UW alumna singer records with Grammy winner Roomful of Teeth; Brass and Woodwind Quintets to play at a town near you; Piano lovers’ heaven this Sat. at UW

UW alumna singer making a mark as vocalist

UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill's sound engineer, Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley, Dashon Burton.
UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill’s sound engineer (in blue), and singers Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley and Dashon Burton.

A round of applause for Sarah Brailey, a 2007 master’s graduate who studied with vocal professor Paul Rowe and received the School’s prestigious Collins Fellowship, who has been lately appearing on stages from continent to continent, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, and Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Sarah is a full-time member of the Choir of Trinity Church on Wall Street and has been a part-time writer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (“who are totally supportive of my singing and are willing to let me have a very flexible schedule”). Nowadays, though, singing is taking the biggest role in her life.

Sarah, who received a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, is originally from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. While in Madison, she played the role of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with University Opera.

Here’s what Sarah says about her work these days: “I’ve been on tour with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and The English Concert, doing Handel’s Theodora. Among the incredible soloists are David Daniels, Dorothea Röschmann, and Sarah Connolly. We have been to Sonoma and Costa Mesa, California, Chapel Hill, and will have concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, Town Hall in Birmingham (England), and the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris.

“This season, I had the immense pleasure of performing Britten’s Les Illuminations for the first time with Novus NY. Read a review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/arts/music/handels-messiah-at-trinity-church.html

“I have recently started working with legendary composer John Zorn. This past summer, we premiered his “Madrigals” at the Guggenheim Museum.” Wrote the New York Times’s Steve Smith: “Those singers and three more — the sopranos Lisa Bielawa and Sarah Brailey, and the mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer — brought the same exactitude and luster to “Madrigals,” for which Mr. Zorn assembled phrases inspired by reading Percy Bysshe Shelley. Harmonically consonant, often unambiguously melodic and rhythmically effervescent, these half-dozen songs could easily slip into standard repertory.”

(L to R): Aulikki Eerola, Pertti Eerola, and
Three revered musicians from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland will be in Madison and Milwaukee for a one-week residency March 2 – 8 to talk about Finland’s music education system, hold master classes, and perform a concert on March 8 at Luther Memorial Church. Click image to learn more.

“We also sang his piece, ‘Holy Visions,’ based on the writings of Hildegard von Bingen, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an entire day dedicated to his works that were performed throughout the museum. We traveled to Huddersfield, England to perform both pieces in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and will be recording Holy Visions this spring.

“I have also worked on and off this season with the Grammy-winning contemporary a cappella vocal group, Roomful of Teeth. The photograph is from a recording session we did in August with Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs at Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Electric Lady was originally built by Jimi Hendrix and has been used by artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Daft Punk, and AC/DC.

In March, Sarah will perform Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” down in Knoxville, Tennessee at the Big Ears Festival and also recording with the Grammy-nominated vocal octet, New York Polyphony. In May, she’ll perform with the Trinity Choir and Bang on a Can All-Stars for the New York premiere of Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial Celebration.

National alumni, take note! Sarah’s other upcoming performances include:

Feb 26, 5pm, CUNY Grad Center: I’m performing a song cycle by André Brégégère with text by French-Carribean poet Édouard Glissant on CUNY’s Composers Now Festival.
March 4, 8pm, Alice Tully Hall: I’m soloing with The American Classical Orchestra in Handel’s Samson under the direction of Nicholas McGegan.
March 14 in Aiken, S. Carolina; March 16 in Morrow, GA; March 17 at Alice Tully in NYC: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Juilliard 415.
March 29-30: I’m performing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN.
April 18: I’m performing Josep Sanz’s King Lear with Ekmeles at the MATA Festival in NYC.

Wingra Woodwind Quintet and Wisconsin Brass Quintet on tour to northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota


The Wisconsin Idea is alive and well in the School of Music. This week, two of our four ensembles-in-residence will be on the road, offering a wonderful opportunity for classical music aficionados who don’t live in Madison (and we know there are many!) to hear some beautiful music.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

  • Tuesday, February 25, UW-Barron County – Fine Arts Auditorium, Rice Lake, WI. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Thursday, February 27, Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minnesota. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Future outstate concerts, please see http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wis_brass.html
  • In Madison, you can see the quintet perform on March 29, at 8 Pm in Mills Hall.

