Scroll down to read about our 38th Karp Family Concert, Brass Fest 3 including audio of the Stockholm Chamber Brass, new pages on our website, and alumni news!
For a full calendar of events, see
August 30, 2016
Welcome to the beginning of a new year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, and our first issue of A Tempo!
Here’s what happened over the summer:
Music Hall, the home of University Opera and many percussion and jazz concerts, was repainted. It looks terrific.
Our school was renamed, thanks to the Mead Witter Foundation of Wisconsin Rapids, who contributed $25 million to the new concert hall.
We remodeled the display cases in Mills Hall lobby. They now contain stunning images of our students, taken by photographers Michael R. Anderson and Bryce Richter.
We bade farewell to faculty members Richard Davis, Stephen Dembski, and Janet Jensen. And we added faculty. Please help us welcome Leo Altino, classical bass instructor; Nick Moran, jazz bass instructor; Louka Patenaude, jazz guitar instructor; Eric Siereveld, jazz trumpet instructor; Aaron Hill, oboe; Amy McCann, clarinet; Gino Deluca, Wisconsin Singers artistic director; Daniel Fung, vocal coach; Jeanette Thompson, voice; and Matthew Richardson, musicology. Learn about them on our faculty page.
On tap for early fall….
The 38th Annual Karp Family Labor Day concert – Monday, Sept. 5, 7:30 PM, Mills Hall. This annual treat will feature a tribute to the late UW-Madison pianist Howard Karp, commissioned from composer Joel Hoffman by Howard’s son, Christopher. Free concert.
BRASS FEST III with Stockholm Chamber Brass, making their first United States tour. One of Europe’s greatest quintets, SCB will perform a solo concert on Friday, Sept. 30 and will be joined on Saturday, Oct. 1 by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and selected college and area high school students in a “Festival Brass Concert.” Both concerts will begin at 8 PM and are ticketed. Our third BRASS FEST will also feature displays from Wisconsin vendors of musical instruments and sheet music , T-shirts featuring our brand new logo, and a reception!
Concert Sat, Oct. 1, 8 PM, Mills Hall: Festival Concert with the Stockholm Chamber Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and college/high school students. Meet the musicians at a free reception following the concert. Ticketed: $15 adults; $5 students & children. Buy tickets here.
Hear Stockholm Chamber Brass perform one of the works to be played on September 30: Malcolm Arnold’s “Brass Quintet”:
Introducing our “Meet the Students” webpage
Here’s where newcomers to the School of Music can learn about the varied and fascinating people who call themselves students in our school. It’s not a page for awards (find that here) nor a page for graduates (that is here) but a place where ongoing students describe who they are and why they have chosen to study music. Let them tell us in their own words!
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 email@example.com.
Below: Summer Music Clinic photographs by Michael R. Anderson.
News & Events from the UW-Madison School of Music – September 29, 2015
Violist Nobuko Imai joins the Pro Arte Quartet for an evening of chamber music
Nobuko Imai is considered to be one of the most outstanding viola players of our time. She’ll join the Pro Arte on Wednesday, October 7 at 7:30 PM for a free evening of chamber music. On the program: Mozart’s String Quintet in C Minor,K. 406/516b and Mendelssohn String Quintet in B-Flat Major, Op. 87. There will also be a master class with Nobuko Imai on Tuesday, October 6, Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM. Click here for event info.
Brass Fest II features an eclectic mix of voice, jazz trumpet, and brass quintet: October 9-11
From October 9 to 11, the UW-Madison School of Music will present its second brass music festival, following a spirited event last year that was enthusiastically received by students and the community. See photos here.
All events will be held in Mills Hall.
This year, “Brass Fest II” has added a vocalist to the mix: Elisabeth Vik, a Norwegian singer who mixes jazz tunes with pop and folk music from the Middle East, Bulgaria, Spain and India. The three-day festival will also features two brass quintets and Adam Rapa, a solo trumpeter.
