Remembering Janos Starker: Memorial Concert Sunday, June 9, Mills Hall

Written by Cathy Spann.

On Sunday, June 9, the National Summer Cello Institute (NSCI), a summer program affiliated with the UW-Madison School of Music, will present a free special tribute concert to Janos Starker, one of history’s greatest cellists and teachers, who died in Bloomington, Indiana on April 28, 2013.  Starker was professor of cello at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University from 1958 until recently.  He also had served as principal cellist of many major symphony orchestras: Chicago, the Metropolitan Opera, Dallas, Budapest, and the Budapest Philharmonic.

An obituary of Starker was published in the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/arts/music/janos-starker-master-cellist-dies-at-88.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Wall Street Journal called Starker’s death “the end of cello’s golden age.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324266904578461103567260348.html

Uri Vardi, cello professor at the UW-Madison School of Music and the artistic director of the NSCI, who studied at Indiana with Starker from 1972-1975, said  Starker helped him to confront the gaps in his performance and cover the pedagogical topics required for mastery. “After three years, I had an amazingly clear view of how to continue to grow as a cellist and of what professional teaching meant,” he said. With Starker’s recommendation, Vardi then entered the Yale Masters program with Aldo Parisot.

Janos Starker at Eva Janzer conference Bloomington, IN 2004
Janos Starker at the Eva Janzer conference in Bloomington, Indiana, 2004.

Vardi maintained contact with Starker throughout his life and found him always supportive of former students and cellists everywhere.

In 1996, Starker came to Madison for a residency in which he conducted a cello master class and performed a duo recital with Vardi which included the Boccherini Sonata for two cellos. A recording of their Boccherini performance is available at this website:

https://uwmadison.box.com/s/1dwu4ihkjq6q99wi37o9

Starker also contributed to the formation of the Wisconsin Cello Society, founded in 2000.

To commemorate Starker’s life and mark his loss, participants in the National Summer Cello Institute will give a concert in his honor on Sunday, June 9th at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.  Entitled “A Tribute to Janos Starker,” the program will feature two sarabands of Bach, duos by Bartok, David Popper’s Requiem for three cellos and piano (a cello choir version), Julius Klengel’s Hymnus for twelve cellos, and an arrangement by Laszlo Varga of Bach’s 5th Cello Suite for cello choir.  Additionally a video interview of Starker filmed in 2012 and excerpts of IU’s 75th Birthday Tribute will be shown. Performers will include Vardi, cellist and professor Timothy Eddy of the Juilliard School and the Orion Quartet, as well as about twenty cellists from this year’s cello institute.

Called the “King of Cellists” in Joyce Geeting’s 2008 biography, Starker was born on July 5, 1924 in Budapest, Hungary, the third son of Sandor and Margit Starker.  His older brothers were violinists so his parents gave him a cello.  Deemed a child prodigy at an early age, Starker gave his professional debut at age 14.

World War II intervened and by its end all of the family had been interned in Nazi concentration camps.  Starker and his parents survived.  Working his way to Paris as a tradesman after Liberation, Starker was able to resume a career as a professional cellist.  His breakthrough came in 1947 performing Zoltan Kodaly’s Sonata for Solo Cello.  His recording of the sonata, previously thought unplayable, won him the Grand Prix du Disque and international fame.

Soon after this success, Starker immigrated to the United States.  He held principal cellist positions with major symphony orchestras and in 1958 accepted the teaching position at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.  Along with teaching, Starker embarked on a career as a concert soloist performing solo with the world’s major symphonies and in chamber recitals world-wide.

Over the next 30 years, he recorded over 165 works for cello on labels such as Angel, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, London Mercury, and RCA Victor, among others.   His recorded works include the major cello repertoire.

Early in his teaching career, Starker published An Organized Method of String Playing and in 2004 a memoir, The World of Music According to Starker (Indiana University Press).

“Starker was the perfect combination of a great artist/performer and an extremely dedicated teacher who felt that his main mission in life was to teach,” says Vardi, adding that Starker understood what professional cello playing entailed.  With a surgeon’s ability to diagnose and cut to the core of a cellist’s problem, Starker was very direct in his remarks and instruction.  Though his comments could be painful to the recipient, they were the essential tools needed for improvement.

