Back to school at the conservatory of music

August 29, 2008

By Randy Otto

September is here. Football season, exciting baseball pennant races, back-to-school time…and the renewing of one of Milwaukee’s great musical treasures, the Faculty Artist Series at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. This wide-ranging series of performances presents the ideal opportunity to enjoy some of the area’s best musical talents, who just happen to be faculty members at WCM. The concerts are presented in the Bader Recital Hall, an exquisite and intimate venue that provides the perfect backdrop for these performances.

While there are many concerts in the series, these in particular stand out…

The We Six Jazz Ensemble

If you dig the real thing, played in a nonsmoking environment, make sure you check out this sublime band, spearheaded by Milwaukee’s jazz lion, tenor saxman Berkeley Fudge. Also on the bandstand are pianist Mark Davis, guitarist Paul Silbergleit, drummer Dave Bayles, bassman Jeff Hamann, and the latest addition to the We Six lineup, hot young trumpeter Jamie Breiwick. Joining the We Six rhythm section March 26 is jazz legend, trombonist, composer, and arranger Slide Hampton.

The group’s other shows are Oct. 2, Nov. 20, and Jan. 29. All shows start at 7:30pm except March 26, with two shows at 6:30pm and 8:30pm.

The Prometheus Trio

Entering their ninth season, the Prometheus Trio is the WCM’s premier faculty classical ensemble. The trio is comprised of violinist Timothy Klabunde and cellist Scott Tisdel, both members of the Milwaukee Symphony, along with pianist Stefanie Jacob. Their repertoire is adventurous, running the gamut from familiar favorites to daring contemporary works. Their engaging performances are among the most anticipated of Milwaukee’s classical music season. Their performances are Sept. 15 & 16, Dec. 8 & 9, Feb. 9 & 10, and April 20 & 21. The December performances will also feature Bill Barnewitz, principal horn of the MSO.

Philomusica String Quartet

This ensemble enters its debut season as the resident string quartet of the WCM. The group, comprised of violinists Jeanyi Kim and Alexander Mandl, violist Nathan Hackett, and cellist Adrien Zitoun, also has MSO connections. Their three programs will explore several distinct musical traditions. Their Nov. 16 program is devoted to Czechoslovakia, Jan. 18 to Vienna, and March 8 to Paris. Look for their performances to match the high artistic standards set by the Prometheus Trio.

Guitar Faculty in Performance, Nov. 2

This is always among the season’s most anticipated programs. From classical to flamenco to jazz to fingerstyle, the virtuosity is here in abundance. Free on a first come, first served basis.

Festival Soiree with Robin Pluer, Dec. 4 & 5

This has become a holiday time tradition at WCM. Robin brings her acclaimed Bastille Days shows of French chansons inside with a few holiday tunes sprinkled in for good measure. Robin will be joined by (as usual) dynamic jazz duo Mrs. Fun, sax gal Juli Wood, and squeezebox wizard Stas (“This is a bayan, not an accordion!”) Venglevski.

De La Buena, March 12

You might be witness to history at the WCM this night. This high-octane salsa big band packs enough energy that they just might blow the roof off the conservatory!

Flamenco with Guitarist Peter Baime, April 16

And this concert will probably take care of the floor of Bader Hall. Guitarist Baime will be joined by several of the region’s best flamenco dancers. We’re still recovering from his previous program several years back. Ole!

Matt Schroeder, April 30

If you’re a fan of fingerstyle guitar greats like Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Michael Hedges, Matt’s dazzling playing is not to be missed. Always a high point of the season.

Future Shock, May 14

In a first for WCM, the sounds of hip-hop jazz fusion fill Bader Hall. Featuring WCM favorites Jamie Breiwick on trumpet and Aaron Gardner on sax, this should be Nirvana for those who dig Miles Davis’ groundbreaking fusion jazz sounds of the ’70s.

All performances are at the conservatory at 1584 N. Prospect Ave. on Milwaukee’s East Side. More info: Tickets: (414) 276-5760. These concerts sell out quickly, so book yours early!


Global Union Festival at Humboldt Park, Sept. 13 and 14, noon-7pm each day

Sure, that little get-together in Beijing may have gotten all the worldwide attention, but Bay View won’t be outdone by the Olympics, thanks to this world music festival, quickly becoming an annual celebration of the end of summer (or beginning of autumn?).

This year’s lineup includes musical acts from Cuba, Russia, India, Iran, Brazil, Mali, and the Congo. And it’s free! More information at

Joe Strummer’s London Calling Radio Show, Mondays at 11 am on WMSE (91.7 FM or

Years before Bob Dylan became a radio deejay, The Clash’s Joe Strummer tapped into his vast knowledge of all music to present these remarkable programs. Originally produced for BBC World Service from 1999 to 2002, they are now getting their American premiere on WMSE. But hurry…this is a limited-run series. By the way, the great documentary on Strummer, The Future Is Unwritten, is now available on DVD from Sony Music Video.

Randy Newman, Harps And Angels

Since he doesn’t release new albums often (guess he’s just too occupied doing those scores for Disney/Pixar movies), a release of new songs from this American music icon is a true event. This is his first collection since 1999, and it is well worth the wait. His melting-pot melodies caress lyrics that are as sharp as ever. One of the year’s very best albums.

Barbara Stephan, I’m Awake

A full album project from a local artist is a major undertaking. Especially when the album is comprised of all original songs. But this new effort from jazz chanteuse Stephan is a fine effort of which she can truly be proud. Besides backing from some of the area’s most talented musicians, Barb meticulously did all the backup vocals herself, and the resulting sound is simply glorious. It’s one of my favorite CDs released this year. The CD is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, or

-Randy Otto

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