No shortage of summer talent and ambition at the UW SOM

It’s summer now, and the UW-Madison School of Music hasn’t slowed down one bit. That’s because it is a hothouse of creative people with tons of musical ideas and ambition.

Jeffrey Sykes and Stephanie Jutt
Jeffrey Sykes and Stephanie Jutt

For two weekends now, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, co-founded by UW flute professor Stephanie Jutt and SOM doctoral alumnus Jeffrey Sykes, has presented concerts of spellbinding charm. (Fanfare ought to know-she attended the first one and will attend the last as well.) But for the second, we have a wonderful review by Jake Stockinger, whose blog The Well-Tempered Ear should be a must-read by any classical music aficionado in Dane County.

Jake called this concert “nothing short of a triumph” due to Sykes’ creation of an original story about the complex romances of Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Wieck Schumann, and Johannes Brahms by way of a “two-act mini-drama -– an experimental scissors-and-paste tapestry woven together with snippets of letters, diary entries and of course music -– proved successful on every count. It was greeted with cries of Bravo! and an enthusiastic, prolonged standing ovation.”

The concert also featured UW SOM vocal alumna Emily Birsan (now at The Lyric Opera of Chicago), Madison Symphony orchestra conductor/pianist John DeMain, UW SOM cellist Parry Karp, UW SOM/MSO violinist Suzanne Beia, and bass-baritone Timothy Jones. You can read Jake’s full review here.  You can also attend their final weekend of concerts; click this link to learn more.

Meanwhile, last Friday night at Music Hall, UW SOM violist and aspiring conductor Mikko Utevsky presented the first of two concerts this year of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, a three-year old ensemble created anew each summer of high school and college classical players. Utevsky, a graduate of Madison East High School, is an enterprising and sophisticated student of classical music who was profiled recently in a Q&A in Jake’s The Well-Tempered Ear. For the first concert, which featured local musicians Diedre Buckley on viola and Eugene Purdue on violin as well as WPR host Lori Skelton as narrator, featured Aaron Copland’s “Our Town,” Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” and Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante.” It received a positive review from emeritus professor of history John Barker. “Utevsky has been able, in a short time with limited rehearsal opportunities, to forge them into a thoroughly credible, and creditable, ensemble,” he writes. Read Barker’s full review here. 

MAYCO will present a second concert at Music Hall on Friday, August 9, featuring a work by local composer Jerry Hui and former East High School trumpeter and Wisconsin Youth Symphony alumnus Ansel Norris, now a junior at Northwestern University. That program will feature the Haydn Trumpet Concerto and music of Hui and Beethoven.

Of course, then there’s the ongoing festival in the Humanities Building known as the Summer  Music Clinic. You can find photos of students at last week’s junior session below and on our Facebook page. And later this week, we’ll offer up another first-hand reflection by guest blogger, SOM percussionist, and SMC counselor, Jacob Wolbert.

A full house at one of SMC's final concerts. Photo by Mike Anderson.
A full house at one of SMC’s final concerts. Photo by Mike Anderson.


Guest blogger Jacob Wolbert on UW’s 2013 Summer Music Clinic: “Something magical.”

The School of Music has a guest blogger this week and next: Jacob Wolbert, a third-year UW percussionist who is a counselor at the Summer Music Clinic, a many-decades tradition at the university. SMC, as it’s known, which takes place every summer in June, offers middle- and high-schoolers weeklong opportunities to explore all kinds of music: band, orchestra, choir, musical theater and jazz.  Students live in dorm rooms in Ogg Hall, take classes and play music in the School of Music venues in Humanities, and generally live the life of Riley in downtown Madison. For one week—-then they return home with lots of new friends, musical ideas, and fun memories.