Video from Medicitv.com

Vardi’s path to Starker came through the recommendation of Gabriel Magyar, cellist of the Hungarian String Quartet. Vardi met Magyar in 1972 in a summer festival in Holland.  Magyar  described the crux of Starker’s teaching method and philosophy:  It is not enough to be an intuitive performer, the essential method of playing the instrument–the physical requirements, musicality, phrasing– must be consciously known and understood by the cellist.  It was this concept of the combined importance of performance and teaching  that resonated with Vardi.

In 1979 at Indiana University, Starker established the Eva Janzer Memorial Cello Center to honor and promote comradeship among cellists internationally.

Starker’s lifetime achievements are numerous, and include performance, teaching and mentoring awards, including the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award for distinction in teaching at Indiana,  five honorary doctorates and the title of Honorary Professor of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.  He is considered one of the greatest cellists and teachers of the cello in history.

For more information about the National Summer Cello Institute, see  http://www.yourbodyisyourstrad.com/main/2013_National_Summer_Cello_Institute.html

Taylor Skiff, Dave Alcorn

Two more notable students from the School of Music.

Note from the editor: I first met Taylor Skiff when he was still in high school – (or maybe it was middle school). His teachers took note of him even then. It has been a real pleasure to watch him and many others from his group of friends grow both personally and professionally. Best wishes to Taylor and all those who leave us this year!

 

(From Uri Vardi) Taylor Skiff is one of the most outstanding cellists I have had in my cello studio at UW-Madison. He has a very strong passion for music, an impressive work ethic, and a strong motivation and drive to be the best cellist he can be.

Taylor Skiff
Taylor Skiff. Photo by Tori Rogers.

While studying with me, Taylor has won several competitions and has had the opportunity to perform many concertos with orchestra. In 2008 he won Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition, and performed Bloch’s Schelomo with the Milwaukee Symphony. Later that year he performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. In 2010, Taylor won the UW-Madison Concerto Competition and performed Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme with the UW Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, the Perlman Trio, of which Taylor was a member, performed the Beethoven Triple Concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Taylor auditioned for graduate school at Juilliard, Mannes, Peabody, and Eastman and was accepted with scholarship to all of them. He will attend Juilliard for his MM degree

Taylor shared some thoughts:

“My time at the UW School of Music was one of the most significant periods in my life. Apart from my growth as a cellist and musician, the school has allowed me to grow a lot as a person. When I first arrived at UW-Madison, I had serious doubts as to whether or not I had made the right college choice. I had been homeschooled for all of my pre-college years and was a fairly independent person. While I was involved in youth groups at my church, played in numerous sports leagues, and was a five-year member of MYSO (Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra), having to transition to a school of over 40,000 students was a jarring notion. The UW School of Music made the transition manageable. Even though the University is enormous, the School of Music is quite small in comparison. From day one, the faculty made an effort to get to know me and was always willing to go out of their way to help me grow as a musician and as a person. The familial environment that the school offered also made it easy to interact with colleagues and eventually make new friends. I greatly cherish the relationships that I have built with my professors and fellow students over the past five years.

“Without question, the person who helped me the most during my time at the UW was Uri Vardi, my primary cello instructor. I had been taking lessons from Mr. Vardi since my junior year of high school—so, he knew me well even before I arrived on campus. In addition to providing technical and musical advice, Mr. Vardi and I would talk regularly about my personal concerns. He would constantly encourage me to push my limits and step outside of my comfort zone. Our conversations not only helped me grow as a person, but also as a cellist. Without his support, there is no way I would have ended up auditioning, much less enrolling at The Juilliard School.

“All in all, I feel that the UW School of Music has prepared me well for my future endeavors. If someone had asked me as a freshman that I would one day be going to school in New York, I would have thought they were crazy. The UW School of Music has helped me achieve goals that I never would have set for myself and challenged me to continue to raise the bar.”

(From Tony Di Sanza) Dave Alcorn, who just graduated with a master’s degree in percussion, is part of a contemporary percussion ensemble, Clocks in Motion, that serves as the ensemble-in-residence for the UW-Madison percussion studio.

Dave Alcorn
Dave Alcorn

A few thoughts from Dave:

“I grew up in Pittsburgh. In terms of choosing percussion, I think it was more that the instrument chose me. In third grade, the band teacher at my elementary school had me march down the hall while tapping my hands on my chest. She told me I had good rhythm and that I would make a good percussionist. I also looked up immensely to my older cousin who played the drums; I wanted to be like him. By sixth grade I was pretty sure playing percussion was what I wanted to do with my life.

