to play by a neighbor down the street.

The casual lessons didn’t last long; by age 10, the young pianist was playing Beethoven. By high school he was composing music.

While music was his first love, Taylor also proved gifted in mathematics, a field that seemed to offer a more stable career path. The young pianist chose to follow that thread, graduating summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard University in 1992.

During those same years, Taylor also studied piano under Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he began to attract the attention of the East Coast classical music community. In 1990, at the end of his sophomore year, Taylor won the University of Maryland’s William Kapell International Piano Competition, and later that same year made his performance debut in Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

However, Taylor’s watershed moment came in 1993 at the age of 23, when he earned a bronze medal at the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, for his performances of works by Beethoven, Boulez and Brahms, as well as Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” now a standard part of his repertoire. For the young mathematician-slash-pianist, the competition win sealed his fate.

Christopher Taylor performing in Mills Hall, Feb. 2015. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

Christopher Taylor performing in Mills Hall, Feb. 2015. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

“I had sat on the fence between music and mathematics for many years, but the bronze medal made the decision for me,” Taylor said. But while his musical career had become ascendant, he kept up his math and computer studies. “I didn’t want to put the other parts of my brain on ice.”

The newly minted concert pianist, who would go on to earn critical accolades such as “frighteningly talented” (The New York Times) and “a great pianist” (The Los Angeles Times), knew that his mathematics training went far to inform and support his music.

Both disciplines draw on similar mental skill sets, Taylor explained, noting that hours of piano practice can provide the necessary rigor to solve a complex mathematical proof.

“Music performance is more visceral than math, but when I’m performing I am definitely using the logical part of my brain,” he added. “Mentally understanding a piece of music is essential to surviving a performance.”


Following the Van Cliburn competition win, Taylor became a touring musician. His new wife wanted to pursue her doctorate in musicology at the University of Michigan, so the couple moved to Ann Arbor while Taylor spent weeks on the road playing several dozen concerts per year across the U.S. and in Europe.

Life on the road proved strenuous for the young pianist, who became known for his intense, sweat-soaked, highly physical performances. Eventually, Taylor decided he might want to teach. When the University of Wisconsin offered Taylor a faculty position in 2000, his family moved to Madison.

At UW-Madison, Taylor came across a prototype that would prove the foundation for his new invention. And he can credit a little known Hungarian composer for the introduction.

Emánuel Moór, who during his life composed five operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral works, is best remembered today as the inventor of the Moór Pianoforte, a double-keyboard instrument that attempted to replicate the benefits of the harpsichord and organ in the piano format. It boasted a two-tiered keyboard, but space within the cabinet allowed for only 76 keys on the top tier instead of the usual 88. The layout of the 164 keys allowed one hand to stretch across a range of over two octaves at once, creating a richer and fuller sound.

Watch a video of Taylor describing his plan for a new piano.

Moór was a professional colleague of composer Maurice Ravel and cellist Pablo Casals, both of whom championed his work, including his pianoforte. Despite such celebrity support, many musicians considered Moór’s instrument more of a novelty and found it difficult, if not impossible, to play.

European manufacturers produced about 60 pianofortes during the 1920s, including one made in 1929 in Hamburg, Germany, by Steinway. Until very recently, that particular instrument occupied a corner of Taylor’s cramped office in the Mosse Humanities Building.

The Moór pianoforte found its way to UW-Madison after Danish pianist Gunnar Johansen became the university’s artist in residence in 1939. Enthralled with the strange instrument, Johansen lobbied university donors until they broke down and bought it for him on the condition that its ownership revert to the university upon the pianist’s death.

By the time Johansen died in 1991, interest in the pianoforte had waned. It lay in storage for 14 years until Taylor rediscovered it in 2005. He performed on the pianoforte in dozens of concerts across the country, eventually getting a feel for the instrument and gaining notoriety for his performances. In 2007, the New York Times interviewed Taylor and created a video about the piano. In 2010, while he was in Washington, D.C. for a performance, the Kennedy Center created its own version.

“It’s clever as a musical contrivance, but it’s a little unwieldy and feels strange under your fingers,” Taylor said, noting that corresponding keys on both keyboards end up striking the same string. “You have to work very hard to play the keys because of the Rube Goldberg mechanism that connects them with the hammers.”

