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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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250 Years Later, A Composer Gets His Due

It’s not very often that one receives international recognition 250 years after being placed in the ground. But with help from UW-Madison musicology professor Charles Dill and a host of international scholars and musicians, that’s exactly what’s happening for Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Rameau, a French composer (1683-1764) who lived during the reign of Louis XV, has become famous for his contributions to music theory, his early harpsichord works, and especially his operas. His 1722 Treatise on Harmony is considered revolutionary for having incorporated philosophical ideas alongside practical musical issues. His operas were equally famous for their rich choral singing and elegant dancing.  In the last few decades, interest in Rameau has intensified, with French scholars leading the way and organizing major festivals in Europe. Because of Dill’s renown as a scholar of Rameau and the Baroque, the UW-Madison School of Music will present a series of performances and talks about Rameau during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Charles Dill

Charles Dill

On November 13, the first of these events will kick off with a discussion about the expressive qualities in Rameau’s music (with visiting opera director David Ronis and Professor Anne Vila of the Department of French and Italian), followed by a concert the next day featuring Marc Vallon, UW-Madison professor of bassoon, in a mostly-Rameau concert. You can read the full schedule of events here.

We asked Prof. Dill to tell us a bit about himself and what makes Rameau an important figure in music.

How did you first become interested in Rameau?

“Modern audiences often view all composers of the past as struggling visionaries. This may be true of composers after Beethoven, but it isn’t true—or isn’t true in the same way—for earlier composers, even composers like Mozart or Haydn. They considered themselves to be working at a job. They wrote pieces to suit their performers, and the compositions were ‘disposable.’  If something needed changing, the composer changed it, generally without much grumbling. They didn’t continue to garner attention for decades.

“What first interested me about Rameau, then, was that he revised his operas extensively and these revised versions continued to be performed. This suggests all sorts of remarkable things about him and his works. Notably, he was alert to how audiences responded to his works to an unusual degree, and he felt some kind of obligation toward ‘getting the work right,’ as it were. That’s a very modern way of thinking about music. Because of this attitude, he also took risks as a composer. He was a remarkably creative individual, and he was rewarded for it. His works dominated French opera for a period of fifty years, until well after his death. For his time and place, this truly was an unusual relationship between composer and audience.

“Add to that Rameau’s work as a theorist. Thinkers had been speculating about how music works for as long as music had existed, but Rameau was the first to envision a comprehensive system that accounted for all of its aspects: how keys or tonalities come into being, why some harmonic progressions are more effective than others, how musical knowledge influences performance. We still employ his basic terminology for describing fundamental principles of music—chord inversion, tonic, dominant. There were flaws in his ideas, to be sure, and there have been countless other systems proposed since that make similar claims, but if you imagine music as an organized, coherent system—something we do every day—then you are, to a degree, following in his footsteps.

“And finally, around the year 2000, everyone became much more interested in Rameau, in response to a series of extraordinarily good performances and recordings, many of them under the direction of William Christie. It is no exaggeration to say the world thinks of Rameau differently as a result of William Christie’s work with the group Les Arts Florissants.

How did you become a Rameau specialist?

“I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. When I began working in Parisian libraries in the late 1980s, as a graduate student completing my degree, there were only a handful of people studying Rameau. Students from that generation have done influential work. Thomas Christensen explained the development of Rameau’s music theory, Sylvie Bouissou became the general editor of the Rameau edition, and William Christie specialized in interpreting Rameau’s music in performance.

“I was interested in Rameau’s relationship with audiences. Music criticism was still a fledgling enterprise in the eighteenth century, and yet his compositions elicited strong opinions, both for and against. He was one of the first composers to be treated not simply as a commodity, but as a public figure, one of the first to take that role seriously. To an unusual degree, he felt the need to experiment in his compositions, and yet he was also forced by circumstances to consider listeners and their perceptions in everything he wrote. After all this time, I still find this story remarkable.

“Times have changed. Nowadays, France recognizes Rameau as one its most representative composers and devotes time, money, and effort to developing our knowledge of him. A small army of dedicated French researchers is poring over every available source and producing first-rate scholarship. They’re doing wonderful work.”

What contributions have you made to scholarship?