“I chose UW for my masters degree because of Tony Di Sanza. I took a lesson with him before applying to the school and it was one of the best lessons I have ever had. Working with him has been very enjoyable over the past two years.

“I will be heading to Maine for the summer, where I am a percussion instructor at the New England Music Camp. At the end of the summer, I will be returning to Madison to continue working with Clocks in Motion, as well as teach private lessons and freelance.”

Later this summer, we’ll feature Clocks in Motion on our blog. Stay tuned!

More enterprising students, coming and going: Laronga and Basak

Steven Laronga is returning to Madison next month from East Java, Indonesia, where, under the auspices of a Fulbright fellowship, he conducted nearly two years of intensive ethnographic field research for his dissertation in ethnomusicology. Steve completed a B.A. in Music at Wesleyan University, where he first was introduced to Javanese music, and then studied at STSI, a prestigious music college in Central Java with an Indonesian government Darmasiswa fellowship before entering the graduate program in ethnomusicology at UW-Madison. In preparation for writing his M.A. thesis on the “fusion aesthetic” of a new Javanese musical genre known as “Campur Sari,” he spent nearly two additional years in Java, at which time he also undertook exploratory work that led to his unique dissertation project, which looks at the musical lives and economic realities of gamelan musicians in the Javanese and Madurese cultural mix in and around the city of Surabaya in East Java. In addition to gathering data through interviews and observation, Steve actively participated as a performer with several groups and returns to Madison with an unparalleled depth of knowledge about the musical practices of East Java.

Mike Basak graduated with a bachelor’s degree in percussion performance. While here, he served as the acting principal percussionist of the Beloit Janesville Symphony and was a substitute percussionist for the Dubuque Symphony. This summer, he will attend the Pierre Monteux School for conductors and orchestra musicians in Hancock, Maine on a full scholarship, and then will move to Boston to study with members of the Boston Symphony as he begins a masters program in percussion.

Mike shared a few thoughts about the UW-Madison SOM and Tony Di Sanza, professor of percussion:

basak
Mike Basak

“UW has a music program that is all-encompassing. The UW music school does a good job of offering a curriculum where all of your classes and performance studies inform one another. It’s very easy to take what I learn in theory and history and use it in my performances and vice versa. [And] what I really like about Prof. Di Sanza is how much he cares for all of his students. He cares for us not as a studio, but as individuals. I hear a lot about, and have experienced, some other programs where the idea is to just do whatever your professor tells you, no matter what you think. Rather, Professor Di Sanza adjusts how he teaches to best suit each student individually. He encourages us to take a lot of risks and really push ourselves in a way that can be rare in the world of education. There are a lot of really major events in my undergrad that really shaped who I am as a person and as an artist that I could only have gotten from this studio.”

More notable students: Aaron Hynds, Annie Melconian and Jeremy Zima

After calling for stories about notable students graduating this spring, Fanfare received many stories about notable students–period!  So we’ve decided to include them all. All were suggested by faculty, though some were written by students themselves. We included photos when available. If we missed yours, send it on to news@music.wisc.edu!  Note, however, that we received a surfeit of news about men–and we all know that women are just as successful. So, ladies, raise your voices! 

(From John Stevens) Aaron Hynds is a Collins Fellow who is graduating with his masters degree in tuba performance.  Although Aaron has distinguished himself as an outstanding performer in the UW Symphony Orchestra, Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble, solo recitals and a number of ad hoc performance situations, his real love is contemporary music – especially the newest, avant garde, experimental stuff.  Aaron, who comes from Decatur, Illinois and holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Iowa, will be pursuing his Doctorate in Contemporary Music at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

melconian
Annie Melconian

(From Janet Jensen) Annie Melconian, a Fulbright Scholar from Baghdad, Iraq, just received her master’s degree in string development.  Annie was born into a family that valued both education and music, but nevertheless had only sporadic access to a musical education.  An undergraduate major in music was not an option; instead she earned a BS in Biology and began her career working in a lab in the morning and playing in the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra in the afternoon.  When security measures required that rehearsals take place in the morning, Annie faced a choice: music or laboratory work.  “This was a crossroads for me… Playing with the orchestra took me away from the daily terror  and tension in to a world of peace, love and hope.  So I chose music,” she says.

