UW-Madison alumni form 3/4 of new strings education quartet in Door County
Executive director also an alumna
The first time UW-Madison’s Hunt Quartet played in Door County for Midsummer’s Music, a Door County summer chamber music festival, it was in response to an emergency.
The renowned Pro Arte Quartet had long been booked to play, but the quartet had to cancel. Midsummer’s artistic director James Berkenstock scrambled to fill the void.
David Perry, violinist with the Pro Arte, had a solution: Hire the Hunt, the graduate string quartet at UW-Madison. “David said that this particular configuration of the Hunt Quartet was superb,” says Berkenstock. “He said they already had a program and would do a great job.”
Classical pianist Christopher Taylor continues his Liszt/Beethoven cycle
Franz Liszt was a superstar pianist. He was a virtuoso who invented the orchestral tone poem, taught 400 students for free, conducted and composed. Musicologist Alan Walker wrote three volumes about Liszt, shedding light on all of Liszt’s work but especially his genius for transcription. Writes Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, “The best of these works are much more than virtuosic stunts. Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the nine Beethoven symphonies are works of genius. Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview, told me that he deeply regretted never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public.”
Few pianists have tackled all nine Beethoven transcriptions. Christopher Tayloris one. On Saturday, February 9, at 8:00 PM in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform his sixth transcription – Beethoven’s 8th Symphony. Saturday’s concert will also include six preludes by Nikolai Kapustin, a whose works span both classical and jazz, and the Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (“Der Wanderer”) of Franz Schubert.
In 2020, Christopher Taylor will celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary with performances of the Franz Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, in Madison and beyond. In Boston, Taylor will perform the entire set in five concerts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Tickets for Taylor’s Feb. 9 concert ($17 adults, $7 children) may be purchased online or in person.
February 2 @ 8:00 pm, Mills Concert Hall, 455 N. Park St.
Program: String Quartet D Major, Op. 50 No. 6 “The Frog”(1796) – Franz Joseph Haydn String Quartet No. 9 in Eb Major, Op. 117 (1964) – Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41 No. 3 (1842) – Robert Schumann
“Schubertiade” charms audience once again
Isthmus’s John Barker wrote, “A carefully prepared program and a multi-page handout with the full German song texts, with English translations, allowed the audience to become fully immersed in the music.
Jazz Composers Group and Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble February 1 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm Tandem Press, 1743 Commercial Avenue
Wingra Wind Quintet in Richland Center February 3 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 26625 Crestview Dr Richland Center, WI Members of the Wingra Wind Quintet in concert, presented by the Richland Concert Association at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Richland Center.
UW Jazz Orchestra & the Billy Childs Quartet February 9 @ 8:00 pm Memorial Union-Shannon Hall, 800 Langdon Street WI Jazz pianist Billy Childs, the 2018 Grammy Award winner for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, will join the UW Jazz Orchestra on stage for an exciting opening act prior to his appearance with the Billy Childs Quartet.
UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, with composer Augusta Read Thomas February 14 @ 7:30 pm Mills Concert Hall. With Chad Hutchinson, conductor, and graduate conductors Michael Dolan and Ji Hyun Yim. Program: Jean Sibelius- Valse Triste; Augusta Read Thomas- Of Paradise and Light; Augusta Read Thomas- Prayer and Celebration; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart- Symphony No. 39 in Eb. Major, K. 543. Augusta Read Thomas will be in residence at UW-Madison for this concert. Join us for a master class with Ms. Thomas, Feb. 14, 2:00 to 5:00 PM, Music Hall.
The School of Music offers a smorgasbord of performances each year; we invite you to visit our website and click on our events calendar. We also publish a season brochure that is mailed every August. To receive the brochure, please send your postal address to the School of Music.
On the program:
Corigliano’s Fantasia on an Ostinato
Beethoven’s Symphony #7 (arr. Liszt)
Schubert’s Moments Musicaux
Rachmaninoff’s Moments Musicaux
Christopher Taylor’s conceptual program features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, arranged by Franz Liszt. Over 175 years later, NYC-based composer John Corigliano would use Beethoven’s 7th to inspire his Fantasia on an Ostinato.
On the second half of the program, Taylor will feature two takes on the title “Moments Musicaux”: first, Schubert’s version, published in the last year of his life (1828), then he’ll perform Rachmaninoff’s version from the start of his career.
BRASS FEST IV: Concerts & master classes, Saturday, September 30 & Sunday, October 1, Mills Hall & classrooms
We invite students of all ages to discover the brass quintet genre and its myriad of musical styles, and offer a chance for young brass players to meet and mingle with other like-minded musicians.
