From March 4 though March 8, University Opera, in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical Sweeney ToddThe Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The cast of Sweeney Todd shared thoughts on Stephen Sondheim’s legacy, what it means to be performing his work following his recent death, and more.


Kathryn Flynn
Vocal Performance (1st year Master’s)
Role: Beggar Woman

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Sweeney Todd, hands down! I’ve never been a gigantic Sondheim fan, but there’s something all-encompassing about this particular work that favors and caters to many different types of both musical and opera lovers alike.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The speak-sing qualities/aspects of singing Sondheim. Many roles he composed are heavily-characterized, versus heavily-sung. Having the freedom and permission to “have fun” with creating and forming those vocal and character choices (especially for a role like Beggar Woman!) has created an entirely-new dimension of musical interpretation for me.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Without a doubt, Sondheim is one of the most influential and long-lasting composers of all time in the world of Musical Theatre. Performing a work as recognizable and loved as “Sweeney Todd” definitely presents its points of anxiety, hoping to “live up to the standard” that Sondheim would have wanted his work to represent. However, performing this work amongst other actors and singers who have an equal love, admiration and desire to perform at their peak ability is bringing a dimension and color to this piece never experience before.


Charles Hancin
Music No Option, Bachelors, Fifth Year
Role: Ensemble/Fogg

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
It’s a tossup between Sweeney and Company, mostly for their adult themes, storytelling, and their capacity to be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences. These works better align with operettas than musicals in my opinion, and as such, command somewhat more respectability. That is not to say that other modern musicals are unrespectable, it’s just that there is more austerity to Sondheim’s works.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
His compositional voice is certainly distinct. In terms of scholarship, there is much that can be said about his ability to write lyrics and music for varied emotions, events, and characters. The way harmony or rhythm works with his writing is tightly controlled, but it is precisely this control that allows for so much more personal expression in the performance of the players in his works. Sweeney Todd is no exception, in fact, I would hazard that this is one of his most cohesive works save for perhaps that tooth-pulling competition, I can see why pretty much every production skips it.

That is not to say that his lyrics play little part in the success of his musicals. He is certainly a strong poet with a penchant for perfect rhymes. His wit is on full display in many of the numbers in Sweeney, but nowhere is it more exemplified than in A Little Priest. Much has already been said on the duet, so I won’t bore you with my frankly underqualified opinion, but I would be remiss not to mention that it’s downright awesome. Besides that, between Sondheim’s word choice and striking imagery, I don’t know which contributes more to the grimy and dank atmosphere of Sweeney Todd.

Anyway, I don’t see this level of quality in a lot of modern musicals, save for Bernstein, who had worked with Sondheim, probably imparting a fair amount of influence during their time together. I’d say this adherence to quality makes Sondheim’s works unique.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Not particularly as I’m somewhat an advocate of the unfortunately named ‘Death of the Author’ concept. That is not to say that I have no regard for Sondheim himself, I just see Sweeney Todd as a sort of timeless work that stands on its own merit without the desire to exalt it through the composer’s recent passing. I guess mentioning that would be a nice draw for audiences in terms of advertising, but I would personally steer away from that sort of stuff out of respect. Despite that, I’d have to be blind to miss the irony in doing the work that has the highest concentration of death, so why not go all the way?

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Not particularly, though I guess I really liked Bernstein’s Mass for which I believe Sondheim was a lyricist. I bought the vocal score for it in high school and brought it over to America so that I can pore over it every once in a while. Those formative years were rather nice, but otherwise, my connection to Sondheim is relatively superficial.


Luis Orozco
DMA 1st year
Role: Sweeney Todd

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
A little night music. Musically and dramatically brilliant! Sondheim has a gift for taking some of the most flawed characters and making them relatable and humanizing them.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
It’s extremely lyric centered, and finding a way to sing it while being as clear with the text as possible is always the challenge.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
We are lucky to have the catalog from such a giant! We’re privileged to be performing his works.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Just grateful for his music and his words. “Witches can be right, giants can be good. You decide what’s right, You decide what’s good. Just remember Someone is on your side. No one is alone. You are not alone”


Lindsey Meekhof
Role: Mrs. Lovett

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. Into the Woods (Baker’s wife).

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Into the Woods will always be my favorite since it was my first introduction to Sondheim. I loved that the characters are not all bad or good, they are people trying to figure it out as they go. “No One Is Alone” is one of my favorite pieces of musical theater of all time. He was masterful at delivering messages that everyone makes mistakes and there is always a community to identify with.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The complexity of these characters and how complicated the label of villain can be.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
His legacy will live on through his work and us continuing to share these messages of how important having community support is. It is also very meaningful to be performing for audiences after the isolation of the pandemic. This show will bring out many Sondheim fans that can share in the performance together.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
Sweeney is a figure who was isolated and abandoned by his community then commits horrific crimes in his obsession for vengeance. Many of the characters in Sweeney Todd are left behind and isolated individuals. They crave connection as we all do. It is difficult in this story to label a true villain when so many bad things are happening. I would love to hear audience perspective on the characters, especially when Sondheim provides lighter and comic moments in the story.


Justin Kroll
Role: Beadle Bamford

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. Pirelli, Sweeney Todd (Waco Civic Theatre). 

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Sweeney Todd.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
The complex, intentional detail in every aspect of his works.


Noah Strube
Music Performance BA, Third Year
Role: Toby

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?
Yes. I’ve never been in a full show of his work, but I have done Giants in the Sky from Into the Woods for Solo and Ensemble, and I did a character study on Bobby from Company for opera workshop.

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
I love Sunday in the Park with George. Its theme about the conflict involved in the pursuit of art is among the most relatable in all of musical theatre, and especially among Sondheim’s shows. Not to mention the score, balancing rhythmic complexity of the title song, as well as the sweeping glory of ‘Sunday’, one of my absolute favorite songs in a show.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
It is difficult, likely the most difficult repertoire in musical theatre as far as the well known repertoire goes, but working on it is never unsatisfying. Every time you open the score, you will learn or discover something new about it.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
It shows that a man that brilliant whose work is so beloved will live on as long as there are people performing musical theatre. Few names carry the weight that his does in this community. I feel like he will be looked back on with the same reverent eyes we view the great composers of centuries ago now.


Jude Balthazar
Voice and Opera Performance, DMA, 1st year
Role: Anthony

Have you ever performed a work of Sondheim’s before, prior to this production?