Around 2009, having studied the levers, rods, and platforms lurking inside the Moór piano, Taylor decided there might be a better way, a way that would take advantage of 21st-century technology. He began to draw up blueprints, discussed his ideas with a number of experts, and eventually received a grant from the UW Arts Institute to pursue them further. In early 2012 he approached George Petry, a prototyping manager at the Morgridge Institute for Research, to talk about his idea, an idea that much later would be named the “Hyperpiano.” Petry thought Taylor was nuts.

“I thought Chris was crazy because I knew this was going to be so much work,” Petry said. “I have a lot of students coming in who have never built anything before who say they want to build a space shuttle. I thought this was Chris’s space shuttle.”

But Petry gave Taylor the benefit of the doubt, and also a corner in the Morgridge Institute’s Advanced Fabrication Laboratory – better known as the “fab lab” — inside the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building on University Avenue, a home where engineers and inventors collaborate to build prototypes of their ideas. And Petry started to teach Taylor how to use all the computer-operated machines.

Another important teacher was Giri Venkataramanan, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who served as a high-level consultant to the project. “His motivation was sky-high and it sounded like he knew what he was doing,” Venkataramanan said.


At first blush, the Hyperpiano’s double-keyboard console – what Taylor calls the “input device” – looks like a contemporary upright piano that is thicker in girth than normal. It features a two-tiered keyboard with 176 keys total along with five pedals. Hidden inside the cabinet, behind the keys, are two sets of standard mass-produced piano hammers.

But that is where similarities to a regular piano end. There are no strings for these hammers to strike, and Taylor admits that their only function is to mimic the feel of playing a normal single-keyboard piano. In fact, in the absence of strings Taylor had to create special foam bars for the hammers to strike, designed to replicate an ordinary instrument’s behavior but create as little “banging” noise as possible.

“Even building a conventional piano that works is a very difficult process in itself,” says Robert Hohf, a professional piano technician who aided Taylor. “The keyboard orientation and the alignment of parts is unbelievably complicated.”

And with the Hyperpiano, the complications only increased.

Designing an instrument that contains twice the normal number of keys and twice as many hammers, aligning everything inside a single wooden frame, took a massive amount of re-engineering, Taylor says. Each of the 176 keys in the Hyperpiano has a unique shape that had to be specially carved by a router, which got its directions from multiple computer programs written by Taylor.

To actually make music, the double-keyboard console contains electronic sensors that read the movement of the keys during each stroke, then send coded electronic impulses via wires to two player-piano mechanisms called “Vorsetzers.” (First developed in the early twentieth century, Vorsetzers were mechanical key-pressing contraptions that could be attached to the keyboards of ordinary pianos.) The Vorsetzers are affixed to any pair of pianos one has handy, which, in theory, could be some distance away. Thus the motions of the pianist’s fingers on one part of the stage are transmitted instantaneously to produce music emanating    from two other parts of the stage.

Taylor plays Prokofiev

Timing everything so that the music would sound like music—not a jangle of disparate noises – was another hurdle Taylor had to surmount. Taylor’s new technology solves that problem: it senses a fraction of a millimeter of motion as soon as a key is pressed. The sensors immediately send the data to the Vorsetzers, which move the corresponding key the same amount at exactly the same time.

“It involved a lot of software jujitsu to make this happen,” he said. But in the end, “everything is choreographed to deliver the final notes in real time,” he explained.


The Hyperpiano could afford some novel performance opportunities, says Taylor: “For starters, it will be capable of everything the Moór piano can produce: far-flung chords beyond the grasp of ordinary human hands on ordinary pianos, intricate counterpoint where the hands mingle in the same register (effects that would cause impossible traffic jams on a single keyboard), and, with the aid of an extra fourth pedal, sonorities reinforced by extra tones one octave higher than the keys the pianist is actually pressing.

“But it will offer customized behaviors beyond these,” he continues. “The ability to reinforce the pianist’s keypresses with any number of additional notes, so that the motion of a single finger produces an elaborate harmony; novel hybrid sonorities obtained by combining different pedaling patterns on the two subsidiary pianos; repeated notes faster than what ordinary pianos permit; and the interesting spatial effects that will result when the two subsidiary pianos get rolled to different parts of the stage.”

Taylor is eager to produce new arrangements and compositions that take advantage of these musical novelties. “I’m in discussions with a number of composers about the possibility of their contributing to a new chapter in the piano literature,” he says.

With the end of the project in sight, the pianist says he’s pleased with the outcome of his years of work, even as he adjusts to new variations in sound and performance.