This year’s guests will be the Beaumont Brass Quintet from Michigan State University. They, along with our own fabulous Wisconsin Brass Quintet, will perform a concert on Saturday, September 30 at 8 pm, featuring arrangements (such as a Bach Partita arranged for brass by our own trombone professor, Mark Hetzler) and original brass works. Those will include “Music for Lighthorses” by David Biedenbender; “Quintet for Brass” by Andrew Duncan; and “Night-Shining White” by Zhou Tian. Cost: Free.
On Sunday, October 1, 2:30 PM, our concert will include both quintets and top college students. There will also be a reception afterwards, for all in attendance. On the program: Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for brass and percussion. Cost: $15 adults, $5 students (MWSOM students free). Ticket information here.
For specific master class rooms & times, see posted hallway signs.
Brass Fest 2014- Current and former horn students
Brass Fest 2014 with tubist Oystein Baadsvik
Brass Fest 2014
Brass Fest master class with Stockholm Brass, 2016
Brass Fest 2016 – A trove of tubas
Brass Fest 2015 with Axiom Brass
Brass Fest 2015 – Mark Hetzler, trombone
Brass Fest with pianist Johannes Wallmann
Brass Fest with alumna Somali Wilson
Brass Fest with singer Elizabeth Vik
Trumpeter Adam Rapa
Past Brass Fest guests have included tubist Oystein Baadsvik from Norway, trumpeter Adam Rapa with vocalist Elizabeth Vik, the youthful Axiom Brass from Chicago and the internationally-known Stockholm Chamber Brass on their first United States tour.
Listen to “A Little Russian Circus,” movement 1, composed by Anthony DiLorenzo, performed by Stockholm Chamber Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, and college students at Brass Fest III.
The School of Music offers a smorgasbord of performances each year; we invite you to visit our website and click on our events calendar. We also publish a season brochure that is mailed every August. To receive the brochure, please send your postal address to newsletter editor.
Welcome to the 2017-2018 academic year at the Mead Witter School of Music!
We hope you had an enjoyable, relaxing and productive summer. We’re ready to begin the fall semester with plenty of news and events.
Introducing Alicia Lee, assistant professor of clarinet; Alex Noppe, adjunct professor of trumpet; Matthew Endres, adjunct professor of jazz drums & jazz history; Timothy Hagen, adjunct professor of flute; David Scholl, instructor of double bass; and Chad Hutchinson, adjunct professor of instrumental conducting, director of orchestras and conductor of University Opera. Read their biographies here.
New digital music studio
This fall, the Mead Witter School of Music will add a new studio to Humanities: the Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS). Located in a former classroom, EARS will be stuffed with the latest electronic music equipment, and will be available to faculty, students, and collaborators within the School of Music and in other departments. Read the announcement here.
Grand opening: Friday, September 15, 7:30 PM, Room 2401 (street level), Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street.
Ten Years of the Perlman Piano Trio!
Last spring marked the tenth year of the Perlman Piano Trio, a student ensemble founded and supported by Kato Perlman. Learn more about the history of the trio with this special slideshow.
Local historian emeritus and classical music reviewer John W. Barker has penned an authoritative biography of the Pro Arte Quartet, with a comprehensive look at the members and the music. Titled “The Pro Arte Quartet: A Century of Musical Adventure on Two Continents,” it is the first full biography of the quartet, which is comprised of members David Perry, Suzanne Beia, Sally Chisholm, and Parry Karp. The 353-paged book, published by Boydell & Brewer, Limited, will be available for purchase on November 15th. The book was commissioned in 2011 by the School of Music. Learn more here.
Music Education program scores high in online magazine
College Magazine, an online publication founded as a print magazine in 2007 by a student at the University of Maryland, placed UW-Madison above such luminaries as Johns Hopkins and Berklee.
The Madison approach to music ed emphasizes community outreach, research, and social justice, says Associate Professor Teryl Dobbs, chair of the music education program. “We recently created an entire revision of the entire undergraduate music ed degree and teacher licensure program… for 21st century students and the diverse students that our own students will teach,” Dobbs said. The story was sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants. Read the story here.
Over the past several years, Prof. Dobbs has traveled the world presenting her research into the Holocaust and music education as part of the “Performing the Jewish Archive” project. In Vienna last spring, she joined with former visiting professor Elizabeth Hagedorn to present ideas on curriculum revisions to develop deeper understandings of music outside the usual university canon.