Do you have a favorite work of Sondheim? If so, what is it and why is it a favorite?
Since “Sweeney Todd” is my first performance work of Sondheim, I would say it’s a pleasure to discover the marvelous storyteller he is. The libretto is so alive and the music is to me an extension of the unspoken ideas/thoughts/feelings/emotions that carries the singing or that keeps going when there is no singing.

Is there something that you feel makes learning, performing, or listening to Sondheim unique?
I do. The uniqueness is how I ended up valuing the lyric/text/words first in order to genuinely be the character. For instance, in Sweeney Todd, it is imperative , at least for me, that you are seen and heard will performing as natural as possible on stage, and I feel this won’t happened without eating the text out and digesting it fully.

Do you have any thoughts on what it means to be performing his work now, following his recent death?
Sondheim grew up to become this impeccably renowned national and international musical figure. To sing his work today is telling me as an international student in the United States that I am called to follow his footstep to the best of my abilities. His music made history, and I have to keep living his legacy by sharing to the future generation who he was and his messages through his music.

Do you have any other thoughts to provide on the legacy of Sondheim, personal connections to the artist and his work, or something else in general?
I have always heard of him since I transferred to the state for my undergrad. I have been told how special his music is and I have witnessed the performances of his song by many of my peers that moved me; but his death had me think more of him and what he wanted to communicate to the world. I am glad to be in a such position to explore his world of thinking in Sweeney Todd.


By Ila Schrecker

For her dissertation, Lindsey Meekhof, a graduate student in musical arts, is directing and recording a rendition of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

But not just any version: Meekhof’s version will highlight and comment on how the opera’s premise perpetuates violence against women and rape culture more broadly.

Meekhof will collaborate with pianist Aubrie Jacobson to stage and record one of Mozart’s most well-known operas.

“Don Giovanni” tells the story of the lead “seducer” Don Giovanni and his “conquests” of women.

Meekhof got the idea for her project from a class assignment in her first year of graduate school to devise an interpretation of a production. She selected “Don Giovanni.”

“There are moments in the show that I didn’t like and that didn’t sit well with me. I thought there could be better ways to go about presenting it,” she said. “I [wanted to] start a bigger conversation about the #MeToo movement and opera; how to make opera an overall safer environment, especially because [opera] feels behind other industries.”

For her dissertation, Meekhof focuses on the role of women in three main scenes.

“In reviews, really negative words are used to describe the women,” Meekhof said, “they are described as ‘willing participants,’ or tragic, or that they didn’t object to what’s happening… this promotes rape culture.”

In the original production, the audience is supposed to believe that Zerlina, one of the female leads, was instantly charmed by Don Giovanni.

“That just doesn’t sit well with me,” Meekhof said, “I think there’s room for an interpretation where Zerlina doesn’t have the power [to say no] because she is a lower position… she’s described as a peasant.”

This, Meekhof said, calls into question power dynamics between Zerlina and Don Giovanni:

“When the power dynamic is off it calls into question consent,” Meekhof said, “and if [Zerlina] could even consent in this situation.”

Meekhof hopes the audience will walk away with a new perspective. “I hope it starts a conversation about how we interpret these stories and how we talk about women and female-identifying people, but especially sexual violence,” she said.

This is particularly important on college campuses, she said. “People are usually first introduced to Mozart and these operas when they’re in college… it’s [important] to think about what message we’re sending, and how we’re talking about safety, and that rape culture isn’t promoted on college campuses.”

Aubrie Jacobson, the pianist working on the production, added: “Putting a spin on these older operas also brings a sense of relevance that might interest a wider audience… it’s also supporting the work of young female directors, which is another cool aspect of this project.”

For her interpretation, Meekhof is loosely basing the Don Giovanni character on the Joker from DC comics. “I think Gotham City and that kind of comic book world is a great way to show that [Don Giovanni] is a villain,” she said, “but people love villains and I think there will still be people that will be charmed by him.”

Meekhof also hopes that her interpretation will impact the way audiences start to consider and think about other operas. “I hope it inspires people to look at other productions, and [talk] about different ways we can interpret opera.”.

The performance will take place at noon on March 27 in the Collins Recital Hall in the Hamel Music Center. The performance will also be streamed live on YouTube. The performance is free and tickets are not required.

Luis Orozco, baritone (Don Giovanni, Leporello, and Masetto)
Amanda Lauricella, soprano (Zerlina)
Aubrie Jacobson, piano
Lindsey Meekhof, director
Dave Alcorn, videographer
Hyewon Park, costume designer

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education has announced that Professor of Trombone Mark Hetzler is one of 26 faculty winners of the Vilas Associates Competition. The competition recognizes “new and ongoing research of the highest quality and significance.” The award is funded by the William F. Vilas Estate Trust.

“I am proud to have received this award,” Hetzler said. “The project is called Pulcinella Reimagined and it feels pretty ambitious. Essentially, I plan to use a classic ballet as the inspiration to produce a contemporary performance piece in various formats.”

In a collaboration with members of Hetzler’s band Mr. Chair and LA-based producers Amy Ryerson and Selena Moshell, the goal is to reimagine Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score Pulcinella and the commedia dell’arte stock characters on which the ballet is based to produce an audio recording, a short film, and a live concert production.

In reimagining the musical aspects of Stravinsky’s musical score to Pulcinella, Hetzler and collaborators inspired to consider ways to use the commedia dell’arte stock characters featured in Pulcinella as vehicles to tell a contemporary story. Commedia dell’arte stock characters fit into four categories (servants/clowns, wealthy masters, lovers, and braggarts) and are meant to be easily adaptable to local events, specific regions, and current situations.

In collaborating with producers Ryerson and Moshell, they pitched a plan to lead a creative team in which one guest artist per segment of music (for a total of five guests), in any medium they choose (dance, song, acting, animation, etc.), will tell a unique story that adheres to the overall theme of Pulcinella in modern times. These productions will feature a reimagined version of Pulcinella that focuses on social issues relevant in today’s world and features underrepresented voices and perspectives.

In the words of Moshell, this production will be “a series of five vignettes of Pulcinella through modern lenses—how this archaic and archetypal character would exist in the current society today. Ideally, we are seeing this trope in new lights—as a person who identifies as a woman, through a new racial perspective (being Black in America, etc.), as a character navigating issues that the historical Pulcinella never had to experience. What would this mischievous character look like, perform like, act like, what would they have to say in 2021?”

Pulcinella Reimagined involves the creation of a studio recording of Hetzler’s band’s arrangement of Pulcinella, and the development of this recording into a live concert production and film. Hetzler will be recording the music with Mr. Chair and a collective of nationally recognized vocalists and instrumentalists at a recording studio in Madison, WI.