Friday: Chicago’s Axiom Brass Quintet. 8 PM. With Dorival Puccini, Jr., trumpet; Jacob DiEdwardo, horn; Kevin Harrison, tuba; Orin Larson, trombone; Kris Hammond, trumpet. The award-winning Axiom Brass Quintet has quickly established itself as one of the major art music groups in brass chamber music. Their repertoire ranges from jazz and Latin music to string quartet transcriptions, as well as original compositions for brass quintet. Tickets $15, students and children free admission.
Saturday: Festival Brass Choir Concert Brass Festival Concert. 8 PM. Guest artists Adam Rapa and Elisabeth Vik will be featured on a program that showcases the combined sounds of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and their guests, the Axiom Brass Quintet, conducted by Scott Teeple of the School of Music. They’ll perform music of Anthony DiLorenzo, James Stephenson, Richard Strauss, and a tour de force performance by the expressive and technically agile Adam Rapa of Weber’s Clarinet Concerto, arranged with a twist. The program will also feature Daredevil by UW alumni composer and tubist Michael Forbes, and Vik/Rapa will join talents in a shimmering piece by Swedish composer Evert Taube arranged for brass choir by Rapa. Tickets $15, students and children free admission. Meet the performers at a reception following the concert!
University Opera presents “The Marriage of Figaro” Oct. 23-27
After the unprecedented success of last spring’s sold-out run of The Magic Flute, this fall, University Opera will present four performances of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. This new production will be directed by returning interim opera director, David Ronis, and James Smith will conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra. The production will involve over 80 UW singers, instrumentalists, and stage crew. Read the full news release on the School of Music website.
The opera will be performed in Italian with projected English supertitles in Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, on Friday, October 23 at 7:00pm, Saturday, October 24 at 7:00pm, Sunday, October 25 at 3:00pm, and Tuesday, October 27 at 7:00pm. Tickets are $25.00 for the general public, $20.00 for senior citizens and $10.00 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html
From the Archives: UW-Madison Archivist David Null uncovers band stories from 1915
Did you know…. that in 1915, the University First Regimental Band took a long train ride to California to help celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal?
The UW-Madison Archives at Steenbock Library houses thousands of memories from UW-Madison’s past. Over the summer, UW-Madison Archivist David Null dug down and found clippings, photos and letters documenting UW Bands’ concert at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and 19 other cities, including Lewiston, Montana.
Composition/business undergrad double major wins national prize for best musical
Congratulations to Nicholas Connors, a composition student of Les Thimmig, Laura Schwendinger, and Stephen Dembski, who in August won the college division grand prize in Showsearch, the nationwide search for new musical theatre writers put on by Festival of New American Musicals. His new musical Here, In The Park will be premiered next summer in New York City by a professional cast and production team. He’ll also receive a financial award and professional mentoring.
While in Madison, Nick founded Intermission Theatre and produced his first musical, SPACE VOYAGE: THE MUSICAL FRONTIER. He also served as music director for Tony Award-winning Karen Olivo’s Madison debut at Overture Center. Nicholas is now in England finishing his business classes and will graduate this fall from UW-Madison with degrees in music composition and marketing.
On our website: News from John Aley, Laura Schwendinger, Tony Di Sanza, Wesley Warnhoff and Dan Grabois. Click here to read.
On our website: News about “Hill’s Angels”; MiLi Chang, flutist; Nebojsa Macura, composer, and more. Click here to read.
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.
Personalize your calendar view! Click on the “view as” link on the right of our calendar page.
NEW FESTIVAL TO SHOWCASE LYRICISM AND POWER OF BRASS MUSIC
Audiences will be treated to some of the most beautiful and thrilling brass music ever written–including “Quidditch,” composed for the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by legendary composer John Williams– at a six-day all-brass festival October 8-13 at UW-Madison.
Watch “In Medias” Brass Quintet performing “Four Sketches” by Anthony Plog, to be performed by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet on Wednesday, October 8.