On Sept. 17, hear Prof. Dobbs along with Prof. Rachel Brenner of the Center for Jewish Studies and Jessica Kasinski, recent DMA graduate, in a “University of the Air” program with Emily Auerbach and Norman Gilliland. “Why Teach the Holocaust?” will air from 4 to 5 PM on the Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public radio. It will be archived at https://www.wpr.org/programs/university-air
The School of Music will offer two new classes this fall. Please contact the instructor (click the name below) to learn if you may register or possibly audit. Non-majors are welcome.
Music 497 – Jazz History
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 AM- 12:15 PM, room 2411 Humanities. With Matthew Endres,adjunct professor of jazz history & drums
This course focuses on cultural influences on the western development of jazz. By exploring historical and ethnographic works by scholars in ethnomusicology, history, anthropology, and communication, this course examines cultural aspects that influenced traditional and contemporary genres of jazz. Along with learning about the music that has influenced today’s popular genres through interactive participation and conversation, you’ll also develop tools to create case & field studies to study music through culture, and vice versa. Limit: 30 students.
Music 268, Lab 3 – Drumming the World Ensemble
Wednesdays, 1:20 to 3:15 PM, room 1321 Humanities. Open to all students; required for music education majors.
With Todd Hammes,percussion instructor. Drumming the World Ensemble is a structured drum circle wherein the music will be created by the class based on the study and application of drumming traditions from around the world. Instruments provided and will include Djembe, Conga, Dumbek, Darabuka, Bells, Rattles, and found objects. Limit: 15 students.
Concerts are free admission unless otherwise indicated.
Canceled: Annual Labor Day Karp Family concert
Faculty Recital: Mimmi Fulmer, voice, with guest pianist Craig Randal Johnson.September 10 @ 1:30 pm. Music celebrating Finland’s 100th anniversary of independence.
Faculty Recital: Paul Rowe, voice; Martha Fischer, piano.September 15 @ 8:00 pm. A program of German art songs, in partnership with the German Department.
Faculty Recital: Jeanette Thompson, soprano, with guests Thomas Kasdorf, piano; and Paul Rowe, baritone. September 22 @ 7:00 pm. Lieder and spirituals.
Faculty Recital: Christopher Taylor, piano.September 23 @ 8:00 pm. $5 – $15. SOM students and faculty free admission.
Christopher Taylor performing in Mills Hall, Feb. 2015. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.
Pro Arte Quartet –September 24 @ 7:30 pm. David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello. An all-Mozart program with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and guest clarinetist Alicia Lee.
Brass Fest IV with the Beaumont Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, and college & high school brass musicians – September 30 – October 1. The 4th year of UW-Madison’s Brass Fest will include two days of concerts, clinics and master-classes to entertain and educate brass musicians and fans of all ages. With guest quintet, the Beaumont Brass from Michigan State University, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, top college performers and area high school players.
Sunday concert @ 2:30 PM: College & high school students perform with Wisconsin Brass Quintet & Beaumont Brass Quintet. Reception immediately following Sunday’s concert. Ticketed: $15 adults, $5 non-SOM students.
Happy New Year from the Mead Witter School of Music! And welcome to the first issue of A Tempo! for 2017
Two More Awards for UW-Madison University Opera
University Opera scores again with national recognition
Awards for two shows in 2015-2016
UW-Madison’s University Opera is on a roll. Both shows from last year, Transformations and Mozart’s Le nozze diFigaro, have won awards in the National Opera Association’s (NOA) Opera Production Competition for 2015-2016. It is the second year in a row that UW-Madison has garnered an award from NOA, and the first time that each production was separately recognized. University Opera produces only two operas each year.
October 2015’s Le nozze diFigaro, with orchestra conducted by James Smith, placed second in Division IV, and March 2016’s Transformations, conducted by graduate assistant conductor Kyle Knox, garnered a first place award in Division III.
Both productions were directed by David Ronis, inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, who is now a six-time winner of the competition. His previous awards occurred while he worked at Queens College in New York.
In December, Madison’s weekly newspaper Isthmus devoted a cover story to our burgeoning jazz program and its director, Johannes Wallmann
“By bringing more jazz to the university and beyond, Wallmann hopes to promote the notion that jazz isn’t just about the past, with its storied history and legendary names. It’s now also about highly trained musicians pushing the boundaries of the genre,” wrote author Jane Burns in her story, “Making a Scene.”