“I’m delighted to find that the final product is matching my initial vision pretty closely,” Taylor says. “There is still some tweaking that needs to take place — software refinements mostly — in order to ensure that as a pianist I have the level of musical control that I need. This work may prove challenging, but as in the past I am very determined to overcome the remaining obstacles.”

Venkataramanan agrees and also is thinking ahead to the piano’s next iteration.

Scientists, unfortunately, are never satisfied.

“As a problem-solving exercise, this has been pretty impressive,” the engineering professor says. “But he still runs wires between his keyboards. The next phase would be to do this on a wireless basis and using Cloud technology.”

 

Mr. Taylor is eager to acknowledge the invaluable help he received from a large number of collaborators over the past five years. Apart from piano technician Robert Hohf, machinist George Petry, and EE Professor Giri Venkataramanan, these individuals include: Rock Mackie and Kevin Eliceiri, the former and current directors of the Morgridge Institute for Research, who were amazingly welcoming hosts during his four-plus years in the Fab Lab; UW-Madison piano technician Baoli Liu; Justin Anderson at WARF and Callie Bell of Bell Manning LLC, who shepherded the patent application process; Kevin Earley, who built the wooden housing for the input console; Convenience Electronics of Madison (in particular Betsy Vanden Wymelenberg), who custom assembled the instrument’s many wires and cables; Calvin Cherry, Nate Hess, Brian Urso, and Ryan Solberg, whom Taylor employed to solder together circuit boards and who contributed greatly to his EE education; UW-Madison’s Bill Sethares, along with Terence O’Laughlin and Alberto Rodriguez of Madison College, who put Taylor in contact with the aforementioned companies and employees; and the UW Arts Institute, former chancellor John Wiley, and Paul Collins, who provided moral as well as financial support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Third UW-Madison Brass Fest to feature renowned Stockholm Chamber Brass – Sept. 30/Oct. 1

BRASS, BRASS AND MORE BRASS – With No. 3, UW-Madison cements a tradition as a Brass Hub of the Midwest

On September 30 and October 1, 2016, the newly renamed Mead Witter School of Music will welcome the internationally acclaimed Stockholm Chamber Brass to campus for a third annual Brass Fest. The quintet’s tour of upstate New York, Michigan and Wisconsin will be their first-ever appearances in the United States.

The Stockholm Chamber Brass. Credit: Beatrice Winter.

The Stockholm Chamber Brass. Credit: Beatrice Winter.

Brass Fest III will also mark the first time that high school students will play an active role, attending master classes and performing on stage in a final Festival Brass Concert. Area high schools planning to attend include Middleton, Madison East, Madison West, Edgewood, and Memorial.

A number of major instrument makers and music companies, many located in Wisconsin, will also be on hand to display their wares. The School will also offer commemorative fund-raising t-shirts; scroll to bottom to learn more.

The events will include a concert with Stockholm Chamber Brass on Friday, September, 30, at 8 PM, and a second concert on October 1, also at 8 PM, with the Stockholm Chamber Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, UW-Madison student performers and selected high school students. Both concerts will be held in Mills Hall in the Humanities Building.

Tickets: $20 for Friday’s concert ($5.00 non-music students); $15 for Saturday’s concert ($5.00 non-music students). Buy tickets here or at the door.

“We are expanding the festival because our mission is to perform and to teach,” says Daniel Grabois, assistant professor of horn and member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet. “We are motivated by the Wisconsin Idea, and we are making every effort to bring what we do to the population of the state. There are many students in the state who play brass instruments, and we want to include them in our educational mission. We also want to build on the successes of the past two years – many people enthusiastically attended the festival, and we want to make it better, more exciting, and more inclusive.”

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Stockholm Chamber Brass, formed in 1985, consists of some of Scandinavia’s leading brass musicians. Its five members are all prize winners at major international solo competitions, including the ARD-Wettbewerb, CIEM Geneve, Markneukrichen and Toulon. Their international breakthrough came in 1988 when Stockholm Chamber Brass won 1st Prize at “Ville de Narbonne,” the most prestigious international competition for brass quintets.