“What excites me about this project is the collaborative aspect,” Hetzler said. “My band Mr. Chair lives for collaborating with all kinds of people: musicians, dancers, actors, artists, film makers, educators, you name it. The subject of Pulcinella seems like a fantastic vehicle for opening doors and inviting in ideas, influences, and inspiration from all kinds of people.”

Recipients of the Vilas Associates Competition are chosen competitively by the divisional research committees on the basis of a detailed proposal. Winners receive up to two-ninths of research salary support (including the associated fringe costs) for the summers of 2022 and 2023, as well as a $12,500 flexible research fund in each of the two fiscal years.

“I am very motivated to get things going and beyond grateful to UW-Madison for the support of research endeavors such as this,” Hetzler said.

From March 4 though March 8, University Opera, in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will present a special production of Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Directed by Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera David Ronis, and conducted by Director of Orchestral Activities Oriol Sans, the production will feature student performers from the School of Music, accompanied by the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stephen Sondheim, a true giant of American musical theatre, was lost just months ago in November of 2021. University Opera is privileged to honor the legacy of Mr. Sondheim in performing Sweeney Todd, one of the beloved works in his extensive oeuvre. The wry humor of Hugh Wheeler’s book, paired with Sondheim’s memorable tunes and haunting lyrics, complete with riveting orchestrations make for a memorable evening of musical theatre.

This dark, Tony Award-Winning musical features razor sharp wit, and tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, an exiled 19th-century barber who was framed by a corrupt judge to take advantage of Todd’s wife. Upon his return to London, Todd teams up with his new landlord, Mrs. Lovett, a floundering pie shop owner. Together, the team splits open a new way to peddle profitable pies, whilst Sweeney seeks his vengeance in the barbershop upstairs, waiting for Judge Turpin to get a trim.

This large production will involve over 70 UW-Madison students–singer-actors, instrumentalists, technicians, and stage crew–spanning a wide age range, from freshmen to doctoral students. The title role will be performed by Luis Orozco; his partner in business (and crime), Mrs. Lovett, will be played by Lindsey Meekhof; the ingenue role of Johanna will be doubled by Isabel Celata and Molly Schumacher and her suitor, Anothony Hope, will be performed by Jude Balthazar and Kenneth Hoversten. Madison Barrett and Kathryn Flynn will perform as the Beggar Woman; Judge Turpin will be sung by James Harrington with Justin Kroll as The Beadle; Tobias Rigg will be played by Noah Strube; Even Mitchell will play Pirelli and Charles Hancin will sing Jonas Fogg. The outstanding ensemble of singers lead by DMA student and chorus master Andrew Voth includes Christian Brenny, Riley Brutto, Michael Chiaverini, Katie Eggers, Ben Gagliardi, Grace Greene, Charles Hancin, Alec Hansen, Jonathan Henreckson, Corey Lallo, Krista Laszewski, Minseon Lee, Daniel Levy, Allyson Mills, Abageal Phelan, Emily Quartemont, Princess Vaulx, William Volmar, and Eloise Williamson. Besides Maestro Sans, the musical team will consist of UW-Madison vocal coach Thomas Kasdorf (musical preparation), and William Preston (rehearsal pianist). Graduate student Alison Norris will serve as assistant conductor and conduct one performance.

The production will be designed by Joseph Varga with lighting by Kenneth Ferencek, costumes by Hyewon Park, wigs by Jan Ross, and sound by Kyle Spradling. Scenery, Props, and Supertitles are courtesy of Madison Opera. Greg Silver will be the technical director and the production stage manager will be Sarah Marty. Others on the production staff include Teresa Sarkela, props coordinator; Kyle Sackett, operations manager for University Opera; Kelsey Wang, assistant costume designer; Isabel Coff, sound assistant; and assistant stage managers Meghan Stecker, Zak Wolff, Mckayla Murphy and Kaya Sarajian.

Ticket prices range from $45-$22 and are available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 am-5:30 pm and Saturdays, 12-5 pm. Tickets may also be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.

Sweeney Todd is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI.

University Opera is a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music whose mission is to provide comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for our students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, please contact

Current members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet include, from L to R, Gilson Da Silva, Mark Hetzler, Jean Laurenz, guest Matthew Endres, Tom Curry, and Daniel Grabois.

After a long hiatus due to the pandemic, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet is back on tour beginning February 14, with scheduled stops in several locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. School of Music faculty ensembles—Wisconsin Brass Quintet, Pro Arte Quartet, and Wingra Wind Quintet—routinely travel to regional high schools, colleges, and concert halls, working with young musicians and performing for local concert series patrons.

The upcoming Wisconsin Brass Quintet tour includes stops at several high schools in and around Minneapolis, as well as performances at Nicolet College, the Westby Area Performing Arts Center, and the Prairie du Chien Arts Center. 

“This tour presents an incredible opportunity to connect with hundreds of music students,” Music Engagement & Outreach Coordinator Dann Petersen said. “The Wisconsin Brass Quintet will help each of them to establish a lifelong love for music through their genuine energy and passion for the art.”

Regarded as one of the “superb brass ensembles in the USA” (Musicweb International) and praised for “remarkable musicianship and versatility” (International Trumpet Guild Journal), the widely acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet has maintained a position at the forefront of brass chamber music since the group’s founding in 1972.

In addition to its regular concert series on the UW-Madison campus, the quintet performs extensively throughout the Midwest and nationally, including appearances in New York at Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall. WBQ players have been members of the Seraph Brass, Empire Brass Quintet, and Meridian Arts Ensemble.

School of Music faculty ensembles continue to expand its involvement with regional communities by providing mentoring, educational leadership, and training opportunities to students of all ages and backgrounds. Faculty ensembles are available for chamber ensemble coaching, collaborative performances, community recitals, open rehearsals, and performance classes.

Contact Dann Petersen at to learn more.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet February 2022 Tour 

February 14
Concert at Nicolet College, Rhinelander, WI

February 15
Performance class at Minneapolis South High School, Minneapolis, MN
Performance class at Thomas Edison High School, Minneapolis, MN
Performance class at Irondale High School, Minneapolis, MN

February 16
Performance class at Mankato West High School, Mankato, MN
Performance class at Farmington High School, Farmington, MN

February 17
Performance class at Onalaska High School, La Crosse, WI
Performance class at Mayo High School, Rochester, MN
Concert at Westby Area Performing Arts Center, Westby, WI

February 18
Performance class at La Crosse Central High School, La Crosse, WI
Clinic at Prairie du Chien High School, Prairie du Chien, WI
Concert at Prairie du Chien Arts Center, Prairie du Chien, WI

Professor Martha Fischer is one of twelve faculty members on campus to receive a UW-Madison Distinguished Teaching Award this year, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators.  An in-person ceremony is planned for 5 pm April 19 at the Pyle Center. The event is open to the public, and anyone wishing to join can contact the Office of the Secretary of the Faculty at for information on how to attend.

