Category Archives: Nicole Tuma

UW concerto winners to strut their stuff at “Symphony Showcase” on Feb. 8

Join us for a post-concert reception at Tripp Commons! Seating limited: Tickets $10 per person. Buy them here. 

Written by Nicole Tuma, graduate flutist and concert assistant, UW-Madison School of Music

For most UW-Madison students, winter break is a time for new beginnings.  A time to put away that heavy textbook you’re so sick of lugging to the library and replacing it with another – hopefully lighter – one.  A time to take one last glance at the comments your professor made on your term paper and start gathering your energies before researching the next.  For pianists Sung Ho Yang and Seungwha Baek, flutist Mi-li Chang, clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho, and violinist Madlen Breckbill, however, this is not the case.  These five School of Music students will be spending part of their break preparing for the “Symphony Showcase,” a concert that presents some of UW’s finest young musicians in solo performances with the UW Symphony Orchestra. For most, this process began over the summer, when they chose their repertoire for October’s Concerto Competition preliminaries.

On Saturday, February 8th, at 7 pm in Mills Concert Hall (note: this concert was originally scheduled for 8 pm) all five winners will be featured in performances with maestro James Smith with graduate conductor Kyle Knox and the UW Symphony Orchestra in an exciting evening of stylistically diverse concertos propelled by these students’ talent and energy. A sixth winner, composition undergraduate student Daria Mikhailovna Tennikova, will have her winning work, Poema for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by the symphony and saxophone soloist Erika Anderson.

The concert is free and will be followed by a celebratory ticketed reception at Tripp Commons at the Memorial Union, featuring hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Tickets will be $10 per person. (Space will be limited! Reserve your spot early at this site.)

 left to right:  Mi-Li Chang (flute), Madlen Breckbill (violin), SungHo Yang (piano), SeungWha Baek (piano), Kai-Ju Ho (clarinet)
left to right: Mi-Li Chang (flute), Madlen Breckbill (violin),
SungHo Yang (piano), SeungWha Baek (piano), Kai-Ju Ho (clarinet).
Not in photo: Composer Daria Tennikova.
Photograph by Michael R. Anderson.

For Kai-Ju Ho, a clarinetist from Taiwan, performing with the symphony will be a dream come true, she says.  “I remember the first time I heard this concerto was on a recording when I was a freshman. I swore that one day I’d play it!”

Concertos, with their exhilarating combination of soloistic pyrotechnics and dedicated ensemble playing, are some of the jewels of the orchestral repertoire, and the opportunity to perform a concerto with an orchestra is an experience that musicians truly savor. For woodwind lovers, this year’s Symphony Showcase concert will be a real treat, as it will include two of the most popular woodwind concertos: Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto (1948) and Jacque Ibert’s Flute Concerto (1934).   The Copland was written for and premiered by Benny Goodman and has an irrepressibly jazzy second movement, while the Ibert is a crowd-pleasing work that alternates dreamy, languid passages with a bubbly, lighthearted finale infused with Spanish dance rhythms and a hint of jazz.  There will also be two piano concertos on February’s program, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Eb Major (mid-1800s) and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major (1921).  Both are technically brilliant works that marry their composers’ mature styles with youthful themes composed years earlier, when Liszt and Prokofiev were students.  Finally, there will be a performance of the first movement of Samuel Barber’s beloved Violin Concerto, a lyrical masterpiece that violinists and audiences have loved since its 1941 premiere.

The concert will open with a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s always exciting Russian Easter Festival Overture,  written in 1888-89.

All five solo pieces are incredibly beautiful but incredibly difficult; how will these performers prepare? All are experienced in performing many kinds of repertoire, in solo recitals, small chamber groups, large bands and orchestras, even jazz combos, but all agree that preparing a concerto—another beast altogether – requires a distinct approach.  In the first place, the sheer volume of sound needed to project over a large orchestra is daunting, compared with what’s needed to play with a single piano, according to Mi-li Chang, a doctoral candidate and UW Collins Fellow from Taiwan.

Merely playing louder isn’t enough to ensure that the soloist soars over the orchestra, however; clear musical ideas are needed as well. A cohesive performance happens only when the soloist, conductor, and orchestra hear the music in the same way, but there’s no time in rehearsal for a soloist to explain her thoughts. Therefore, says clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho, a fellow graduate of the Taipei National University of the Arts, she must perform so clearly and convincingly that the orchestra understands and can follow her interpretation.

