Madison’s classical summer makes lovely warm weather melodies

Ah, summer! The time when concert organs get their pipes cleaned, tympani get their drumheads tarped, and maestros button up their batons until autumn’s first leaves signal the start of the new music season, right?

Nothing could be further from the truth in Madison. Some classical music companies, like warm-weather vampires, only come out in summer. Others simply shed their stuffy tuxes and take their music to the streets for a healthy dose of classics al fresco.

No matter how you look at it, there are a wealth of classical performances only available during the season of maximum daylight. What follows is a guide that helps you make the most of both the sunshine and the serenades.


Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform 12 concerts over the course of the summer at multiple locations. Photo: BDDS.
Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will perform 12 concerts over the course of the summer at multiple locations. Photo: BDDS.

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society

With a name like Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society and the motto “Chamber Music with a Bang!”, it’s no surprise this moveable feast of 25 classical musicians would present performances most comical and irreverent. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t talented. In fact, BDDS, celebrating its 25th season, is one of the most highly anticipated ensembles of the summer’s classical music scene.

Founded by flutist Stephanie Jutt (UW-Madison School of Music and Madison Symphony Orchestra) and pianist Jeffery Sykes (San Francisco Piano Trio and UC-Berkeley), BDDS offers some the best chamber music ever written, performed in three of the area’s most interesting venues: The Playhouse at Overture Center, the Stoughton Opera House and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hillside School Auditorium at Taliesin in Spring Green.

Beginning June 10 and ending June 26, BDDS will perform 12 concerts comprised of six different programs utilizing three different combinations of musicians from across the U.S. and Canada. Works range from compositions by Mozart and Haydn to Ravel and Schoenberg to Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts and Pablo Zinger. One concert is more creative than the next, with no end to the variety for chamber music lovers. And if that isn’t the classics with a bang, then nothing is.

Individual tickets for BDDS performances average $40 for any of the three locations, with series prices ranging from $102 for three concerts to $204 for six performances. For more information and to purchases tickets, call 608-255-9866 or visit


Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Concert on the Green

Madison’s movers and shakers like to gather once every season for a little golf, some light classics, a picnic dinner and a complimentary margarita fountain at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual Concert on the Green at the Bishops Bay Country Club in Middleton. Proceeds from the June 27 daylong event benefit MSO’s education and community engagement programs.

Presented by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, the day’s events begin with golf at 11 a.m. $1,200 buys each foursome the golf tournament, box lunches, cocktail party, concert and picnic dinner. Non-golfers can still attend the cocktail, party, concert and diner for $120. And, yes, everyone has access to the margarita fountain.

Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform under the baton of guest maestro and UW School of Music faculty member James Smith, who conducts the UW Symphony Orchestra. The evening will include performances by guest marimbist Robert Rockman, winner of the 2016 Bolz Young Artist Competition. Musical selections for the evening were not available at press time.

Concert on the Green will be held at the Bishops Bay Country Club, 3500 Bishops Drive, Middleton. For more information and to make reservations, visit


Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Concerts on the Square are a summer tradition in Madison. Photo: WCO.
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square are a summer tradition in Madison. Photo: WCO.

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Concerts on the Square

Wondering why much of Madison is quiet every Wednesday evening from June 29 through August 3? It’s because residents and visitors alike crowd the Capitol Square for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s annual Concerts on the Square. WCO, under maestro Andrew Sewell, presents a broad array of classics under a different theme each week to upwards of 30,000 people, most of whom bring their blankets, bottles of wine and picnic dinners to the free concerts.

This year’s events begin with The Appian Way June 29, with compositions by Respighi, Turina, Mendelssohn and Copland and featuring guest artist pianist Liam Mayo. Bursts of Joy, July 6, features operatic sopranos Kitt and Alli Foss, compositions by Delibes and Massenet, patriotic music and the annual performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The series continues with Nature’s Revelries July 13, with WCO violinist Jerry Loughney performing Dukas, Sibelius, Gade and Dvorak. Reel Sounds, July 20, features movie music from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and other films. Eastern Elements, July 27, invites Indian musician Chitravina N. Ravikiran to perform two Dikshitar works, with Beethoven also on the program. And the final program Capriccio, August 3, with trombonist Mark Hetzler joining the WCO to perform work by Honegger, Tchaikovsky and Tommy Dorsey.

WCO performs at the corner of King Street at the Square. Admission is free, but picnic blankets may not be put on the Capitol lawn prior to 3 p.m. For more information, visit


Madison Early Music Festival

One does not have to be a musicologist to appreciate music’s evolution nor a historian to understand how music has helped advance civilization. At this year’s Madison Early Music Festival, presented by the UW-Madison Arts Institute and the UW School of Music, the pair come together more fortuitously that usual.