The festival will feature world-renowned brass musicians performing four concerts, and master classes on all the brass instruments—from trumpet to tuba and everything in between. Students and the general public are encouraged to attend. Guest musicians include virtuoso solo tubist Oystein Baadsvik of Norway; renowned trumpeter and brass composer Anthony Plog; the Western Michigan Brass Quintet; the UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Brass Quintet; and San Francisco Symphony Orchestra horn player Jessica Valeri (BM, UW-Madison, 1997). Click here for the full schedule. All events free to the public except “Brass Alchemy” headline concert, October 11, which is ticketed.
Featured concert: “Brass Alchemy,” October 11, 8 PM, Mills Hall. Click to learn more.A full contingent of our soloists, guests, and students presenting dramatic and inspired works of John Williams, Morten Lauridsen, Juan Colomer, Ennio Morricone, Scott Hiltzik, Kevin Puts, Anthony DiLorenzo, and an original work of Baadsvik’s, “Fnugg.” School of Music professorScott Teeplewill conduct. Tickets for the general public are $25; UW music majors with ID are free; other students, $10.00. Ticketing info here.
Says John Aley, lead organizer and longtime professor of trumpet as well as principal trumpet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra: “Brass instruments are so much more expressive than many people assume. While brass players take great delight in the excitement of filling a concert hall with grandeur and power, it is the lyrical quality of each these instruments that touch the heart of the listener.”
PRO ARTE QUARTET PRESENTS ITS FINAL CENTENNIAL WORLD PREMIERE
Composer Pierre Jalbert’s “Howl” for clarinet and string quartet will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus. The event, free and open to the public, will be the first classical music concert to take place in the historic theater’s newly refurbished Shannon Hall.
The 8 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. concert preview discussion with Jalbert in Shannon Hall. In addition to Jalbert’s composition, the evening’s program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriga and the Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1791) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The concert will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 28, at 12:30 p.m. in Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art, also on the UW-Madison campus. Joining the Pro Arte for both concerts will be clarinetist Charles Neidich, a regular member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and noted guest performer with orchestras and string quartets worldwide. Read about the inspiration behind the commission here.
PROFESSOR STUDIES HOLOCAUST CHILDREN’S OPERA
Hans Krása’s operetta Brundibár became indelibly associated with the Holocaust when the score was smuggled into the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and a production was mounted that lasted for more than 55 performances. Sung and acted by children, Brundibár was held as an example of the cultural programming offered to Jews at the Terezín “show camp” during the 1944 International Red Cross visit and the subsequent propaganda film, The Führer Gives the Jews a City. Associate Professor of Music Education and Jewish Studies affiliate Teryl L. Dobbs recently returned from a sabbatical trip to Prague and Terezín (the Czech name of the garrison town where the Theresienstadt camp was located), where she studied the history of the operetta. Read the full story here.
“SHOWCASE SERIES” CONCERTS TO HIGHLIGHT STUDENT/FACULTY MUSICIANS
Each concert $10.00; season passes available for $60.00; students free. Proceeds to the School of Music. Please note: Only seven concerts are ticketed– Most concerts at the School of Music are still free!
Seven student/faculty concerts will be “showcased” this year, starting with a all-faculty voice recital on November 2. Professors Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn, sopranos; James Doing, tenor; and Paul Rowe, baritone, each will sing. The program will include a premiere of a new work by composer and UW professor Les Thimmig, “White Clouds, Yellow Leaves,” a cantata on poems of ninth-century China.
Later in January, pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes will be joined by cellist Norman Fischer of Rice University plus students and faculty for a second “Schubertiade” of chamber music. In early February, join us for a captivating evening of solo student performances as we present our annual concerto winners concert (the “Symphony Showcase”). A reception will follow this concert. Learn about all these special events here.
Tickets for the general public are $10.00, and a seven-concert “pass” is available for $60.00. Students from all schools are free with identification. To save on service fees, buy in person at the box office or on the day of the show. Ticket info here.