Lastly, because of the sheer number of people and instruments in an orchestra–for this concert, about 85–and the vast array of pitches, sounds, and colors in a complicated piece of music, concerto soloists need to spend a great deal of time studying the full score, says Kai-Ju. They must know what’s happening in the orchestra at every moment in a piece so that he or she can adjust note lengths, volume, and phrasing to fit in with the orchestra’s sound.

For solo pianists, who more often perform unaccompanied, concertos pose a particular challenge.  Instead of simply playing and hoping the orchestra will catch them, soloists need to actively collaborate with the orchestra , says SeungWha Baek, who is currently a doctoral student in collaborative piano and a member of the Perlman Trio, a student string trio funded by UW benefactor Kato Perlman. Brilliant technique is not enough: “This piece won’t happen without respecting [the] ensemble,” she says.

Preparing a concerto for performance requires a great deal of energy, which for these performers is not acquired in the practice room, but outside of it. And each has his or her own style. Madlen Breckbill, an undergraduate violinist from Madison, derives hers from interesting conversations, eating delicious food, seeing beautiful sights, and watching theater. Meanwhile, Kai-Ju enjoys cooking food from Taiwan and hiking in national parks (she has visited nine of them in the three years she’s been in the United States). “I like the peaceful moments and the amazing scenery,” she says. Mi-li  spends time running or walking around Madison’s lakes, and Sung Ho, who formerly practiced piano eight hours a day, is now a member of the Hoofers Sailing Club and the UW cycling team. The extra hours once spent at the piano are now taken up reading scores, running and bicycling, windsurfing. He thinks all this has helped him to avoid injury. “My life has changed because of it.  I lost twenty pounds; in every day, I feel more happiness.”

The students know they’ll forever treasure their time on stage as soloists with the UW Symphony; many musicians are never fortunate enough to experience it.  And if the audience responds with smiles or tears, as happened once as Sung Ho rehearsed with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, the hard work of preparation is fully compensated.

About the Performers:

A native of Seoul, Korea, pianist SeungWha Baek is currently in the doctoral program in collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies with Martha Fischer and is a teaching assistant. As of this fall, SuengWha is the pianist in the advanced student ensemble, the Perlman Trio, at UW-Madison.

Ms. Baek has a masters degree in accompaniment from Northern Illinois University where she studied with William Goldenberg and also received a certificate in performance. Prior to that, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music from SookMyung Women’s University in Seoul and a master’s in piano performance at the same university, where she studied with MiJeung Park. While at Northern Illinois University, she performed in many recitals for instrument and voice and served as accompanist for a production of “Little Women” with the NIU Opera Workshop. In 2007, SeungWha was a winner of the Northern Illinois University concerto competition and was an accompanist at the 2007 V.O.I.C. Experience program (led by Mr. Sherrill Milnes in Orlando, Florida) and the 2009 Quartet Program (directed by Charles Castleman at SUNY-Fridonia).

Pianist Sung Ho Yang was born in Seoul, Korea and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in the School of Music with Christopher Taylor.  Mr. Yang graduated from Sun-Hwa Arts School in Seoul and attended Seoul National University. In 2004, he transferred to New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with his professor, Wha Kyung Byun, and later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a graduate diploma, from NEC. Mr. Yang has performed in master classes for Russell Sherman, Klaus Hellwig, Sergei Dorensky, and Vladimir Feltsman. He has also attended the Contemporary Music Festival in New Paltz, New York: New Music Mannes at New York, and the International Summer Academy at the Mozarteum, Salzburg.

Sung Ho Yang has won top prizes at the Florestano Rossomandi International Competition in Italy and at the Johann Nepomuk Hummel International Piano Competition in Slovakia.  He is also a winner of the Beethoven Piano Competition at the UW-Madison School of Music, sponsored by former UW-Madison Chancellor Irving Shain.  In his native Korea, he won the Segye-Times Piano Competition and the Eum Youn Competition, and was sponsored by the Kum Ho Cultural Foundation for two solo recitals in Seoul in 2002 and 2003. As a concerto soloist, Mr. Yang debuted with the St. Petersburg Radio Symphony Orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia, performing Liszt’s Totentanz and with the Slovak Philharmonic orchestra in Bratislava, Slovakia, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3. Mr. Yang’s repertoire ranges from Rachmaninoff’s Six Moments Musicaux to  Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata, and includes all of Liszt’s piano concerti.  Mr. Yang currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin, where he has joined the UW cycling team and the Hoofer Sailing Club.

