JoAnne Brown Krause receives the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award during opening weekend ceremonies at the Hamel Music Center.

The Mead Witter School of Music Alumni Association and the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee welcome nominations for the School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award. The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who is making, or has made, an outstanding contribution to the music profession in service or in artistic impact.

Eligibility requirements & nomination form

Only living alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music are eligible. For purposes of definition, alumni must have received at least one degree from the School of Music. Nominations are due back to the School of Music by October 15, 2021.

For the purpose of judging nominations, an outstanding contribution should include evidence of one or more of the following:

  • Artistic Award: Exceptional skills and credentials as a music professional.
  • Service Award: Noteworthy contributions in music to society at large including significant influence on the candidate’s place of employment, community, and/or profession.

Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award candidates are reviewed each year by the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee, which consists of faculty emeriti, current faculty, the president of the School of Music Alumni Association, and the director of the Mead Witter School of Music.

2020 award winner Kenneth Woods (Cello, ’93) was nominated for “his artistic accomplishments and the numerous ways he has contributed to the music profession, and his outstanding career as a multi-talented professional musician.”

“The breadth and quantity of Kenneth’s work as a musician is awe-inspiring, and the consistent high quality of his artistic work is spectacular,” Professor of Chamber Music and Cello Parry Karp said. “While conducting has become the biggest part of his life as a musician, he has stayed very active as a cellist, musical writer, educator, composer and arranger.”

Three-dimensional rendering of a shelving concept against a navy blue background

Unique iterative shelving concept for the Kohler Art Library by Anders Nienstaedt, recipient of a Graduate Student Creative Arts Award

By DotA staff

A two-year long photographic essay project by Darcy Padilla (Art Department) examining the profound economic and social disparities experienced by Americans caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A contemporary art exhibition by Roberto Torres Mata (Art Department) at the Chazen Museum of Art spotlighting the complex issues of migration from both human and animal perspectives. A premiere of a new choral work by Lawren Brianna Ware (Mead Witter School of Music) on the life and death of Elijah McClain (1996-2019), who fell victim to police brutality. The creation of a functional shelving system by Anders Nienstaedt (Art Department) to showcase curated library collections, while serving as beautiful and interactive public art in the Kohler Art Library.

These are just some of the people and their projects who were recently awarded funding through the University of Wisconsin–Madison Creative Arts Awards.

Each year, the Division of the Arts provides significant research support to faculty, staff, and students in the arts. Seven awards are available including one offered bi-annually. The 2021 Creative Arts Awards selection committee was comprised of Susan Zaeske (chair), Division of the Arts; Jennifer Angus, Design Studies; Anna Campbell, Gender and Women’s Studies; Anthony Di Sanza, Mead Witter School of Music; David Furumoto, Theatre and Drama; Florence Hsia, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE); and Leslie Smith III, Art Department.

The grants are divided into three categories: Faculty Arts Research, Staff and Faculty Arts Outreach, and Student Arts Research and Achievement.

“While the pandemic and national reckoning stress our health, economy, and wellbeing, the human drive to engage in creative expression perseveres. This was clearly demonstrated by the high caliber submissions to the 2021 Creative Arts Awards competition,” stated Susan Zaeske, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities, College of Letters & Science and Interim Director of the Division of the Arts. “Each honoree demonstrated in a unique way the power of the arts to respond to these unprecedented times through song, film, dance, theater, architecture, photography, and other forms of art. We are honored to recognize and support each of the honorees within their specific discipline and look forward to their on-going contributions to artistic knowledge, excellence, and research at UW­–Madison and the world. While we regret that this year we are unable to celebrate the recipients in person, we encourage faculty, staff, students, and the community to join us in a virtual award ceremony on May 4, 2021.”

For Ava Shadmani, a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) student in violin performance, the award will “support my research project, ‘Unheard Voices of Iran,’ to foster, through music, an understanding of two cultures seemingly impossibly divided, East to West, Ancient to Modern.” She will use the David and Edith Sinaiko Frank Graduate Fellowship for a Woman in the Arts to record five new folk-inspired compositions by Iranian composers and present them to new audiences.

While some awards support future projects, others are given based on an individual’s contributions to their field. Jen Plants, for example, a faculty associate in the English Department, received a Joyce J. and Gerald A. Bartell Award in the Arts for her work in theater and performance as a means to address social, racial and economic injustice. “Plants is a prolific and powerful force in the study and practice of performance as a means for social awareness and change at UW. Her commitment to racial and economic equity is present throughout her work—in the topics it covers and the audiences it reaches,” notes her nominee, Michael Peterson, Professor of Art and Director of Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies.

While the pandemic has rendered it impossible to gather in person to attend artistic performances, the Edna Wiechers Arts in Wisconsin Award recipient Aaron Granat (videographer, cinematographer, and instructor in the Department of Communication Arts) will use his award to catalyze his vision to build a virtual platform from which artists may share their work to appreciators around the state. Leveraging the capacity of an online platform to share content limitlessly, Aaron plans to stream a regular series of multi-media virtual performances in music, dance, video arts, architecture, sculpture, and other mediums to the community that has lost the traditional opportunity to experience the arts.