Stockholm Chamber Brass has performed at Bad Kissingen Sommer, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, Niedesächsische Musiktage, International de Musique Sion Valais, the Prague Spring Music Festival, the Budapest International Music Festival, Festival Internacional de Santander, the Soundstream Festival in Toronto, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s, the Umeå International Chamber Music Festival and the Stockholm New Music Festival. The ensemble has also performed at various brass festivals, including the Lieksa Brass Week, the International Trombone Festival in Helsinki, the Melbourne International Festival of Brass, Epsival Limoge and the Blekinge International Brass Academy.

Stockholm Chamber Brass has received glowing reviews for its CDs. A reviewer at American Record Guide writes, “I cannot imagine that a better brass quintet has ever existed.”

The ensemble’s repertoire consists mostly of original compositions and their own arrangements of older and contemporary music. Their interest in new music has resulted in over thirty compositions written specifically for the ensemble. Stockholm Chamber Brass has worked with a long list of leading composers, including Anders Hillborg, Sven-David Sandström, Pär Mårtensson, Britta Byström, Henrik Strindberg Piers Hellawell and Eino Tamberg. The ensemble has also collaborated with leading brass soloists Håkan Hardenberger and Christian Lindberg.

The current members of the Stockholm Chamber Brass are Urban Agnas, trumpet; Tom Poulson, trumpet; Jonas Bylund, trombone; Annamia Larsson, horn; and Sami Al Fakir, tuba.

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet, formed in 1972, is one of three faculty chamber ensembles in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Deeply committed to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, the group travels widely to offer its concerts and educational services to students and the public in all corners of the state.

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet includes John Aley, trumpet; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Mark Hetzler, trombone; Tom Curry, tuba; and Daniel Grabois, horn.

New this year: Commemorative Limited Edition T-Shirts, featuring our new Brass Fest III logo on the front and “Mead Witter School of Music” on the back. Prices from $11 to $14; all proceeds will support the School of Music. Send an email to t-shirt sales if you’d like to buy one.

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David Ronis Appointed as University Opera’s Permanent Director

David Ronis

David Ronis

The UW-Madison School of Music is pleased to announce that David Ronis, interim University Opera director since 2014, has been selected as the program’s permanent director following a nationally competitive search.

“We are delighted to have hired someone with such wide-ranging experience and expertise, as well as a proven commitment to music education in the 21st century,” said Susan C. Cook, director of the school of music, adding that Ronis also plans to collaborate with other programs on campus and beyond.

The position is endowed, and was initiated with a pledge of $500,000 from Dr. Charles Bishop, CEO of Opko Health’s Renal Division of Miami, Florida. The pledge was in memory of his wife, Karen K. Bishop, who died of cancer in January 2015. Karen Bishop was a successful businesswoman who, after her diagnosis, returned to school for a master’s degree in opera and a doctoral degree in voice, both at UW-Madison.

Dr. Bishop’s gift was matched dollar for dollar with John and Tashia Morgridge’s matching gift for faculty support, making the professorship a reality. It was further bolstered by overwhelming support by the community’s opera lovers and friends.

Ronis will become the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of University Opera and will assume his position in the fall.

David Ronis came to UW-Madison as interim director in 2014 following the retirement of William Farlow. Prior to coming here, Ronis was a faculty member at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College/CUNY, where he directed the opera studio and co-founded the Baroque Opera Workshop, and at Hofstra University, where he taught voice and diction. Four of his productions have won awards in the National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition, most recently his 2014 UW-Madison staging of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. This marked the first time that University Opera has won a national award.

Ronis also has taught at La Lingua della Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy, the Westchester Summer Vocal Institute, and the Maryland Summer Center for the Arts. He has presented master classes and workshops across the country, coaching singers on acting and audition skills. As a performer, he has appeared in opera productions in Europe, Asia and the United States, in concert at Carnegie, Avery Fisher, and Alice Tully Halls, toured the U.S. with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and worked in film and television commercials.

“I look forward to continuing to work with the fine students and terrific colleagues at UW-Madison, ” Ronis said, adding that his plans include continued emphasis on the theatrical aspects of both traditional and contemporary operatic repertory and exploring additional partnerships with campus and community organizations.

“We are so very grateful to Charles Bishop for helping ensure the future health and stability of our opera program. Karen was a remarkable student, and this professorship recognizes her many talents as well as her commitment to the School of Music and the opera program,” added Professor Cook.

Ronis will be only the third director of University Opera. The program began informally in 1958, with Karlos Moser formally appointed as director in 1961. He served until 1998 and was replaced by William Farlow, who retired in 2014.