“ ‘Look up any end-of-the-year Top 10 list on NPR, Downbeat or The New York Times, and listen to what this generation of 20- and 30-somethings are up to, it’ll blow your mind,’ ” Wallmann says. “ ‘We want to prepare our students to be part of that.’ ”
…meanwhile, Wisconsin Public TV spotlights the jazz program as part of its “Young Performers” Initiative
For over a year, a dedicated crew from WPT – including alumna Megan Aley, who served as a producer – filmed Wallmann and his staff as they shepherded high school students through auditions for the UW High School Honors Jazz Band. The videos are intended to help aspiring musicians prepare for professional careers and college auditions.
Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo came from the country of Colombia to study bassoon performance with Marc Vallon, professor of bassoon. We asked her how she became involved in music, with the bassoon, and why she chose Wisconsin.
“I did my undergrad in music performance in the University El Bosque in Bogotá. I studied with Leonardo Guevara, the principal bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra. I learned very much while at school and I was able to play with many chamber ensembles when I was still in school. My first job as a bassoonist was in the Symphonic Band of Cundinamarca, and I worked there for a year during my last year of school. It was challenging, but I learned very much from this experience.
“In 2010, I received a master’s in bassoon performance with Saxton Rose at the University of North Carolina-School of the Arts. As I started to look into going back to school, I talked him, and he recommended that I applied to study with Marc Vallon at UW-Madison. I think it is one of the best decisions I have made in my life!”
Sing with Choral Union this spring! Drop-in auditions will be held on January 18 for community members interested in singing a rare work: Paul Hindemith’s When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d. A rarely done work because of its difficulty, this is an outstanding setting of Walt Whitman’s poem written about the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the train that carried his body to Springfield, Illinois. The work was commissioned by Robert Shaw in memory of Franklin Roosevelt, whose funeral train carried his dead body from Georgia back to Washington. The work is in memory of “those we loved.” Two concerts, April 29 & 30. Learn more here.
Inviting high school pianists to take part in Pathways to Artistry: From the Practice Room to the Stage. A free, day-long event featuring workshops, masterclasses and performances hosted by UW-Madison’s keyboard faculty. High school pianists are encouraged to participate in the master classes and an honors recital. More information and registration is at the link below. The deadline to register is January 31.
Violinist Soh-Hyun Altino and pianist Christopher Taylor, both faculty artists, perform the Sonata for Violin and Piano by John Corigliano (1963) and the Sonata in A Major by Gabriel Fauré (1875-76). Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for non-UW music students. Learn more here.
Sunday, January 29, 3 PM, Mills Hall
Our Annual Schubertiade: “Circle of Friends”
This year’s Schubertiade with pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes will feature acclaimed alumna soprano Emily Birsan. The concert will be followed by a reception (included in the ticket cost) at the University Club. Tickets are $15 per adult and $5 for non-UW music students. The concert is sponsored by Madison resident Ann Boyer, an admirer of Franz Schubert’s music and the musical talents of Fischer and Lutes. Learn more here.
News and Events from the Mead Witter School of Music
University of Wisconsin-Madison
September 27, 2016
It will be a weekend of many firsts.
Here’s the “first first”:On October 28 from 4 to 5:30 PM, at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue, the School of Music will officially break ground on the newHamel Music Center that will contain two performance halls, a rehearsal room, and state-of-the-art technology. Long considered a pressing need, the Hamel Center is being financed entirely by private funds from Pamela and George Hamel, the Mead Witter Foundation of Wisconsin Rapids, Paul Collins, and many other donors. We welcome continued support! To read about the Hamel Center and learn more, see this link.
“We’re excited about wonderful opportunities these new spaces will provides for all our students as well as the larger Madison and Wisconsin community,” says Susan C. Cook, director of the school of music. “It’s an exciting time for all of us and we’re grateful for the support of our generous donors .”
Live music and refreshments will be served. The entire community is welcome to join the festivities!
The second “first” will be a concert that evening (Friday, Oct. 28) by UW-Madison’s Christopher Taylor, introducing his groundbreaking new piano, the “Hyperpiano.” It will start in Mills Hall at 8 PM, and Taylor will be available afterwards for conversation with patrons. Read our news release about this piano; buy your tickets here.
Click here to see images of the “Hyperpiano” in development.
And for our third first, faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon has planned a special concert of groundbreaking new works of music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Writes Prof. Vallon: “Composers of all periods have continually explored new musical territories, looked for new paths, and tried, through groundbreaking works, to launch new courses of musical expression. This program offers the public pieces that have, in their time, provided a starting point to new musical routes, just as the first stroke of a shovel is the birth of a new building and a new era.” The concert will include music by Michelangelo Rossi, Alexander Scriabin, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Helmut Lachenmann, and Morton Feldman.