By Jacob Wolbert 

So far, music and laughter have echoed throughout the halls of the Humanities Building and Ogg Residence Hall, setting the tone for the next couple of weeks.  New friendships have been forged, old ones rekindled, and a shared passion has been acknowledged and furthered.  All this can only mean one thing: the junior session of the UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic is well underway, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Jacob Wolbert
Jacob Wolbert
Photograph by Mike Anderson

My name is Jacob Wolbert and I just completed my third year at UW-Madison, pursuing majors in percussion performance and Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies.  As a middle schooler, I attended Summer Music Clinic, and I can safely say that I would not be majoring in music had I not been a camper.  Escaping the frustration of my school band, where interest levels and attitude varied considerably, I cherished my one week of the year to make music in a collaborative, encouraging, and fun environment where hundreds of other kids my age shared my enthusiasm.  Year after year, the counselors, faculty, and staff made SMC the best week of my summer, and after attending the high school session for four years, I knew that I had no desire to let that experience out of my life.  After a year working with the properties crew, I was privileged enough to be hired as a counselor.

Looking at Summer Music Clinic in this new role, I can see that nothing has changed, save the fashion styles, pop culture and technology.  The week follows a routine of morning classes with performances and free time interspersed.  To me, the most awe-inspiring quality of the camp is the equal level of joy in the campers between the music classes and the free time.  The proud look on Hannah’s face when she finally nails that tough tambourine part, or the delighted murmurs of “Cool!” and “Sweet” when Noah and Ben learn about jazz legends.  After classes, the middle schoolers are met with cheers, high fives, and songs from their counselors as they return to their dorms from the music building.  At this point, the counseling staff offers their campers a wide variety of afternoon activities, with everything from henna tattoos to dodgeball.  The lunch and evening concerts expose the kids to masterful music, as well as the possibility of where their passion can take them.  As a camper, I certainly fantasized about the possibility of playing for SMC as a guest performer.

At the outset of this year, I know exactly why I like this camp, but what makes other people, both counselors and campers, return back for another year?  According to Soren Davick, an eighth grade bass player, SMC offers the opportunity for kids to “hang out with fun, upbeat counselors, play great music all day, and meet new people.” Rachel Riese, a ninth grader playing viola, returned to the camp because of her great experience in viola group lessons with Diedre Buckley, not to mention the great time she had overall.  When asked if they planned on coming back next year, both campers responded with an emphatic “Yes!”

In order to get a full sense of the Summer Music Clinic counselor experience, I talked to counselors who had been on staff much longer than me and new counselors who are still adjusting to the routine.  Danielle Plocar, who has counseled here since I attended senior session, described this year’s middle schoolers as “amazing, mature, and energetic.”  For Keisuke Yamamoto, who joins the counseling staff for the first time, he has particularly enjoyed interacting with middle schoolers, an unfamiliar demographic to him.  Danielle loves reconnecting with returning campers and especially looks forward to the student recitals.  Keisuke hopes to connect with the kids on his wing and learn how to work better with the campers.

If you were to ask anyone who has participated in the UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic, no one would deny the presence of something magical, an intangible aura of positivity and progression through music.  Over these two weeks, I will continue to document inspiring sights, beautiful sounds, and humorous anecdotes of the events that take place here.

For photos of Summer Music Clinic, week one, check our Facebook page!

Wallmann and Ellington: Jazz Notes from UW-Madison

Jazz fans, take note. It’s time for some opportunities and remembrances.

This Thursday, June 20, jazz pianist and UW Director of Jazz Studies Johannes Wallmann will be performing live on Wisconsin Public Radio with tenor saxophonist great Eric Koppa, playing an hour of duets on Norman Gilliland’s Midday show. The concert airs live from noon to 1:00 pm on WPR’s News and Classical Music network (in Madison, WERN-FM 88.7).

Johannes Wallmann
Johannes Wallmann
Photo by Mike Anderson.

Wallmann and Koppa will be premiering two new compositions by Wallmann, “Water Music (for People without Aquariums)” and “A House for Men and Birds,” written for an upcoming recording session with his New York-based quintet and a tour of New England in July. The duo will also explore a couple of jazz standards, “Stella by Starlight,” and from My Fair Lady, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” as well as Eric Koppa’s “Regions.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Isthmus Jazz Festival has a strong UW component. The UW Jazz Orchestra under Wallmann’s direction will play at the Memorial Union at 6 pm on Saturday, June 22. Following that, festival headliner Carmen Lundy will perform at our own Mills Hall, Saturday, June 22, at 8 pm.

The Jazz Orchestra will be accompanied by special guest composer and bassist Marcus Shelby, of San Francisco.  Wallmann, a pianist, will perform as a special guest with the Edgewood College Big Band and with the Madison Jazz Orchestra.