 

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University Opera Presents “Transformations”: Fairy Tales with a Twist!

February 12, 2016

This spring, University Opera will present Transformations, Conrad Susa’s daring 1973 chamber opera with texts by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. Transformations will be directed by Interim Director of Opera, David Ronis, and conducted by Kyle Knox, who recently conducted Madison Opera’s production of Little Women.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

Anne Sexton. Photograph by Gwendolyn Stewart.

This new production will be performed in English with projected supertitles in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Hill, on Friday, March 11 at 7:30 PM; Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 PM; and Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM.

Transformations is an adult re-telling of ten classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through Sexton’s eyes. Her struggle with depression and mental illness frames the darkly humorous and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-twentieth-century references, both literary and musical. As the singers play multiple characters, Sexton and Susa shed light on a variety of unexplored psychological implications of these stories, often using a confessional, even confrontational approach. The result is a wild ride – a true ensemble piece that is both wickedly funny and profoundly resonant.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Sexton was also a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and the first female member of the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. She committed suicide in 1974 at age 45.

The UW-Madison production sets Transformations in a 1973 group therapy meeting of which Sexton is the facilitator. At the meeting, the characters process their fears through acting out the fairy tales. Among other twists to the tales, the “happy-ever-after” endings are subverted and Sexton often alludes to mental illness and popular culture.  It is a risky opera as it contains dark themes, scandalous dialogue, and witty humor. Sexton was viewed as a “confessional poet” who tackled many taboo female subjects such as abortion, masturbation, incest, and the list goes on. Note: Transformations is recommended for high school age and up.

Because of the themes raised, Ronis has scheduled a pre-performance panel discussion.

March 11, 2016
6:00 – 7:00 PM
Music Hall
Free Admission

The panelists will include:
Lynn Keller – Professor of Poetry, UW-Madison
Thomas DuBois – Professor of Scandinavian Studies, Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies,UW-Madison
Laura Schwendinger – Professor of Composition, School of Music, UW-Madison
Karlos Moser – Emeritus Director of Opera, UW-Madison
David Ronis – Interim Director of Opera, UW-Madison
Moderator: Susan Cook, Director, UW-Madison School of Music

We will also hold talkback sessions after each performance.

The work was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and premiered there in 1973, a year and a half before Sexton’s suicide. In 1976, Karlos Moser presented the local premiere at UW—Madison and there was a subsequent University Opera production, again under Moser, in 1991. University Opera is undertaking this project in the spirit of our role as an education institution that values presenting contemporary operas and the discourse that it encourages.

The UW-Madison production will feature sopranos Erin Bryan, Nicole Heinen and Cayla Rosché, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Buechel, tenors Dennis Gotkowski, Michael Hoke and William Ottow, baritone Brian Schneider and guest bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz. The design team includes David Gipson, lighting; Hyewon Park and Sydney Krieger, costumes; and Greg Silver, technical director. The production stage manager will be Delaney Egan and additional student staff includes Thomas Stone, master electrician, and James Dewhurst, assistant master electrician.

Performance dates, times and prices:

Fri Mar 11 @ 7:30pm
Sun Mar 13 @ 3:00pm
Tue Mar 15 @ 7:30pm
General Admission: $25
Seniors: $20
Students: $10
Tickets available at the Union Box Office
Also available at the door.

Read a review of a biography of Anne Sexton: “The Death is Not the Life”

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Kyle Knox: The Accidental Conductor

by Katherine Esposito

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.  – James Baldwin

It was the path he’d chosen, the direction he’d pursued, and Kyle Knox had finally tasted triumph in 2005, when he won, at age 23, the position of assistant principal clarinet of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

It was a plum trophy in a sometimes punishing profession, realized only after a decade of studious toil in the practice room and on the orchestra stage.

Kyle Knox.

Kyle Knox. Photograph by Katherine Esposito.

The young man who’d once won Most Valuable Player in Raritan, New Jersey as a 12-year-old Little Leaguer had bent his competitive edge toward music, and he’d won something akin to MVP there, too.  He studied with the great clarinetists – Ricardo Morales and Yehuda Gilad – went on to Juilliard and Tanglewood, and bested hundreds of rivals for the Milwaukee job.

Then, three years later, almost imperceptibly, one neuron at a time, it all started to unravel.