The free concert is set for 7 PM on Saturday, October 29, in Mills Hall.
Just announced: Pianist Leon Fleisher to perform at Mills Hall with the Pro Arte Quartet
The Pro Arte Quartet was presented with an offer it could not refuse: Legendary pianist Leon Fleisher was available to perform with them this fall. Were they interested?
The answer was yes. On Thursday, October 6 at noon in Mills Hall, Fleisher will perform Brahms’ F minor Piano Quintet with the Pro Arte Quartet. The concert is free.
“You can’t see music as it passes through the air. You can’t grasp it and hold on to it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it. But it has a most powerful effect on most people. And that is a wondrous thing to contemplate.”
As a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, pianist Leon Fleisher was recognized as a “consummate musician whose career is a testament to the life-affirming power of art.” Read his full biography.
Wondering what else is going on in the arts?
The Arts Institute’s fabulous website summarizes and promotes everything arts-related on the UW-Madison Campus. It offers a link to buy tickets and even offers a special ticketing deal called the “campus arts card.” We often don’t admit it, but there is more to see and hear than just music! There’s dance, theater, art, academic research and discussions, film… Check it out! http://arts.wisc.edu/
The School of Music offers a smorgasbord of performances each year; we invite you to visit our website and click on our events calendar. We also publish a season brochure that is mailed every August.
From the Mead Witter School of Music
University of Wisconsin-Madison
September 13, 2016
In a marriage of the Baroque and the modern, celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor will debut his much-anticipated new electronic double-keyboard piano this October 28, performing J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”
The “Variations” is an 80-minute work once dubbed a “Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture” that Bach wrote for a double-keyboard harpsichord.
Not by coincidence, Taylor will play Bach’s “Rubik’s cube” on a brand-new piano that could be described in much the same way.
Named the “Hyperpiano” by Taylor, it is actually three instruments – two of them ordinary concert grands, the third a special double-keyboard console designed by Taylor – connected by a riot of sensors and wires, with a mechanism that feels nearly normal for the performer but offers sonic possibilities that are unique.
Taylor developed the piano over several years in a laboratory at the Morgridge Institutes for Research, assisted by many faculty and technicians who trained him to machine new parts using computers and guided him as he designed 60-odd circuit boards that make the instrument run. In addition, Taylor wrote several thousand lines of computer code that manage sensing and communications. In 2014, Taylor received United States patent # 8,664,497 B2 for the “Hyperpiano.”
His inspiration to develop it came from another unusual instrument that he inherited shortly after coming to UW-Madison in 2000, a double-keyboard piano made by Steinway in 1929.
Johann Sebastian Bach was known as a composer who welcomed new concepts in musical instruments. Accordingly, Taylor says, Bach designed the Goldberg Variations for the most deluxe instrument of his day, a double-keyboard harpsichord with a four-and-a-half octave range. Today, musicians often perform the work on a regular piano, but must generally “resort to tricks, compromises, fudging or outright studio chicanery to play all the notes as Bach wrote them,” as writer Tom Huizenga wrote in his blog, “Deceptive Cadence.”
The Hyperpiano will allow Taylor to overcome those obstacles. “I can recreate effects more like what Bach imagined, even while producing at the same time completely novel musical results,” Taylor says.
Taylor was a bronze medal winner in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, at which he performed the Goldberg Variations, among other works, on a standard single-keyboard Steinway. He also holds a degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
The concert will take place on Friday, October 28, at 8 PM in Mills Hall, Humanities, 455 North Park Street. There will be one intermission.
Tickets for adults are $18; for students, $5. They may be purchased at Campus Arts Ticketingor in person at the Memorial Union Box Office.
Patrons are advised to arrive early. Seating is general admission.
Mills Hall seats 700, of which 100 seats will be reserved on a first-call basis for music students, staff and faculty.
Christopher Taylor’s “Hyperpiano” Creates New Musical Possibilities
By Michael Muckian
“I would never be content as a pianist to play the same half-dozen pieces the same way year in and year out,” Taylor explained. “In piano literature, we have a vast array of great compositions, but we are always questing for new variety.”
Christopher Taylor grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where his father taught physics at the University of Colorado and his mother was a high school English instructor. The family owned a piano and Taylor initially was taught to play by a neighbor down the street.
