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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


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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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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