Annie sought professional development in music and violin in workshops and summer courses, including several months at the Guildhall School in London.  She was appointed to teach violin at the Baghdad Music and Ballet School, and was an active volunteer teacher of violin and choir in church settings and through Armenian General Benevolent Union, but she knew she needed to attain new skills. As she was interested in every aspect of string pedagogy and music education, she was a perfect candidate for UW’s Master of Music in String Development.  Now she returns to Iraq with full dedication and devotion to serve her community and Iraq.

“Iraqi schools are in need of music education.  I believe music will give [children] positive energy, raise spirits up, teach patience and creativity, and take them away from everyday terror and noise of gunshots, sirens, and the sound of generators,” Annie says. We wish her and her country healing and peace.

(From Pam Potter) Jeremy Zima, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology working under the direction of Pamela Potter, has been awarded the Ora Frischberg Salamon Fund Award of the American Musicological Society.  This award will allow him to travel to Germany to conduct research for his dissertation, “Aesthetics and Economics of the German Artist-Oper, 1912-1934.” Previously, Jeremy received the Wisconsin Musicology Fellowship (2011) and  a Vilas Travel Grant (2012) in support of his research. He has conducted archival research at Yale University and is planning a research trip to Berlin later this year.  His paper, “Strauss’s Intermezzo:  A New Look at the German Artist-Opera” was presented at the Spring 2013 meeting of the American Musicological Society-Midwest Chapter.

Jeremy Zima
Jeremy Zima

Jeremy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music magna cum laude from Wisconsin Lutheran College, studying with virtuoso jazz guitarist Jack Grassel.  He received the Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance and Musicology from Western Illinois University, completing his thesis, “Race, Authenticity, and Trans-Atlantic Identity in Jazz Guitar before 1942,” with Dr. Brian Locke.  He has presented conference papers on a variety of topics, including Argentinian guitarist Oscar Aléman and the practice of “relicking” guitars.  Jeremy serves as Visiting Lecturer in the department of music at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Student profile: Sergio Acosta, flutist-turned-bassoonist

Sergio Acosta
Sergio Acosta and his favorite instrument

It’s the time of year to consider all the fine progress of our students at the UW-Madison School of Music. We have a few stories to share. Our first begins today, with the interesting career journey of Sergio Acosta, who just received his masters degree in bassoon after earning his undergrad on flute. His story came to us from UW-Professor of Bassoon, Marc Vallon.

Marc writes:

Sergio joined the School of Music as an undergraduate in 2006 as a flute player and made himself immediately noticed by extraordinary musical talent and his friendly personality. The course of his studies took an unexpected turn when he fell in love with the bassoon during a woodwind fundamentals course. His uncommon natural ability on the instrument allowed him such lightning-fast progress that he enrolled as a master’s candidate in 2010, only two years after playing his first notes on a bassoon. Sergio’s degree has been partially funded thanks to the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship program that supports access to higher education for minority students.

We asked Sergio a few questions.

What caused you to change instruments? 

I started on violin in 6th grade and in 7th grade began to learn oboe, flute and clarinet. (My middle school teacher would not let me try the bassoon.) Throughout high school I dabbled with different instruments, including baritone sax, and participated in Wisconsin School Music Association solo/ensemble competitions on flute, sax, and clarinet. I became most proficient on flute, so I decided to have flute be my undergrad focus.

But, after taking the bassoon fundamentals class in spring 2008 and playing it for a couple months I completely fell in love with it; it came naturally to me. I felt happy and I was able to communicate musically, after some practicing, on bassoon what I couldn’t on flute.

In a seating audition at UW-Madison, Mr. (James) Smith, our orchestra conductor, who had already heard me on flute for three years, said, “I think you found your instrument. You have a really great voice for it.” This meant a lot and really made me work hard. I then auditioned with Marc Vallon and he accepted me into his studio.

How was it different for you?

The weirdest thing about changing focus in instruments was the change in practice habits, repertoire and mindset. On flute, I focused on practicing sound and tone, whereas with bassoon I focused on technique and facility. I also had to get used to playing different styles of music and having a different role. The flute typically has very high melodic lines, whereas the bassoon has lower solo, but many times supporting roles for other instruments. Plus,I needed to get into the habit of making reeds! There are no reeds on flute.