INHORNS RECEIVE AWARD FROM MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The inaugural DeMain Award for Outstanding Commitment to Music will be awarded to philanthropists Stan and Shirley Inhorn by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League at its fifth annual gala banquet at the Madison Concourse Hotel on Friday, Sept. 12. Named after music director John DeMain, the annual honor will go to an ardent supporter of the MSO and Madison-based music in general. The Inhorns are longtime and much-appreciated supporters of the UW-Madison School of Music. Read more here.
TANDEM PRESS ANNOUNCES NEW FRIDAY FALL JAZZ SERIES
Beginning this September, Tandem Press will host a concert series featuring several student ensembles from the UW-Madison School of Music’s Jazz Program under the leadership of Johannes Wallmann, Director of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison, and Les Thimmig, Professor of Saxophone.
UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, September 26, 5-7 pm
UW Jazz Composers’ Septet, October 24, 2014 – 5-7 pm
UW Blue Note Ensemble & the Latin Jazz Ensemble, November 21, 5-7 pm
Tandem Press is located at 1743 Commercial Avenue in Madison. Concerts are free and open to the public. Free parking is available, and refreshments will be served.
Tandem Press is one of only three professional fine art presses operating within a university in the United States. Founded in 1987, it is affiliated to the UW-Madison Art Department in the School of Education. Each year, a select number of internationally renowned artists are invited to participate in Tandem’s artist-in- residence program, where they collaborate with a team of master printers assisted by UW students to create exclusive editions of prints. Tandem prints hang in museums and corporations throughout the United States and Europe. This program is made possible with support from the Brittingham Fund.
ALUMNI PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE PRESENTS CONCERT AT GRACE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Contemporary chamber ensemble Clocks in Motion brings new music, new instruments, and new sounds to the Grace Presents concert series Saturday, Sept. 20 at 12:00 p.m. with a program that highlights the power and diversity of percussion music. Their free program will include Marc Mellits’ new mallet quintet, “Gravity”; “Music for Pieces of Wood” minimalist pioneer Steve Reich; “Drumming Part 1”, also by Reich; “Four Miniatures,” an original composition by Clocks in Motion member Dave Alcorn; and “Third Construction”, by John Cage. Grace Church is located at 116 W. Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square.
Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as the ensemble in residence with the UW-Madison percussion studio. In August, the group released its debut studio album, titled Escape Velocity, recorded in Madison, WI, at Audio for the Arts and available as both a digital download and hard copy. Links to purchase both digital and hard copies of the album can be found at Clocks in Motion’s website.
UW-Madison alumnus studied with UW’s John Stevens and Northwestern’s Rex Martin
The UW-Madison School of Music is pleased to announce the appointment of Appleton native Tom Curryas Visiting Assistant Professor of Tuba, replacing Professor of Tuba John Stevens who will retire this spring after 29 years in the position.
Curry, a former student of John Stevens’, graduated from UW-Madison in 2009 with a degree in music performance and communication arts and was on the Dean’s List for eight semesters with a 4.00 GPA. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in music performance and literature from Northwestern University, studying with Rex Martin, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in music performance there. He is principal tubist of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra and the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, and has performed with the Joffrey Ballet, the Chicago Philharmonic, the Ars Viva Symphony, and many other orchestras.
Curry maintains a large studio of private low brass students at several Chicago-area high schools and also teaches supplemental tuba and euphonium lessons and master classes at Northwestern. He has served as a low brass instructor at the University of Wisconsin Summer Music Clinic and as a guest tuba and euphonium instructor at Lawrence University.
In addition to teaching the Tuba/Euphonium Studio, Curry will play in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, a position he also held during his final semester at UW while John Stevens was on sabbatical.
In Chicago, Curry has regularly appeared with several local and national rock and popular acts, including performances with the Grammy-nominated group Foster the People and the local band, Mucca Pazza.