 Wingra Woodwind Quintet:

  • This Wednesday in Madison, the  Wingra Woodwind Quintet will perform at a new location, Capital Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, 7:30 pm. The quintet will also perform at a special dinner concert at the University Club on May 8.
  • In Ashland on February 28, United Presbyterian- Congregational Church, 7:30 pm. Tickets $15.00. http://www.ashlandchambermusic.org/concerts.html
  • In Three Lakes on March 1, at Three Lakes Elementary School, 6930 West School St. The concert begins at 7:30 pm. Tickets $10.00.
  • More information: http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wingra.html

Meanwhile, here in Madison we have a few special events on the docket for this weekend and next week….including the Pro Arte Quartet’s world premiere of String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (read this week’s story by local blogger Jake Stockingerand a residency by three musicians of the Sibelius Academy, in Helsinki, Finland. That residency begins with a master class for singers and collaborative pianist on March 2. Read more, including the complete schedule, here.

Piano Extravaganza! to feature well-known pianists as well as rising stars

Hear the UW’s best collegiate pianists, faculty and high school talents at an all-day festival this Saturday at UW-Madison. Masterclasses, workshops and performances hosted by UW-Madison faculty and students. This year’s Piano Extravaganza will feature piano works influenced by jazz and blues. Here is the schedule of events:

Friday, February 28, 2014

8:00 PM: Mills Concert Hall: Christopher Taylor, Faculty Concert Series

Saturday, March 1, 2014

8:30-11:00 AM: Piano Extravaganza Competition

11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Professor Johannes Wallmann, Jazz Improvisation Workshop

1:30-3:30 PM: Masterclass and Q&A with UW Piano Faculty

3:45-6:30 PM: Jazz and Blues in Classical Music  (Performed by UW-Madison Piano Majors)

Download the full schedule here:  PIANO EXTRAVAGANZA

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Susan Cook on the Beatles; Classical Revolution & Christopher Taylor in concert; Violin grad interviewed about audition plans; and more

Classical Revolution presents UW students performing at a pub…

class_rev2011

Tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 20, Classical Revolution Madison will be back with a jam-packed show of classical and contemporary favorites at Brocach Irish Pub on the Square (7 W Main St.) on Thursday, February 20th at 7 pm.  From 7-8 pm, CRM will present a dynamic program featuring works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Haydn, and more. Then, from 8-9 pm, they will open up the floor for anyone who wants to sight read or jam, so come with your fiddle or the sheet music of your favorite chamber work if you would like to join in on some casual music making.

Performers will include Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet (who recently soloed in our Symphony Showcase; see note below); and Thalia Coombs, Teddy Wiggins, Tony Oliva, Keisuke Yamamoto and Nathan Giglierano, violins; Marissa Reinholz, Mikko Utevsky and Mara Rogers, violas; Zou Zou Robidoux, Chris Peck, Tori Rogers and Rachel Bottner, cellos.

…meanwhile, pianist Christopher Taylor reveals his program for February 28 in Mills Concert Hall

On Friday, February 28 at 8 pm, in his only Madison appearance this year, celebrated pianist Christopher Taylor will perform the Sonata no. 6, op. 82 (1939) by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and the Symphony no. 3 in E♭ Major, op. 55 (“Eroica”) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), as transcribed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886). The concert will take place in Mills Concert Hall and is free.

Taylor writes: “I find altogether exhilarating the opportunity to re-experience works that inspired me even before taking my first piano lesson. Although, needless to say, a pianist cannot hope to duplicate the precise effect of Beethoven’s orchestrations, the attempt to simulate a few of them gives rise to endlessly fascinating pianistic possibilities. Virtually every technical resource of fingering, voicing, articulation, and pedaling (even the middle pedal, a device that Liszt himself lacked till late in his career) proves useful in these mighty transcriptions. While tonight’s version of the Eroica can obviously never displace the original form, I do hope that the pairing of a single musician with one versatile instrument can produce a fresh view of this immortal work, whose turbulent historical genesis and juxtaposition of heroism, tragedy, and redemption complement the Prokofiev so aptly.” Read full program notes here.