Madlen Breckbill, a senior at UW Madison, began playing the violin at age four with Suzuki Strings of Madison. In her early years, Madlen participated in Sonora Strings of Madison, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, WYSO chamber ensembles and the WYSO Ambassadors. In middle school, Madlen studied with School of Music artist-in-residence and Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia; in high school she studied with Gene Purdue (now School of Music visiting assistant professor of violin).  In 2011, Madlen attended the Madeline Island Music Camp, leading to an invitation to perform with her quartet at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the summer of 2012, Madlen and her quartet members were winners of the Meadowmount School of Music quartet competition. This past summer, Madlen served as concertmaster for the Kent/Blossom Music Festival chamber orchestra, under the baton of James Feddeck, for a performance at the Blossom Music Center, followed by a side-by-side performance with the Cleveland Orchestra.

At UW-Madison, Madlen performs with different chamber groups each year, including the Perlman Trio in spring 2013 for a performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet. Madlen studies with Pro Arte violinist David Perry and receives coachings and lessons from the many talented and kind music professors at UW-Madison.

Mili Chang is a doctoral student in flute performance and a Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Fellow, studying with Stephanie Jutt. She has won a number of competitions, including the Irving Shain Woodwind/Piano Duo Competition with pianist Kirstin Ihde in 2012 and the Taipei National University of the Arts Soloist Competition Concert in 2010 at Taipei, Taiwan. In Madison, Mili performs in many ensembles, including UW’s Collegium Musicum, the Helios Quintet and the UW orchestras. A committed music educator, Mili is a frequent coach with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra chamber program, and has coached band and orchestra sectionals and a wind quintet at Daan Junior High School in Taipei. A native of Taiwan, Mili holds a master’s degree from Taipei National University of the Arts and a bachelor’s from National Taiwan Normal University. Mili’s flute teachers have included Jinny Hwei-Jin Liu from the Manhattan School of Music and Li-Man Sung from the Koninklijk Conservatorium in Brussels.

Kai-Ju Ho is a native of Taipei, Taiwan and holds a bachelor’s degree from Taipei National University of the Arts in Taipei, Taiwan, where she studied with Wei-Leng Chen, principal clarinetist of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. She then received a master’s degree in clarinet performance from the University of Texas-Austin where she studied with Nathan Williams. She is now pursuing her doctoral degree in clarinet performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying with Linda Bartley.

Kai-Ju Ho is an avid performer in recital and solo appearances, orchestra playing and chamber music. She has received numerous awards, including first prize in the 2012 International Clarinet Association Young Artist competition, the 2007 Taiwan Clarinet Competition, and the 2006 Taipei Symphony Orchestra Young Artist concerto Competition.   In 2010, Kai-Ju Ho joined the Chimei Philharmonic Orchestra and performed in China (Beijing, Ningbo, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Guangzhou). In 2006, she  was a member of the Taipei Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.  Kai-Ju Ho has played in many master classes, including those with Florent Heau, Lei Fan, Paul Meyer, Kenneth Grant, Hakan Rosengren and Mark Nuccio.

Daria Mikhailovna Tennikova was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She began taking composition lessons from Natalia Karsh of the Composers Union of Saint Petersburg, but initially chose to focus on piano rather than pursuing a career in composition, receiving an associate degree in piano performance and pedagogy from St. Petersburg’s Mussorgsky College of Music in 2008.  Her work received its first public performance at the college when her “Three Lilies” for soprano and piano was played as part of a final accompaniment exam. Daria moved to the United States in 2009 and began devoting more time to composition. In 2010 she began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in composition at UW-Madison, studying with professors Laura Schwendinger and Stephen Dembski.
Poema for Saxophone and Orchestra is Ms. Tennikova’s most recent composition, and her very first work for orchestra. She says, “I began thinking
about writing a piece for soloist and orchestra last spring. Originally I wanted it to be for a piano soloist, and I wrote the main theme with something “Russian” in mind. Later in the spring of 2013, I heard Erika Anderson play Anthony Caulkins’ saxophone piece at a concert. I was moved by her wonderful performance to write my piece for saxophone soloist. I wanted Erika to play it, so I asked her if she would be interested in collaborating and, being both a wonderful person and a great musician, she agreed to play without even hearing the music! I am very grateful to her for giving my piece a beautiful performance!”