“We’re ecstatic,” says Mark Hetzler, professor of trombone. “There’s an energy about Tom which comes across in how he teaches and plays. And he understands the style of teaching here: the faculty connection with students is extremely important. He’s going to continue that tradition.”
“It’s quite an honor to come back to a place that had such a formative influence on me,” Curry says. “To be in that environment is an incredible opportunity.”
For more information, please contact Mark Hetzler, firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-628-5026.
18: the number of feet a note must travel from tuba mouthpiece to the bell
29: the number of years John Stevens has invested in the School of Music as teacher, composer, administrator, and conductor.
50: the number of compositions Stevens has written
1951: the year Stevens was born in Buffalo, NY.
2000: the year the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered Stevens’s concerto, “Journey”
A semester-long series of events marks the retirement of music professor John Stevens, a man known for his grace as a teacher, performer, administrator, and composer. (Scroll down for complete schedule, or download it here: Spring2014_Stevens_concerts )
Stevens the teacher enjoys getting to know his students over the period of years and watching them grow. They move on to perform in quartets, bands, and orchestras, and many have landed college level teaching gigs. Beyond learning about the craft of playing the instrument, he expects them to grow in their musical thinking and in their ability to conduct business as a professional.
Stevens the performer feeds his appetite for chamber music by performing with theWisconsin Brass Quintet. Playing in a professional ensemble of like-minded and excellent musicians is “as good as it gets,” he says.
Stevens the administrator has enjoyed representing the School of Music to the larger University community, and doing what he can to advance its mission.
And for the past 20 years Stevens the composer has written works for tuba, euphonium, trumpet, trombone, oboe, brass quintet, and woodwind quintet. On March 9 the University Orchestra will perform “Journey,” his concerto for tuba and orchestra, featuring Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal tubist Gene Pokorny, a concert co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Read more here.)
From High School to The Big Time
Stevens’s parents were not musicians. His musical ambitions were whetted while playing in his high school’s nationally renowned band program. The director arranged for many inspiring guest musicians to perform with the award-winning ensemble, and before long Stevens realized music was the only career that interested him. He went on to attend the Eastman School of Music, graduating in 1973, and the Yale University School of Music, completing a master’s in 1975.
Then New York City called. For years Stevens made a reasonably good living as a free lancer, performing often with his Eastman colleague Chuck Mangione, riding on the popularity of the album “Chase The Clouds Away” and the pop hit “Feels So Good.” Stevens also performed in the New York Tuba Quartet and the American Brass Quintet, and under the batons of James Levine, Leonard Slatkin, and Zubin Mehta.
Then he found himself on Broadway, where he paid the bills with 500 performances as a tuba player in the musical “Barnum”. In 1980, the show made it all the way to the Tony Awards at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York, where Stevens entertained the crowd in the audience with a uniformed march down the aisle, wrapped in a sousaphone. (Click here for the video; advance to 4:50 minutes to see Stevens.) (For the record, “Evita” won “Best Musical” that year; “Barnum” won in several other categories.)
Over the years, Stevens learned that being self-employed demands quick thinking, versatility, and the willingness to jump in to the hot seat. He recalls a Friday night when the New York City Opera called to ask him to substitute for a sick tubist. They wanted him to play Tosca on Saturday and La Boheme on Sunday. And they wanted him to play on a strange instrument, to boot: an E flat cimbasso. Without benefit of rehearsal.
Many musicians would have quailed. For his part, Stevens had never performed in either opera and had no experience with an E flat instrument, never mind a cimbasso. “I had never before done any aspect of that job,” he says. “But I said, ‘Yes absolutely. I’ll be there and do it.’”
So he got to the theatre early and introduced himself to the cimbasso, only to discover it was out of tune. Then he had to start figuring out transpositions. Then the conductor raised the baton. John wisely took advantage of the tacet sections (the places where he didn’t need to play) to decipher whatever was coming next. He realized that if he did even a passable job, they’d be happy. And if a did a really good job, they’ll be thrilled. He was right.