Last but not least, the UWs connection with jazz great Duke Ellington was explored recently in a Wisconsin Public Radio segment that aired on May 24, the anniversary of Ellington’s death. Written and recorded by Dean Robbins, editor of Madison’s weekly, Isthmus.

Duke Ellington’s Portrait of Wisconsin

by Dean Robbins

“It’s hard to imagine a time when Duke Ellington was underrated. Almost 40 years after his death, we take it for granted that Ellington is one of America’s greatest composers. Arguably the greatest. He explored the possibilities of a jazz orchestra, taking it far beyond dance music. His records proved that such humble sounds as growling trombones and wailing saxophones could figure into a grand artistic vision.

“But in Ellington’s heyday, the cultural gatekeepers weren’t used to seeing jazz as art. To them, it sounded too earthy to be important. Duke would receive no Pulitzer Prizes when he created his masterpieces in the 1930s and ‘40s. He would receive no federal grants when his band fell on hard times in the 1950s. Instead, he was forced to play background music at an ice show to pay the bills.

“This was also the era of segregation, of course, when a black musician like Ellington couldn’t even walk in a nightclub’s front door. Duke was a gracious man, and he took such indignities in stride. But the rest of us can be outraged on his behalf.

“Thankfully, Ellington did receive his share of official recognition late in his life. And believe it or not, one of his most glorious triumphs came in Wisconsin.


“In the early 1970s, the UW-Madison made an extraordinary gesture for the time. It granted Ellington an honorary doctorate and mounted a weeklong festival of his music. It even gave Duke and his band members the rare opportunity to conduct master classes. Best of all, Governor Patrick Lucey proclaimed Duke Ellington Week throughout the state. Ellington considered this one of the greatest honors he ever received. In his 70s, he was gaining long-overdue recognition as an American treasure.

“Duke proclaimed his undying love for Wisconsin – the beer, the cheese, and the people. He expressed his gratitude in a suite written just for us, called “UWIS.” It’s Duke’s musical portrait of the state, painted in a dazzling range of colors.

“The old master wasn’t resting on his laurels. He was still experimenting with jazz form, even scoring his first polka. The polka, as you can imagine, surprised and delighted the Wisconsin crowd when Ellington performed it at the UW festival.

“About ‘UWIS,’ Ellington said, ‘I tried to evoke some of the happiness that Wisconsin and the inhabitants of that state had given me.’

“Now there’s something to be proud of, fellow Wisconsinites. We made Duke Ellington happy.”

Click here to hear Dean’s commentary on WPR.

New faculty oboist Kostas Tiliakos brings new flair to the School of Music

Oboist Konstantinos (Kostas) Tiliakos has always enjoyed dipping his toes into all manner of pursuits: He’s had his Pink Floyd and Genesis stage, his writing and editing stage, his mountain climbing stage, his shrimp protein stage –yes, that’s right, shrimp protein. That would be the research he did as an undergrad biology major at National Kapodistrian University in Greece, where he was born and raised.

Kostas Tiliakos
Kostas Tiliakos
Photo by Katherine Esposito

In the end, as with so many of us, it was the impressions from childhood that remained: the memories of hearing Strauss and Beethoven on the record player at night, his father helping his children to nod off. “I remember sleeping with that soft music,” Tiliakos says.  Today, those melodic lines continue to inspire him, as he joins the SOM this fall as visiting assistant professor of oboe, replacing Marc Fink, who retired this past spring.

Kostas Tiliakos has been principal oboe in the Greek National Opera Orchestra in Athens since 1997, where he previously held the solo English horn position. An avid lover of contemporary music, Tiliakos has been a member of the Hellenic Ensemble for Contemporary Music since 1990 and has premiered and recorded many works by contemporary composers, often dedicated to him. He has also recorded solo and chamber music pieces on Wandelweiser (Germany), Lyra and Irida Classics (Greece) labels and has been broadcast on radio and television throughout Europe. Internationally, he has appeared as a soloist throughout Europe, Africa, Canada and the US. Tiliakos has also been a successful teacher as many of his students hold currently positions at orchestras, bands and conservatories.