SOM alum Ken Woods to conduct Rachel Barton Pine & UW Symphony in Brahms Violin Concerto

(NOTE: Exclusive interview with Ken Woods: see below!)

In what promises to be the UW Symphony Orchestra’s most significant concert this fall (though “The Rite of Spring” was pretty spectacular, one must admit), School of Music alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods returns home from Wales this month to conduct an internationally-known violinist in an all-time-favorite violin concerto plus two other works. The concert will take place Saturday, November 2 at 8 pm in Mills Hall, at the School of Music.  Tickets range from $25 to $10 for students with valid identification.

Kenneth Woods Photo by Chris Stock
Kenneth Woods
Photo by Chris Stock

Ken Woods is a Memorial High School graduate and an alumnus of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra and also UW, having received a master’s in 1993 under cellist Parry Karp.  Now the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, his track record involves scores of conducting assignments, recordings, performances, and writings. His blog, View from the Podium, includes recent articles on comparative listening (what happens to a work when a conductor is not present? Ken has some very thought-provoking ideas) and one on women in the conducting profession (including a challenge to journalists: “Many of my brilliantly gifted female colleagues know all-too-well the frustration of trying to get a critic to come to their concert or trying to get their latest CD reviewed. Find them- pay attention to them! Get out there, dear journalists, and please get beyond the absolute top-tier of major orchestras.”)

The violinist: Chicago native Rachel Barton-Pine, whose recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003. Pine is a multi-faceted musician: While she cut her teeth on all the classical works and won competitions in her teens, she’s equally at home with rock’n roll. In a recent New York Times article, Pine told of being asked about her musical inspirations by a Juilliard student. She “gestured toward the stickers of heavy metal bands plastered on her violin case. ‘When they’re onstage, they’re getting everyone headbanging,’ she said. ‘Within classical music my goal is to do the same thing, to give 150 percent and get everyone caught up in the emotions.'”  Classically, she has performed as a soloist with orchestras of Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand and Budapest, among others. She plays on a “ex-Soldat” violin made in 1742 by Guarneri del Gesu.

Her latest album, Violin Lullabies, was inspired by her daughter’s birth, and contains some of the sweetest classical music ever written.

The concerto? The Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, a particularly poignant but muscular concerto in three movements composed in 1878 and dedicated to Brahms’ friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. It is considered a technically demanding concerto, performed professionally by top soloists. Of this work, Pine writes: “I have been fascinated with the Brahms Concerto since my earliest violin lessons. I began studying it when I was 14, and it rapidly became a mainstay of my repertoire. It was with the Brahms Concerto that I won several of my international prizes and made many of my debuts in Europe, America, and Israel. It remains one of the most fulfilling works I perform. My teacher in Berlin, Werner Scholz, was a student of Gustav Havemann, who studied with Joachim. I feel fortunate to have gained knowledge about the Brahms Concerto from one so close to the original source. My study of the Brahms was augmented also by reading Joachim’s essay in his Violinschule in which he laid out how he felt the Brahms concerto should be played.”

In this video, Pine performs the final movement of the Brahms.

Other works on the program include The Gale of Life composed by Philip Sawyers  and Symphony No. 5, op. 47 composed by Dmitri Shostakovich.

The date: November 2nd at 8 pm in Mills Hall. This concert is cosponsored by the Wisconsin Union Theater, and is ticketed. Seats are reserved–contrary to a previous post–and can be purchased through the Vilas box office.

Madison blogger Jake Stockinger, a personal friend of Ken Woods, has written extensively about him, and once even invited Ken to write for his blog. You can read all of these columns here.

Here’s an exclusive interview Ken did just this week with SOM concert office assistant Nicole Tuma. She asked some great questions!

Nicole: The opening overture is by a composer who many of the students and audience members haven’t encountered but whom you know personally. Tell us a little bit about your work with Philip Sawyers and about his music.
Ken: Philip and I became friends because he coaches the violins of a wonderful youth orchestra I conduct regularly in England. Although he was very prodigiously gifted as a composer when he was a teenager, he chose to join the orchestra at the Royal Opera in his twenties, and had a distinguished career there, playing for all the great conductors. He’s now back to full-time composing, and I just marvel at what he’s writing now. I really think he’s one of the greats of our time. It’s hard to reconcile this very down-to-earth, funny guy with this extraordinary music. I’ve just recorded a CD of his latest orchestral music for Nimbus, and it’s been such an exciting project. “Gale of Life” is a nice, short introduction to his music- the intensity, the virtuosity, and the power of the orchestral writing are all there. Hopefully, it will inspire a few folks to investigate further.