With support from the Anonymous Fund, the Division of the Arts established a new Graduate Student Creative Arts Award. For graduate students whose public productions, exhibits, or performances were halted due to COVID-19, the award is particularly timely. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of our performance opportunities that would normally fund our recordings have been canceled. This Graduate Students Creative Arts Award will allow us the opportunity to record and release this music and to allow Golpe Tierra to grow professionally and deliver our message of social change,” says award recipient Nick Moran who is pursuing his graduate degree in Double Bass Performance.

“Creative Arts Award is a vehicle to propel my graduate work further in practice and in future endeavors. I will be able to maximize the investment in my practice and accomplish my goals beyond the project needs that will lead to greater impacts in the community,” says Roberto Torres Mata, whose exhibition about migration, In the Routes We Take, is slated for display at the Chazen Museum of Art in summer 2021.

Quanda Johnson, a PhD candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies, was also one of the six recipients of the Graduate Student Creative Arts Award. She stated that she is excited to “lift scholarship and give voice to an area of research in the field of Interdisciplinary Performance that is often unconsidered and underserved.” On how the impact of the award will benefit her career, she expressed that the award will “have broad impacts with Interdisciplinary Performance as the vehicle on activism and social justice.” In Trauerspiel: Subject into Nonbeing, Johnson will explore four performative vignettes on the violence against Black bodies, psyches, and the resulting generational trauma using projection art, spoken word, dance, visual art, and poetic reading.

The awardees will be honored during a virtual reception on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

Below is the full list of 2021 Creative Arts Award recipients. View full recipient bios online.


  • Darcy Padilla, Associate Professor, Art Department


  • Daniel Grabois, Associate Professor of Horn, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Mark Hetzler, Professor of Trombone, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Michael Peterson, Professor, Art Department; Director, Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies


  • Jen Plants, Faculty Associate, English Department
  • Ben Reiser, Wisconsin Film Festival Director of Operations, Department of Communication Arts


  • Aaron Granat, Associate Lecturer, Department of Communication Arts


  • Ava Shadmani, DMA Candidate, Violin Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Lawren Brianna Ware, DMA Candidate, Musical Composition, Mead Witter School of Music


  • Sarah Brailey, DMA Candidate, Vocal Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Timothy Yip, DMA Candidate, Violin Performance, Mead Witter School of Music    


  • Quanda Johnson, PhD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies (ITS)
  • Nick Moran, MM Candidate, Double Bass Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Anders Nienstaedt, MFA Candidate, Art Department
  • Chris Rottmayer, DMA Candidate, Piano Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Midori Samson, DMA Candidate, Bassoon Performance, Mead Witter School of Music
  • Roberto Torres Mata, MFA Candidate, Art Department

American conductor Kenneth Woods has been selected as recipient of the 2020 UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award. Woods was nominated for the award by James Smith, with additional letters of support from John DeMain, Parry Karp, and Cyrena Pondrom.

The School of Music established a Distinguished Alumni Award to recognize alumni who are making outstanding contributions to the music profession in service and in artistic impact. The award in particular recognizes exceptional skills and credentials as a music professional as well as significant influence on the profession.

Hailed by Gramophone Magazine as “a symphonic conductor of stature,” Woods was appointed Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra in 2013. He was also recently appointed Artistic Director of both the Colorado MahlerFest–the only US organization other than the New York Philharmonic to receive the International Gustav Mahler Society’s Gold Medal–and the Elgar Festival in Worcester.

“Equally at home as a conductor, recitalist, chamber musician, and writer, Kenneth is a credit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” retired Director of Orchestras James Smith said. “His artistic accomplishments and the numerous ways he has contributed to the music profession, and his outstanding career as a multi-talented professional musician, make him an excellent nominee for this award.”

As a guest, Woods has conducted ensembles including the National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra.

“This past season, Kenneth made his conducting debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra,” MSO Music Director John DeMain said. “His work drew raves from the musicians, audience and critics. Indeed, his performance of Haydn was revelatory, and Strauss’ extraordinarily difficult ‘Ein Heldenieben’ came off flawlessly.”

Under his leadership, the English Symphony Orchestra has gained widespread recognition as one of the most innovative and influential orchestras in the UK. In 2016, Woods and the ESO launched their “21st Century Symphony Project,” an ambitious multi-year effort to commission, premiere and record nine new symphonies by leading composers, with Philip Sawyers’ Third Symphony.

Woods earned his MM in Cello as a student of Parry Karp at the School of Music from 1991-1993. He remains active as a cellist, and his debut recordings with the string trio Ensemble Epomeo and the Briggs Piano Trio were both recipients of the Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

“The breadth and quantity of Kenneth’s work as a musician is awe-inspiring, and the consistent high quality of his artistic work is spectacular,” Professor of Chamber Music and Cello Parry Karp said. “While conducting has become the biggest part of his life as a musician, he has stayed very active as a cellist, musical writer, educator, composer and arranger. In all of these areas he is highly original, challenging and inspires the musicians around him to new heights. He is a great role model for young musicians of today, many of whom have to wear many hats to be successful.”  

A widely read writer and frequent broadcaster, Woods’ blog, A View from the Podium, is one of the 25 most popular classical blogs in the world. He has spoken on Mahler on NPR’s All Things Considered and is a regular guest on BBC radio programs. Since 2014, he has been Honorary Patron of the Hans Gál Society.

Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award candidates are reviewed each year by the Distinguished Music Alumni Award Committee. This committee consists of faculty emeriti, current faculty, the president of the School of Music Alumni Association, and the director of the Mead Witter School of Music.

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.