See the full list of recipients.


Sachie Ueshima (voice), Shuguang Gong (piano), and Joshua Biere (tuba) are the winners of the 2021 Mead Witter School of Music Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. The winners will perform with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra during the 2022 Spring or Fall semesters.

“Performing on stage as soloist with an orchestra is an experience that the Mead Witter School of Music is proud to offer our students,” Director of Orchestral Activities Oriol Sans said. “Sachie, Shuguang, and Joshua excelled in their performance at the final round. The works they will be playing in concert are very interesting and eclectic: Landskap (Landscape), a piece for tuba and string orchestra by Swedish composer Trobjörn Ludquist; Alban Berg’s Seben Frühe Lieder (Seven Early Songs) for soprano and orchestra; and Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.”

Ludquist’s work Landskap includes no other brass, woodwinds, or percussion, and its melodic harmonic material stretches the expressive capacity of the instrument, Biere said.

“Lundquist was often inspired by nature, and the piece itself is a little off the beaten path as far as tuba concertos go,” Biere said. “It has moments that are gorgeous cascades of sound, and others that are visceral and guttural, almost angry sounding, so it has a very diverse color palette that Lundqust draws from. I’ve performed Landskap before with piano, but I’ve never heard it done live before with strings, so I’m excited what the sustaining power of a string section will bring to the table. I’m very much looking forward to playing it with my colleagues,  as it will be a unique and thrilling musical experience.”

Compared to his late works, which are always complicated, Chopin’s second concerto is more like a direct expression of the characters and emotions of a young man, Gong said. Gong is looking forward to showing the romantic and classical sides of Chopin, and exploring his music more deeply with the orchestra.

“It’s difficult to capture the essence of Chopin’s music, to express his music in a genuine way, and I’m still on my way trying to do that, trying to get closer to his heart and feel what he felt,” Gong said. “I’m excited and really looking forward to collaborating with Professor Sans and our excellent orchestra. From my perspective, this concerto contains a lot of intimacy as well as magnificence, so it would be challenging to cooperate well and accomplish all these elements with a large orchestra.”

Assistant Professor of Clarinet Alicia Lee releases Conversations With Myself, a collection of works for solo clarinet with and without electronics, chronicling a year of artistic activity in isolation.

Works by Pierre Boulez, Dai Fujikura, Isang Yun, Unsuk Chin, and Hideaki Aomori make for a program that highlights music by composers of Asian descent and Boulez’ iconic work exploring the dichotomy between live performance and pre-recorded material.

Releases January 28, 2022

DMA student Kyle Sackett (Voice Performance) was recently nominated as an ensemble member with The Crossing for a GRAMMY award in the category of Best Choral Performance. Learn about the compilation album here.

What has your involvement been with The Crossing?

KS: I have been singing with The Crossing since 2015. It was during my master’s program that I met and sang for the conductor of The Crossing, Donald Nally, who also leads the Northwestern University choirs. I had long admired the mission of The Crossing and the level of choral music they were putting out into the world. I hoped an opportunity would present itself to sing with them, and eventually it did. In the years that followed, I joined them for a few concerts and recordings each year before becoming a regular member of the ensemble, for which I feel incredibly lucky. Each time we get together the work is the most meaningful and impactful music making I can imagine.

What does the Grammy nomination mean for you personally?

KS: The nomination, while a great honor, does not mean a great deal to me individually. We are an ensemble, so my individual efforts to help get to this point are merely a contribution to the greater whole. Still, I appreciate how friends and family seem to perk up when they hear that I sing with a GRAMMY-winning choir! And it is special to be a part of that recognition by our colleagues in the recording academy.

What does the nomination mean for the group?

KS: The group has been on a bit of a role with these nominations (seven nominations in six consecutive years), and I like to think it speaks to the level of passion and dedication Donald Nally and the whole team put behind our work. While I have not been a contributor to each of the individual albums that have been nominated and won over the last six years, it is exciting to know that people are listening. Choral music—particularly music such as ours, which is always newly commissioned, often risk-taking, and strong in its social commentary—does not always receive the global recognition I wish it would. These nominations illuminate the work we are doing and care so much about. I’ll also add that it is thrilling to see the construction of the choral category this year, with several American chamber choirs being represented. It feels like we are entering a choral “golden age” in this country!

Any watch party plans?

KS: I imagine we will do a Zoom call of some kind to watch the ceremony. In years past, we have often been in a rehearsal or performance together during the GRAMMY ceremony, so we miss the live announcement! Hopefully that won’t be the case this year.

The Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award Committee has selected Paul Boylan, Emeritus Professor of Music Theory and Dean Emeritus of the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of Michigan, as the 2021 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Boylan graduated from the School of Music with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance in 1961, and a master’s degree in music theory in 1962. He subsequently completed a Ph.D. in 1968 at the University of Michigan in historical musicology with a dissertation on the songs of Hugo Wolf. Boylan then joined the U-M faculty in 1969 as an assistant professor and continued to serve that institution with considerable distinction until his retirement.

As an undergraduate piano major, Boylan worked closely with artist-in-residence Gunnar Johansen, who not only provided Boylan with piano instruction, but expanded his perspectives on the importance of music and musical study both at a public university campus and in the culture at large.

“While a student at UW-Madison, I especially valued my studies with Gunnar Johansen and Rudolf Kolisch, founder of the Pro Arte String Quartet,” Boylan said. “I also came under the influence of the harpsichordist Alice Ehlers who was a distinguished Visiting Professor during my student days. Possibly to the detriment of serious piano studies, I was also very active in campus politics, and was pleased to be elected to both Mace and Iron Cross.”

Boylan has given more than one hundred performances as pianist in solo and chamber music repertory, including many broadcasts on National Public Radio. He has performed concerts with Ralph Herbert, Paul Makanowitzky, Elizabeth Mosher, Angel Reyes, George Shirley, and many others. He is the author of articles published by and papers delivered for the American Musicological Society, Music Teachers National Association, Music Educators National Conference, and others.