Nicole: Your “Explore the Score” piece on Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony touches on many different aspects of the symphony – its structure of themes and tempi, its use of quotation, its historical context, and its identity as a work that is simultaneously personal and political. Which aspects of the Fifth Symphony do you think are most important for enhancing an audience member’s experience of and appreciation for this music?
Ken: Like all great works of art, Shostakovich 5 is a work with many layers of meaning, all of which are worth exploring. If I was to narrow a new listener’s focus to just one piece of the puzzle, it might be to encourage them to think about the extraordinary reactions to the premiere among the listeners who where there. People didn’t just clap and cheer then hop in their cars and go home and pour a Merlot. People who heard that performance, with this huge ovation afterwards, were in tears for hours. There’s the story of a young man walking out of the concert with his wife in silence, their faces stained with tears. Neither of them said a word- they just walked around the city all night before returning to their flat after sunrise. This music literally left them speechless for hours. Why did people respond so strongly? Somehow, for someone new to the piece, I would think that question is a good place to start.

Nicole:  You write a lot in your blog about the value of comparative listening. Are there any recordings that you’d recommend looking up before this particular UW-Madison Symphony concert?
Ken: For the Brahms, Nathan Milstein is my favorite. He’s almost always my favorite.
Phil’s overture has been recorded beautifully for Nimbus Records by David Lockington and the Grand Rapids Symphony. The CD includes his Music for Brass and Strings, which is a much bigger piece, and his First Symphony, which is an absolute tour de force.

The Shostakovich is too big and too rich for any one recording to do it justice, but I think Barshai’s recording with the WDR is very good, and Mravinksy is important to hear. Stick with the Russians!

Nicole: You’ve had a wonderfully varied musical career as an instrumentalist, conductor, writer, educator, and more. Do you find that the many different activities that you’re involved in nurture each other?
Ken: All of the activities you list work rather synergistically for me. For instance, when I took part in the NEA Rural Residency Program many years ago, working to develop a chamber music audience in rural Arkansas, I found that the effort spent figuring out how to help complete novice listeners engage with Shostakovich or Brahms also helped us clarify our own ideas about the music. At the end of the day, this is all about communication, and even though different disciplines have their own specific technical challenges, I’ve always found that learning to communicate musical ideas in different mediums seems to enrich your work no matter what you happen to be doing on a given day.

Nicole: How has this affected your growth as a musician? How so? Do you find studying a score as a cellist and as a conductor to be different experiences?
Ken: I think one of the biggest challenges for any instrumentalist is to expand your musical awareness beyond the technical demands of your instrument. I think it’s really unfortunate that we all learn to play from our own little single-line parts when we’re young. If you’re playing in a quartet and you spend 98% of the time just looking at your own part, and only check the score when you’ve got a question about a wrong note, you’re understanding of your role in the music is always going to be limited. In my trio, we spend most of our rehearsal time playing and rehearsing from score. We all aspire to develop great ears, and for me, the key to hearing is understanding. Understanding how the parts fit together, understanding what the notation really means, understanding how the meter works, understanding the harmonic function of a note in a chord. So, I suppose for me, the answer to your question it that I’m trying to make my score study as cellist and conductor more similar as I get more experienced.

Nicole: In a similar vein, did your years as a music student help prepare you for this multi-faceted career? How?
Ken: It’s probably the nature of all universities to prepare students for the last generation of jobs rather than the next generation of jobs, because that’s the world that the faculty know. However, I’m a firm believer that higher education should not be mistaken for vocational training. No seminar or workshop could have prepared me for what I do, because I’ve found my own path which is unique to my skill set. What has helped at every turn is the musical foundation I got from my teachers, and the enduring confidence that their belief in my potential gave me.

Nicole: If not, what was missing?
Ken: There’s a lot of talk now about teaching music students some basic entrepreneurial skills, but my student years were so busy and so rewarding, I can’t imagine looking back on one of my chamber groups and thinking “I should have been learning how to write a press release instead of rehearsing Bartók.” You’ve got your whole life to build a career and the non-musical skills are not that hard to acquire. I’m glad my music school years were focused squarely on music and on learning everything I could from my teachers.

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