It was the kind of challenge he likes. “And all the time, you’re playing incredibly beautiful music with a fine orchestra.”
That was one of many freelance assignments he found satisfying and exciting, but too many were “just for the money,” he says. He imagined himself as a freelancer ten years in the future: having to accept any and every job offer, whether satisfying or forgettable. He was living in a studio apartment with his wife and considering a family. New York just wouldn’t do. So he began looking for more stability, a job with benefits. When a faculty position opened at the University of Miami, he applied.
He speaks fondly of his years at Miami. But one important thing was missing: the opportunity to play chamber music. After several years there a position opened at the UW-Madison, and it included a seat in the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.
That’s all it took. The WBQ, as it’s called, already had a national reputation for its musicianship and the quality of its repertoire. Stevens came, and he thrived. In the WBQ each player contributes 20 percent of the creativity. “You get good at presenting your ideas in a collegial manner. It’s like a marriage among five people,” he jokes.
Composing creates bonds
As much as he loves performing, Stevens considers composing equally important. He loves developing and nurturing the personal relationships that result from collaborating, and writes many of his pieces for people he knows. Far from being an isolating activity, composing creates bonds he finds intimate and satisfying.
Among others, Stevens has composed for tubist Roger Bobo, trumpeter John Aley, oboist Marc Fink, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the International Trumpet Guild, the Wisconsin School Music Association (“Fanfare for an Uncommon Man,” in honor of the late Marvin Rabin), Germany’s Melton Tuba Quartett, and the New York Tuba Quartet. Many of his more than 50 original compositions and 22 arrangements are available on the CD labels Naxos, Albany, Mark, Centaur, and Summit. Perhaps his most notable composition is Journey, a concerto for tuba and orchestra.
In the late 1990s, Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal tubist Gene Pokorny asked Stevens to submit works for consideration in a new competition. Stevens was honored. The Chicago Symphony’s brass section has traditionally accounted for much of the orchestra’s worldwide fame, and concertos had already been commissioned for its trumpets and trombones, but not for a tuba. Because Stevens had not composed for a full orchestra, he submitted examples of his chamber music and tuba pieces. Then he forgot all about it, until several months later, when Pokorny called to tell Stevens he had won the commission.
“I had to sit down,” he says. “For a composer, this was the opportunity of a lifetime, to write for the Chicago Symphony.”
He began his homework, asking Pokorny about his favorite composers and about his hopes for the piece. He studied scores by Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Richard Strauss. “I was trying to get a feel for what to do, given this huge palette, of having one of the world’s great symphony orchestras to work with.” The piece was premiered in 2000 and will be performed here March 9 with Pokorny as soloist.
Stevens is now writing a multi-movement piece for bass trombone, commissioned by a dozen players who perform in ensembles ranging from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to the San Francisco Symphony. Trombonist and UW-Madison school of music doctoral student Alan Carr, who arranged for the commission, says he expects the piece will become a substantial contribution to the instrument’s repertory. Carr credits Stevens with writing music that’s accessible to an audience and also interesting for the performers, something relatively few composers can manage.
Teacher, Administrator, and Judge
Sitting in his studio in the Mosse Humanities Building on a cold winter morning, Stevens talks about his pride in his current and former students. Graduates of the UW-Madison tuba/euphonium program are known for excelling as musicians and as teachers. Stevens says that’s because they work hard at developing the craft of playing their instruments, the art of making music with that craft, the skills necessary to share those abilities with others in a productive way, and the necessary knowledge of the business of music.
