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Announcing the winners of our 2017-2018 Concerto Competition

December 27, 2017

 

For the first time in 20 years, a bassoonist has won the Mead Witter School of Music’s concerto competition and will perform solo on stage on March 18, 2018 in our annual “Symphony Showcase” winners’ recital.

Bassoonist Eleni Katz will play Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K. 191 with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Chad Hutchinson. Eleni, a student of Professor Marc Vallon, graduates this spring with a bachelor’s of music degree in bassoon performance.

She will join three other soloists on stage: Kaleigh Acord, violin, a doctoral student of Professor Soh-Hyun Altino; Aaron Gochberg, percussion, an undergraduate student of Professor Anthony Di Sanza; and Eric Tran, piano, a doctoral student of Professor Christopher Taylor.

In addition, the winner of the composition competition, doctoral student Mengmeng Wang, will have her work, “Blooming,” premiered by the symphony. Mengmeng studies with Professors Laura Schwendinger (composition) and Daniel Grabois (electronic music) of the School of Music and Professor Joseph Koykkar (composition) of the Dance Department.

The program will open with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. “A dashing overture in … a shapely sonata form with points of canonic imitation and a sparkling Rossini crescendo to close.” —  John Henken.

The School of Music’s annual “Symphony Showcase” concert is a perennial crowd-pleaser that combines the joy of youthful accomplishment with the beauty of live music. The community is invited to attend and remain afterwards for a free reception in the lobby of Mills Hall. We will see you on March 18!

$10 adults, free to all students and children.

Ticket information here.


 

Kaleigh Acord, violin

Beethoven, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op. 61, movement 1

Kaleigh Acord. Photograph by Michael R. Anderson.

Violinist Kaleigh Acord hails from Fairfax Station, Virgina and is now pursuing a doctorate of musical arts at University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. There, she is a student of Soh-Hyun Park Altino and a recipient of the Paul Collins Fellowship. She holds a graduate performance diploma from the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, as well as a master’s of music and an undergraduate diploma from the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her previous teachers include Violaine Melancon and Laura Bossert. At Longy, Kaleigh served three years as Ms. Bossert’s teaching assistant, and received both the Margaret Rohde Award for Excellence in Solfege and Theoretical Studies, and the Roman Totenberg Award for Highest Academic and Artistic Achievement. An avid chamber musician, Kaleigh has spent her summers at music festivals including Bowdoin International Music Festival, Kent/Blossom Music, the Garth Newel Chamber Music Fellowship Program, Lyricafest, and the Charles Castleman’s Quartet Program. She made her solo radio debut on WQXR’s McGraw Hill Financial Young Artist Showcase in March 2014.

Aaron Gochberg, percussion

Keiko Abe, Prism Rhapsody

Percussionist Aaron Gochberg, an Oregon, Wisconsin native, is completing his fourth year of undergraduate study under Professor Anthony Di Sanza, a program which has presented him with opportunities to perform in Carnegie Hall, the Overture Center, and the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Shannon Hall, as well as to tour Beijing and Shenyang, China. In 2016, Aaron was a Performance Fellow at the nief-norf Summer Festival, where he performed, premiered, and recorded numerous works by both new and established composers. He has collaborated with artists and ensembles such as Sō Percussion, Clocks in Motion, Sound out Loud, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Acoplados Latin Jazz Project, the Wisconsin Collegiate All Star Percussion Ensemble, and he continues to seek shared experiences with performers from around the world.

Aaron Gochberg

Aaron has enjoyed an eclectic range of musical experiences, giving him a distinct perspective on percussive artistry. He is a collaborator at heart, and is deeply invested in working directly with living composers. His interest in Afro-Cuban music has granted him multiple opportunities to travel to Cuba, where he has been fortunate to study with some of the most influential musicians on the island, including Mario “Aspirina” Jagerui, Alejandro Carvajal Guerra, Marino Angarica, Luis Cancino Morales, Dolores Perez, and Maximino Duquesne. In 2017, the University recognized Aaron’s study of Afro-Cuban Batá drumming traditions by awarding him a Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Recently, he joined the Wisconsin Union Theater as the World Music Coordinator on the Performing Arts Committee.

Growing up in Oregon, Aaron was very fortunate to participate in a musical community, granting him many formative experiences. He would like to thank Lynn Callendar, a member of the School of Music Board of Visitors, for her gracious support over the past four years. He would also like to sincerely thank his many private and collegiate music teachers, who have included Dr. Anthony Di Sanza, Dr. Todd Hammes, Tom Ross, Donald Skoog, and David Skogen.