The casual lessons didn’t last long; by age 10, the young pianist was playing Beethoven. By high school he was composing music.
While music was his first love, Taylor also proved gifted in mathematics, a field that seemed to offer a more stable career path. The young pianist chose to follow that thread, graduating summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard University in 1992.
During those same years, Taylor also studied piano under Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he began to attract the attention of the East Coast classical music community. In 1990, at the end of his sophomore year, Taylor won the University of Maryland’s William Kapell International Piano Competition, and later that same year made his performance debut in Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
However, Taylor’s watershed moment came in 1993 at the age of 23, when he earned a bronze medal at the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, for his performances of works by Beethoven, Boulez and Brahms, as well as Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” now a standard part of his repertoire. For the young mathematician-slash-pianist, the competition win sealed his fate.
“I had sat on the fence between music and mathematics for many years, but the bronze medal made the decision for me,” Taylor said. But while his musical career had become ascendant, he kept up his math and computer studies. “I didn’t want to put the other parts of my brain on ice.”
The newly minted concert pianist, who would go on to earn critical accolades such as “frighteningly talented” (The New York Times) and “a great pianist” (The Los Angeles Times), knew that his mathematics training went far to inform and support his music.
Both disciplines draw on similar mental skill sets, Taylor explained, noting that hours of piano practice can provide the necessary rigor to solve a complex mathematical proof.
“Music performance is more visceral than math, but when I’m performing I am definitely using the logical part of my brain,” he added. “Mentally understanding a piece of music is essential to surviving a performance.”
Following the Van Cliburn competition win, Taylor became a touring musician. His new wife wanted to pursue her doctorate in musicology at the University of Michigan, so the couple moved to Ann Arbor while Taylor spent weeks on the road playing several dozen concerts per year across the U.S. and in Europe.
Life on the road proved strenuous for the young pianist, who became known for his intense, sweat-soaked, highly physical performances. Eventually, Taylor decided he might want to teach. When the University of Wisconsin offered Taylor a faculty position in 2000, his family moved to Madison.
At UW-Madison, Taylor came across a prototype that would prove the foundation for his new invention. And he can credit a little known Hungarian composer for the introduction.
Emánuel Moór, who during his life composed five operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral works, is best remembered today as the inventor of the Moór Pianoforte, a double-keyboard instrument that attempted to replicate the benefits of the harpsichord and organ in the piano format. It boasted a two-tiered keyboard, but space within the cabinet allowed for only 76 keys on the top tier instead of the usual 88. The layout of the 164 keys allowed one hand to stretch across a range of over two octaves at once, creating a richer and fuller sound.
Watch a video of Taylor describing his plan for a new piano.
Moór was a professional colleague of composer Maurice Ravel and cellist Pablo Casals, both of whom championed his work, including his pianoforte. Despite such celebrity support, many musicians considered Moór’s instrument more of a novelty and found it difficult, if not impossible, to play.
European manufacturers produced about 60 pianofortes during the 1920s, including one made in 1929 in Hamburg, Germany, by Steinway. Until very recently, that particular instrument occupied a corner of Taylor’s cramped office in the Mosse Humanities Building.
The Moór pianoforte found its way to UW-Madison after Danish pianist Gunnar Johansen became the university’s artist in residence in 1939. Enthralled with the strange instrument, Johansen lobbied university donors until they broke down and bought it for him on the condition that its ownership revert to the university upon the pianist’s death.
By the time Johansen died in 1991, interest in the pianoforte had waned. It lay in storage for 14 years until Taylor rediscovered it in 2005. He performed on the pianoforte in dozens of concerts across the country, eventually getting a feel for the instrument and gaining notoriety for his performances. In 2007, the New York Times interviewed Taylor and created a video about the piano. In 2010, while he was in Washington, D.C. for a performance, the Kennedy Center created its own version.
“It’s clever as a musical contrivance, but it’s a little unwieldy and feels strange under your fingers,” Taylor said, noting that corresponding keys on both keyboards end up striking the same string. “You have to work very hard to play the keys because of the Rube Goldberg mechanism that connects them with the hammers.”
Around 2009, having studied the levers, rods, and platforms lurking inside the Moór piano, Taylor decided there might be a better way, a way that would take advantage of 21st-century technology. He began to draw up blueprints, discussed his ideas with a number of experts, and eventually received a grant from the UW Arts Institute to pursue them further. In early 2012 he approached George Petry, a prototyping manager at the Morgridge Institute for Research, to talk about his idea, an idea that much later would be named the “Hyperpiano.” Petry thought Taylor was nuts.