Now in its 17th season, this year’s MEMF celebrates the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death with a program of Elizabethan music. In addition to honoring the Bard of Avon’s cultural contributions, the July 9–16 series of workshops and concerts will also celebrate the 45-year reign of Elizabeth I, among the first European monarchs who realized music’s value to her nation’s culture.

The MEMF will feature a host of early music performers, including the New York Polyphony and The Newberry Consort, performing period music on historically accurate instruments. Additionally, the closing concert, The Cryes of London-Town: A Musical Day in the Life of Shakespeare’s London, features a program created especially for this year’s event.

The Madison Early Music Festival offers workshops for musicians as well as seven concerts open to the public July 9 – 16. Workshop classes are held at the UW-Madison School of Music, located in the Mosse Humanities Building, with performances in Mills Concert Hall, 455 N. Park St. Individual concert tickets are $25 ($10 for students) and a week-long festival concert pass is $90. Tickets can be ordered by visiting


Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park

Now in its 15th season, Opera in the Park is one of the summer season’s highlights. On July 23, roughly 15,000 music fans will gather at Garner Park on Madison’s west side to wine and dine picnic-style, while enjoying some of opera’s greatest arias performed by some of the nation’s most accomplished voices.

This year’s guest artists include sopranos Emily Birsan and Angela Brown, tenor Scott Quinn and baritone Sidney Outlaw. Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform under the baton of guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow.

The full playlist is still to be determined, but it’s a good bet that preview selections from next season’s productions of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird will top the list, sung by the singers who will perform them during the regular season.

Four lucky entrants can even win a pair of tickets each to the prelude dinner, which also includes VIP seating for the performance followed by a post-concert reception. Entries are due June 30. For more information and to enter the contest, visit

Opera in the Park takes the stage July 23 at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, 333 S. Rosa Rd., Madison. The event is free and open to the public, and picnicking is encouraged. Visit for more details.


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The Madison Savoyards performing “The Mikado” last year. This year’s production is “The Gondoliers.” Photo: Mark Frohna

Madison Savoyards

Those interested in understanding what makes the very model of a modern Major-General and other bits of Gilbert & Sullivan trivia need look no further than The Madison Savoyards, who have been producing the musical pair’s best- and least-known comic operas every summer since 1963.

This year’s production, The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria written in 1927, was considered Gilbert & Sullivan’s last great success. The narrative includes mixed-up identities, a drunken gondolier, a prince who can’t be found and all sorts of very Gilbert & Sullivanian hijinks.

Directed by UW-Madison Opera’s Bill Farlow with musical direction by Kyle Knox (who last conducted the score to Madison Opera’s 2016 production of Little Women), The Gondoliers runs for five performances July 29 through August 7. Tickets run $30 to $40.

Madison Savoyards’ production of The Gondoliers will appear at Music Hall, located at the foot of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus where Park Street intersects with the State Street Mall. For tickets, call 608-265-2787 or go to the Arts on Campus Box Office.



The Token Creek festival brings patrons and musicians to a converted barn for classical performances. Photo: Robert Graebner.
The Token Creek festival brings patrons and musicians to a converted barn for classical performances. Photo: Robert Graebner.

Token Creek Chamber Festival

It’s possible that there’s more than one place in the world where top-notch classical chamber music is performed in a barn. We know of just the one: the Token Creek Music Festival, which occurs annually every Labor Day weekend in DeForest, a community northeast of Madison.

The dairy barn in question is part of the old family farm of Rose Mary Harbison and her husband John Harbison. John is a music professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the composer of the Metropolitan Opera-commissioned adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship and the Heinz Awards in the Arts and Humanities.

John and Rose Mary spend every summer at the converted dairy farm, capping each season with the weeklong festival. This year’s theme is “Water Music,” with each piece on the program devoted to environmental efforts to reverse the effects of water pollution. The full playlist has yet to be determined.

The concert’s highlight will be the Wisconsin premiere of Harbison’s “The Cross of Snow,” which blends the ethereal lushness of violas da gamba with the haunting clarity of the countertenor voice to explore the emotions of grief, loss and love. Chicago’s Second City Musick, who were commissioned to perform the work by antiques dealer William John Wartmann in memory of his late wife Joyce, will give the piece only its second performance for festivalgoers.

The Token Creek Chamber Festival runs August 27 – September 4 on the festival grounds at 4037 Hwy. 19, DeForest. Single performance tickets are $30 ($10 for students.). For more information visit or call 608-241-2525.