I realized I would have to work harder than I was used to. Flute was second nature to me, so I was mostly just fine-tuning, while on bassoon I really needed to establish basics.  Eventually, my technical ability caught up to my musicality but sometimes I still need to think a little more about my bassoon playing than on the flute. It’ll take some time before bassoon is as “second nature” as flute is.

It has been an exciting journey that I knew I would not want to give up on. It just had to be. It helped to have a wonderful supportive teacher and mentor like Prof. Marc Vallon who was patient, supportive and kept inspiring me.

Where will you go now?

Throughout 2013-2014, I will be in Madison working. I plan on taking auditions for orchestral jobs around the country and perhaps eventually in other countries, such as Germany. I do plan on teaching more students and teaching as much as possible. I will be playing gigs as often as I can.

Pianist Kit Taylor Dazzles New York City

Reviews don’t get any better than this. No wonder students clamor to study with Christopher “Kit” Taylor, professor of piano at UW-Madison.

On May 11 at Columbia University’s Miller Theater in New York City, Taylor presented a concert of Bach’s “Clavier-­‐Übung” (“Keyboard Practice”) with Frederick Rzewski’s virtuosic and politically charged variations on “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!”

Christopher Taylor,
Christopher Taylor, UW professor of piano.

The program was designed to explore the music of Bach from different perspectives, 250 years apart. From the official news release:

“Whether tackling Bach’s Goldberg Variations on a dual-­‐manual piano or playing a Messiaen magnum opus from memory, Christopher Taylor has consistently wowed Miller Theatre audiences with his smart, bold performances.”

His concert was VERY well-received.

The New York Times, in a review by Zachary Woolfe, called him “a dazzlingly virtuosic and thoughtful musician,” adding “…the passionate precision of Mr. Taylor’s playing, its almost vibrating sheen, also unified the concert, from the glinting, pulsing energy of the fourth duet, in A Minor, to the lush overlapping lines of the French Overture’s opening and the almost violent quality of its Gigue.”

Read the full review here:

NYT review of Christopher Taylor

Meanwhile, one of Taylor’s graduate students, Yana Groves, will present a concert of Bach, Debussy, and Schubert this Saturday, May 18 at noon at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, in a series called “Grace Presents.” The series is just perfect for Farmers’ Market strollers looking for a quiet interlude. Lunches are welcome!

Learn more here:

“Grace Presents” website

Also, read about Yana in Jake Stockinger’s blog, “The Well-Tempered Ear.”

The Well-Tempered Ear

This morning, Groves received some airplay from Rich Samuels of WORT radio, 89.9 FM, who makes a point of featuring many UW and other local musicians on his 7 am show. You can check out his radio show listings here: Rich Samuels”s page on WORT radio

When Yana was a senior at SUNY-Plattsburgh, she was videotaped rehearsing Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto. You can hear her here:

Wayne Corey: “UW Honors Jazz Band hits right notes”

uwmusic-honorsjazzconcert-050213-0143
Members of the UW High School Honors Jazz Band. Photo by Mike Anderson.

Wayne Corey lives in Madison and loves jazz. He writes a semi-regular feature column, Wayne’s Music World, for a blog called “Madison Jazz.” Last week, Wayne attended a concert at Mills Hall that featured the inaugural group of young musicians comprising the UW High School Honors Jazz Band as well as the UW Madison Jazz Orchestra, both conducted by UW jazz professor (new just this past year), Johannes Wallmann. Wayne loved it, and wrote this post. Reprinted with permission.

Madison Jazz website

“The UW Honors Jazz Band is the best jazz idea in Madison in 2013.  But it isn’t just an idea. These kids can flat-out play.  As a veteran “listener” I’ve listened to a lot of good musical ideas.  They don’t always work.  The UW Honors Jazz Band from the fertile musical mind of Professor Johannes Wallmann proved at its inaugural concert that it is a really great working idea.

“The Honors Band was the early May opening act for the UW Jazz Orchestra.  I’ll say more about that band’s fine performance next week.

“The impressive set list for the Honors Jazz Band included Matt Dennis’ classic Angel Eyes and Thad Jones’ The Farewell plus A Single Sky by Dave Douglas and Samba de Los Gatos from Mike Steinel, a prominent jazz faculty member at the renowned University of North Texas.  With a set like this the auditions for the by-invitation-only band must have had a sign reading, ” ‘No wimps allowed.’