Former students play professionally, in the Jacksonville Symphony, the U.S. Marine Band, the Sotto Voce Tuba Quartet, and the Youngblood Brass Band. Some teach in public schools and in college, includng the University of Alabama, Baylor, Arkansas, Southern Mississippi, Northern Colorado, Illinois State, Emporia State, UW-Whitewater, UW-Platteville, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Stevens has also served as a judge or panelist at many competitions: Michigan’s annual Leonard Falcone solo competition, International Tuba and Euphonium Association competitions, and Finland’s Lieksa Brass Festival. He serves on the music panel of the National YoungArts Foundation, a national competition for America’s most talented high school young artists. Over the years, he says, one develops a reputation for not only having the musical expertise to judge such competitions, but the sort of personality and approach to the task that makes one a desirable member of competition juries.
He has enjoyed those experiences, as well as his two stints as director of the School of Music. The job requires juggling a lot of balls in the air, he says, and one gets pulled in a lot of directions. But you just try to do what’s best for the school, operating within the way the university works. Colleague and pianist Martha Fischer has accompanied Stevens for countless concerts, recording sessions, and road trips. She says Stevens was an effective director “because he’s a sane human being. He’s good at seeing the big picture. He sees the world in an incredibly positive way.”
As Stevens reflects on his three decades at Madison he notes the quality and nature of the students and faculty. He appreciates the institutional encouragement and support to engage in meaningful and rewarding work. For him, that means performance, composition, and conducting.
Retirement will offer a little more time to enjoy his personal CD collection. Most often, he expects to pull out something by Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Diana Krall, or Edith Piaf. “They sing with such passion and such commitment,” he says. “And I’m a singer at heart.”
Spring 2014 concerts featuring John Stevens, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet,
current and former tuba/euphonium students, School of Music faculty, and the UW Symphony Orchestra
Tuesday February 11: Faculty Concert Series
Mozart, Horn Quintet. Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K. 407 (386c)
(composed c. 1782 and scored for violin, 2 violas, cello and horn)
III. Rondo. Allegro
Mahler, Songs of a Wayfarer, 1883–1885
Brahms, Horn Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40, 1865
II. Scherzo (Allegro)
III. Adagio mesto
IV. Allegro con brio
Notes. John Stevens presents arrangements for tuba. Guest artists include David Perry, Sally Chisholm, Katrin Talbot, Parry Karp, Martha Fischer.
Notes: A chamber music concert featuring six Stevens compositions.
Performers include a tuba/euphonium quartet of former students, members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, and the Sotto Voce Quartet. Sotto Voce is one of the world’s foremost brass chamber ensembles. Its members are former UW-Madison students.
Viva Voce! (2003) was composed for the Sotto Voce Quartet (Demondrae Thurman and Mark Carlson – Euphoniums, Nat McIntosh and Michael Forbes – Tubas).
Diversions (1978) Sotto Voce Quartet. (Thurman and Forbes go their MMs here, Carlson got his MM and DMA and McIntosh was an undergraduate here). Diversions was composed for the New York Tuba Quartet, of which Stevens was a member.
Tournament (1999) John Aley and Jessica Jensen – Trumpets
Triangles (1978) Dan Grabois – Horn, Mark Hetzler – Trombone, John Stevens – Tuba
Music 4 Tubas (1974) Performed by four former students. Donald Deal and Griffin James – Euphoniums, John Bottomley and David Spies – Tubas. Whitewater native Griffin James is Stevens’s son-in-law; Don Deal, Griffin’s former high school band director, received his DMA in Trombone at UW-Madison. Deal’s son, Robert Wiley-Deal, is a current member of the tuba/euphonium ensemble.
Hodesanna (2012) The Wisconsin Brass Quintet. This work was composed in memory of former MM and DMA student Jeff Hodapp, who died of a heart attack at age 52 in 2009. The WBQ premiered the work in the fall of 2012.
Fanfare for a Friend (1991)
Five Dances (1988) Tylman Susato, composer; arr. John Stevens
Anna Magdalena Suite. J.S. Bach, composer, arr. John Stevens
Dances (1975) Performed by the Sotto Voce Quartet
A large tuba/euphonium ensemble made up of current group members and alumni, including Stevens’s older daughter Katie and son-in-law Griffin James). Stevens conducts a program of his own compositions and arrangements.