“When I began writing about Rameau, there was a longstanding trend to approach composers solely from the vantage point of what they wrote. We could describe this as the ‘great composers’ or ‘great works’ approach. Discussing composers in this way cuts out some of the most interesting material: what audiences believed, how they liked what they heard, how they received the composers, and how composers responded to criticism. My book, Monstrous Opera: Rameau and the Tragic Tradition (1998), which Princeton University Press has recently reprinted as part of its Legacy series, addressed some of these questions. As an eminently public figure, Rameau was subject to intense scrutiny. Some critics distrusted opera as an overly sensual medium, and some regarded Rameau’s colorful music as an especially egregious example. Rameau encouraged these kinds of responses. Where earlier composers generally wrote simple, unobtrusive music, Rameau wrote music that demanded attention. In a way, then, he challenged critics and audience members to define their expectations regarding music openly and publicly. It is telling that, during the period in which he became popular, audiences changed, coming to resemble modern audiences more and more: they began to learn difficult and complex music by heart, they grew more quiet and became more attentive during performances.

“My other contributions have had to do with aspects of his career. My early publications often dealt with the relationship between Rameau’s ideas as a music theorist and his actual compositions. Having an eighteenth-century composer who was so active on both fronts is truly unusual, and it allows us to think more carefully about the relationship between theory and practice. More recently, I’ve been interested in reconstructing Rameau’s intellectual life. He was a bit of a magpie, really, taking ideas from the writers and philosophers who most suited his needs, but given the time and place in which he lived, he could take from the best: Descartes and Malebranche were early sources of inspiration, but eventually, like so many of his contemporaries, he turned his attention to Locke. Among those who collaborated with him on projects were Voltaire, Diderot, and d’Alembert. So I’ve been developing a clearer sense of what he himself actually believed, based on what he drew on from these various sources.”

How does Rameau fit in with other well-known composers of the day?

“Rameau was two years older than Handel and Bach, almost an exact contemporary. Interestingly, although there’s no evidence to suggest he knew their music well, he helped popularize in France the kinds of music they were writing. From the Handel side of things, he took the kind of virtuosic playing and singing we associate with Italian composition, and from the Bach side, he took an interest in complex counterpuntal and harmonic language. To these he added an extraordinary sense of color—few at this time were combining orchestras and voices in such surprising ways—and an endless gift for invention comparable to Bach’s and Handel’s. During the late 1740s, a faction arose at the French court that wanted to set limits on how many operas Rameau could compose, because they felt he was dominating the music scene so completely.

“Rameau was well known internationally. Initially, this was the result of his theoretical ideas, which he began publishing in the 1720s; reviews appeared almost immediately in Germany. By the 1750s, when his theoretical ideas were being popularized, his work was receiving attention in Italy as well. He also became an international figure musically in this period. His works were performed in Italy and Germany, and they were influential among the reform composers of that generation—Traetta, Jomelli, and Gluck. (For example, the famous opening scene of Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice, which begins in the midst of a funeral procession, was directly modeled on the beginning of Rameau’s Castor et Pollux.)”

What activities have taken place around the world this year, and where?

“Well, as is always the case with composers, there have been performances around the world—in France and, more generally, Europe, obviously, but in the states as well, notably in New York and Washington D.C. In fact, a phone app has circulated in France so that one can follow where Rameau is being performed every day this year.

“Raphaëlle Legrand, who teaches at the Sorbonne, has put together a fascinating year-long series of presentations, open to the public, that combine historians, music theorists, professional musicians specializing in period instruments, and professional dancers specializing in historical dance techniques. This project is called the ‘Atelier Rameau’ and it has an excellent website. It has been especially interesting to have singers, instrumentalists, and dancers working together, because dance is so basic to Rameau’s musical style. Performers quickly developed a new sense of what was and wasn’t possible when they began talking to each other!

“The biggest events, however, were two international conferences that united all of the scholars currently working on Rameau. The first was held last March in Paris. Sponsored by the French national library and CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), the French government’s principal sponsor of scholarly research, ‘Rameau between Art and Science’ was held over three days at the Bibliothèque National, the Cistercian abbey at Royaumont (where an important research library is housed), and the Opéra-Comique (which premiered a new production of Rameau’s comedy, Platée). The second, ‘Jean-Philippe Rameau: International Anniversary Conference,’ was held at St. Hilda’s College, University of Oxford, this past September. It was part of a vast research effort, The Rameau Project, which is being overseen at Oxford by Graham Sadler and Jonathan Williams. Both conferences were remarkable.

“Among the surprises, those in attendance learned that we are still discovering eighteenth-century production scores for Rameau’s earliest and most important works, and that Rameau was the composer of the famous round, ‘Frère Jacques,’ which he included in a recently discovered composition manual. I can honestly say that this past year has advanced our knowledge of Rameau and his music in unprecedented ways.”



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