That Special Something: Susan C. Cook on what made the Beatles so legendary

In case you missed it, February 9 was the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Beatles in America, a day that went down in history as either the best or the worst example of popular music at the time. “Visually they are a nightmare, tight, dandified Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near disaster…”– Newsweek. (William F. Buckley called them “god awful.” Read more quotations in the LA Times.)

beatlesWell, those pudding bowls of hair caught on, didn’t they?  In a session with “Live at Five’s” Mark Koehn and Susan Siman at NBC’s Channel 3, our director and music historian Susan C. Cook talked about how the Beatles finally won us over. Click the link to watch.

http://www.channel3000.com/entertainment/-/1628/24339670/-/130bb5tz/-/index.html

Violin grad on how he’s preparing for master’s auditions

After graduating in 2011, Clayton Tillotson spent a year in Toronto at The Glenn Gould School of The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, where he received an artist diploma. Then he took a year off.

“I’m currently a first violinist with Orchestra Iowa and The Quad City Symphony,” he writes.

Clayton Tillotson
Clayton Tillotson

“I was originally reluctant to take this year away from school, but ultimately thought it would be better than the massive debt I would have accumulated had I accepted offers from Master’s programs last year. It’s turned out to be a fantastically productive and empowering year though. Realizing that I can actually solve problems and make progress on my own has been one of the best discoveries I’ve ever had.”

Now he’s back on the audition circuit, and recently sat down with Minnesota Public Radio to talk about how he prepares. “He recently Googled teachers from the universities where he would like to get a master’s degree in violin performance, and taped their photos up in his practice room,” writes the author. ”  ‘I just wanted to see what their faces look like,’ he said. ‘I’m really glad that I did, because some of them are pretty scary-looking people.’ ” (Perish the thought!) Read the story here.

Schwendinger’s “High Wire Act”  receives critical acclaim in San Francisco

Faculty composer Laura Schwendinger’s work “High Wire Act” was included in a recent program of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, a program that intentionally included works devoted to “serious fun,” as they called them. “The circus that the Wonder Pets were saving was the one imagined up by Laura Schwendinger for the composition that preceded Horowitz’. Interpreted by the same performers on their same instruments, the piece was a five-movement suite entitled High Wire Act. All but one of the movements were inspired by wire depictions of circus scenes designed by Alexander Calder. The other remaining movement recalled the composer’s own memory of a bird caught under a circus tent that could not find a way to escape,” wrote critic Stephen Smoliar. Read the full story here.

Symphony Showcase “reimagined” proves popular

uwmusic-symphonyshowcase-020814-0380
Pianist SeungWha Baek, enjoying applause after her performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, movement 1. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.
uwmusic-symphonyshowcase-020814-0522
At the reception, from left: composer Daria Tennikova; saxophonist Erika Anderson; violinist Madlen Breckbill; pianist Sung-Ho Yang; flutist Mi-Li Chang; and clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

On February 8, the annual concert of the UW Symphony Orchestra featuring concerto competition winners was held in Mills Hall, to a packed crowd and ovations for every performer. Rechristened the “Symphony Showcase,” it was favorably received by many, including local blogger Jacob Stockinger, who wrote: “If you weren’t there -– well, you probably should regret it. You missed out on a lot of fun and a lot of beautiful music-making by a very impressive group of talented students.” Read the full story here. 

Pro Arte’s Sally Chisholm to perform February 23 in a 90th birthday tribute to former Minnesota Orchestra conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

The Chamber Music Society of Minnesota plans a night of premieres and favorites to honor legendary maestro Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who conducted the Minnesota Orchestra from 1960 to 1979 and did so again recently after the end of their bitter lockout. “I will be principal viola for the orchestral works on the second half of the program, and violist in the string quartet premieres by Gunther Schuller, John Harbison, and Steven Stucky, ” Sally writes. Read the news release here.

