Performing Arts Season Preview

The 2011–2012 season brings milestones, debuts and exciting performances

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A Centennial with Strings Attached

The Pro Arte Quartet celebrates a musical milestone

If there’s a cake involved at any events for the Pro Arte Quartet this season, the fire marshal is going to have to be on hand.

That’s because the Pro Arte Quartet isn’t about to launch just another series of superb string quartet concerts—they’re performing in their one hundredth year of great music making.

It all started in Belgium, at the Brussels Conservatory, where four students found they had two things in common: the desire to play more music, and to do it together. Though they began in 1911–1912, it wasn’t until the end of World War I that the first established foursome stayed together. But by the end of the 1920s, they were pioneers in the fledgling recording industry, major composers were writing new works just for them, and they were touring the U.S. on a regular basis.

In fact, between 1926 and 1940, they crossed the Atlantic thirty-three times, and a 1939 trip included their first visit to Madison. Those concerts sparked some interest in not only bringing the Pro Arte Quartet back to Madison, but establishing the ensemble here on a permanent basis. When they returned the following year, world events played a hand in changing the Pro Arte’s history—and the way in which chamber music would grow as well.

On the morning of May 10, 1940, the quartet—minus their usual cellist, who was ill overseas—prepared to play at the “new” Union Theater. The morning papers carried the news: Hitler had invaded Belgium. UW president Clarence Dykstra announced from the stage that what had been preliminary discussions to establish the Pro Arte Quartet in residency would now move forward with urgency. Almost immediately, efforts were made to bring the cellist and the members’ families here. Dykstra had imported a world-class ensemble—and defined the prototype of supporting chamber music in America.

The current members of the Pro Arte Quartet have played together for sixteen seasons, with cellist Parry Karp setting the record for longest tenure of any member in the group’s history at thirty-five years. So how will they celebrate this unprecedented occasion? By going back to an important aspect of the group’s roots: world premieres. The lineup includes new string quartets by Walter Mays (October 22) and John Harbison (April 21) and quintets for piano and string quartet by Paul Schoenfield (November 19) and William Bolcom (March 24). Each concert will also have internationally renowned guest lecturers. Oh, and the events are free. Now that’s a party … even if we have to skip the candles.

Greg Hettmansberger is a Madison-based classical music writer and author of the Classically Speaking blog.


Classically Thrilling

The opera, symphony and chamber orchestra’s new seasons are anything but staid. Gutsy, passion-filled and modern-minded are more like it!

Fresh Start

Madison Opera’s fifty-first season is chock-full of changes, from its bold production choices to new general director Kathryn Smith at the helm.

Eugene Onegin, November 4 and 6
Galileo Galilei, January 26–29
Cinderella, April 27 and 29

What’s New: Honoring a desire not to play it safe and recycle big hits of the opera canon, Madison Opera’s season features entirely company premieres. And they’re all new to Smith, too. “The artistic and production sides will be learning together,” she says. But don’t mistake the three operas for lesser-quality works; while Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is not often performed, it’s considered his operatic masterpiece.

Wish List: Both Eugene Onegin and Cinderella are productions Madison Opera has had its eye on for some time.

Something Different: Smith is looking forward to offering Rossini’s Cinderella. “There are some most rapturous moments within it,” she says. And artistic director John DeMain has said he prefers the music in this work to the composer’s more popular opera, The Barber of Seville.

Comeback: Baritone Hyung Yun and soprano Maria Kanyova, from 2009’s Carmen and 2008’s Madame Butterfly, respectively, return to Madison Opera to star in Eugene Onegin in November. And in April, Cinderella brings back tenor Gregory Schmidt, who appeared in The Turn of the Screw last season.

 Major Challenge: Composed by Philip Glass, who’s worked on dozens of film scores and has a distinctive musical style, the unique Galileo Galilei might prove challenging to some audiences. The inventive opera tells the story of the famed scientist’s life in reverse order, drawing from letters and other texts.

Old & New

For the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s eighty-sixth season, music director John DeMain balances company premieres with a few favorites.

Adams, Grieg and Beethoven with Andre Watts, September 16–18
Rossini, Lalo and Sibelius with Lynn Harrell, October 14–16
Haydn, Ravel and Shostakovich with Midori, November 11–13
Christmas Spectacular, December 2–4
Debussy, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky with Augustin Hadelich, January 20–22
Brahms, Rodrigo and Rimsky-Korsakov with the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, March 9–11
Puts, Beethoven and Strauss with Philippe Bianconi, March 30–April 1
Fascinating Rhythms, May 11–13

What’s New: “There are a number of firsts this year,” says DeMain, who points to Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1
in November and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in January.

Wish List: It’s been twelve years since the MSO performed Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. DeMain had tried to get it on a season schedule several times, and gets the chance in March.

Something Different: DeMain starts the season with a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 tragedy featuring John Adams’ “On the Transmigration of Souls.” Says DeMain, “I wanted to do something significant, something of-the-moment specific.”

Comeback: Andre Watts, Lynn Harrell and Philippe Bianconi all return to perform with the MSO. Additionally, the season closes with an all-Gershwin concert, a theme the orchestra did a decade ago.

Major Challenge: Renowned guest artist Midori makes her MSO debut with Shostakovich’s demanding Violin Concerto No. 1 in November. “It will be a challenging concert all around,” DeMain says.

Mixing it Up

In its fifty-second season, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra music director Andrew Sewell juxtaposes classic works with “elements of intrigue.”

Masterworks I: Concert of Firsts, October 7
Middleton Holiday Pops, November 26–27
Handel’s Messiah, December 9
Masterworks II: Triumphant Return, January 13
Masterworks III: Beloved Beethoven, February 24
Masterworks IV: Celtic Celebration, March 16
Masterworks V: Rebirth, April 13

What’s New: The WCO opens the season with a concert of firsts by favorite composers. And in March, the orchestra offers a Celtic theme, highlighting a piano concerto by Irish composer John Field, performed by Madison’s own Christopher Taylor.

Wish List: Sewell was looking forward to Alexander Sitkovetsky performing with the WCO last fall, but the violinist fell ill and had to stay in London. He’s coming for a February Masterworks concert to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

Something Different: The third Masterworks concert opens with a short work by Benjamin Britten from the 1936 documentary Night Mail. The performance features actor James Ridge of American Players Theatre narrating a poem. “That’s something new and different,” Sewell says.

Comeback: Anyone who caught Amit Peled’s 2009 Masterworks performance will eagerly await his return in January, when he plays Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat Major. “He really knocked everyone’s socks off when he was here a few years ago,” Sewell says. “He’s a monster cellist.”

Major Challenge: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the “Choral,” is a tremendous work. “It’s traditionally done with this huge orchestra, but it’s Beethoven and he would have worked with an orchestra our size,” Sewell says. He’s pairing it with one of his favorite pieces, Finzi’s “Dies Natalis,” about the birth of a child, in the final Masterworks concert of the season.

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine and author of the Liberal Arts blog.



Don’t forget about the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 2011–2012 Concert Series: 
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, September 30
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with New Century Chamber Orchestra, November 20
David Finckel, Wu Han & Philip Setzer, February 24
Peter Serkin, Piano, May 5.

The theater also welcomes a diversity of jazz, world, Irish, piano and other acts this season. Find details at

And the UW School of Music offers a staggering array of concerts—most of them free—throughout the school year. Explore the season at




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