Boylan’s administrative skill was apparent through his four-year term as director of the National Music Camp at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Following his promotion to associate professor in 1972, he became associate dean for academic affairs, and then Dean of the School of Music in 1979 and continued in that office until 2000. During his tenure, Boylan secured the future wellbeing and stature of the U-M School of Music as an institution on par with any other school—public or private—in the United States and beyond.

He oversaw the administrative consolidation of arts entities on the U-M campus (bringing dance and theatre together with music), brought on the American Music Institute, and oversaw the creation and expansion of new music degrees including the B.F.A. in musical theater, the B.F.A. in Jazz and Improvisation studies, and the B.S. in media technology. He expanded the library holdings through the important acquisition of a major collection of works by women composers, increased the school’s endowment significantly (the music school endowment was less than $1 million when Boylan began his deanship and totaled more $50 million when he retired), and oversaw major building projects that expanded and enhanced the school’s campus on the north side of Ann Arbor.

He led two successful capital campaigns, including a $2o million campaign to renovate the university’s historic Hill Auditorium, and he helped lead the university’s billion dollar Campaign for Michigan. Through all of this, he continued to perform as a piano soloist and chamber musician.

Boylan also served on a number of  university-wide committees and councils, including the Academic Affairs Advisory Council, the Academic Policy Group, the Budget Priorities Committee, the Center for Continuing Education for Women executive committee, the Task Force on University Events, the Institute for the Humanities executive committee, and the Michigan Alumnae Council Athena Award Committee.

He has also served on the boards of directors of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, the Ann Arbor Chamber Orchestra, and Ars Musica; the board of trustees and executive committee of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival; and he was a member of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Benefit Committee, among others.

More importantly, Boylan identifies UW-Madison as the institution that made it possible for him to become the visionary musician and arts leader he is today.

“My time in Madison was simply magical to a young man from Portage hungry for art and the life of the mind, and I’ve often gratefully credited the University of Wisconsin for feeding that hunger,” Boylan said. “In those days, UW-Madison rewarded its most distinguished professors in all fields for introducing undergraduates to their disciplines—opportunities of which I took liberal advantage then and benefit from to this day.”

The School of Music plans to celebrate Boylan’s award on December 9, 2022.

The Mead Witter School of Music Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes an alumnus or alumna who is making, or has made, an outstanding contribution to the music profession in service or in artistic impact. Learn more at

A panel of judges unanimously selected Heidi Keener as winner of the 2022 Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition based on her performance of Frank Ticheli’s concerto Silver Lining. She will perform her concerto with the Wind Ensemble at the Hamel Music Center on February 27, 2022.

Keener is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in flute performance at the School of Music as a Collins Fellowship recipient. She actively performs with the University Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Flute Ensemble, and various chamber ensembles.

The title of Ticheli’s concerto—Silver Lining—suggests three layers of meaning, Keener said. The color silver has clear connections to the flute and its tone, while the idea of a silver lining describes the relationship of the flute to the ensemble.

“As a metaphor, Silver Lining speaks to the human need to search for hope, beauty, meaning, connection, and joy in response to tragedy and situations that are difficult to accept,” Keener said. “The concerto was commissioned by Peter Warshaw in memory of his wife, Lara Barnett. Ticheli honors her life in the middle movement, To the Girl with the Flaxen Hair, featuring a gorgeous and compelling musical setting of the poem, ‘A Little While,’ by Sara Teasdale. The overall form of the piece is also referenced in the title as the heart of the concerto is bookended by two lively, fast-paced movements.”

In the first movement, Game, Ticheli creates an exciting playground through a variety of colorful interactions and extended techniques, including percussive effects, jet whistles, flutter tonguing, and vocalization. Playful exchanges between the soloist and ensemble imitate the different levels of a video game. The final movement, Silver Lining, is lighthearted and energetic. Dance-like sections alternate with lyrical passages. After an extensive cadenza, the entire ensemble returns for a celebratory ending.

Many of the contemporary wind ensemble concertos have not been transcribed for piano due to complexity, impracticality, and other factors. It is a major challenge to give a convincing concerto performance in a competition setting without an ensemble or pianist as the soloist only represents a small part of the overall picture, Keener said.

“As much as I enjoyed preparing for the competition through listening, score study, and imagining the sounds and colors of the ensemble, I am definitely looking forward to the shared inspiration and energy that will come from collaborating with the talented members of the Wind Ensemble and Dr. Scott Teeple,” Keener said. “I chose this piece because I believed it would be equally rewarding for the ensemble, and I hope they will enjoy working on it as much as I have. It is an incredible honor to be selected for this opportunity, and I hope my family will be able to make the trip to Madison for the performance in February.”

The concerto competition consisted of nine extremely talented students who each gave a compelling performance of their selected concerto, Professor of Music and Director of Bands Scott Teeple said.

“Heidi preforms with energy, passion, and an unparalleled commitment,” he said. “It will be a thrill to collaborate with her and the ensemble on this performance.”

Though Ticheli’s composition is relatively new, the work has received numerous performances, including a premiere in Minnesota by renowned flutist Jim Walker.

For what will be her second such residency, Professor Laura Schwendinger is one of nine composers to receive the prestigious 2021 Copland House Fellowship. The nine composers are awarded all-expenses paid stays for three to eight weeks in Aaron Copland’s National Historic Landmark home near New York City, where they can focus uninterruptedly on their creative work. As Residents, they also become eligible for a wide variety of post-residency performance, recording, and commissioning opportunities.

“These highly-accomplished, richly imaginative outstanding artists were selected from the largest group of applicants that we have ever received–221 composers from 33 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and four countries,” Copland House Artistic and Executive Director Michael Boriskin said. “Ranging in age from 25 to 73, they come from widely-varied backgrounds, and work across the creative spectrum, from concert, symphonic, and chamber music to jazz, electronics, and theater compositions.”

The composers were chosen by a large, diverse jury of eminent composers comprised of Karim Al-Zand, Chen Yi, Sebastian Currier, Pierre Jalbert, Laura Kaminsky, Carman Moore, Shawn Okpebholo, Dan Visconti, and Zhou Long.

A 2007 Copland House Resident, Schwendinger’s music has been heard at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Berlin Philharmonic, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Carnegie Hall, and the Tanglewood, Aspen, and Ojai Music Festivals, and championed by such renowned artists as soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Arditti and JACK Quartets, violinists Jennifer Koh and Janine Jansen, cellist Matt Haimovitz, International Contemporary Ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, New Juilliard Ensemble, American Composers Orchestra, Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and Trinity Wall Street.