Distant Voices (David Sampson)
The Gershwins and Harold (J. Stevens)
The Brass Calendar (Peter Schickele)
Contrapunctus 1 (J.S. Bach)
Notes: This marks Stevens’s final on-campus concert with the WBQ .
Distant Voices is a 4-movement, contemporary work inspired by people who were big influences on the composer as a person and musician.
The Gershwins and Harold features 4 songs by the Gershwins (3 composed by George and one by Harold Arlen, but all lyrics by Ira). The “accompaniment” is arranged for brass quintet. Guest vocalist Abby Nichols is a leading lady of Madison’s musical theater scene and is Stevens’s younger daughter.
Stevens calls The Brass Calendar “a delightful trip through the 12 months of the year by America’s foremost composer/music humorist.”
About J.S. Bach’s Contrapunctus Stevens says, “I can think of no composer more appropriate to end my brass quintet career performing.”
Saturday April 19: Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble.
Notes: This brass chamber music extravaganza will feature several student brass ensembles, trumpets and horns.
The semester is winding down: we’ve got snow on the ground, there’s a nip in the air, and students are stocking up on cans of Red Bull and 5-Hour energy shots. (Not something we recommend, but we acknowledge.) But before we say farewell to the fall concert season, we’d like to suggest a couple more that might be a nice alternative to usual holiday fare. Both are bold, brassy, sometimes even cacophonous, and altogether exciting.
The first is the School of Music’s resident percussion ensemble, Clocks in Motion, which concludes its fall season this Friday, December 13 with two world premieres at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St. (7:30 pm, tickets $15/$10 students). On the program: the Percussion Duo, a brand-new work composed by UW SOM alumnus Tom Lang (who now lives in Minneapolis as a professional composer), written for piano and one percussionist playing a stacked keyboard setup of marimba with vibraphone. “The music really treats the piano as a percussion instrument,” says percussionist Sean Kleve, a founder of Clocks in Motion. “Piercing attacked notes in extreme registers of the piano punctuate silence throughout the music. The first and last movement of this three movement piece are quite rhythmically complex and it challenges the two performers to line up unison attacks exactly together.”
The second premiere will be Allhallows, a major work in three movements for five performers composed by John Jeffrey Gibbens. According to Gibbens, the title “is an archaic synonym for the feast of All Saints on November 1, and evokes associations with the onset of winter in Wisconsin, including the commercial holiday of Halloween, the beginning of the new year in the Celtic calendar, the liturgical function of All Saints, elections, and Armistice, now Veterans’ Day. These occasions address our sense of the closeness of uncanny events to everyday life.” Clocks in Motion premiered the first movement of Allhallows in September 2012 and will now premiere the rest of the piece on this upcoming concert.
Their closer will be Iannis Xenakis’ surround sound percussion sextet, Persephassa (1969). “This is an unbelievable experience for audience and performers alike. As one of the foundational pieces in the percussion repertoire, Persephassa is just as shocking now as it was the day it was written,” says Kleve.
Next on our Christmas list is Isthmus Brass, an ensemble formed in 2009 under the direction of renowned tuba professor John Stevens (who retires in May but will continue to conduct this ensemble). The group, comprised of a who’s who from the UW brass faculty and alumni, includes professors of trumpet and trombone John Aley and Mark Hetzler, plus Dave Cooper (DMA), trumpet, Jon Schipper (BM), trumpet, Ricardo Ameida (BM), horn, Dylan Chmura-Moore (DMA), trombone, Mike Forbes (MM), tuba, Keith Lienert (DMA in progress), percussion, as well as Doug Lindsey (trumpet), Mike Dugan and Mark Hoelscher (trombone).
Next Tuesday, Dec. 17, the group will perform a benefit of holiday tunes for Porchlight, a charity for the homeless, at the First United Methodist Church, 203 West Wisconsin Ave., at 7:30 pm. The concert is free but donations to support the Porchlight mission are appreciated.