Tiliakos has studied with oboists Didier Pateau (Paris), Claude Chieulet (Athens), Paul Dombrecht (Brussels), and Hansjörg Schellenberger (Germany) and holds a BA in European Cultural Studies. In addition to performing, he has spent considerable time as a music writer and critic with the largest media organizations in Greece, including the National Geographic Society in Greece.

Along the way, he decided to take an academic break from his job at the Greek National Opera and pursue a sabbatical to the US. In 2002, Tiliakos had met Marc Fink, then professor of oboe at UW-Madison and president of the International Double Reed Society, at a IDRS conference. He immediately loved Fink and his “American” sound, once considered rounder and less reedy than those from Europe, and subsequently applied to study at UW where he received a Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Fellowship. In 2012, he earned a master’s in oboe performance and began work on a DMA, but unbeknownst to him, Fink was making retirement plans. After Fink made his announcement and the search started for a replacement, Tiliakos was selected for the job. His official title will be visiting professor of oboe, and he will also become the newest member of the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, which performs all over the state of Wisconsin and will play in Madison on November 21 at Mills Hall.

Tiliakos’s wife Anastasia, a cellist and doctoral student in musicology at Greece’s Ionian University, is also here in Madison, as are their two young children Ellie and Nick.

Fink calls Tiliakos “rather unusual in his background, having studied with both French and German teachers growing up.”

“In the process of learning the ‘American style,’ he has adapted his style of reedmaking and worked very hard,” he adds. “He is a wonderful artist and teacher and I am delighted that he will be teaching oboe here next year.”

For his part, Tiliakos, who plans to climb the craggy hills of Devils Lake State Park and cruise Madison’s bicycle paths, is thrilled to have the opportunity to expand his musical boundaries and grow as a performer. “All this exchange makes you rich,” he says. “The American educational system is more open, and different ideas are really important for a musician.”

“It’s a fulfilment of a dream,” he continues. “It’s a great school, a great program, a great university. And I really like the weather.”

A baton is passed and a conducting student moves on: David Grandis, DMA

Ever go to a UW orchestra concert and wonder who that handsome male stranger is up on the podium? (We all know Prof. James Smith is handsome, but he’s not a stranger.) If it was fairly recently, it was likely David Grandis, a native of France who just finished his doctorate in conducting under Prof. James Smith. David has now left us for a promising career in the D.C. area, and has written a post to tell us about himself and his time at UW-Madison.

David Grandis, conductor
David Grandis, conductor

“I started my musical studies in France at the age of five, mostly solfège (sight-singing) at first, because a piano student at the conservatory wasn’t allowed to touch the keyboard before having done two years of theoretical training. Unfortunately, this completely destroyed my initial enthusiasm for this instrument. I then switched to trombone.

“After my high school diploma in performance, I decided to concentrate on conducting, and spent about ten hours a day on theory, voice, various instruments, and musicology. And, as conducting studies in France rarely give the opportunity to the students to conduct an orchestra, I created my own chamber ensemble. After I completed my BA in Musicology in France (University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis), I started to look for a master’s program somewhere in the US.

“I loved the USA, having been raised with a sense of gratitude toward this country because my grandfather was a general in the French army and fought with the American army during the Second World War.

“I decided to study with Donald Schleicher at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I met my wife. She and I spent a few years apart while I worked with a few orchestras in France; I then returned to the US and to do a graduate performance diploma at the Peabody Institute with Gustav Meier. His teaching was really interesting but I hated the atmosphere, the pushiness of some conducting students, the lack of commitment of the school toward its conducting students.

“I then worked with a couple of orchestras around Washington DC and also in France, but finally decided to go back to school for a DMA. I was growing more interested in an academic career because I’ve always thrived on the enthusiasm of students. I find them refreshing and inspiring.

(Click the link below to watch David Grandis conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Samuel Barber’s Medea’s Meditation and Dance for Vengeance, March 2012. You might even recognize a few people in the audience!)