“The band worked together for just three, albeit very long, rehearsals. The players looked very serious, expected from a young group making their initial public appearance.  At the same time, the listener felt a sense of swing from the group.  These are talented musicians playing more than notes.  They seem to have a surprising understanding of the music they are playing.

“I was impressed with several soloists including the budding improvisational skills of trumpeter Henry Smith of Madison West and the exactly right tone of Middleton’s Michael Hoot on Angel Eyes.  Angel Eyes is a song I know really well.  I can’t be fooled.  The Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, Sinatra in a “saloon song” segment, Ella when she slowed things down.  Great artists have done great things with Angel Eyes.  Michael Hoot and the Honors Band got it right.

“The band’s initial appearance featured fourteen musicians from six area high schools, Madison East, West & Memorial, Middleton, McFarland and Verona.  Four UW Jazz Orchestra “ringers” augmented the sound.  Assistant director Brad Carman from West led the opening number.  Noticeable by their absence were any players from La Follette, Edgewood and McFarland high schools. Sun Prairie High School has the leading local jazz reputation and was not represented but that band has been preparing for the Essentially Ellington competition at New York City’s Lincoln Center.

“The UW Honors Jazz Band is important on a number of levels.  It tells very talented high school musicians that America’s great original art form is important.  It encourages them to study the music, play the music and – of course – think about a future with jazz.  The Honors Band introduces the musicians to peers and to music that may be old to some of us oldies but is probably new to many of them.  It demonstrates to the musicians, friends and families that jazz is complex music to be played by skilled musicians.

“The Honors Band reminds those of us who have been listening to jazz for decades that our music can again begin to grow.  It can play a vital role in American culture.  If you have friends in Europe and Japan you know that jazz is a more important part of the music scene in those areas than it is in the country of its birth.  I’m grateful that Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries play such vital role in the promotion of jazz and – let’s be honest – the earning power of jazz musicians.  For listeners to be able to keep listening we need musicians to earn an income.

“The emergence of programs such as the UW Honors Jazz Band suggests our music future in the Upper Midwest may be getting brighter.  It really is the best jazz idea in Madison in 2013.”

May 10 at SoundWaves: Trombonist Mark Hetzler brings the “electric aesthetic” to his music

Mark Hetzler, XXX and Vince Fuh, three of four members in "Sinister Resonce,' at a gig in St. Paul in April.
Mark Hetzler, composer Mark Engebretson, and Vince Fuh, at a St. Paul gig in April.

UW-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler describes himself as a “bit of a geek,” which may help to explain he’s more often now found onstage with laptops, guitar pedals, a mixing board and surround sound instead of a symphony orchestra.

He’s done that, too, of course, having served for a time as the principal trombonist of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra as well as playing with other orchestras around the country. He was a fellow at the New World Symphony and Tanglewood and for 14 years was one-fifth of the internationally-known Empire Brass Quintet. He still is the trombonist in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, which just celebrated its 40th year (and, while not quite ready to bring laptops on stage, still plays some pretty cool new music).

But somehow he got from there to here, where “here” is “Sinister Resonance,” an experimental ensemble offering an amalgam of musical genres mixed with electronics. Sinister Resonance performed in St. Paul and Madison clubs last month and will finish out the semester with a few pieces at the upcoming “SoundWaves” presentation on May 10, at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. (See previous blog post for info on SoundWaves.) Mark will also speak for ten minutes on “The Electric Aesthetic,” about how he incorporates electronic technology into his music.

Mark Hetzler
Mark Hetzler

Last year, Mark received an H. I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, an unrestricted grant awarded to newly tenured faculty members who show “exceptional promise.” The grant has allowed him to expand his experimental efforts exponentially: to commission composers, buy sophisticated technology, record and perform all over the country, and compose new pieces himself. Mark recently answered a few questions about this style of music and why it appeals to him.

When did you first become interested in electro-acoustic music?

I became interested in this music when I was a sophomore in college- I was exploring in the library and discovered recordings of computer music from the 1950’s and 60’s.  At that time I didn’t have a computer, there was no internet and the means of making “electronic” music for me was simply playing along with a tape (a reel to reel tape back then- today we use sound files in a variety of digital formats).