She has also had fellowships from the Guggenheim, Fromm, and Koussevitzky Foundations, Radcliffe Institute, and Harvard Musical Association, and residencies at Copland House, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, and Bogliasco. She is the first winner of the Berlin Prize in Music, and has also been recognized by the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

An award-winning creative center for American music, Copland House has, for over 20 years, championed and collaborated with musical explorers and innovators, who, like Copland, change the way we interact with the world around us. The only composer’s home in the U.S. devoted to nurturing and renewing America’s vibrant musical legacy, Copland House’s broad range of programs singularly embrace the entire artistic process, from creation and development to performance and preservation.

Praised by The New York Times for “all the richness of its offerings,” Copland House’s activities resonate far beyond its walls, and are built upon multi-faceted composer support, live and recorded performances, and educational and community engagement. For more information, visit

In 2018, a new street in the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood on Madison’s east side was created in honor of the legacy of Richard Davis, a Madison jazz legend and Professor Emeritus of Bass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught for nearly four decades. Now, after a fundraising effort throughout the pandemic, Davis’ former student and mentee, Wilder Deitz, has honored the man who inspired him and so many others with a commemorative plaque to accompany the street sign on Richard Davis Lane.

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Nathaniel Stampley has performed on Broadway, toured with national shows, collaborated with orchestras around the country, and sang at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He has appeared on hit TV shows, and he was a voice artist on the animated series NFL Rush Zone. On November 22, he returns to UW-Madison to explore how time, circumstance, and a dream shapes an individual.

A 2008 Mead Witter School of Music graduate, Stampley’s debut performance at the Hamel Music Center reflects on experiences, family, philosophers, musicians, and world leaders who influenced and guided his life and career.

“I am delighted to return to Madison and the UW-Madison campus,” Stampley said. “I’m from Milwaukee, but Madison is my second musical home. Our event on November 22 is the culmination of my personal and professional experiences.”


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Stampley will be joined by pianists and longtime Madison residents Jamie Schmidt (also a School of Music graduate) and Leotha Stanley, with directing by Malkia Stampley, Nathaniel’s sister.

Malkia Stampley attended Marquette University for Theater Arts with additional training at Skylight Music Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater. She recently joined Goodman Theatre in Chicago as Producer.

“I grew up traveling from Milwaukee to Madison with my family to attend Nate’s choir concerts and recitals, so UW-Madison holds a special place in my childhood memories,” Malkia Stampley said. “It is a pleasure to return to Madison, directing my brother for the first time and working with Leotha and Jamie, amazing artists who have contributed greatly to the Madison area. This concert was birthed from a place of admiration and appreciation of Nate’s journey as an artist with UW-Madison being at the core of his foundation.”

As the former Assistant to the Director of Community Relations in the Office of the Chancellor at UW-Madison, Leotha Stanley worked with many schools in Madison and the surrounding area promoting education, graduation, and a college education for all.

“As a longtime Madisonian, I’ve had the pleasure of being on stage with many performers,” Stanley said. “I must say that this is a unique way of telling a personal story while sharing a talent. I hope that everyone hears the influences and understands the inspirations that made Nate Stampley the artist he is today. I’m looking forward to this intersection as we continue our musical journeys.”

Jamie Schmidt’s eclectic career has taken him from his hometown of Madison to over 100 cities across North America: as music director of the national tour of The Lion King; music director of the first national arena tour of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular; and conductor for Liza Minnelli, who handpicked him to conduct her symphonic tour with the St. Louis, Atlanta, San Diego, Indianapolis, Roanoke, and Dallas Symphony Orchestras.

“As a born and bred Madisonian, I am always thrilled for any chance to return home,” Schmidt said. “Returning to again perform with Nate, and the opportunity to play the Hamel Center, is the best possible reason. I am looking forward to reconnecting with my family and so many lifelong friends. Having toured the country with Lion King for eight years, playing nearly 100 cities, there is simply no better place than Madison.”

Learn more and purchase tickets at

After presenting two successful and innovative video productions in 2020-21, University Opera is back on stage with the Wisconsin premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s moving chamber opera, Two Remain (Out of Darkness). This memory piece, full of exquisite and evocative music, tells the stories of Holocaust survivors Krystyna Zywulska and Gad Beck. Many years after the war, both are haunted by the memories of those they lost and what they had to sacrifice in order to survive. The work is based on Zywulska’s and Beck’s memoirs as well as material from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the documentary film Paragraph 175. Three performances will be presented at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus: November 19 at 7:30pm, November 21 at 2:00pm, and November 23 at 7:30pm. The Mead Witter School of Music’s Director of Orchestral Activities, Oriol Sans, will conduct a chamber ensemble comprised of members of the UW-Madison Symphony and Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, David Ronis, will direct the production.

Krystyna Zywulska was born Sonia Landau, a Jew, in 1914. In 1942, she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, took on a Christian identity and started working with the Polish Resistance. She was later arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner. Secretly composing lyrics to inspire her fellow prisoners, her job in the Camp was to catalogue the personal effects of thousands of women and children before they were murdered in the gas chambers. Many years after the war, she is asked by a journalist to record her stories. Plagued by the ghosts of her past, she struggles to find the words.

Gad Beck’s first true love, Manfred Lewin, was sent to Auschwitz when he was 19 years old and murdered. As an old man, Beck is visited by the image of Manfred as the painful truth of their story emerges. It is estimated that over 100,000 men and women were imprisoned by the Nazis for homosexuality during World War II and many of them were murdered. Even after the war was over, Paragraph 175, the German law prohibiting homosexuality, remained in effect until 1969.

These are only two of thousands and thousands of survivor stories, but they have much to teach us. In thinking about the Holocaust, we tend to focus on the millions who were lost. But Two Remain (Out of Darkness) presents the stories of two survivors as they painfully struggle with “survivor’s guilt.” Years later, they are still haunted by the unspeakable atrocities of the war, the profound losses they suffered, and by the choices they made in order to live. In the finale, the characters from both stories unite to proclaim their survivorship and, perhaps, to find some kind of closure.

The cast features Sachie Ueshima as Krystyna Zywulska and guest artist/actor Joshua Kelly as Gad Beck. Kenneth Hoversten and Kyle Sackett alternate as Beck’s young lover, Manfred and Isabel Celata plays Krysia, Zywulska at a younger age. Completing the cast are Kathryn Flynn and Maria Marsland alternating as Zosia; Lindsey Meekhof and Maria Steigerwald as Edka; and Jerzy Gillon and Emily Quartemont splitting performances as Mariola.