Eleni Katz, bassoon

Mozart, Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, K. 191

Iowa City native Eleni Katz will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s of music in bassoon performance, where she studies with Professor Marc Vallon. While in high school, Eleni studied with University of Iowa Professor Benjamin Coelho, who sparked in her a new level of passion for the instrument. Her experience at the Interlochen Bassoon Institute was the pivotal moment when she decided to pursue a career in music.

Eleni Katz

Eleni has always loved the art of performance and is particularly excited to play W.A. Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B Flat K.191, because this is the first time in 20 years that a bassoonist has won the university’s concerto competition. This bassoon concerto is arguably the most important concerto in the bassoon’s repertoire, highlighting the instrument’s range, articulation, and refinement.

Eleni was a runner-up in the Marquette Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Concerto Competition and was a winner of the Irving Shain Piano-Woodwind Competition and the University of Iowa Double Reed Day Concerto Competition.

Under Professor Marc Vallon’s tutelage, Eleni has had six solo recitals, participated in both the IMANI Winds and Madeline Island Chamber Music Festivals, and the Brevard Music Center and Chautauqua Institution Summer Music Festivals.

She plans to attend graduate school in bassoon performance next year. Her future goal is to gain experience in performance by playing in a symphony orchestra and chamber music groups. Her long-term goal is to teach bassoon at the university level and to lead a vibrant bassoon studio of her own.

Eleni would like to thank her friends and family, bassoon studio, and professors, who have inspired and supported her throughout her musical journey. Lastly, Eleni would like to thank Professor Vallon for every lesson and for always helping her find new ways to improve her performance of this concerto. Tonight’s performance is the “cherry on the cake” of an incredible, transformative four years of study at UW-Madison.

Eric Tran, piano

Bach, Concerto No. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055

Pianist-composer Eric Tran, originally from Piedmont, California, is pursuing a doctorate of musical arts in piano at UW-Madison with Christopher Taylor. He is known for his friendly stage manner, thoughtful programming, and bold risk-taking. He has appeared in music festivals such as PianoTexas, Aspen, Art of the Piano, as well as festivals in Europe. His principal studies were with pianists Sharon Mann, Thomas Schultz, and composer Jaroslaw Kapuscinski.

Eric Tran

Eric is a graduate of Stanford University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During his studies, he was the winner of the concerto competitions of both institutions, and he was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Golden Medal for outstanding contributions to the arts. As a composer, he won the Pacific Musical Society Composition Prize, and his sets of children’s music have been programmed for over six years on the syllabus of the US Open Music Competition. His music has been performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Friction Quartet, his generous friends, and his charming piano students.

​Eric also comprises one half of the notorious “Happy Dog” piano duo, with his piano partner, Nathan Cheung. They won both first prize and the Abild American Music Award at the 2017 Ellis Duo-Piano Competition, hosted by the National Federation of Music Clubs. For over a decade, they have performed four-hands originals, transcriptions, and classics alike with a focus on bringing humor and joy to the classical music world.

Mengmeng Wang, composer

“Blooming”

Mengmeng Wang

Mengmeng Wang, a native of China, is a doctoral student studying composition with Professor Laura Schwendinger and electro-acoustic music with Professors Daniel Grabois (School of Music) and Joseph Koykkar (Dance Department). She received her master’s degree in music in composition from Shanghai Conservatory of Music, studying with Professor Liang Zhao. She also studied composition with Professors Guang Zhao and Heng-lu Yao.

Her works have been performed in the Beijing Modern Music Festival, in a recital by German violist Christiane Edinger and also by the Shanghai Opera Symphony Orchestra. Her film music was awarded the Honor Award of 1st eARTS Digital Audio China Competition in Shanghai, 2010; one of her art songs was awarded a golden prize at the 4th Chinese National Music Exhibition and Performance in Beijing in 2014; and she won the composition competition of Xinghai Conservatory of Music for one of her chamber music works. She was also named a “top-notch talent” of Chinese popular music by the China Association of Popular Music.

Program Note – “Blooming”
Blooming was inspired by flowers selected by Professor Schwendinger. “Blooming” is the language of flowers; I feel that they are trying to say something to me. I used different types of musical language to describe them. There are also important themes presented in bright metallic timbres and textures which express the flowers’ quiet glory as they bloom, and then a peaceful fading away.

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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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