One of the first electronic pieces I discovered was “Deserts,” by Edgar Varese. I was making my way through Varese’s music and was floored by Deserts.  I was struck by the concept of pre-recorded sounds being inserted into the sonic fabric of live players- this music really opened my ears up. I then came across a composition by Roger Reynolds titled “From Behind the Unreasoning Mask.” This piece was for 4-channel tape (surround sound), trombone and two percussionists. When I purchased the score, the publisher sent me a 4-channel reel to reel tape. I had no machine on which to play it and had to take it to a studio in Boston (where I was going to school at the time) and have an engineer convert it into another format. It’s kind of hilarious in a way, because when I left that studio, my new tape was now playable on a machine that would be obsolete within 2-3 years.

What do you like about this kind of music; what inspires you?  Are there any particular musicians whom you admire?

I’m a bit of a geek, so I’ll admit that I like the complexity of it. I like the fact that pieces I work on these days tend to require an enormous amount of preparation and technological involvement- from getting specific pieces of equipment to link and talk to each other, to software patches that need to be learned and tweaked. This music requires a level of focus and brain power that I find intellectually stimulating. Of course, I also marvel at the many ways one can express themselves with this kind of music. If I am working to shape a phrase, color my tone on the trombone or create a musical state that is either calm or excited, I find that technology can help me to get into places that are quite unexpected with regard to sound, intellect and emotion. I love making acoustic music- the feel of it and the sound of it. My approach when using technology is the same, but with digital and analog tools I feel like my musical reach multiplies- that is hard not to like.

There is nothing like spending ten to twelve hours in a studio working with sound. I love that time- it goes by WAY too fast. If I’m working on a new piece or trying to get just the right sound with my gear, or even improvising and working out a musical idea with an effects processor, I am in heaven.

Who are your musico-technological heroes?

Pat Metheny, David Tom, Nels Cline, Javier Alvarez, Terrence Blanchard–too many folks to mention all of them.

What logistics are involved in setting up for a concert?

Imagine a ton of wires and all kinds of equipment running together, machines depending on each other. It can take me up to two hours to set it up sometimes, so my pre-concert vibe can become anxious, but that is part of the thrill of this music. The logistics don’t stop there- I usually have a host of things to remember in concert as well (beyond just playing the trombone)- which fader to raise or lower, which program to turn on, which microphone to open, which effect to turn on or off. Playing this kind of music is like doing a complicated dance, in many ways similar to what percussionists do all the time.

Sinister Resonance is comprised of Mark Hetzler (trombone and electronics), Vincent Fuh (piano), Nick Moran (doublebass) and Todd Hammes (drums/percussion). On May 10, 7 p.m. at SoundWaves, in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the four will present a program of novel music that will follow a series of short talks on the theme of tools. Mark’s tools? By now, we know.

On the program:
“They Said…” by Mark Engebretson, professor of composition at UNC-Greensboro.
“Mark composed a powerful work that uses spoken word and interactive computer technology.  The piece is based on a poem that was inspired by the Abu Ghraib atrocities.”

“Murmuration,” composed by Mark Hetzler. This piece uses an 8-channel pre-recorded sound file, creating by playing the trombone through effects units.  The musicians improvise with each other and the surround-sound recorded part.  This work was inspired by the spontaneous formations of starlings, known as murmurations.

Mixing musicians with meteorologists: UW’s new SoundWaves series offers audiences an intellectual smorgasbord

"Sinister Resonance," in rehearsal
“Sinister Resonance,” in rehearsal

So this is a big university, with all sorts of smart people learning all kinds of fascinating stuff and sharing all that great knowledge with lots of others. Right?

Well, sometimes, yes, sometimes no. The truth is, it’s all too easy to remain in our silos and not trumpet what we do. Somebody will ask, eventually, right?

Maybe. But we also are learning that if we bring disparate disciplines together in attractive locations to mingle, chat, and (preferably)  eat and drink a little, amazing things will likely occur. Friendships will develop. Collaboration may ensue.

That’s the case with SoundWaves, which had its roots in a small idea between UW horn professor Dan Grabois and a few others on the UW campus: to combine science talks with concert performances. One thing led to another, and before you could blow the next note, Dan was curating a series of ten-minute talks by intellectual people, always on a theme, followed by live music provided by faculty at the UW School of Music. It was a way to bridge the streets and avenues and roads and alleys that separate people on this campus. And by all accounts, it’s been a success.