“Where to study for a DMA in conducting? I realized there weren’t that many programs around the US. I was a bit older and didn’t want to deal with a megalomaniac and/or dogmatic teacher (it actually goes together most of the time, like a doubly bad deal). Donald Schleicher recommended that I audition for James Smith at UW-Madison and I felt right away that it was the place to be. I’ve never felt so glad in my studies and the reality exceeded my expectations. UW-Madison has offered me my best experience in my entire journey. The staff, including Marina Drake, Todd Welbourne and Ben Schultz, has always been helpful and committed to my success and the program was designed to complete my knowledge in whatever needed to be completed. It was very flexible.

“I decided to minor in opera performance because I’ve always loved the lyric and because the opera program at UW is really exceptional; there is nothing comparable in French conservatories. William Farlow is a gem and the voice faculty has produced a lot of students who started a career on professional stages. (In fact, for my final DMA project, I focused on opera; more specifically, on the French style of opera singing. The book will soon be published in French and in English in both countries. The English title will be “The Voice of France: the Golden Age of the RTLN (‘Réunions des Théâtres Lyriques Nationaux’)” published by MJW Féditions, Paris).

“I also loved studying orchestral bowing technique with Felicia Moye, a great musician and so devoted to her students. And it was a privilege to hear the Pro Arte Quartet on a regular basis and to be reminded what music is all about by these tremendous artists.

“Last but not least: Prof. James Smith. He was the perfect teacher to finish my studies with. He was never dogmatic, always very pragmatic, with his feet on the ground, reminding me some fundamentals, suggesting different musical approach, awakening a hidden awareness of the sound. I am getting a bit abstract here but it is difficult to explain these kind of things in concrete terms. I love his intense musicality, his sophistication, his refinement and among the countless things I learnt from him, I finally started to understand how to rehearse by watching him.

“One last word: The students have also nourished me through their talent, their passion and their musicality. It will be painful to part with them, with this university, with this great town, but life must go on and musicians are rarely sedentary. I’m moving back to the East Coast this summer: I will be Music Director of the symphony orchestra at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and Music Director of the Virginia Chamber Orchestra around DC.”

Horn alum joins U-Tennessee faculty; tubists win top honors in competition

The School of Music congratulates Katie Johnson, 2012 DMA graduate of the horn program, who will begin this fall as assistant professor of horn at the University-of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Katie writes: “I began my MM work in the fall of 2008.  I came to UW to study horn with Douglas Hill.  From the beginning, he was incredible.  The opportunity to study with him literally changed the course of my career. I came to him in 2008 wanting to be an orchestral performer and I left his studio having truly found my calling as an educator.  Observing Doug teach during those first months all the way to the time of his retirement was a remarkable opportunity.  We developed a great friendship over the years and I am happy to say that I am still learning about the horn, teaching and life from him.

“I had such an extraordinary experience with Doug during my MM work that I decided to stay at UW to complete the DMA degree.  I began that degree in the fall of 2010. It was shortly after I began my DMA work that Doug announced his retirement.  Although it took my studies on a different trajectory that I expected, I had the opportunity to study with Doug and our new horn professor, Dan Grabois.  They are quite different teachers but I learned a great deal from both of them.  The situation worked out quite well for me.  I completed my DMA in the spring of 2012 and I have taught horn lessons and freelanced in the Chicago area for the past year.  Now I am thrilled to be moving to Knoxville to fill the position of Assistant Professor of horn at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.”

Katie Johnson, UW DMA, horn performance, 2012
Katie Johnson, UW DMA, horn performance, 2012

We also are happy to announce the fabulous performance of the UW Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble at the 2013 International Tuba Euphonium Association Midwest Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at Illinois State University. Here are the results:

Jacob Grewe, 1st place Tuba Artist Competition.
Tim Morris, 1st place Euphonium Young Artist Competition.
Aaron Hynds, 1st place Mock Orchestra Tuba Audition.
Matthew Mireles performed a recital as a featured guest artist.
The UW Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble performed a concert as a featured ensemble.

Says Matt Mireles, UW undergrad euphonium instructor: “We had a blast over there, and it was great to see all of our hard work pay off.  Congratulations to everyone.  UW swept all of the competitions we competed in, and the tuba ensemble was the talk of the conference!”

Dr. Matthew Mireles
Instructor, Undergraduate Euphonium
Conductor, University Band and Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble
University of Wisconsin-Madison
President, Andy Mireles Charitable Foundation