Greg Silver will design both set and lights and Hyewon Park will design costumes. The production stage manager will be Grace Greene. Others on the production staff include Justin Kroll, assistant director; Kyle Sackett, operations manager for University Opera; Ana Gonzalez, master electrician; and assistant stage manager Cecilia League. Kenneth Hoversten and Molly Schumacher will be costume assistants.

After each performance, there will be a talkback with the cast and creative staff.

Tickets are $27 for the general public, $22 for senior citizens and $10 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or at the door beginning one hour before the performance. The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

Violin Instructor Dawn Dongeun Wohn recently joined Tony Barnfield’s Sunday Supplement show to talk about her album Perspectives, women composers from across the world, and more.

Listen to the album Perspectives
Listen to the Sunday Supplement interview (26:20) >>

Call it a grand re-opening of sorts. After all the fanfare and grand opening celebrations in October 2019, the Hamel Music Center went dark with the rest of the world in March 2020. Performances were canceled; faculty and students were left wondering what came next; nobody was certain when in-person performances would return—all common refrains in the performing arts lately.

But the bright, twinkling lights of the copper chandelier hanging in the Hamel Music Center lobby remained on throughout the pandemic, a symbolic beacon of hope that one day music would return to this space. And to be fair, performances did continue at the School of Music with over 130 live streams programmed over the course of two semesters.

As activities at UW-Madison inch closer and closer to “normal” this fall, music is making a triumphant return to performance halls that many have not experienced yet. In-person activity has resumed on campus, and the School of Music has taken this opportunity to program recitals and concerts by students, faculty, and guest artists, all while following current campus health and safety guidelines.

So while there may be no ribbon cuttings or ceremonies this time around, having the chance to re-open and experience music in a state-of-the-art performance space will always feel “grand” in a certain way.

Visit to learn more.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Division of the Arts (presenter) welcomes Arun Luthra as the fall 2021 interdisciplinary artist-in-residence. Saxophonist, composer and konnakol artist Arun Luthra is an American musician of Indian heritage who fuses Black American Music with elements of Indian classical music, especially konnakol (South Indian classical music vocal percussion). He connects a wide range of modern and classic musical influences to create a vibrant new sound and style.

For the semester, Luthra is teaching “The Universal Language of Rhythm: Explorations Through Konnakol and Black American Music,” a 3-credit course. This course is an introduction to konnakol – the Carnatic (South Indian classical music) art form of vocalizing rhythms, as well as an exploration of the blending of konnakol with other musical traditions – particularly Black American music, and a survey of the concept of rhythm as a universal phenomenon which defines our world. Students will present works that incorporate konnakol concepts into creative projects ranging from music to poetry, prose, dance, and beyond. Watch this short video for more information about the course and residency along with viewing the residency website at

To supplement the course and residency, Luthra is hosting guest artists in the course virtually. They include B.C. Manjunath, Camille Thurman and Selvaganesh Vinayakram.


In addition, there will be multiple events during the fall, including:

Fri., September 10 | 7:30 p.m.

Arun Luthra’s Konnakol Jazz Project

Memorial Union, Play Circle | 800 Langdon St., Madison, WI 53706

Saxophonist, composer and konnakol artist Arun Luthra combines South Indian vocal percussion with Black American Music. He will be joined by Art Hirahara (piano), Noriko Ueda (bass), Jonathan Barber (drums) and Rohan Krishnamurthy (Carnatic percussion). Arun Luthra is the Division of the Arts fall 2021 interdisciplinary artist-in-residence and this concert is hosted by the Wisconsin Union Theater.


The fall 2021 Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence Teaching Program is presented by the UW–Madison Division of the Arts and hosted by the Mead Witter School of Music with Professor Johannes Wallmann as lead faculty. Wallmann is also the Director of Jazz Studies. Co-sponsors include the Center for South Asia, the Department of Anthropology and the Wisconsin Union Theater along with the Arts + Literature Laboratory and the Wisconsin Science Festival.

The UW–Madison Division of the Arts has hosted world-class artists-in-residence since 1995 and formally launched the Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program (IARP) in 1999. This program brings innovative artists to UW–Madison to teach semester-long, interdisciplinary courses and to publicly present their work for campus and community audiences. The program recently changed its name to the Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence Teaching (IART) Program. IART is made possible by funding from the university’s Office of the Provost.

Michael Dolan, a May 2021 graduate of the DMA Orchestral Conducting program, has accepted a position at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania this fall.

Dolan is Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Allegheny College, serving as Music Director of the Allegheny College Civic Symphony, String Area Coordinator, and teaching courses in the music curriculum. He earned is DMA in Orchestral Conducting at the Mead Witter School of Music under Dr. Oriol Sans and Dr. Chad Hutchinson. He was a teaching assistant in both the School of Music and Department of Communication Arts, founding Music Director of the Medical Sciences Orchestra of UWM, and conducted a professional recording of new compositions for jazz quintet and string orchestra by Johannes Wallmann.

His Master’s in Orchestral Conducting was earned under Gerardo Edelstein at the Pennsylvania State University School of Music. There he conducted his first professional recording: new compositions for viola ensemble by Scott Slapin. His undergraduate work was completed at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where he received conducting instruction, both in the wind and choral departments, from Dr. William Jon Gray, Dr. Michael Schwartzkopf, and Dr. Paul Popiel.  He also studied voice with James King, Alice Hopper, and Dr. Michael Gordon.

Dolan has attended workshops led by noted conducting instructors Kenneth Kielser, Donald Schleicher, and Diane Wittry with performances in New Hampshire, Los Angeles, and San Diego. He has held professional positions as Co-Conductor of the Spring Valley Concert Band in Schaumburg, IL, Director of Music at St. Cornelius Catholic Church in Chicago, IL, and Choir Director of Faith United Church of Christ in State College, PA. His musical and research interests include the promotion of American composers and works.

Director of Jazz Studies & Associate Professor of Music Johannes Wallmann is releasing a new album on Shifting Paradigm Records on June 25, 2021.

Elegy for an Undiscovered Species is the Wisconsin-based German-Canadian pianist’s ninth album as a leader and his most ambitious effort to date: a full-length album of new compositions for jazz quintet and string orchestra. The album is the centerpiece of the work Wallmann did with his Emily Mead Baldwin award from the Division of the Arts.