Next Friday, May 10, at 7 pm, at the Town Center at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St., the public is invited to the final SoundWaves event of the 2012-2013 academic year. (And you can have dinner beforehand, at the in-house restaurant, Steenbock’s on Orchard.) This months’s theme:

Getting the Job Done: Humans and the Tools We Use

Electricity? What is it really and how does it work? (John Booske, engineering)
Can we connect emotionally with our robot helpers? (Bilge Mutlu, computer science)
Do musical instruments help create musical styles?  (Dan Grabois, music)
How can a computer link animal sounds to linguistics? (Michael Coen, biostatistician)

Helping to answer the third question will be music from a new band called “Sinister Resonance,” comprised of Mark Hetzler (trombone and electronics), Vincent Fuh (piano), Nick Moran (doublebass) and Todd Hammes (drums/percussion). Sinister Resonance will not sound like any music any of us have ever heard before. We promise. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on that topic.

Here’s the scoop on how SoundWaves got started, from Dan Grabois:

“SoundWaves started as a small idea: what if we had an evening where we had some science lectures and some live classical music? I love learning about science, and UW-Madison is filled with scientists doing fascinating stuff. Also, I like learning about how everyday stuff works; once, meeting a civil engineer at a party, I began peppering her with questions about road construction. What is tar? What is asphalt? I don’t know much about the world I live in, and I’d love to learn more. I figured there must be other people like me, who are interested in learning science and are equally interested in hearing great music. It seemed like a good way to stitch together two very separate areas of the university, and a good way to increase the audience for each area.

“I brought the idea to [School of Music director] John Stevens, who thought it interesting enough to suggest I bring it to the Arts Institute. The Arts Institute thought it interesting enough to suggest I bring it to the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. I made an appointment to speak with Laura Heisler, who is the program pirector for WARF (if you are getting confused, so was I, but here’s an explanation: the Arts Institute is in charge of managing development for all the arts on campus. WID is the fancy new building on University Avenue right before it meets up with Johnson. WARF is the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. WARF operates WID, and WARF is the organization that provides research funding for the university).

“Preparing to meet Laura, I thought my original idea lacked punch. Bringing science and music together was nice, but we needed to do it thematically, to explore an issue from different sides. I came up with some possible themes and wrote them up. I pitched them to Laura, expecting her to say either NO or to agree to try one of them. Instead, she said we would do them all and see where it went (thank you, Laura!).

“We decided to start with the theme of sound itself, and our first SoundWaves event was entitled Music to Our Ears. I found a physicist to talk about the structure of sound, a hearing specialist to talk about how the ear works, a neuroscientist to talk about how the brain processes the signal from the ear, and a psychologist to talk about how our emotions transform brain signals into feelings. Then I performed the Brahms Horn Trio with my colleagues Felicia Moye and Kit Taylor. We held this debut event at the Science Festival, and it was a big success, with a great audience.

“After that, we didn’t have the benefit of the Science Festival’s built-in audience, and we didn’t know what to expect. But our next project, The Consequences of Sequences, had an overflow audience. For the third project, Inch By Inch, Measure for Measure (about, what else, measurement), we moved to the largest space in the WID building, and we had an audience of over 250 people. Our final event of the year takes place on May 10. Entitled Getting the Job Done: Humans and the Tools We Use, we’ll have Mark Hetzler and his band Sinister Resonance performing two pieces, plus talks by Mark himself and by electrical engineer John Booske (I always wondered how electricity works), computer scientist Bilge Mutlu (with his robots!), and biostatistician Michael Coen (he uses the computer to analyze animal vocalizations in order to understand them linguistically – he’s basically a one-man university). I’ll be speaking about how musicians’ tools, their instruments, have a two-way relationship with style, both influencing stylistic evolution and being influenced by the demands new styles put on players.

“One other thing: I am grateful to the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest Committee for awarding a generous grant to SoundWaves. We’ll be holding eight SoundWaves events next year. And we have sponsored a student logo design competition – the winning design will be revealed on May 10. As of that date, we will have brought over fifteen science departments into the SoundWaves fold, and heard a lot of great music, too.”

Listen to Dan Grabois and Mark Hetzler discuss SoundWaves with WORT radio’s Rich Samuels, May 9th, about 7 am,  89.9 FM.

Website for Rich Samuels’ show on WORT-FM radio

For more info about SoundWaves:

SoundWaves website