For the full calendar of concerts and events at the school, click here.

Sally Chisholm
Sally Chisholm. Photo by Jim Gill.

Richard Davis on WORT Radio; Wind Ensemble and Brass Quintet on tour; NYC violinist plugs in to perform; Pro Arte premiere

Richard Davis to speak on WORT radio about the Black Music Ensemble, his work on racism and music relevant to black history

On Thursday, February 13 from 9 to 10 am, bass professor Richard Davis, recently dubbed a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts, will be a guest on WORT radio’s  “Diaspora” show with host Terry O’Laughlin, who describes his show as “a weekly journey across the musical spectrum.” Davis is the founder of the Institute for the Healing of Racism, which offers a ten-week series of Thursday evening classes to address issues of racism and allow discussion and solutions to heal it. (Click here for class info.)   That evening, Feb. 13 at 8:30 PM in Morphy Hall,  Davis’s Black Music Ensemble will present a concert of jazz, soul, and blues, and songs by artists such as Sam Cooke, John Legend, Snarky Puppy and Nat King Cole. Says BME member Ellen Breen: “There’s no a better way to celebrate Black History month than by coming out to the concert and enjoying the gifts black artists have given to the musical world!”

Meanwhile, registration is now open for Davis’s 21st annual Foundation for Young Bassists conference, to be held April 18-19 in Madison at the Pyle Center. Learn more here: http://www.richarddavisfoundation.org/

The Hunt Quartet,
The Hunt Quartet, the graduate quartet of the UW-Madison School of Music. Left to right: Ju Dee Ang, viola; Elspeth Stalter, violin; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and Lindsey Crabb, cello.
Please join us for the Hunt’s annual concert, Sunday, February 23, at 3:30 pm in Morphy Hall.
The program includes Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet, Op. 76/4; Bartók’s String Quartet #1; and Brahms c minor Quartet, Op. 51/1. Photograph by Katrin Talbot.

UW-Madison Wind Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet to tour western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota

Do you live near Bloomer, Wisconsin, or Mankato, Minnestota? If so, you’ll have an opportunity to watch the UW Wind Ensemble and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet in live performances in late February, as the two groups wend their ways on a chartered bus through western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota in order to showcase the School of Music’s band program while livening up the winter with a bit of brassy cheer. Not only do the tours spread Wisconsin Badger pride, they are also an important illustration of the Wisconsin Idea: that the boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state (stretching the boundary a bit, though, in this case).

Mi-Li
Flutist Mi-Li Chang and an unidentified high school student, on tour last spring with the UW Wind Ensemble.

The tour, the Wind Ensemble’s fifth, is scheduled for February 25 through the 28th; specific stops include high schools in Cameron and Bloomer, Wisconsin, plus five small cities in Minnesota: Mankato, Rosemount, Watertown, Owatonna, and Edina. At each stop, the two groups will offer an evening concert, with afternoon workshops in some locations.  All events are free. The program will include Amazing Grace (Traditional/Himes), Lincolnshire Posy (Percy Grainger/Fennell), First Suite in E-flat for Military Band (Gustav Holst), March from “Symphonic Metamorphosis” (Paul Hindemith) and Shadowcatcher, for brass quintet and wind ensemble (Eric Ewazen).

In Madison, the Wind Ensemble will perform on February 22 in Mills Hall, presenting music of Karl Husa, Roger Zare (Wisconsin premiere) and Steven Byrant.

The Wind Ensemble, conducted by Professor Scott Teeple, is a 41-member group of wind and percussion players, both undergraduate and graduate students. Entrance is by audition. For more information about the tour, contact Barb Douglas at the School of Music, bldouglas@wisc.edu.

Violinist Todd Reynolds and laptop in concert February 19

Think of great composer-performers of the past. Think of great singer-songwriters of the present. Now, meet violinist Todd Reynolds. A virtuoso performer, Todd writes much of the music he performs. He has collaborated with countless other musicians, but his most frequent partner in his solo work is the electronics software on his computer.