The 19-piece ensemble is fronted by two New Yorkers, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (member of jazz super group ARTEMIS, first-choice soloist for the bands of Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, bandleader, and Director of Jazz Arts at Manhattan School of Music) and tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens (winner, “Rising Star—Tenor Saxophone,” DownBeat Critics Poll). Both have been long-time key contributors to previous Wallmann albums. Jensen and Wallmann share musical roots on Vancouver Island, and Wallmann first met Stephens when he moved from New York to Oakland just as the saxophonist was making his move in the opposite direction. Throughout Elegy, the stars are given plenty of room to blow.

The ensemble is powered by a rhythm tandem of Madison bassist Nick Moran, a fulcrum of Wisconsin’s thriving jazz scene, and New York drummer Allison Miller.

Wallmann recounts: “As this project was taking shape, I knew I wanted a drummer with a deep pocket first of all, and also someone who would light a fire under the band. But I was writing intricate contrapuntal string parts, and drums could easily overwhelm that, so the drum chair was crucial and required a very special player. I love Allison’s records as a band leader, and when I saw her tour with her band Parlour Game and heard how deeply grooving and also sensitively she played with [violinist and co-leader] Jenny Scheinman, I instantly knew that I wanted her to be part of my album! As a bandleader and composer, Allison brings the perfect sensibility to my writing.”

The ensemble is rounded out by a 14-piece string orchestra of School of Music musicians, conducted by Michael Dolan. String orchestra musicians include Kaleigh Acord (concert master), Maynie Bradley, Mercedes Cullen (principal), Glen Kuenzi, Chang-En Lu, Anna Luebke, Richard Silvers, Mary Shin, violins; Emma Cifrino, Pedro Oviedo, Rachel Riese (principal), violas; Hannah Kasun, Cole Randolph (principal), Ben Therrell, cellos.

The album was recorded over two days at the Hamel Music Center in Madison directly following a live concert in late February 2020 and just weeks prior to the Covid shutdown.

“I was sweating bullets,” Wallmann recounts. “China and Italy were already on lockdown, international travel shutdowns were increasing, and the virus was knocking on our door as well. We got very lucky to be able to have this one last opportunity to make music with joyful abandon before this awful year of no live music.”

Two years in the making, the album’s six long-form compositions showcase Wallmann’s arranging and orchestration skills. He weaves catchy but idiosyncratic melodies that are playful with a tinge of melancholy through the peaks and valleys of extended solos, shimmering orchestral textures and harmonic and orchestral transformations.

Yet, groove is at the center of each piece: the title track is a musical protest against the Anthropocene Extinction with an urgent melody set over a driving bass ostinato, while Stephens, Wallmann and Jensen are all featured on extended solos. The cheekily titled waltz “In Three,” with Stephens switching to the EWI, reveals its meter only gradually. “Expeditor” is grounded by a swirling 15/4 groove, where Miller, Moran on electric bass, soloists and string orchestra all get the chance to get funky.

The wistful “Longing” is a rare Bossa Nova in 3/4 meter. Wallmann recounts, “‘Longing’ is one of three pieces on the album that began life as small-group compositions. Whenever I brought it into a rehearsal or to gig, players would ask, ‘What’s a Bossa Nova in 3?’ And I would play for them [Antonio Carlos] Jobim’s ‘Luiza’ and they would say ‘Ah-huh!’ and they would get it.”

Building on his early classical music background and extensive study of orchestral scores, Wallmann integrates the string orchestra as an equal melodic voice throughout the album. Far from being just traditional “sweeteners,” the orchestra becomes another player in the group as it swaps melody features and supporting responsibilities with the horns, provides rhythmic counterpoint, contributes extended soli passages on “Expeditor” and “Longing,” and is featured in an a cappella role on “The Greater Fool.”

“Greater Fool,” travels over ten minutes from rubato ballad to frantic drum solo as a musical reflection on humanity’s destructive habit of bidding up increasingly worthless investments, such as coastal floodplain real estate developments, making the calculus that well before a crash, the investment can be profitably sold to an even “greater fool” who will get stuck with the loss. The ultimate losers of such shortsighted thinking are, of course, our society and planet.

Beyond protest, the album also features plenty of joy. “Two Ears Old” is a birthday celebration for Wallmann’s daughter: “A lot of this music was written during a sabbatical from my teaching job in 2019 when my daughter turned two. We had been practicing with her how to tell people her age, but she misheard us, so whenever someone asked her how old she was, she would point at her right ear, then her left ear, and count them, ‘one… two…two ears old!’ It’s one of those many fraught but beautiful moments of children trying to figure out how the world works, and I didn’t want to ever forget it, so I sat down and wrote a piece about it.”

At its core, Elegy for an Undiscovered Species demonstrates the power of connection, blending east coast and midwest, jazz quintet and string orchestra, into a cohesive and powerful ensemble. It suggests that perhaps we as a collective can come together and overcome the challenges that we face.

When not building Lego towers with his daughter, Wallmann leads the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s jazz program as the inaugural holder of the Peterson Chair in Jazz Studies. Prior to moving to Madison in 2012, he spent five years teaching at the California State University East Bay near Oakland. Wallmann studied jazz piano and composition at Berklee College of Music and at New York University. His formative professional years were his twenties and early thirties in New York City, where he made his living playing jazz in bars, clubs, department stores and concert halls. He has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, and Asia performing with many notable artists including Ralph Alessi, Seamus Blake, Gilad Hekselman, Matt Penman and Kevin Mahogany.

Wallmann has previously recorded eight critically acclaimed albums as a leader, including The Johannes Wallman Quartet (1997), Alphabeticity (2003), Minor Prophets (2007), The Coasts (2010) and Always Something (2015). His 2015 quintet album, The Town Musicians, was named an Editors’ Pick by DownBeat Magazine, which called Wallmann “a remarkable pianist and composer…his evocative compositions are brimming with melodic cogency and rhythmic pull.”

Wallmann’s work embraces advocacy for human and environmental rights, and the Wisconsin Gazette called his 2018 album Love Wins “one of the most interesting and accomplished jazz albums to come out in recent years. Love Wins has taken the uniquely American art form to the next step of its creative journey.” The album was named a “Best Albums of 2018” by Something Else! And the UK’s Jazz Journal wrote, “Wallmann makes a septet sound like something much larger, as big as his subject, maybe. Love Wins is as musically challenging as it is socially, and deserves to be heard on both counts.” In 2018, Wallmann released Day and Night, his debut album on Shifting Paradigm Records, which DownBeat described as “confident, muscular and elegant.”