Today, Knox is best known in Madison as a promising young conductor, a graduate student at UW-Madison who will conduct UW’s upcoming opera, Transformationsand recently made his Madison Opera debut in its production of Little Women.  In 2014 and 2015, he conducted University Opera’s award-winning Albert Herring and two concerts with the Middleton Community Orchestra.  (He is also the husband of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz.)

Kyle Knox with his wife, Naha Greenholtz, hiking in Santa Fe, 2009.

Kyle Knox with his wife, Naha Greenholtz, hiking in Santa Fe, 2009. Family photograph.

He has impressed many observers, including Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain, who has watched Knox conduct several times, including Albert Herring, in which DeMain’s daughter Jennifer was cast. “[Kyle] worked uncompromisingly to achieve as close to perfection as possible,” says DeMain.

Until a few years ago, however, Kyle had never considered becoming a conductor leading an orchestra.  He was exhilarated to be playing in one.

His emergence as a conductor has almost been an accident, one that may now be resolving in his favor. But he faced many bleak days before he got there.


 

It was almost imperceptible at first, just odd coordination problems with his right hand. It was the spring of 2009. “I remember I was playing principal on Peter and the Wolf, and there’s this one passage with fast 16th notes and C-major arpeggios, and I remember having a hard time with this particular passage, repeating 16th notes, a very specific sequence of finger motions, and thinking, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ It was very strange” Kyle says.

For that concert, he wound up transposing it into a different key, and playing on an A clarinet instead of the usual one. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” he continues. “I just thought, oh, for some reason, my pointer finger is a little slow.”

“But maybe a month later, I was playing E-flat clarinet on Shostakovich’s 6th Symphony, and there’s a huge E-flat solo in the beginning of the second movement, very fast, and it had a very similar sequence of fingerings in the middle of the solo, and I practiced it obsessively, and I recorded it at home, and drove my wife crazy. But no matter how much I practiced, I never felt comfortable with the fingerwork.”

Classical orchestral musicians, at the highest levels, achieve mastery through one main thing: practice. It is not enough to be talented and musical; one must constantly revisit passage after passage to precisely engrave notes in the mind. Largely due to this kind of preparation, Kyle had always been assured and confident while performing. But now he began to feel unmoored.

The symphony schedule was intense: much music, many solos, multiple performances. In concert after concert, the strange sensations recurred.  At first, Kyle thought it was just a matter of working harder, to fix those notes even more firmly in his brain. “When something’s difficult, you want to feel secure on it. When I do these octaves, I know the distances, [so that] even if I miss the note,  I know it was a fluke. It has to feel right in your head,” he says.

But it wasn’t feeling right anymore. He began to lose confidence in his playing. A rigorous orchestra schedule gave him little respite.

His fellow musicians and the symphony patrons did not detect anything awry. But Kyle felt it was getting worse.

After six months he consulted neurological specialists at the Cleveland Clinic and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, who studied his movements as played his clarinet in their offices. They asked him questions and ruled out a few possibilities. Then they gave him a diagnosis: focal dystonia. He had never heard of it before.

His response was to practice even harder. He describes the chain of events that unfolded. “I started obsessively practicing, to make it feel right. In an effort to make it feel right, you start playing wrong, because you start compensating. You start doing strange things, which eventually start to show in your actual playing, and then you start hearing mistakes, which confirms your initial fear that there was something wrong. And then it becomes a feedback loop.”

For three years, Kyle continued to play with the MSO. He was managing, but the amount of music to learn and crush of performances — 150 per year — became overwhelming. “I just couldn’t rehab in a way that gave me confidence about playing in orchestra full time,” he says. “Wind players can’t hide.  Everything you do is a solo, so you feel exposed. It was a really rough time.”

He remembers his final concert, in October 2010, Mozart’s Requiem with conductor Edo de Waart, on which he played the basset horn.  “I hadn’t told anyone anything about what I was dealing with,” he says. “I remember thinking about the routines of orchestra life, how accustomed to the whole ritual I had become and reflecting on how some day soon I just wouldn’t be doing it anymore.  It was heavy.  After that Requiem performance I talked to the personnel manager and started my injury leave. That was it.”


 

Since the age 13, Kyle had known he wanted to work with music. He remembers hearing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” on the radio, and watching a documentary about Leonard Bernstein and the music of Gustav Mahler. “I was mesmerized,” he says. “I was interested innately. I had to figure out a way to access it, and access came through the clarinet.”