“I thought Chris was crazy because I knew this was going to be so much work,” Petry said. “I have a lot of students coming in who have never built anything before who say they want to build a space shuttle. I thought this was Chris’s space shuttle.”
But Petry gave Taylor the benefit of the doubt, and also a corner in the Morgridge Institute’s Advanced Fabrication Laboratory – better known as the “fab lab” — inside the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building on University Avenue, a home where engineers and inventors collaborate to build prototypes of their ideas. And Petry started to teach Taylor how to use all the computer-operated machines.
Another important teacher was Giri Venkataramanan, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who served as a high-level consultant to the project. “His motivation was sky-high and it sounded like he knew what he was doing,” Venkataramanan said.
At first blush, the Hyperpiano’s double-keyboard console – what Taylor calls the “input device” – looks like a contemporary upright piano that is thicker in girth than normal. It features a two-tiered keyboard with 176 keys total along with five pedals. Hidden inside the cabinet, behind the keys, are two sets of standard mass-produced piano hammers.
But that is where similarities to a regular piano end. There are no strings for these hammers to strike, and Taylor admits that their only function is to mimic the feel of playing a normal single-keyboard piano. In fact, in the absence of strings Taylor had to create special foam bars for the hammers to strike, designed to replicate an ordinary instrument’s behavior but create as little “banging” noise as possible.
“Even building a conventional piano that works is a very difficult process in itself,” says Robert Hohf, a professional piano technician who aided Taylor. “The keyboard orientation and the alignment of parts is unbelievably complicated.”
And with the Hyperpiano, the complications only increased.
Designing an instrument that contains twice the normal number of keys and twice as many hammers, aligning everything inside a single wooden frame, took a massive amount of re-engineering, Taylor says. Each of the 176 keys in the Hyperpiano has a unique shape that had to be specially carved by a router, which got its directions from multiple computer programs written by Taylor.
To actually make music, the double-keyboard console contains electronic sensors that read the movement of the keys during each stroke, then send coded electronic impulses via wires to two player-piano mechanisms called “Vorsetzers.” (First developed in the early twentieth century, Vorsetzers were mechanical key-pressing contraptions that could be attached to the keyboards of ordinary pianos.) The Vorsetzers are affixed to any pair of pianos one has handy, which, in theory, could be some distance away. Thus the motions of the pianist’s fingers on one part of the stage are transmitted instantaneously to produce music emanating from two other parts of the stage.
Taylor plays Prokofiev
Timing everything so that the music would sound like music—not a jangle of disparate noises – was another hurdle Taylor had to surmount. Taylor’s new technology solves that problem: it senses a fraction of a millimeter of motion as soon as a key is pressed. The sensors immediately send the data to the Vorsetzers, which move the corresponding key the same amount at exactly the same time.
“It involved a lot of software jujitsu to make this happen,” he said. But in the end, “everything is choreographed to deliver the final notes in real time,” he explained.
The Hyperpiano could afford some novel performance opportunities, says Taylor: “For starters, it will be capable of everything the Moór piano can produce: far-flung chords beyond the grasp of ordinary human hands on ordinary pianos, intricate counterpoint where the hands mingle in the same register (effects that would cause impossible traffic jams on a single keyboard), and, with the aid of an extra fourth pedal, sonorities reinforced by extra tones one octave higher than the keys the pianist is actually pressing.
“But it will offer customized behaviors beyond these,” he continues. “The ability to reinforce the pianist’s keypresses with any number of additional notes, so that the motion of a single finger produces an elaborate harmony; novel hybrid sonorities obtained by combining different pedaling patterns on the two subsidiary pianos; repeated notes faster than what ordinary pianos permit; and the interesting spatial effects that will result when the two subsidiary pianos get rolled to different parts of the stage.”
Taylor is eager to produce new arrangements and compositions that take advantage of these musical novelties. “I’m in discussions with a number of composers about the possibility of their contributing to a new chapter in the piano literature,” he says.
With the end of the project in sight, the pianist says he’s pleased with the outcome of his years of work, even as he adjusts to new variations in sound and performance.
“I’m delighted to find that the final product is matching my initial vision pretty closely,” Taylor says. “There is still some tweaking that needs to take place — software refinements mostly — in order to ensure that as a pianist I have the level of musical control that I need. This work may prove challenging, but as in the past I am very determined to overcome the remaining obstacles.”
Venkataramanan agrees and also is thinking ahead to the piano’s next iteration.
Scientists, unfortunately, are never satisfied.