Todd will be in at UW-Madison February 19-21, performing and leading masterclasses and workshops. His recital on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 PM in Mills Hall will include some of his own music and some works written for him, all played on violin with electronics. He will be holding a variety of other events during his visit that will reach many School of Music students and community members. These will include:

  • A violin masterclass: Friday, Feb. 21, 2:30-3:30PM , Morphy Hall.
  • “How I Did It: A Career Workshop”: Thursday, Feb. 20, 12:00-1:00PM, 1321 Humanities.
  • “Performing with Electronics” workshop: Thursday, Feb. 20, 6:00-7:30PM, Eastman Recital Hall, Humanities.

The violinist of choice for Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, and Bang on a Can who has also performed with electronic cellist Zoe Keating, Todd Reynolds’ compositional and performance style is a hybrid of old and new technology, multi-disciplinary aesthetic and pan-genre composition and improvisation. He has released a double CD of solo works on Innova Records which was rated best of classical by Amazon. His music is soulful but edgy and filled with brilliant violin playing.

Todd is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and the New School Mannes College of Music, and was a frequent collaborator with School of Music horn professor Daniel Grabois, who was based in New York City for many years.

Horn professor presents concert of UW-Madison composed music

Speaking of Dan Grabois: On Wednesday, February 12 at 7:30 pm, Dan and and piano professor Jessica Johnson will offer a faculty recital comprised of all-UW-Madison-composed music, some only recently. Dan writes:

“John Stevens wrote his ‘Sonata’ in 2008. Like much of his music, it is written in a lyrical style that has a jazz influence lurking under the surface.

“Les Thimmig’s ‘Four Ballads,’ from 2000, are pure emotional song.

“My own ‘Antilogy’ was written last week. It alternates sections of driving Bulgarian style odd-meter rhythms with sections of slow lyrical writing.

“And the final piece was written by Alex Charland, who is a sophomore sax major here at the SOM. He is a Stamps Scholar, and as such a member of a group of six undergraduate high-achieving musicians whom I advise. Alex is an extremely talented player and composer. He offered to write this piece, ‘War Suite,’ for this recital – an offer that was gladly accepted. The piece was completed over winter break this year.”

Download the program here.

Mernier Composition Brings Pro Arte Quartet Full Circle

New Chamber Work to Premiere in Madison March 1, 2014

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Saturday, March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The 8:00 p.m. event is free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

The March 1 concert will be preceded on Thurs, Feb. 27, by an open rehearsal from 9 a.m. to noon, also at Mills Hall, during which the composer will coach the Pro Arte as they prepare for the premiere of the work, composed in honor of the quartet’s Belgian heritage.

Click here for the full story. 

The UW-Madison School of Music offers a smorgasbord of mostly free concerts and events during the academic years. Click here for the full calendar. And bookmark it to plan your next visit!

Mernier Composition Brings Pro Arte Quartet Full Circle

New Chamber Work to Premiere in Madison March 1, 2014

Contacts:

Sarah Schaffer 608/217-6786
Mike Muckian 608/287-6261

 

The Pro Arte Quartet. Left to Right: David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp.
The Pro Arte Quartet.
Left to Right:
David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp. Photo by Jim Gill.

MADISON, Wis. — Belgian composer Benoît Mernier writes music he says communicates with audience members in a variety of ways. He believes firmly that there is no single right way to experience music providing audience members are open to its messages.

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet as part of its ongoing centennial celebration, embraces a lyrical path that takes the composer in new directions.

“My favorite instrument is the voice, because the singing voice is the most expressive of all instruments,” says Mernier, who studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music in Liege, Belgium, and records for the European label Cypres. “The song is the model for all instrumentalists, and theoretical treatises in ancient music tell the players to imitate the voice in their performances.”

Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3 will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Saturday, March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The 8:00 p.m. event is free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

The March 1 concert will be preceded on Thurs, Feb. 27, by an open rehearsal from 9 a.m. to noon, also at Mills Hall, during which the composer will coach the Pro Arte as they prepare for the premiere of the work, composed in honor of the quartet’s Belgian heritage.