Now, that access was cut short. He was adrift.  He immediately dove into conducting after cobbling together a volunteer orchestra in Milwaukee, trying out conducting studies at Northwestern University, and ultimately attending graduate school at UW-Madison.

At the School of Music, he studies with orchestra conductor James Smith, an “accidental conductor” himself who also once played clarinet. “Jim is enormously accomplished,” Kyle says. “I’ve been very lucky to play some of America’s greatest orchestras in my career. I’ve played for a lot a famous conductors, and I can legitimately say that Jim is as good as anyone I’ve ever played for.”

Kyle Knox with the UW Symphony Orchestra, 2013.

Kyle Knox with the UW Symphony Orchestra, 2013.

Scott Gendel (MM & DMA, School of Music) and Kyle Knox, preparing Little Women. Gendel is coach & accompanist for the show. Photograph by Steffanie Berg.

Scott Gendel (MM & DMA, School of Music) and Kyle Knox, preparing Little Women. Gendel is coach & accompanist for the show. Photograph by Steffanie Berg.

Madison got to know Kyle three years later, after several notable turns as a promising young conductor. Early on, he caught the eye of John DeMain, who knew about Kyle’s focal dystonia, and who saw real promise, and wanted to give him a chance.

Telling Kyle’s story on paper makes it all sound so simple. One career ended, another one started. He did it the only way he knows, urgently, intently, almost desperately, uncomfortable with any lack of movement in his life. The truth, however, is that he really had very little control over what was happening. And that was the main thing he needed to accept.

“Being a clarinetist was a thing that defined me,” he says. “It was part of my sense of self, and you can’t underestimate that.”  He knows better now. “The things that made me able to accomplish anything on the clarinet are intrinsic qualities. The clarinet doesn’t define me. I define myself.”

If he had to enter that valley once more, he’d hope to approach it differently. He’d take time to grieve, to try to discern underlying meaning, to try to figure out the nature of the problem. Rushing doesn’t help anyway, he says.

“Sometimes, in a effort to redefine yourself too quickly, you can slow your process down of ending up where you’re going to end up anyway,” he continues. “Maybe you’ve been pushing too hard, maybe you’re been working too hard. Your body is telling you things, and you need to use it as an opportunity to reflect.”

“You have to be sympathetic with yourself. I think that is hugely important. And to have as much an eye on the long term as possible-that life is long, that your career is long, that there are lots of things in the future that will happen that are potentially good. But you have to let them unfold.”

Ten years ago, he wouldn’t have listened to these words. It wasn’t who he was. But it is who he is now.

“It’s possible to have great aspirations, but also to be patient and to be sane. It is possible to be of both minds. And I think the most successful people are that way.”

 

Spring Performances with Kyle Knox, Conductor

University Opera, Transformations

March 11, 13, 15, 2016

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

 

Madison Savoyards, The Gondoliers

July & August, 2016

http://madisonsavoyards.org/

 

Middleton Players Theater, Sunday in the Park with George

June & July, 2016

http://www.middletonplayers.com/

 

Summer Music Clinic Honors Orchestra

June 26-July 1, 2016

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/smc/index.html

 

Katherine Esposito is the publicist and concert manager for the UW-Madison School of Music.

 


About Focal Dystonia

Kyle Knox is only one of many musicians who was diagnosed with focal dystonia, many of them very famous. Glenn Gould, the pianist, and Robert Schumann, the 19th century composer, both are now believed to have suffered from it. Pianist Leon Fleischer used only his left hand for several decades while searching for a solution. A New York Times story in 2012 sheds light on this little-understood and seldom discussed condition. Another Times story recounts the story of pianist Fleischer.

Here’s how Kyle Knox describes it:

“Focal dystonia is far too complicated for me to paraphrase easily.  That said, I’ll try: Basically it is a neurological condition where the brain’s ability to rewire itself, called plasticity (normally a good thing as it enables the acquisition of new skills and information), becomes overactive. In the case of musicians, it becomes overactive in a very specific way that involves otherwise familiar gestures that have been long perfected through years of practice. To put it simply, music that was once effortless suddenly starts to ‘feel’ wrong.  It doesn’t sound wrong to outside listeners, but the neurological experience of playing, for example,  a certain finger combination,  becomes distorted in the player’s mind. As my neurologist told me, ‘all initial symptoms of musician’s focal dystonia are imperceptible to the outside observer.'”

A link from the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation provides more information.