“As a problem-solving exercise, this has been pretty impressive,” the engineering professor says. “But he still runs wires between his keyboards. The next phase would be to do this on a wireless basis and using Cloud technology.”
Mr. Taylor is eager to acknowledge the invaluable help he received from a large number of collaborators over the past five years. Apart from piano technician Robert Hohf, machinist George Petry, and EE Professor Giri Venkataramanan, these individuals include: Rock Mackie and Kevin Eliceiri, the former and current directors of the Morgridge Institute for Research, who were amazingly welcoming hosts during his four-plus years in the Fab Lab; UW-Madison piano technician Baoli Liu; Justin Anderson at WARF and Callie Bell of Bell Manning LLC, who shepherded the patent application process; Kevin Earley, who built the wooden housing for the input console; Convenience Electronics of Madison (in particular Betsy Vanden Wymelenberg), who custom assembled the instrument’s many wires and cables; Calvin Cherry, Nate Hess, Brian Urso, and Ryan Solberg, whom Taylor employed to solder together circuit boards and who contributed greatly to his EE education; UW-Madison’s Bill Sethares, along with Terence O’Laughlin and Alberto Rodriguez of Madison College, who put Taylor in contact with the aforementioned companies and employees; and the UW Arts Institute, former chancellor John Wiley, and Paul Collins, who provided moral as well as financial support.
The School of Music offers a smorgasbord of performances each year; we invite you to visit our website and click on our events calendar. We also publish a season brochure that is mailed every August.
Jessica Johnson holds out hope for pianists with small hands
How big are your hands? If you aspire to be a professional pianist, that’s an important question. On average, women have smaller hands than men, and are frequently stymied when trying to stretch their fingers to reach the larger octaves written into many major concertos, such as those by Liszt and Rachmaninoff. That simple fact bears on another simple fact: There are fewer women in the top echelons of professional concert pianists. Injuries are also common.
On Sat., Feb. 20, Jessica Johnson, professor of piano and piano pedagogy, will hold a full day of all-free events to demonstrate what has been working for her: The adoption of a specially sized piano that is 7/8 of normal size. Made by Steinbuhler & Co., one of these is now owned by the School of Music, and Prof. Johnson has found that playing it has been a “life-changing” experience.
Join us on Feb. 20 at 2:30 for a workshop, master class, hands-on demonstrations, and concert, all featuring the Steinbuhler DS 5.5 7/8 piano. Learn more here. And watch for an article about this revolutionary new approach in an upcoming story by Gayle Worland, in the Wisconsin State Journal.
Trumpeter & Cuban Music Expert Mike Davison to perform with the UW Jazz Orchestra
Master class: Mon Feb 22, Mills Hall; Concert: Weds., Feb. 24, 7:30 PM, Music Hall. Read more here.
Even after a semester with Juan de Marcos, we’re still feeding on Cuban music! This month, we’re bringing Mike Davison (DMA, trumpet performance 1987) to campus from the University of Richmond, where he teaches and performs. He’ll join the UW Jazz Orchestra, the Waunakee High School Jazz Ensemble I and the UW Latin Jazz Ensemble in an evening of rousing Caribbean tunes. Davison’s bio includes concerts around the world, four recorded jazz CDs, and performances with well-known singers, musicians, and even for a pope.
UW Wind Ensemble travels to Verona and west Madison for concerts
Find the UW Wind Ensemble in your corner of Dane County! Last December, the Wind Ensemble made an appearance at the Sun Prairie High School and will continue its out of town concerts this spring. Find them at Verona High School on Feb. 19, at Oakwood Village – West (Mineral Point Road) on March 31, and of course at the School of Music as well (Feb. 20). Both February concerts will feature Tom Curry, adjunct professor of tuba, in a work titled “Heavy Weather,” by the composer Jess Turner.
Summer Music Clinic registration now underway
Registration is open through May 2 for UW-Madison’s legendary Summer Music Clinic, which offers dozens of classes in all kinds of musical skills for kids completing grades 6-8 (junior session) and 9-12 (senior session). For one week, students live in UW dorms and attend classes that they choose from a lengthy list, including band, orchestra and choir; sight-singing; jazz improvisation; opera; swing dance; yoga; and even specialized classes on subjects ranging from the music of film composer John Williams to Stephen Sondheim to rock’n roll. Instructors are all highly skilled; many are university professors or other working professionals. Taste the fun by visiting SMC’s Facebook page! For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below: Summer Music Clinic photographs by Michael R. Anderson.