New Chamber Work Taps Pro Arte’s Belgian Roots

Benoit Mernier
Benoit Mernier

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theatre on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. Pro Arte also is the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.

Other events surrounding the concert include a March 1 dinner and cocktails with the composer at the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. (for details and reservations visit info@proartequartet.org or call 608-217-6786.)  The cost is $35. There also will be a pre-concert conversation with Mernier at Mills Hall at 7:00 p.m. just prior to the March 1 performance.

In addition to the Mernier premiere, the concert will include Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major Opus 20, No. 4, composed in 1772, and Bruckner’s String Quartet in F Major, written in 1879. Frequent Pro Arte collaborator and violist Samuel Rhodes, a member of the Juilliard String Quartet, will perform with the Pro Arte’s four musicians on the Bruckner composition.

On Sun., March 2, both the Mernier and the Bruckner pieces will be performed live at the Chazen as part of the art museum’s regularly scheduled Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen broadcast at 12:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Linear Structure, Musical Flow

Mernier’s 25-minute composition consists of nine specific movements, all of which have a compositional relationship with each other. Some movements are distinct and deliberate, while others flow into one another in an attempt to create a multi-dimensional structure, the composer says.

“The structural idea is to have a sort of linear music that moves in different directions,” Mernier says. “But at the end of the work there is a global sensation, like a story with different chapters. It will be up to the listener to structure and unify the different parts of the story.”

Mernier, who also writes opera, finds composing for a string quartet challenging, since there is only one family of instruments, limiting the voice of the composition. Employing different musical styles, from pizzicato to arco and playing sul ponticello (on the instrument’s bridge) or sul tasto (on the fingerboard), has helped the composer broaden the work’s tonal appeal.

“When you compose a string quartet, you are faced with a pure musical phenomenon,” Mernier says. “You can’t be on the periphery; you must be in the heart of things.”

Mernier’s experience writing for voice shows through the finesse applied to his string quartet, according to David Perry, one of Pro Arte’s two violinists.

“I was not surprised to hear that Mernier’s favorite instrument is voice, as there is extensive use of portamenti and glissandi,” says Perry. “I have never encountered a piece with more specific gradations of sul ponticello, or bowing close to the bridge for different shades of sounds with lots of high overtones. This technique can result in some unusual, and often beautiful colors.”

Mernier’s style and status among his European musical colleagues helped Pro Arte choose him for its fifth centennial commission. Based on the composition and its challenges, the quartet’s choice was a good one, says Sally Chisholm, Pro Arte’s violist.

“The many quick changes of sonorities from our most intimate to our most electrifying are exciting techniques that demanded much practice,” says Chisholm. “The required virtuosity of string writing in the second half of the quartet is quite challenging. Paganini would be a warm-up for some of the viola writing!”

A New CD, A Belgian Tour, A Wisconsin Public Television Special

In addition to the Mernier commission, Pro Arte Quartet’s 2013-2014 is filled with activity.

Performances of Pro Arte’s four previous centennial commissions by American composers William Bolcom, John Harbison, Walter Mays and Paul Schoenfield have been issued as an Albany Records 2-CD set. The release date was Dec. 10.

Later this spring, Wisconsin Public Television will air a one-hour documentary about Pro Arte and its work, featuring interviews with the musicians and excerpts from performances of the centennial works. The broadcast dates have yet to be determined.

The Mernier commission represents the first non-U.S. composer in the centennial series. It also brings the Pro Arte full-circle to its Belgian roots, a course that will include several concert dates in Brussels in May 2014. The Belgian connection is something that makes the String Quartet No. 3 a very special work, Mernier says.

“In the history of modern music, the Pro Arte Quartet is very important,” Mernier says. “I know the commission is a very great symbol.”

The Madison-based quartet agrees with the composer, citing Mernier’s work as a strong contribution to its long tradition of commissioning and premiering new work. Pro Arte’s list includes Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, which the quartet premiered in Rome in 1936.

“Just like the other four commissions, this new work represents a beautiful and serious addition to the chamber music repertoire,” Chisholm says.

In addition to Chisholm and Perry, current musicians in the Pro Arte include violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp.